Once again, the UK is copying our nuclear homework! Now with more pictures because we all like to look at space stuff.
Nuclear reactors in space are not a new concept. Power's pretty scarce up there, especially with some of the really shit solar panels we used to have, and a nuclear reactor is a lot of power for designers who are used to working with figures in hundreds of Watts. In most orbits (there are some weird polar orbits at specific times of the year when this doesn't apply) you don't have access to the Sun, because it's behind whatever you're orbiting. If it's a high orbit this doesn't matter so much, but it becomes a problem during low orbits, and you need enough battery capacity to power the whole thing while you're in the dark, and enough power generation capacity to recharge it while it's in the sun before it goes out again. This is going to be a huge problem on the Artemis program, because these astronauts are gonna be on the Moon for like a month at a time, and half of that is gonna be in total darkness. You need a lot of power to keep people alive (mostly warm, O2 is less of an issue than you'd expect).
This is not to be confused with nuclear rocket engines, which are really fetch and also making a comeback. Rockets basically work by throwing stuff (mass) out the back of a vehicle and driving it forward. Like a standing on a skateboard and throwing a basketball. The more energy you can add to the stuff, the faster you can throw it, and the farther you'll go per unit of stuff you throw. The measure of how efficiently that works is called specific impulse (I_sp), and is tied to exhaust velocity, but it's kind of a pain in the butt to explain so just trust me on this. Usually you add energy by combusting a fuel (thing you burn) and an oxidizer (oxygen to burn thing with) into very hot gas, and then shooting out a nozzle. If you can add more energy with other methods, that also increases specific impulse. A nuclear thermal rocket takes that combusted gas, then runs a heat exchanger attached to a nuclear reactor through it, adding a shitload of energy. They're stupidly efficient. They'll be great for interplanetary transit, because they'll cut the travel time down by a lot.
That program used to be called NERVA (Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application), and ran for twenty years but never launched because even the government who were nuke testing every week like it was going out of style thought it was too dangerous to fly on those old shitty rockets. And given how many of those rockets exploded constantly back then I'm not surprised. It was cancelled in the 70s by Nixon, who was a huge girl peepee. It's now being revived as a DARPA program called DRACO, which is sick. It's the second picture in this post, the artist mockup by GD.
Anyway for like the last decade, a very small team of NASA engineers have been trying to convince NASA to go back to using fission reactors on spacecraft so they can have real power budgets. There's a few programs that use plutonium radioisotope thermoelectric generators (see Perseverance, Curiosity, Cassini, Voyager 1+2), which have no moving parts and generate voltage off of the heat and radiation, but these new ones are different and way more powerful. They use uranium instead of plutonium (much more available than plutonium, more convenient reactor fuel), and run off of an actual thermodynamic cycle instead of metal bonding bullshit effects. They named it KRUSTY, which is kind of funny.
Plutonium is a huge pain to come by because there isn't a whole lot of it, and you basically have to run your weapons enrichment program to get more. Uranium is just kind of around. Plus radiation isn't an issue, because there's no birds to irradiate (@TED_SIMP will be happy), and a small nuclear reactor is peanuts compared to all of the other radiation floating around up there.
Anyhow, nuclear reactors for tons of spacecraft applications are incredibly convenient, and are going to mean huge leaps forward in space tech because we no longer have to run everything off of fricking solar panels. This concept is the UK's attempt at replicating the KRUSTY reactor. They don't give any real information, like size or power output, just that they're gonna try and copy our homework.
It's amazing that NASA today is still practically behind where they were in the late 60's/early 70's, and most space programs are behind even that. SpaceX is making huge advancements, but they're a commercial enterprise and it's gonna take some time before that tech gets moved over to the space exploration side of things. Soviet space tech was so ludicrously far ahead of everyone else, it's embarrassing.
Also thinking of changing my username, any recs?
Wakey wakey dramatards, it's time for more space news.
