Category Archives: Space

Land Of More Enchantment

New Mexico has been selected to host the X-Prize Cup.


Here’s more info.

[Another update]

Here’s more from the New York Times. It’s very confusing–they seem to be conflating the Ansari X-Prize with the X-Prize Cup, which will be a separate annual competitive event, much like the Americas Cup of sailing.

[One more]

Leonard David has fleshed out the story more, with a better explanation of what the X-Prize Cup (which is what this story is about) is about.

Space Solar Power

Geoff Landis has a paper out on novel approaches to space solar power systems.

One of the reasons I’m skeptical of lunar He3 for fusion as a viable space based business is the competition from SPS. If you can put enough infrastructure on the moon to process the enormous quantities of regolith needed to extract He3, you can just as easily churn out huge numbers of SPS satellites. Unless there is some unforseen showstopper with SPS (and the only one I can think of is possible long term environmental effects due to the microwave beam, but that seems unlikely), then SPS construction will win over He3 fusion. We can do SPS with current technology. We’re not even close to being able to do fusion with He3, and we won’t be for probably two decades. That’s just fusing the He3, not doing it cheaply enough to compete with other power sources.

I’m slowly churning through a detailed piece on fusion which will hopefully clarify a lot of these issues, but I’m a having trouble making the piece not suck, so don’t hold your breath. Hopefully I’ll get unstuck soon.

Low Pressure Hothouse

Dan DeLong has a suggestion for the NASA Centennial Prize:

1. first edible tomato over .1 kg grown at 5 kPa total atmospheric pressure
2. first edible potato over .1 kg ” ” ” “
3. first kg of edible corn kernels ” ” ” “
4. first kg of edible peas ” ” ” ” “
5. first kg of edible beans

Where 5 kPa is Martian atmospheric pressure and also a reasonable-to-build lunar greenhouse. If you make the winner of each ineligible for the others there will be a large number of contestants.

Each contestant gets to choose atmospheric constituents from oxygen, nitrogen, and CO2 in any combination.

Then, another series of prizes would be for food crops grown with 2 weeks daylight and not more than X% duty cycle and Y illumination intensity for 2 weeks, repeat cycle as necessary. Then, X and Y decrease to lower and lower values for higher dollar prizes.

I hesitate to extend the idea to animals because I wouldn’t want the issue to get confused by animal rights activists.

Unfortunately, things that are literally edible (they won’t kill you, and might even prove nutritious) don’t necessarily taste all that great. As I pointed out to Dan in email, there are a lot of items in the produce department of my local grocery (including tomatoes) that I consider inedible, at least relative to the home-grown variety. Maybe you could come up with a panel of judges to make a determination as to whether it was sufficiently edible to be useful to space colonists.

Vegas In July

If you’re interested in returning to the moon, you might want to think about attending the Return to the Moon Conference, sponsored by the Space Frontier Foundation, in Las Vegas this July (around the time of the thirty-fifth anniversary of the first manned moon landing on July 20th). Film director James Cameron (Terminator, Titanic) is scheduled as one of the speakers. Considering that the president has made this part of the new space policy, it should be a very interesting meeting.


These guys spammed me this morning. Looks like an interesting site, though I haven’t looked around much. They have launch footage and a movie about Goddard (the man, not the NASA center), along with all the NASA SP-8000 documents, among other things. Anyone know who’s behind the site? I dug around a little, but didn’t find anything.

Incidentally, this illustrates the basic rule of unsolicited commercial email – it’s only spam if you don’t want what they’re selling.

Music To My Ears

The Aldridge Commission is at least singing the right tune:

In many cases, the experts found the modern space agency too wedded to the agency founded at the height of the Cold War to overtake the former Soviet Union’s technical prowess…

…The changes envisioned by the panel would transform NASA into an agency working alongside an industrial partner, academia and parts of other Cabinet-level agencies to expand the nation’s economy into space as a means of creating new wealth and strengthening national security as well as advancing science.

“Creating new wealth.” What a concept.

Let’s hope that they can stay on key. I’ll be looking forward to hearing their recommendations. I do wonder at the use of the singular, though. Why not “alongside industrial partners”? Here’s hoping it’s a misstatement–I hope they’re not intending to set up a monopoly of some kind.

[Via Mark Whittington, from his home-town paper]

[Update at 9 AM PDT]

The administrator agrees.

“Business as usual, if we simply try to overlay this [vision] on top of an existing structure, isn’t going to work,” O’Keefe said. “There is no way that the present organizational structure, and how we do business today, will be the most appropriate way to go about doing this.”

I don’t agree with him on this, though.

O’Keefe also told commissioners that the space infrastructure required to push the new space effort forward is already in place, and stressed that international cooperation will play a vital role in missions to come. The cooperation needed for the International Space Station (ISS), for example, has led to the necessary political relationships, communication networks and engineering teams – among others – to take on such a project, he added.

As I wrote yesterday, international cooperation may be useful, but it shouldn’t be a goal, and it’s certainly not essential, except perhaps from a political standpoint. But more importantly, I disagree that the “space infrastructure required to push the new space effort forward is already in place.”

It remains much too costly to get to orbit, on far too unreliable launchers. The tragedy is that the agency has given up on the goal of improving this situation (not that it was really capable of doing so–it wasted billions over the past couple decades proving that it wasn’t). But the government should be doing more in terms of policy to achieve this goal, even if NASA can’t.