While NASA is in the throes of budgetary Purgatory, they did manage to come up with an unique, inexpensive way to put a couple of probes that have finished their primary mission into Lunar orbit to do some extra science:
A pair of Earth-orbiting satellites designed to study the auroras are making a detour to visit the moon.
The two spacecraft are part of a fleet of five launched into Earth orbit by NASA in 2007 on a mission called THEMIS (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms). They have been studying the space storms that trigger the northern and southern lights, or auroras, on Earth.
But two of the satellites were set to go on death row earlier this year. If they had been left in their original orbits, the solar-powered craft would have made lengthy passages through Earth’s shadow in March 2010, fatally draining their batteries, according to a Discovery News story.
To avoid this and to squeeze some more science out of the two spacecraft, the THEMIS team decided to send them farther from Earth and park them in orbit around the moon.
But there was a problem. Getting into orbit around the moon takes a lot of energy, and the two spacecraft simply didn’t have enough fuel to get the job done. So the team devised a clever, roundabout way to get there on a shoestring.
“We realized that if we had enough fuel to change their orbits, the moon’s gravity would start pulling them up,” the mission’s chief scientist Vassilis Angelopoulos of the University of California, Berkeley, told Discovery News.
The spacecraft were already in elongated orbits that passed close to Earth at one end and looped far into space at the other end. Starting in 2009, the spacecraft used their thrusters to extend the far end of their orbits, setting them up for close encounters with the moon.
The gravitational slingshot effect from these lunar encounters, as well as the probes’ close passes near Earth, changed their trajectories drastically – you can see the technical details here (pdf). Their own thrusters should be able to do the rest of the job, putting them in orbit around the moon in 2011. There, they will measure tenuous gas surrounding the moon, called the exosphere, and record the interaction of the solar wind with the moon.
Not bad for two spacecraft that would have been space junk by now without this creative rescue plan.
So NASA is capable of planning economic missions if pressed. We need more thinking like this.
Remember Atlantropa? The German idea from the early 20th Century to put a dam in the Straits of Gibraltar and divert the waters of the Mediterranean Sea into Africa in order to modify the Sahara Desert? (link)
Well, the Shimizu Corporation has a similar idea with its ‘Aqua-Net’:
Challenges of the future include energy use and continued population growth. And, while there are millions of square miles of land available in the world, not all of it is considered fit for human habitation. Shimizu Corporation, the company contemplating the Luna Ring, has another interesting project in the “just coming up with an idea” stage: The Desert Aqua-Net.
The Desert Aqua-Net is an idea that involves the building of interconnected lakes in the desert. These 18-mile-diameter lakes would be connected by canals fed from the ocean. The lakes would include built islands that could serve as homes for cities teeming with people. Supposedly, this would work because water from the lake would cool the cities, making them livable. There would also be arable land, theoretically, after this cooling above the desert lake islands. The cities would be powered by satellite power stations, and by the sun.
One of the biggest draw backs is that the lakes would be filled with seawater. While the salt water would provide the opportunities for water-based wildlife, and even for biomass development, it doesn’t provide much opportunity for drinking. However, Shimizu plans that the some of the water would be desalinated, and thus made fit for human consumption and for irrigation of crops.
Of course, cost is a huge barrier to a project like the Aqua-Net. It would be extremely expensive, not to mention use vast resources, to build this Desert Aqua-Net. Other problems could easily arise, related to impacts on oceans and rivers. And, of course, predicting weather patterns, and changes to the climate, could present problems, since these cities could be impacted quite a bit. Finally, and not least, issues of sovereignty would likely arise — especially since the Desert Aqua-Net would require a great deal of cooperation between countries.
I think I would try this project in Australia first. They have experienced an extended drought in their interior for over seven years plus they have an advanced sea-water desalinization technology.
If the powers that be are trying to push for a Kardashev “Type One” civilization here, control of all of the planet’s resources and climate is necessary.
Today’s hat tip is Graham Hancock’s NewsDesk.