I like writing about this stuff, I actually know a load about it, so I'm going to keep doing this until everyone gets sick of it. Instead of reading journ*list articles who know frick all about what they're talking about, why not have some expert information?
For some fun context, Venus is an absolute nightmare planet, and very difficult to survey. It has the fun distinction of not only rotating in the wrong direction (backwards compared to every other planet), but also extremely slowly, with a Venusian day (single rotation) being longer than a Venusian year (rotation around sun). This is worse than being tidal locked (strong gravitational field on a body that locks one side facing towards the parent, like the Moon), where the day is equal to the year.
Venus, Earth, and Mars are in what's called the Goldilocks Zone (or 'habitable' zone if you hate fun), a zone in which planets would get juuuust enough heat to have liquid water. Not too much, not too little, just right. Mars (probably) used to have massive oceans and rivers, and you can still see the scarring from the waterways on the surface. Ages ago, Mars cooled off and the molten core solidified, which means the inner iron core stopped rotating, which killed the magnetic field. With no more magnetic field to protect it, solar wind slowly ionized and blasted away the atmosphere, and with it the oceans, until it became the dead rock you see now. This is why so many rovers are going around mars, looking for fetch martian fish that may have been there before.
Where Mars simply no longer supports life, Venus is openly hostile to it. The atmosphere is so dense that the pressure is like being 800m underwater, except instead of water it's all carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid. These clouds block the surface from the sky and make it very difficult to photograph with regular cameras. It's so hot down there that the surface temperature will melt lead. We just had no idea what it looked like for the longest time, because you either need to go down there, or have some kind of imaging that gets past the clouds. The Soviets sent a few landers down there in the 70s, where they took some fetch photos and then melted like 20 minutes later.
Enter Magellan. The Magellan mission was a NASA mission from back in the 90's, aiming to map the gravitational field of Venus, and take some nice photos with what's called Synthetic Apeture Radar (SAR), a radar imaging techinique where some nice math tricks get you really high res photos, and it gets past all of those inconvenient clouds. They found some pretty interesting stuff, namely that there were very few impact craters (unusual), no oceans like on earth, but mostly volcanoes everywhere. The question has always been if they were active or not. Fast forward to today, when the VERITAS (not the news org) mission was selected for flight back (meaning they proposed it and its happening) in 2021, and will launch starting in 2027.
This prompted some scientist, who was bored in a Zoom meeting, to take a look at the old data now that Venus is fetch again,and he found that in the 8 months that Magellan was there, one of the mountains it was looking at had changed shape pretty radically (doubled in size)
There's really only one explanation for this, and that's volcanic activity. Which means that Venus is not a geologically dead planet, which is big news. Bottom line is that volcanoes are important for possibility of life, because it introduces some kind of specific chemicals into the environment and keeps the planet warm, which is all I really know. This basically just proves what everyone already knew, but it's kind of cool
Breakdown from the article for people who are lazy.
$19.2 billion for research, development, testing and engineering (RDT&E)
$4.7 billion for procurement
$4.9 billion for operations and maintenance
$1.2 billion for military personnel
It's a LOT of money, doubling the USSF budget from 2021. It's more than NASA's budget in the same year, and a good chunk of NASA's budget goes into aeronautical research. And two thirds of that massive number is going into R&D. That's a huge perk of the Air/Space force split, is that there's now an incredibly well funded US government branch exclusively funding new space tech, and then buying a lot of it too. That's going to dramatically increase the amount of new tech available to everyone as these same companies will reuse what they develop on other satellites.
A lot of that money is going into LEO satellites, and a lot of it into new launch vehicles. There's a huge focus on smaller spacecraft that can be built faster and sent up cheaper, and it looks like micro/picosat constellations are now definitely the way forward.
