Friday, July 23, 2010

Old is New Again... in Space?

Lately NASA has been reviving some very old concepts to get us back in the space race, along with a few new ones, like privatization. What portents does this seeming step backward show for the future of our space program?

A core concept is a return to expendable launch vehicles, similar to what was used in the 1960's, only run by private industry. Private industry, while fully capable, has not got a track record of "going out on a limb" for new concepts. They tend to use tried and true methods, leaving the more experimental stuff to others. What the result of this will be is anyone's guess.

Our space program has been stymied for nearly 25 years with a system (the shuttle) that was massively expensive and overly complex. This system was owned by the government, yes, but it was operated by contractors (private industry). The end result was a lack of innovation and no development of advanced programs to replace it, as it basically became a corporate money funnel and drained the life out of other research projects that could have replaced it.

I have posted a link to a very interesting document that shows some of the alternative concepts we could be developing, several of which the technology exists today and are far cheaper than orbital multi-staged rockets. They just need some development, much of which has been sadly lacking.

Some of these concepts are very interesting and show great promise, such as laser-powered lightships, and blast-wave accelerators. The laser lightship concept has actually flown, though on a small scale. With a little development, we could be in business on a far cheaper level than we currently see. However, I would not expect private industry to sink much into these new concepts, as they are unproven money-makers.

Anyway, if you don't mind a little technical reading in places, this document is very interesting and outlines many very strangely exotic systems actually envisioned by NASA and the US Air Force. Everything from magnetic railguns to cascading orbital launch fountains are detailed, some more exotic than the wildest sci-fi authors dreams. One common element pervades, however; They are all very close to our technological level to accomplish, and quite possibly achievable if the money and resources can be found to support them.

UFO nuts take heed; the section about RF powered lenticular craft is very interesting and they are well within our current tech levels to build - makes one wonder now doesn't it...

Here is the link - You must have Adobe Reader to open it.

No comments: