So towards the end of April 2012, several space based headline grabbing stories were published through media outlets: A new British rocket engine (Skylon), asteroid space mining backed by Google (Planetary Resources) and a robotic trip to Saturn’s moon Titan.
Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, with director James Cameron, engineers, scientists and astronauts Chris Lewicki, Tom Jones, Eric Anderson, Peter H. Diamandis, along with other venture capital investors have teamed together to form Planetary Resources. Their mission is to capture asteroids to mine, and use their resources in space, as well as back here on Earth. This idea sounds more like the plot line to a space science fiction opera, however Planetary Resources’ mission is to be fully operational in mining asteroids within 10 years time.
How do they aim to achieve this feat? In short, robot satellite exploration of asteroid rocks, to net and bring close to Earth for mining, taking resources to the Moon and ‘shuttling’ back to Earth. To get these satellites into orbit, private space travel enterprises will be used. Currently there is nothing that can fulfil this task commercially. However in a few years, and possibly within a year or two, there will be private rocket spaceships and high altitude shuttle rides regularly available from SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and others licensed for commercial use. SpaceX recently (May 2012) achieved a milestone with a successful launch of the Falcon rocket supplying the ISS and returning safely to Earth.
There is another ‘rocket’ type technology in the offering. Skylon picks up from the shelved British HOTOL (Horizontal Take-Off and Landing) project of the early 1980s. Rocket technology at the heart of the Skylon spaceship is a new innovation, the Sabre engine. Capable of breathing air at lower altitudes while keeping the engine supercool and being able to switch over to a oxygen & hydrogen mix with the flick of a switch, for higher altitudes and outside of Earth’s atmosphere.
Recent tests under observation of ESA scientists show that the Sabre engine is all systems go! No longer would a conventional rocket be required, as the Skylon spaceship would take off like a conventional jet aircraft, reach a high altitude and switch over to ‘pure’ rocket engine mode, all with the same engine. This innovation could revolutionise Earth orbit space travel for all. However current space ‘rocket’ innovation is far from the science fiction pages of galaxy class star ships like the USS Enterprise, or the exploratory interplanetary vessel Prometheus, and inter-dimensional vehicles like a TARDIS which exist in the realms of fantasy fiction to many.
The conventional means of using rocket technology is still very much the current thinking for many space entrepreneurs. Rocket engines are inefficient because most of their launch payload is spent fuel getting the craft and payload into orbit. Space rocket ships also have another major disadvantage, they are generally not designed for local planetary space travel, let alone interstellar travel beyond our solar system or galaxy. Current space ‘probe’ satellite ships can use planetary bodies to sling-shot around in order to gain additional momentum, or ion engines which are slow burning but effective over a long period of time in microgravity. Once their fuel source is spent, they will not be able to accelerate further or decelerate, without external influence.
Thinking outside of the conventional box is required. Thinking small is good when it comes to space mining and exploration. With microgravity, spaceships do not need to be like large ocean holiday liners, or massive supertanker ships. Small robotic craft that is modular and can latch onto one another, to make larger craft, is a possible way to more forward. Using origami technology as NASA has deployed for folding solar panels is another technology that should be widely adopted within the space industry.
For atmospheric Earth travel, getting robotic satellites into orbit could be achieved using weather-like balloons that can travel to high altitudes. Then a small disposable ‘rocket motor’ will take the craft into orbit, or beyond to a space station or the Moon. This disposable rocket motor can be built out of materials such as a composite graphite-paper, i.e., constructed out of paper, tin foil and plastic composites with a graphene circuit. Alternatively polycarbide plastic, ceramic, iron, graphite and graphene composites can be made for more re-usable non-disposable rockets, which then parachute down back through the atmosphere.
Utilising magnetic shielding in placement of ceramic tiles will help re-entry through Earth’s heat shield for any vehicle that travels into high orbit. I also have a new proposal for a replacement rocket engine or ion engine for interstellar travel that I have created on paper. This concept is more than an idea, as I have a descriptive model with intuitive knowledge on how to create a functioning technological innovation. My ideas are currently being written into science fiction short stories, should any space entrepreneurs wish to contact me and help develop these ideas beyond their “science fiction” pages.
Utilising kites with balloons for energy collection, such as Magenn‘s air rotor system which exploits the Coriolis effect, will help power a space-flight centre. A gravitational Coriolis effects can be employed to generate some interesting space-time effects, using a split-beam spherical rotational magnetic mirror ‘spinning’ light through a Fresnel lens system, composed of many small modules that focus into a Dyson sphere tokamak engine.
While space asteroid mining, Skylon Sabre engine and passenger low Earth orbit ventures are designed for profit, there are also benefits for humanity. The cost of creating and running such projects will be in the billions of US dollars. Further innovation and social benefits will come from profits, and many future benefits may not have been dreamt or imagined yet. After all, big things have small beginnings.
- Tech tycoons in asteroid mining venture
- Google pair back plan to lasso asteroids and mine them for precious metals
- The investment we all have in asteroid mining
- Key tests for Skylon spaceplane project
- Skylon: A British dream of space
- ‘Boat’ could explore the oceans of Saturn’s moon Titan
- Planetary Resources
- Cosmic rays: the truth is still out there… somewhere