More funding means more actors in space means more spacecraft means more people involved means growing industry. We're all gonna make it
This is pretty sad actually, they were the only ones doing the air launch strategy, which is a fundamentally good idea but very difficult to execute. I think the concept may die with them, at least for the foreseeable future.
Their launch failed in January with an unexpected fuel line disconnection. All previous launch attempts have also failed, and it’s not looking good for their company. They apparently found and fixed it for the next launch, but maintaining and operating a 747 and a rocketry program is not cheap.
A reminder that rocket science is hard is not out of the question, sometimes you can put together the best group of people in the world and it can still frick it up. You may never even know why, it just happens.
Here’s hoping it doesn’t spread to other companies.
Context: Ion/Hal thrusters accelerate a propellant (i.e. a fuel) using electricity . Calling this electric propulsion is not really an epic own (though most redditors prefer to just argue against high school physics instead)
A rocket can't be electric since for it to be a rocket it needs a rocket engine, but this just semantics and has nothing to do with Newton's 3rd law. Elecric propulsion is possible using an Ion Thruster.
I love when people who actually know shit call Musk out. As a professional software dev I always had this hunch that what he said in his interviews about cars, rockets, trains, etc. was BS but never was in the position to prove it.
Elon is right but it doesn't count becaaauuuuse his semantics and this hunch i have
Starlink satellites use hall effect thrusters. Musk not only sucks at engineering but he doesn't even know his own product line.
Redditor completely BTFOs musk by pointing out that his companies already use these technologies
But we could use a balloon to reach the sky, and then some sort of electric propeller.
What if we launch a giant air balloon into orbit
Hi, actual physicist here. He doesn’t know what the frick he’s talking about. Also my father was a physicist and it so happens he worked on researching electric rockets for NASA in the 1960s.
/r/witchesvspatriarchy user chimes in (real physicist btw)
Because apparently you can't use electricity to create propulsion directly. Oh, wait [ion propulsion wiki link].
proceeds to link something that doesn't create propulsion directly
In this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!
it's all so tiresome
It's another starlink launch, but the important part of this is the engines on the satellites.
For the not in the loop, hall effect thrusters are primarily a soviet design, introduced to western spaceflight in 1992 after the collapse of the soviet union. They're low thrust but very high range, and work by ionizing some heavy noble gas (usually xenon or krypton), and blasting it out the back. The most recent batch of starlink satellites now makes Hall effect thrusters the most dominant form of electric engine in operation right now, and they're fascinating because they use argon, a much lighter but much more common noble gas.
Anyway congrats SpaceX because they continue to make the whole fricking world look like chumps, including global superpower backed space programs (looking at you ESA). No matter what Elon does in any other market, SpaceX's heave of this neglected industry back into the spotlight, and the restoration of spaceflight as a point of national pride, completely redeems him.
US protector of Earth from asteroids goes brr.
In this exclusive excerpt from William Shatner's new book, "Boldly Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and Wonder," the "Star Trek" actor reflects on his voyage into space on Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin space shuttle on Oct. 13, 2021. Then 90 years old, Shatner became the oldest living person to travel into space, but as the actor and author details below, he was surprised by his own reaction to the experience.
So, I went to space.
Our group, consisting of me, tech mogul Glen de Vries, Blue Origin Vice President and former NASA International Space Station flight controller Audrey Powers, and former NASA engineer Dr. Chris Boshuizen, had done various simulations and training courses to prepare, but you can only prepare so much for a trip out of Earth's atmosphere! As if sensing that feeling in our group, the ground crew kept reassuring us along the way. "Everything's going to be fine. Don't worry about anything. It's all okay." Sure, easy for them to say, I thought. They get to stay here on the ground.
During our preparation, we had gone up eleven flights of the gantry to see what it would be like when the rocket was there. We were then escorted to a thick cement room with oxygen tanks. "What's this room for?" I asked casually.
"Oh, you guys will rush in here if the rocket explodes," a Blue Origin fellow responded just as casually.
