Space stuff today folks. From NewScientist.com:
A revolutionary plasma rocket engine has been tested for a record time of more than four hours at a test facility in Costa Rica. Scientists at the Ad Astra Rocket Company hope the engine will eventually be cheaper to operate than conventional models and will reduce travel time for space missions.
The company, led by Costa Rican-born, former NASA astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz, hopes to use its rocket engines to boost commercial spacecraft into higher orbits, stabilise space stations, and then to power a trip to Mars within two decades, cutting the travel time by about a third to around three months
The engine works by stripping electrons from hydrogen atoms and accelerating the resulting plasma in an electric field. Expelling the plasma out of the back of the engine generates thrust. The technique is known as Variable Specific-Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) technology, and was conceived in the 1970s.
There have been a myriad of technologies available since the 1960s to get away from using chemical rockets to push spacecraft around. Either the military-industrial-complex has the advanced technologies tied up exclusively for their own use, or somebody or something is suppressing the science. I would really like to see something come of this. Plasma Rocket Breaks Endurance Record
Various governments around the world have been trying to get in on the space program business for decades now, mostly in the communication satellite end of things. Recently though, China has embarked on their own manned space program and are playing catch up with the U.S. and Russia. Russia, after the fall of the U.S.S.R. hasn’t been able to maintain their program money-wise and America has had safety issues and increasing costs associated with the shuttle program. So what to do?
Enter the free market. This I whole-heartedly support. Good old capitalism does have its merits, if true competition is allowed to flourish, instead of monopolistic no-bid bullsh*t that certain governments try to pass off as “free market”.
So certain private companies are trying to enter the near-earth/suborbital tourism market by designing and building true “space-planes” that are durable, space-hardy and safe.
New ‘space jet’ proposed for suborbital jaunts
And finally, I’m going to jump from near-Earth orbit to Mars. A lot of probes have been thrown at the Red Planet in recent years, mainly to see if water (or traces of it) could be found. If evidence of water can be found, future colonization efforts would be eased greatly with it’s discovery. The MRO (Mars Recon Orbiter) and the rovers Spirit and Opportunity have been instrumental in finding traces of an ocean (or at the least, a large sea) that covered Mars a couple of billion years ago.
Nobody knows why Martian water dried up that long ago, speculations run from that Mars’ molten core cooled off, thus shutting down its protective magnetic field to prolonged cometary bombardment. Both theories have their share of physical evidence. But the latest buzz this week of solid evidence of a massive shoreline on Mars gives more credence to the idea that the planet had water on its surface, and thus the chance of primitive live forming. And if proof of non-UFO life forming on another planet can be found, it will forever change Mankind’s outlook on the Universe. Maybe.
Surf’s Up on Mars