Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Space for all coming soon (Part I)?

5 years ago, on 29 September, the space industry was turned on its head by a tinny spacecraft made in a workshop in California's Mojave desert.

SpaceShipOne (SS1) successful flight flew in a new era. One in which space flight would one day be affordable, frequent and accessible to you and me.

SS1 was the first crewed spacecraft to be developed privately. Designed, built and flown on a budget of roughly $25 million, it was towards 10,000x cheaper than the Space Shuttle life costs to date.

SS1 broke the altitude record for winged vehicles set more than 40 years earlier by NASA's X-15 rocket plane. Clearly, a fully reusable space-plane is an essential milestone on the road to a real space-flight future. And yet years on it's easy to regard SS1 as anoma than a pertenant future trend. After making 2 sub-orbital flights in 2 weeks, it never flew again.

However, 'Spaceship Company' - a partnership between SS1's creator Burt Rutan and Richard Branson - have yet too unveil the larger passenger-ready SS2, although the company has revealed the Carrier Aircraft designed to launch it.

Whatever its limitations, SS1 has galvanised attempts to break the 'Space Access' problem. There are now many many more spacecraft development efforts under way than at any point in the history of space flight.

So which idea, or set of ideas, will produce the breakthrough vehicle?

To achieve a true revolution in cost and reliability we have to make a truly reusable system. And that's an enoumous technical challenge. Yet this challenge is gradually yielding to human ingenuity and innovation.

A company called 'SpaceX' has successfully flown its Falcon rocket, after several aborted attempts; and other companies are doing evermore advanced tests with new engines, systems and designs. And one long-awaited test flight later this year may herald a major technological breakthrough in air-breathing engines that could power a winged vehicle from runway to orbit.

Both of these efforts will bring low cost and reliable space access much closers. However, there's much more afoot than meets the eye (see part II below)

Space for all coming soon (Part II)?

So what's the issue?

Well encombant space vehicles can be broadly divided into two categories: (1) those inspired by winged aircraft and (2) those inspired by ballistic rockets (the difference between wizz and the bang).

In the early days of the space race both winged and ballistic craft were considered viable options for reaching orbit. Yet they represent vastly different ideas about space travel in terms of both the engineering challenges and economic viability.

Ballistic spacecraft basically pile in the fuel and use brute force to push their way into space, shedding engines and fuel tanks on their way up to lighten the load.

Winged spacecraft are the more elegant option. Launching from the ground or from the back or belly of another aircraft, they use the Earth's atmosphere for lift as long as possible. On the way back, they glide down to Earth to be used again and again. Their potential reusability has led to the tantalising idea that winged spacecraft could, in time, be much cheaper to operate than ballistic throwaways. They might even use the same facilities as commercial airliners, opening up space travel to commerce and tourism.

In plain reality, winged spacecraft like SS1 and NASA's X-15 - which reached an altitude of 107 kilometres - have never really made it past the lower reaches of space. Their on-board rocket engines lacked the oomph to propel them the extra 60 kilometres (to 167k) needed to reach orbit.

The conspicuous exception to this rule is the space shuttle, a vehicle that was part winged spacecraft and part ballistic vehicle. The shuttle isn't completely reusable, however, on each flight the expensive external fuel tanks are dumped in the ocean. Yet it showcases the most important technologies for low-cost, reliable access to space. The key is Reusability, combined with Flying Often. Where the shuttle falls down is the 'Flying Often' part.

Originally designed to fly hundreds of times a year and reduce costs of each flight, the shuttle fleet has never managed more than 9 flights in a year.

However, NASA's so-called 'Constellation Programme' - a mega-project set to replace the current shuttle - has a amjor goal of sending people to the moon on a regular basis. But while some elements of Constellation's spacecraft are designed to be reusable, the design - I think - is a step back towards the Apollo era. It can probably be made reliable enough, but it will never be low-cost because it will never be flown enough.

And so? The true space era - based on these encumbant technologies - seems, well, some way-away.

But that's not the end of the story. There are alturnative space access technologies now being experimented with that are so radical, so revolutionary, and so compelling that, I think, may shock even the most hardend Hyperinnovator (see part III below).

Click here to see the big picture!

Space for all coming soon (Part III)?

Recall the much loved story 'Charley and the Great Glass Elevator?' It may be a metaphor for the shape of space-flight to come!

Not to worry, I'm not going to try to convince you that we are all about to attach large silicon boxes to space anchored sky-hooks.