Uh-huh. A safe room. Eleven stories up. In case the rocket explodes.
Well, at least they've thought of it.
When the day finally arrived, I couldn't get the Hindenburg out of my head. Not enough to cancel, of course---I hold myself to be a professional, and I was booked. The show had to go on.
We got ourselves situated inside the pod. You have to strap yourself in in a specific order. In the simulator, I didn't nail it every time, so as I sat there, waiting to take off, the importance of navigating weightlessness to get back and strap into the seat correctly was at the forefront of my mind.
That, and the Hindenburg crash.
Then there was a delay.
"Sorry, folks, there's a slight anomaly in the engine. It'll just be a few moments."
An anomaly in the engine?! That sounds kinda serious, doesn't it?
An anomaly is something that does not belong. What is currently in the engine that doesn't belong there?!
More importantly, why would they tell us that? There is a time for unvarnished honesty. I get that. This wasn't it.
Apparently, the anomaly wasn't too concerning, because thirty seconds later, we were cleared for launch and the countdown began. With all the attending noise, fire, and fury, we lifted off. I could see Earth disappearing. As we ascended, I was at once aware of pressure. Gravitational forces pulling at me. The g's. There was an instrument that told us how many g's we were experiencing. At two g's, I tried to raise my arm, and could barely do so. At three g's, I felt my face being pushed down into my seat. I don't know how much more of this I can take, I thought. Will I pass out? Will my face melt into a pile of mush? How many g's can my ninety-year-old body handle?
And then, suddenly, relief. No g's. Zero. Weightlessness. We were floating.
We got out of our harnesses and began to float around. The other folks went straight into somersaults and enjoying all the effects of weightlessness. I wanted no part in that. I wanted, needed to get to the window as quickly as possible to see what was out there.
I looked down and I could see the hole that our spaceship had punched in the thin, blue-tinged layer of oxygen around Earth. It was as if there was a wake trailing behind where we had just been, and just as soon as I'd noticed it, it disappeared.
I continued my self-guided tour and turned my head to face the other direction, to stare into space. I love the mystery of the universe. I love all the questions that have come to us over thousands of years of exploration and hypotheses. Stars exploding years ago, their light traveling to us years later; black holes absorbing energy; satellites showing us entire galaxies in areas thought to be devoid of matter entirely... all of that has thrilled me for years... but when I looked in the opposite direction, into space, there was no mystery, no majestic awe to behold . . . all I saw was death.
I saw a cold, dark, black emptiness. It was unlike any blackness you can see or feel on Earth. It was deep, enveloping, all-encompassing. I turned back toward the light of home. I could see the curvature of Earth, the beige of the desert, the white of the clouds and the blue of the sky. It was life. Nurturing, sustaining, life. Mother Earth. Gaia. And I was leaving her.
Everything I had thought was wrong. Everything I had expected to see was wrong.
I had thought that going into space would be the ultimate catharsis of that connection I had been looking for between all living things---that being up there would be the next beautiful step to understanding the harmony of the universe. In the film "Contact," when Jodie Foster's character goes to space and looks out into the heavens, she lets out an astonished whisper, "They should've sent a poet." I had a different experience, because I discovered that the beauty isn't out there, it's down here, with all of us. Leaving that behind made my connection to our tiny planet even more profound.
It was among the strongest feelings of grief I have ever encountered. The contrast between the vicious coldness of space and the warm nurturing of Earth below filled me with overwhelming sadness. Every day, we are confronted with the knowledge of further destruction of Earth at our hands: the extinction of animal species, of flora and fauna . . . things that took five billion years to evolve, and suddenly we will never see them again because of the interference of mankind. It filled me with dread. My trip to space was supposed to be a celebration; instead, it felt like a funeral.
