Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Did Costner just invent our way out of the offshore drilling debate?

From ABC News:

BP has turned to "Waterworld" star Kevin Costner to help clean up the oil slick that is spreading across the Gulf of Mexico. The actor demonstrates a machine he funded that can separate oil from water.

Costner has been funding a team of scientists for 15 years in hopes of developing a technology to clean up massive oil spills, and his research has created a powerful centrifuge that he claims can separate oil from water and dump the oil into a holding tank.

Costner and representatives of Ocean Therapy Solutions, the firm that developed the machine, demonstrated the centrifugal device for BP officials in New Orleans last week. "I believe they'll want to do the right thing," Costner told reporters at the time.

Ain't that something? Best line from Dances with Wolves: "[Ocean Therapy is] prepared to go out and solve problems, not talk about them." The man's a Democrat, but this is the sort of Democrat the country needs.

If Ocean Therapy works as advertised (it probably doesn't, but if the Army Corps of Engineers is signing off on it, I'm prepared to except that reality's within an order of magnitude of the brochure), a single machine of the largest type can separate 99 percent of oil leaked into the water processed at a rate of 288,000 gal/day. The low end estimate for the Deepwater Horizon blowout is 210,000 gal/day. The largest device Costner's selling prices at $24 million a pop. Do the math.

So how does this compare to to today's separators? At first glance, 288,000 gal/day is small potatoes compared to something like JBF 6001, also known as the Valdez Star. This 600 ton giant oil skimmer was still in the design stages when Exxon Valdez, and apparently can clear slicks at 7 times the rate. I don't know the tonnage or bulk of the technology JBF uses for clean up, but we saw the device Costner intends to test in the Gulf. It fits on the back of a small flatbed truck. We also don't know how precisely, if at all, an array of such devices can be mated to recovery vessels needed to tank the recovered oil.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Not convinced our space policy is in the shitter? The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee met yesterday to reveal its penultimate ignorance and lack of ambition in what had to have been two-thirds self-laudatory fluff followed by the most ignorant kabuki dance between Congresscritter and Executive branch flunky you could imagine.

What's really disturbing is that we're so damned caught up on the LEO component. In fact, the sharpest criticism I've heard from the Augustinophiles pertains to Ares I/Orion. Ares V and Moonshoot II simply drop off the radar--the principal objective of Constellation--doesn't even get on the radar in these overheated debates. For all the bitching about Ares I's costs, FY2011 doesn't do a damn thing new in terms of commercial private spaceflight. Falcon 9 was already on track in all phases of the COTS program; in fact, we've been playing games with the SpaceX's funding for a year now. FY2011 finally commits $369 million towards bringing COTS and CRS towards initial delivery, but don't be fooled--we would've gotten there whether or not the Administration decided to axe the only decent reason for us to be in space in the first place.

Augustinophiles over at NASA Watch are still pissed at Mike Griffin:

According eye witnesses, Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan showed up a little early today before their hearing on Capitol Hill. They arrived at the special ante room (waiting room) mentioned by Sen. Rockefeller at one point in the hearings. According to these eye witnesses, Armstrong and Cernan were accompanied by Mike Griffin. This synchs with the widely-held suspicon that not only did Griffin help write Neil Armstrong's prepared comments, but also that Griffin has been spearheading much of the behind the scenes lobbying against the Obama Space policy on Capitol Hill. Gee, I hope he is registered ... Stay tuned.

Mike Griffin has more vision in his thumbnail than all of the guys at NASA Watch combined. As much as I wish we wouldn't spend $20 billion a year to look down on Earth on the specious theory that children are inspired by looking at hurricane tracks and images of oil spills, that's about all that's allowed by the imaginations of today's space "advocates."

Clark Lindsey dismisses astronaut testimony as a stunt:

Arguments from authority are among the weakest of all arguments. Being chosen as the first and last visitors to the Moon did not include authorization as life long final arbiters of space policy. As the Washington Post article points out, there are a number of astronauts who disagree with them. If, for example, Buzz Aldrin and Sally Ride had been there instead, not only would they have argued from authority but from the knowledge gained by long involvement in the issues and the tough budget choices that must made.

Which is exactly why Ride and Aldrin were on the Augustine team. You'll find an astronaut to support any of the countless constituencies NASA has, even more so once you move past the Apollo generation. Unfortunately, it seems that the dream of actually conquering space was lost amongst our later generations of spacefarers--who seem to fall into Aldrin's camp of restricting space access to a select club of would be superstars. Ultimately, you'll end up with an astronaut of Charles Bolden's character--a man whose vision is limited to his own 9-5 ambitions.

