Saturday, February 19, 2011

TIE Fighters & Cephalopods

             So, progress on my projects has been slow. My lack of a steady income is certainly a factor. I have completed the designs of the Jawa & Batavus cylinders I hope to someday produce, and I have nearly finished rebuilding a new vacu-forming rig for the flywheel covers. But its been a long while since a post and I have other interests outside bikes.

             So... Everybody knows what a TIE Fighter is right? The Galactic Empire's ubiquitous cannon fodder spaceships from Star Wars. Well, if you're a apex-level Nerd like me, you'll remember that "TIE" stands for Twin Ion Engine. In the Star Wars universe, the 'wings' on the TIE Fighter are actually solar panels, collecting energy to be used continuously. Well as it turns out, the next manned spacecraft effort may use this very concept. Not some watered down, lame, real world equivalent but pretty much exactly as pictured in the movies.

          The idea was old even before George Lucas got his mitts on it. Sometimes Nazi, other times American, All-the-Time Rocket Genius Werner Von Braun first posited the idea back during the V-2 program in WWII. NASA built working a working example in 1959, and the Soviets used them as maneuvering thrusters since 1972. Critical issues with output prevented them being any more significant than that. Ion Propulsion works great in space, because of the ultra-high particle velocities responding to the Lorentz Force, rather than thermal conductivity in a conventional chemical rocket. After several expensive probe failures in the 90's NASA decided that rather than building complex, multi-purpose "Big Mission" projects; a slate of quick to launch, cheap to build, limited scope projects might bring better returns. Such was the case with Deep Space 1, a high-risk advanced technology project that intercepted an asteroid (with photography, not laser cannons). Because of its solar-powered Ion Rocket engine, and its autonomously functioning software, Deep Space 1 was able to chase down the comet Borrelly in 2001, years after it's mission with the asteroid was complete in 1998. (Deep Space 1 is still flying, btw)

           Those of you who have read the blog awhile may remember my rant/obituary about manned spaceflight coming to a close : "To boldly go... way off topic" - may remember my conclusion that the biggest obstacle to our objectives in space is the crux politics down here on earth. Those plucky NASA eggheads may have done it: a politics-proof space craft? Walking away from the rubble of Constellation, the mothball smell of the soon-retired Shuttle fleet and now tasked with Obama's hope to land on an asteroid, or maybe Mars or whatever. Mark Holderman and Edward Henderson have developed a new concept, with the core innovation of dealing with the World as it is right now.

                The concept is called Nautilus-X . It's a modular deep space exploration craft that can be configured for either a trip to the moon, to Mars, or a 2 year voyage to chase down an asteroid. (provided the on-board android doesn't try to murder you all) Because Nautilus-X uses almost all off-the-shelf componentry, like solar panels from a Hughes satellite, the same manipulator arm & docking module from the International Space Station, vast savings in both costs and time can be had. Nautilus-X uses some new technologies to manage the problems of long-term space flight (like cancer-causing cosmic particles, long term muscular atrophy). A major component of this plan is that it doesn't require a large amount of fuel, like a conventional rocket, just a small tank of Xenon gas to serve as the catalyst/substrate in the otherwise Solar-powered Ion engine. Like the Battlestar Galactica and the USS Enterprise of old, Nautilus-X will be assembled in space, tugged up in parcels by unmanned commercial rockets. Here are some images of the ship in two versions. Note the centrifugal ring, Nice!



So let's review. Nautilus-X is:
2.Versatile for Multiple missions.
4.Available right now.


Philip Patrie said...

Let's split one

Heth said...

Interesting, so if it uses ion drives would a trip to say Mars be too agonizingly slow for a manned mission?