Beyond the Rocket

Beyond the Rocket

by David Hallquist

Liquid fuel and solid rocket engines have gotten up to orbit and the Moon, and has sent probes in slingshot paths throughout the Solar System. The technology is well developed, but it still takes years to reach distant planets, and vast boosters to lift any significant mass to a distant world. We will need something more to reach the farther worlds.

NERVA (Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application) was a concept for manned exploration in the Solar System. The engine incorporated a nuclear reactor, which would then heat the propellent, providing a level of high velocity thrust far more efficient then a chemical rocket. Project Kiwi in 1955 demonstrated a successful test case for the function of the motor, and a manned mission to Mars had been planned for 1981, before being canceled.

Ion engines use charged atoms (ions) that are then accelerated though a magnetic field to very high velocity. Since the ions travel at extreme speed, they can provide far more thrust per mass, making them more efficient. This technology was successfully tested in 1964. Dawn used solar powered ion engines for Solar System flight, is currently exploring the asteroid belt. Ion engines may also function when powered by nuclear engines in deep space. Ion engines also help stabilize the ISS.

Mars and the other worlds of the Solar System are not beyond our reach. We can reach these worlds, with proven technology, we will just have to look beyond the rocket.

Facts about the Universe From Another Angle

The art of science fiction includes looking at aspects of reality, especially scientific truths, from a new angle. The 22 memes linked below certainly do that, and may themselves help to inspire some stories…

Should we visit Europa?


Vox has an interesting post up that looks at why Scientists think there could be life on Jupiter’s moon Europa.. Space exploration seems like a reasonable use of state money, or at least more reasonable than so many other uses so I can get behind this sort of thing. Do you think it is worth it to visit Europa?

Our best shot at finding extraterrestrial life inside the solar system isn’t on Mars. It’s on Europa: a moon of Jupiter that likely has a vast water ocean under its ultra-cold, icy surface. And if all goes as planned, NASA will begin planning an uncrewed exploration mission to Europa next year.

“We think Europa has the ingredients for life,” says Robert Pappalardo, the mission’s project scientist. “Not just liquid water, but probably the right elements and chemical energy that might permit life too.”

After years of failed attempts, NASA appears to be on the verge of finally getting funding for a mission to learn more about Europa, with dedicated money in President Obama’s proposed 2016 budget and support from Republicans in Congress.

The mission’s probe, called the Europa Clipper, would be launched in 2025 and eventually enter orbit around Jupiter, allowing it to fly by the icy moon dozens of times and gather data on the liquid ocean believed to exist under its surface.

Read the Rest

Which Stars to Aim For When Starting Your Galactic Empire

All set and ready to expand out from the solar system and colonize other planets but don’t know where to start? Anyone who has played Sid Meier’s Civilization would say Alpha Centauri is the obvious candidate, and it is, but beyond that?

Among other things, provides a handy list of all the G-type stars within a hundred light years of our own, with links to further information on those star systems and what planets have been found to orbit them so far.

Take a look for yourself, and start planning the expansion of your galactic empire!

On Frontiers


Are all space-voyages about frontiers? Are there still frontiers on earth?

A common theme in science-fiction is the generation colony ship. The idea is that the vessel would take centuries to arrive at its destination, so a large population is aboard to breed generation after generation, with their distant descendants inheriting the new world. The problem with such a scenario is that after several generations, society would likely stagnate. Such a vessel would be a closed system, with no meaningful communication with the outside and no way for people to leave. All resources would be fixed and limited: any one person’s gain would actually be a loss for another. Even worse, the ship’s systems would have to be kept the same, as modifications would more likely damage the ship than improve it, so the ship’s authority or population would likely reject any such change. The end result may be a closed world, with a people less able to adapt to the new, very different to authority and rote. In short, the worst possible group to actually colonize a planet. The people aboard or the current authority may even reject colonization, preferring the safety and predictability of their ship. A similar problem could occur with an isolated space-station, endlessly circling alone and cut off.

It need not be so, of course. A crew asleep or frozen during the trip would still be the eager colonists they were when they left the home-world. Once on a planet, there would be resources and space to spread out. Innovation and initiative would be invaluable to the colony’s expansion. Further, the most innovative and industrious societies that split off would likely be the most successful in growing in size and technical ability.

Likewise, a space-station that was a traffic or construction hub for a world, in constant communication, would not only have reason to avoid being insular, but would be where the successful inclinations would be towards trade and the understanding of other cultures that the great trading peoples tend to exhibit.

Asteroid colonies could be growing frontiers, even if there was a very low population, and few resources. There would be intense pressures for innovation and industry, as well as trade with other settlements as all would not have what was needed. They may trade with the outer system for ice and methane, the inner system for biological material, and sell metals. So, even a small space colony can remain a growing frontier, provided it is not utterly cut off.

On this world we can see this dynamic at work. In societies where it is permitted to innovate and develop new resources, there remains a frontier appreciation of individuality, effort and achievement. Even in developed societies, new growth remains possible.

For the alternatives on earth, one can look to the closed societies. Authoritarian rule, and popular anger are often the rule of the day. Any change required the consent of the ruler or the mobs of the streets. There, any one’s gain is looked at as a theft of carefully hoarded and managed resources, there are no new frontiers in ideas or places.

Frontiers and closed societies may exist in space or on earth, for both ultimately come from human beings.

To new frontiers: on earth and in space.