I don't disagree with Lindsey on any particular point, or Rand Simberg for that matter. I also don't necessarily buy Captain Cernan's argument that Newspace will cost three times its advertising price or Charles Bolden's reported concerns that commercial space will face some cost exploding obstacles in the years to come. What I do object to is the notion that a ten-year expenditure estimated over a wide variation of $1 to $1 billion is a gospel solid constraint mandated by the dead hand of some vague budget reality, or that we need to give up the Moon--our only hope for settling space--in order to keep a lethargic satellite launch industry alive. I also don't buy the argument that commercial services to the Space Station will magically birth private manned spaceflight in the same environment. You don't have to be an astronaut, rocket scientist, engineer, or even an economist to know that there's nothing in LEO.

Anyways, Flex Path diary rant--check. Moving on.

ISS resupply for $200 million a month, anyone?:

The second of ESA's ATV automated cargo craft has been cleared for shipping to the launch site in Kourou. Its launch on an Ariane 5 to the International Space Station is scheduled for late this year.

ATV-2, named after German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler, has undergone extensive system testing at EADS Astrium's site in Bremen, Germany, over the last few months and has now been given the go-ahead for shipping.

It will be dispatched to Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana in several sections, accompanied by 59 containers with test equipment. In Kourou, it will be assembled and extensively tested before being loaded with cargo and fuelled. The launch is now planned for the end of 2010.

"After an internal review of ATV Johannes Kepler, we have given Astrium 'consent-to-ship', which is an important milestone," says Simonetta Di Pippo, ESA Director for Human Spaceflight.

"This demonstrates the ability of European industry under the lead of Astrium to provide the requested status of the vehicle on time and with the requested quality."

"When the US Space Shuttle retires, ATV will be the largest vehicle supplying the ISS. Considering its technological challenges, like automatic rendezvous & docking, ATV is the most sophisticated space vehicle ever built in Europe."

I'd love if Newspace beat out the Europeans in cost, but I'm not so sure they'll do it in time. SpaceX makes a lot of noise about delivery by 2012, but until I see the Falcon 9 with a Dragon payload launch and rendezvous with ISS, I'm not holding my breath.

Shyeah, right

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea claimed Wednesday that its scientists succeeded in creating a nuclear fusion reaction, but experts doubted the isolated communist country actually had made the breakthrough in the elusive clean-energy technology.

Nuclear fusion stories generally piss me off. They usually fall into two categories. Endless boring budgetary news about constructing the next biggest tokamak, or unvetted press releases from individuals, companies and societies of dubious authority.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


China's manned space program still on track:

Yet another media report from China has confirmed the basics of their latest group of astronauts. Five men and two women are being trained for Shenzhou missions. In keeping with China's typical policy of secrecy, we don't know their names or faces yet, but analysts are making educated guesses from previously disclosed lists of candidates.

All the astronauts are experienced pilots from China's Air Force. So far, China has not taken the step of diversifying its astronaut corps with scientists or medical doctors. It's possible that "mission specialist" astronauts will be recruited before China launches its large space station around 2020.

What is unclear is whether the PRC will pursue Tiangong 3, the half-Mir space station planned for ten years from now, or take the experience it gains from Tiangong 1--the 9 ton Skylab-like contraption which launches next year--and pursue a moonshot program. NASA has for sometime seen China as pursuing a high launch rate strategy of reaching the moon using existing platforms. Remains to be seen if this is a cost effective alternative to heavy-lift.

Forget is "Constellation too big to fail," try the friggin' Space Shuttle's too big to fail:

The U.S. Space Shuttle program may not come to an end this year, Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos said in a statement, citing International Space Station (ISS) manager.

According to Michael Suffredini, the space shuttle Atlantis may be launched to the ISS in summer 2011.

"In this case, additional scientific equipment and components for system of water regeneration from condensate could be delivered to the U.S. segment of the station," the statement said. "However, funding for this flight has not been provided so far."

Coming on the heels of SFF's lecture on how "failure" should be met with a shot to the head, the Augustinophiles in the blogosphere should have gone into terminal apoplexy upon this latest announcement. What do we see? Nada.