I learned later that I was not alone in this feeling. It is called the "Overview Effect" and is not uncommon among astronauts, including Yuri Gagarin, Michael Collins, Sally Ride, and many others. Essentially, when someone travels to space and views Earth from orbit, a sense of the planet's fragility takes hold in an ineffable, instinctive manner. Author Frank White first coined the term in 1987: "There are no borders or boundaries on our planet except those that we create in our minds or through human behaviors. All the ideas and concepts that divide us when we are on the surface begin to fade from orbit and the moon. The result is a shift in worldview, and in identity."
It can change the way we look at the planet but also other things like countries, ethnicities, religions; it can prompt an instant reevaluation of our shared harmony and a shift in focus to all the wonderful things we have in common instead of what makes us different. It reinforced tenfold my own view on the power of our beautiful, mysterious collective human entanglement, and eventually, it returned a feeling of hope to my heart. In this insignificance we share, we have one gift that other species perhaps do not: we are aware---not only of our insignificance, but the grandeur around us that makes us insignificant. That allows us perhaps a chance to rededicate ourselves to our planet, to each other, to life and love all around us. If we seize that chance.
ORLANDO — SpaceX’s static-fire test of nearly all the engines in its Starship booster earlier this month was “the last box to check” before the vehicle’s first orbital launch attempt, likely some time in March, a company official said Feb. 21.
Speaking on a panel at the Space Mobility conference here about “rocket cargo” delivery, Gary Henry, senior advisor for national security space solutions at SpaceX, said both the Super Heavy booster and its launch pad were in good shape after the Feb. 9 test, clearing the way for an orbital launch that is still pending a Federal Aviation Administration launch license.
“We had a successful hot fire, and that was really the last box to check,” he said. “The vehicle is in good shape. The pad is in good shape.”
Only 31 of the 33 Raptor engines in the Super Heavy booster fired. SpaceX Chief Executive Rocket Daddy tweeted just after the test that one engine was commanded off just before ignition and a second shut down early. He later said that the engines ran at 50% of their rated thrust.
That led to speculation that SpaceX would need to perform a second static-fire test to get all 33 engines, or to run them at higher thrust levels. Henry, though, suggested that SpaceX was not planning another such test before an orbital launch attempt.
“Pretty much all of the prerequisites to supporting an orbital demonstration attempt here in the next month or so look good,” he said.
The company still needs to obtain an FAA launch license before attempting the launch. “We hope to secure that license in the very near future,” he said, setting up a launch attempt “probably in the month of March.”
Once SpaceX performs that orbital launch demonstration, Henry said the company is ready to move ahead rapidly with operational Starship launches. “We very, very quickly converge on a system that we can operationalize,” he said, starting with launches of second-generation Starlink satellites. “We have a few that are waiting very patiently to be launched on Starship.”
Those initial Starlink launches will serve as a test program, he explained, refining the launch and recovery of the two stages of Starship. “Somewhere in that journey that will be happening this year, we’re going to make a major pivot to the next piece of the Human Landing System architecture,” he said, by demonstrating the orbital depot needed for on-orbit refueling of the lunar lander version of Starship.
That will provide additional experience testing Starship through the tankers that will fly to deliver propellant to the depot. “The nice thing about tankers is that they’ve got to reenter as well,” he said. “We’ve created this rubric, in the next year or two, where we will be able to do a lot of experimentation on that thermal protection system that will allow successful reentry of Starship.”
Starship, Henry argued later in the panel, will sharply drive down launch costs. “We are on the cusp of seeing an opportunity of mass to orbit go from $2,000 a kilogram to $200 a kilogram,” he said. In the long term, costs could further decline to the point where the propellant is the largest factor in the per-launch marginal cost.
“If Elon gets his way,” he said, “you’re at $20 per kilogram.”
Lots of big brains in the comments:
Some people just hate fun:
world-class grift if you can pull it off
they couldn't and got caught LMBO
Full resolution (10k): https://webbtelescope.org/contents/media/images/2023/106/01GQ2TJ92FQK45MY7JEYKWS834