April 2012

How Will Humans Fly to the Stars?

April 17, 2012

by Andreas Hein The immense problems of time, distance and life support invariably mean that when we talk about an interstellar mission, we talk about robotics. But the imaginative team at Icarus Interstellar, which is now setting up projects on everything from beamed lightsails (Project Forward) to pulse propulsion engines (Project Helios), has pushed into […]

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Lightsails: Safe Passage After All?

April 16, 2012

Despite my best intentions, I still haven’t put my hands on the exchange between Robert Forward and Ian Crawford on lightsails that ran back in 1986 in JBIS, nor have I managed to come up with the source of the ‘lightsail on arrival’ illustration I mentioned last week. This was the one showing a battered […]

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Collisions in the Interstellar Medium

April 13, 2012

Memories play tricks on us all, but trying to recall where I saw a particular image of a laser lightsail is driving me to distraction. The image showed a huge sail at the end of its journey, docked to some sort of space platform, and what defined it were the tears and holes in the […]

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Lasers: Protecting the Starship

April 12, 2012

Interesting new ideas about asteroid deflection are coming out of the University of Strathclyde (Glasgow), involving the use of lasers in coordinated satellite swarms to change an asteroid’s trajectory. This is useful work in its own right, but I also want to mention it in terms of a broader topic we often return to: How […]

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The Largest Solar System Yet

April 11, 2012

The Kepler mission’s exoplanet discoveries have been so numerous that an extension of the mission seemed all but inevitable. At the same time, bureaucracies can be unpredictable, which is why it was such a relief to have the Senior Review of Operating Missions weighing in with an extension recommendation, one followed up by NASA with […]

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Splashdown on Titan?

April 10, 2012

Getting to the stars may involve a sudden breakthrough — we can’t rule out disruptive technologies, nor can we predict them — but my guess is that interstellar flight is going to be a longer, more gradual process. I can see a sort of tidal expansion into the outer system, forays to Mars, for example, […]

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Reasons for a Human Future in Space

April 9, 2012

I closed last week with two posts about the AVIATR mission, an unmanned airplane that could be sent to Titan to roam its skies for a year of aerial research. It’s a measure of Titan’s desirability as a destination that it has elicited so many mission proposals, and I want to get into the Titan […]

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A Closer Look at the Titan Airplane

April 6, 2012

Yesterday’s discussion of the AVIATR mission to Titan inevitably brought up another prominent Titan mission concept: Titan Mare Explorer (TiME). I’ll have more to say about this one next week, as today I want to continue talking about AVIATR, but you can once again see how Titan enthralls us with its ‘Earth-like’ aspects. Need a […]

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AVIATR: Roaming Titan’s Skies

April 5, 2012

Each of our highest priority targets in the outer Solar System offers something unique, from Europa’s internal ocean to the geysers of Enceladus. But Titan exerts the kind of fascination that comes from the familiar. The imagery of lakes and river channels reminds us inescapably of our home world, even if the temperature on the […]

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Plutonium-238 and the Outer System

April 4, 2012

Powering up a spacecraft is a lot easier to manage in the Sun-rich environment inside the orbit of Mars than it is out past the orbit of Jupiter. Solar panels provide plenty of power for a satellite in near-Earth orbit, for example, but moving into the outer system invokes the need for RTGs — radioisotope […]

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