More directionless masturbation from the Space Review:

When a new president finally makes time in his busy schedule to decide on a direction for his space agency, he lays out a vision in words calculated to seem Kennedy-esque in decades to come. President Reagan envisioned a mammoth space station functioning as an orbiting maintenance facility for satellites. The first President Bush said that we should go to Mars as soon as ever we could. President Clinton said that we should build a space station in a way that explored new reaches in cooperation among nations of the Earth. And George W. Bush said to put Apollo on steroids and shoot the Moon. Now it’s President Obama’s turn. With an industrial gray, metal staircase as a backdrop, he passed up the soaring rhetoric and sci-fi visions and instead charged NASA to build its future step by step through the industrial gray work of inventing and maturing technology.

No president in the post-Apollo era has offered this kind of vision.

Yes, because no President figured he could sound Kennedy-esque by channeling Master Po. While NASA's busy figuring out how "to be nothing while giving everything else to others," we'll still be wading around in low Earth orbit, servicing a space station that serves no unique purpose whatsoever, and keeping the dumbest launch vehicle ever devised flying for yet another year.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Fun with LaTeX

Here's Schroedinger's equation:

$latex i\hbar\frac{\partial}{\partial t}\left|\Psi(t)\right>=H\left|\Psi(t)\right>$

Here's Einstein's field equations in terms of the Ricci curvature tensor and Ricci scalar.

$latex R_{\mu \nu} - {1 \over 2}g_{\mu \nu}\,R + g_{\mu \nu} \Lambda = {8 \pi G \over c^4} T_{\mu \nu}$

Once Upon A Time In Heaven: Roundup

Heavy-lift, alive but knee-capped.

In his April 15 speech at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla., U.S. President Barack Obama said the space agency would spend the next *five years* studying new technologies and materials before settling on a heavy-lift rocket design. But NASA documents and comments from agency officials suggest the White House already has a design firmly in mind.

The document was revised between May 3 and 5 to eliminate a particularly foolish fuel constraint. Spaceref has the modified request.

Summary: We're going to take five years to reinvent Ares V, and God knows how long to actually build, test and the fly the damned thing...if at all.

Nothing of interest from the ISS.

Summary. People woke up, ate breakfast, popped pills, vlogged, and tightened bolts.

Ice and chemicals on 24 Themis:

Scientists using a NASA funded telescope have detected water-ice and carbon-based organic compounds on the surface of an asteroid. The cold hard facts of the discovery of the frosty mixture on one of the asteroid belt's largest occupants, suggests that some asteroids, along with their celestial brethren, comets, were the water carriers for a primordial Earth. The research is published in today's issue of the journal Nature.

"For a long time the thinking was that you couldn't find a cup's worth of water in the entire asteroid belt," said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Today we know you not only could quench your thirst, but you just might be able to fill up every pool on Earth – and then some."

Outstanding. Now how about finding a similar near Earth asteroid that we can actually use?

Another conservative drinks the Flexible Path kool-aid:

We free-marketers know that the free market can make improvements, cut costs, and make innovations based on the actions of the competitive marketplace. Manned space flight as conducted by NASA over the last fifty years had none of this. As a result, we have a 35-year-old design (shuttle) that flies very little and is increasingly accident-prone. In the 35 years from the Wright Brothers' first flight in 1903 to 1938, we went from the Wright Flier to the B-17. Why hasn't there been similar progress in manned space flight? The answer is that it has been a government monopoly for fifty years.

We're coming up on the 25th anniversary of the Commercial Space Launch Act, we've grown a quarter trillion dollar industry that has all but run out of excuses to launch satellites, and we were moving towards commericial transport to the ISS *five years* ago. The problem isn't government sponsored manned space flight--which is the only reason anyone's up there in the first place. It's that government manned spaceflight has *no* direction whatsoever. Flexible Path is just the first time a White House has had the balls to come out and say it.

Colin Doughan has a blog, interviews Alan Wasser on property rights in space:

Sending astronauts to the Space Station will be the first revenue stream for private space development. The second revenue stream will be space tourists, starting with the very rich, of course, but expanding as soon as possible to an ever widening segment of the public.

Unfortunately, however, those and all other currently identified revenue streams added together aren't enough to attract real venture capitalists, only enough to attract rich philanthropists.

Interesting. So, how do you get to your new lunar homestead?

Paul Spudis on lunar water:

A significant amount of water at the poles of the Moon is present, with many billions of metric tonnes at each pole (detailed estimates of the water reserves are in progress). Such an amount is more than enough to support both permanent, sustainable human presence on the Moon and for export to cislunar space.

We *know* we can live on the moon. We've got good reason to believe we can industrialize the Moon. So why do we have a space policy that isn't focused on getting us back there as soon as practically possible?