But from serious fact to fascinating fiction Space Elevators have been called space bridges, space ladders, beanstalks, skyhooks, and the great glass elevator.

So, now down to earth (and maybe up again).... What is actually happening?

Believe it or not the original idea goes back to 1895 to Konstantin Tsioikovsky. Back then he proposed a free standing Tower stretching to a level where obits can take place. That's where earth's atmosphere and its gravitational pull relinquishes to a point where masses can hover or can circle the earth. And that happens at about 170 kilometers up.

Most space Elevators ideas hang on tether and sheet like cables, where the structure is in tension on earth and counter weighted in space like a guitar string held taut. Problems is, a tether material made, for example, of Carbide Steel (CS) with a diameter of a mere 1mm would snap under its own weight. In fact the total mass of CS needed to construct such a structure would be so great that the cable would break in less than 2000 meters down.

News is that the much much famed CarbonNanoTube (CNT) is around 20 times the strength of CS in its natural from. Even better news is the kinds of molecular bonds obtainable from CNTs. They give an extraordinary number of creative interconnections, resulting in ultra-strength multidimensional geometric weaves. This Hypermaterial offers not just linear strength (20x steel), but 1000x the strength of steel, with at least 1000x less the weight.

But how strong does a Space Elevator tether have to be?

Many numbers are bandied about, and usually with a designation of GPa (Giga-Pascals) as their unit of measure. However, a GPa figure is meaningless without a density figure to go with it. The metric at question is GPa/(g/cc), or specific strength - strength-per-density.

The textile industry, which often deals with specific strength of materials, uses the unit of N/Tex. If you work out the units, a N/Tex turns out to be exactly equivalent to a GPa/(g/cc). In the metric system, we define 1 Yuri = 1 Pa/(kg/m3), and so a GPa/(g/cc) or a N/tex are equal to 1 MYuri (Mega Yuri).

Think about it this way: if you pull on a garden hose and it breaks at 100 lb, and if the diameter of the hose is such that its area is 2 square inches, can you say that the rubber failed at 50 PSI? Of course not - the hose is mostly air, only the wall of the hose is holding the force. you should use the area of the wall, not the hose.

In exactly the same way, if 12 inches of the garden hose weighs a pound, can you say that the density of the rubber is 1/24 [lbs/in3]? Of course not - only the wall of the hose has weight.

BUT!!! You can safely say that the *specific strength* of the rubber is 50/(1/24)=1200 PSI/(lb/in3) and you don’t have to even measure the diameter of the hose - just divide the breaking force (100) by the linear mass density (1/12), and you get the same exact number (1200). The cross-sectional area canceled out, and the only two things we need to measure is the breaking *force* (in lbs) and the weigh-per-linear-inch. Hence N/Tex.

So back to the Space Elevator: computer simulations of CNTs cap the specific strength of individual tubes at between 40 and 50 MYuri. Practical measurements seem to converge on that number as well. The density of Carbon Nanotubes is 2.2 g/cc, so using this density the proper strength figure is 88-110 GPa.

Remember though, it’s the 40-50 MYuri figure that’s the deal maker. We can build a Space Elevator using a 40 MYuri material. Even 30. It’s just that the lower the specific strength, the heavier the ribbon, and the more powerful our motors have to be.

So when will this all happen?

I'll come to that in later blog postings. But for now I would urge you to spend sometime watching the above video. Click on the above title and see.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Watch Touchable Holography


Touchable holographic displays?

Researchers from The University of Tokyo Shinoda lab have figured out a way to add touch to holograms.

It's surprising stuff.

Click on title to watch vid!

Hyperphones with nanoscale engineering capabilities are in the R&D labs NOW.

Click on title to a product concept video presenation from Nokia Nanotech.

Mind blowing stuff. Capable of things we now do not only have, but have not even have thought of before.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Click here to see latest move toward Nanomanufacturing.


The above picture is of IBM's prototype 3D-Nanochip, which gives massively powerful parallel computing capability in ultra-tiny space.

In essence, within 5 years ultra-computing (100 teraflops) will be in your handheld device for around 500 hundred dollars.

That's 100 million times improvement in terms of price-performance since the time when mobile handheld computers came to market.

The functionality will take Hyperinnovation to new heights.

Microlasers will enable 3D laser holographic projectors to be embedded in such handheld devicea.

That means small devices that emit light-based functional interface technologies, such as keypads that is laser projection. Bang goes the hardware, here comes lightware!