Thank you to the team at the Oxford University Space & Astronomy society for a very pleasant evening. I had a positive response to the seminar, with plenty of intelligent questions (as expected from the venue ;-) ). Some most rewarding conversations afterwards, including meeting a Virgin Galactic ticket holder.
I'll be at the UKSA Space Technology Roadmap meeting at the National Space Centre tomorrow (uh... today). Will try to take some notes (though I singularly failed to type up the notes I took from the departmental roadmap meeting... ;p).
Here's something a little different ;-) Some of the best and most interesting depictions of near-future space technology in recent fiction have been in the medium of anime, or Japanese animation. I gave a talk on this subject at the UK anime convention Aya Revolution, discussing some of the best space anime and how they touch on real-world space technology.
A video of slides and clips from the talk is available for download. Apologies for the quality, but it had to be compressed quite heavily to create a reasonable file size (the original MOV generated by Keynote was 1GB in size!).
"Lord Mandelson, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills and Science and Innovation Minister, Lord Drayson invite you to the launch of the new executive space agency for the UK and the publication of the Government response to the Space Innovation and Growth Strategy."
Woohoo! (starts searching for a half-way decent shirt and tie...).
The latest in the highly-acclaimed edumanga series from No Starch Press, The Manga Guide to the Universe explores the Universe, with the aid of manga cartoons. The story revolves around three students who develop an interest in the Universe after listening to a Japanese folktale about a girl from the Moon. The girls enlist Kanta, an astronomy major, to teach them more about the Universe.
The Manga Guide to the Universe begins with an overview of how ancient cultures thought about and studied the Sun, Moon, and stars, coupled with an overview of important astronomical work by Copernicus, Gallileo, and other seminal astronomers. Kanta explains how our solar system works; how we calculate distance in space; the Big Bang Theory; and theories about the Universe's evolution and cosmic expansion. Readers explore the Milky Way, faraway galaxies, supernovas, quasars, and black holes, as well as the history of space exploration, including the Moon landing, the launch of the International Space Station, and the Hubble Space Telescope--all with the aid of original Manga cartoons. This edumanga title is co-published with Ohmsha, Ltd. of Tokyo, Japan, and is one in a series of translations from Ohmsha's bestselling Japanese originals.
Bearing in mind that Burt was himself part of an effort by the 'commercial guys' to go beyond Earth orbit, I find his comments particularly... erm... odd. Plus there's the whole "we shouldn't rely on free enterprise because it might fail". What kind of attitude is that for an American (and a successful entrepreneur at that) to have?? :-p The (very brief) article doesn't make it clear what Burt thinks we should be using, but it should be pretty damned obvious that it's not Constellation. That is D-E-A-D, and even the defibrillator of stimulus funding isn't going to make it walk again. Maybe it's something DIRECT-shaped? I guess we'll find out in due course...
Sigh. I can almost hear Sen. Shelby cackling with laughter from here...
Update:Clark has more details on Burt's actual views, which aren't quite as black-and-white as the WSJ paints them.. He laments the perceived loss of ambition in deep-space exploration, rather than lambasting the transfer of manned LEO capability to the commercial sector.
"I am concerned to see NASA manned spaceflight disappear, since they provided world leadership in the '60s and part of the '70s. The result was America’s universities being the leader in science/engineering Ph.D.s. Many American kids will be depressed by the thought that our accomplishments will not be continued and thus America will fall deeper away from our previous leadership in engineering/science/math. I believe our future success depends on our ability to motivate our youth."
Personally, I would have thought a wholeslew of new American manned vehicles carrying more people into orbit much more frequently to multiple destinations would be pretty exciting, but there you go. All that Constellation was going to achieve (maybe by 2030) was flags and footprints. Again. We need a more affordable, sustainable and robust programme of exploration, and that means multiple providers enabling reliable and inexpensive lift to orbit.
If you're interested (like I am) in current research into extrasolar planetary systems (hey, those starships have to have somewhere to fly to!), then you should check out the Systemic weblog by Greg Lauglin of Lick Observatory. The blog also includes downloadable software (the Systemic console) which allows you to play with real radial velocity data from extrasolar systems, and try your hand at fitting planetary orbits.
Given that the Magnifye method produces magnets which are more than ten times as powerful as conventional magnets, and the MHD braking term depends on the square of the B-field, this might well be an approach worth looking at. The spacecraft would have to carry an LN2 system to keep the magnets chilled to superconducting temperatures, but might not actually need much because of the efficiency of the magnets. An interesting engineering challenge for someone!
Magnifye currently doesn't list any space applications for their systems. Perhaps they should...
In a recent posting on Selenian Boondocks, John Hare makes some rather worrying comments about the implications of ITAR for discussion of rocketry technology on a public forum. In a case of "loose lips sink ships", US commentators could in principle find themselves at risk of serious legal sanction for discussion of sensitive technologies with non-US citizens.
This leads me to wonder about my situation. I'm not a US citizen, so ITAR doesn't directly apply to me. I'm not aware of any equivalent under UK law, but IANAL. Anyone else have any insight into this?
UK space technology prizes along the lines of the Ansari X-Prize and Centennial Challenges might not be as implausible as you might think. There is already a major technology prize in the UK which has a larger prize fund than the X-Prize. The Saltire Prize is a £10 million ($16 million) prize funded by the Scottish Government for development and deployment of advanced wave or tidal energy systems. There is real and growing political support for space tourism in Scottish politics -- one of its strongest advocates is Angus Robertson MP, Westminster leader for the Scottish National Party, and local MP for the proposed Virgin launch site at RAF Lossiemouth. It seems to me that a focussed lobbying effort (perhaps even a specifically Scottish effort) towards a small number of well-designed space technology prizes in the mould of the Centennial Challenges might have a reasonable chance of success, particularly in the context of the new UK Space Agency.
Question is, who would lobby for it? Organisations like the BIS seem to be focussed more on "Big Space" efforts like the UK Human Spaceflight Campaign, than the potentially transformative effects of technology prizes. Something to think about further...
I am also fond of the New Space activities that are under way - Blue Origin, Masten etc and the X prizes and it is a real shame that the UK seems to lack incentives to stimulate private ventures of this type.
I agree, and I'd welcome suggestions as to how such prize funds for space technology development could be brought about in the UK.
(Someone at the RAF was thinking horizontally and found a couple of EJ2000's for a land speed record, hopefully similar people can think vertically and help to organise some airspace to ease the development of sub orbital commercial services.)
Indeed. "Up, Not Along". The slogan would look good on a T-shirt ;-)
Bond was very much keeping to home territory -- there was a good deal of detail on the development of the Skylon vehicle, the SABRE engines, and spacecraft operations, much of which I have to say I've heard before at other conferences. There was very little discussion of the broader policy issues which need to be addressed for the UK to have a rejuvenated space programme. I don't necessarily fault Bond for this -- he is an engineer, and not a politician or economist, and he talks about what he knows, with confidence and authority.
However, one programme (no matter how praiseworthy) is NOT a policy, and these policy issues simply won't go away for lack of discussion. I refer to such things as a properly founded UK legal and regulatory framework for space launchers, insurance reform and liability waivers, direct government support for UK NewSpace via an agency analogous to FAA/AST, identification and support for key UK technology developments, possibly via prizes etc. This is something I intend to write about at greater length in my "Cheat's Guide to UK Space Policy" ;-)
The applications for Skylon discussed in the lecture gave most emphasis to those which would inevitably require large-scale government funding, such as the Spacedock and the "Troy" manned mission to Mars. I find it difficult to escape the conclusion that what I'm hearing isn't NewSpace, it's OldSpace Done Better. There was brief mention of the fact that Skylons would be purchased and operated by commercial spacelines, but little or no consideration of what would result from that. What would cislunar space *look like* once we have commercial airline-like transport to space? I'm less interested in the "top down" imposition of space development by multibillion dollar/euro government programmes, and more interested in "bottom up" developments which would result from thousands of smart and highly motivated individuals having neat ideas, and new opportunities to try them out. THAT is where the true Space Revolution lies.