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Earth 2- Super Earth!


Fez

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As presented by NASA (Image was released Monday, but I've only seen stories about it today)

Okay, I know that the liquid on Titan's surface is either methane or hydrocarbon grains, depending on where you are. And that that image is false colors based on infrared scans, but damnit all that really looks like Earth.

I guess my only real point is that science is cool. And that I hope we eventually find some sort of methane-based lifeforms over there.

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I'd love to see a major push in the future for NASA to fund a telescope using the Sun's gravitational focus point. By using gravitational lensing we could wind up with some of the greatest optical images anyone alive today could possibly hope to see of a planet outside the Solar System.

I've heard estimates (from the previous CEO of the Planetary Society, Louis Friedman) that it could get us approximately 1 km resolution on the surface of a target exoplanet.

We'd have to build the telescope with essentially one target in mind though, because the lensing effect would be between a specific target relative to the Sun and the telescope.

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That would be really cool but would probably still be subject to pretty narrow parameters.

To put it in perspective consider NASA's New Horizons mission, currently about 34 AU's away from the Sun and has been traveling for ten years. It's the fastest spacecraft that's ever existed (barring the Voyager 1 probe which is traveling faster due not to technical advantage but because Jupiter and Saturn "slingshot" it harder).

Since the distance between two subtending angles gets sort of astronomical (;)) the farther out you go, it's easy to see that any big change in target at 550 AU's would require a significant change in orbit

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Pretty awesome stuff. There are proposals for missions back to Saturn to follow Cassini, but they're both limited by comparison (the Enceladus Life-Finder mission) or too far out in the future. NASA's still trying to rebuild its supply of plutonium for RTGs, and what power it has will almost certainly go into the Uranus or Neptune mission that will be the next decadal "flagship" robotic mission (i.e. missions in the multi-billions of dollars). 

If only NASA would just build and use one of the small nuclear reactors they've looked at for probes. One of them was pretty solid, delivering about 45 kilowatts to any spacecraft. That would let you really amp up the instruments on board, and use higher data rates to send information back to Earth. 

I've heard estimates (from the previous CEO of the Planetary Society, Louis Friedman) that it could get us approximately 1 km resolution on the surface of a target exoplanet.

Astronomer Frank Drake proposed something like that as well. Put a ten-meter telescope out at 1000 AU, and the resolution would be absolutely insane - a telescope doing that from the Alpha Centauri end (4.3 light years away) would be able to resolve hills and coastline on Earth. 

The downside is that you'd need to give it a lot more power to get it out there in the life-times of the people launching it. Probably some type of ion drive attached to multiple nuclear reactors, so it can build up speed and gradually slow down while getting itself into the proper orbit.

If you wanted to risk it, too, you could put it in a heavily insulated container and have it dive really close to the Sun in order to slingshot outward at high velocity. The Helios II probe got up to 70 kilometers/second just off of an approach within 45 million kilometers of the Sun, and the Solar Probe Plus is going to get up to 200 km/sec off of a several million kilometer approach. 70 kilometers per second by itself wouldn't be enough (it would take at least 67 years to just get to the destination distance, not factoring slowing down), but adding it to acceleration from the probe itself would help. The 200 kilometer/second approach would be crazy, but it would get you out there in about 24 years instead. 

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NASA's still trying to rebuild its supply of plutonium for RTGs, and what power it has will almost certainly go into the Uranus or Neptune mission that will be the next decadal "flagship" robotic mission (i.e. missions in the multi-billions of dollars). 

This made me geek out. I'm so excited to hear more about the Uranus/Neptune mission, whatever it turns out to be.

NASA's issue with plutonium saddens me, although the Department of Energy says they'll be ramping up to 400 grams a year by 2019, if Congress doesn't follow through on the funds they need, NASA will end up deprived of missions that so many in the astronomy community have set their hopes on.

I'll hold out hope for the moment though as we're in an upward trend with promises to go upward-er still...

In other news, the POTUS just signed a law allowing for privatization of asteroid resources. Here's to hoping that if money-interests realize they can turn a profit in space, NASA will see some collateral benefits.

With the advent of reusable rocketry, I'm hoping that we'll finally get that golden age of space exploration we've been promised and not some sort of Office Space... 

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It goes without saying that all of these proposals require a breakthrough in space propulsion. A breakthrough that I believe is less than 20 years away.

As I have often stated, my bets are on the Woodward-Mach Effect being real, and implementable in the short term. This will change everything.

Once nonsense ideas like the EMDrive are debunked and Mach Effect propulsion gets the funding it requires, it will revolutionize everything.

 

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This made me geek out. I'm so excited to hear more about the Uranus/Neptune mission, whatever it turns out to be.

NASA's issue with plutonium saddens me, although the Department of Energy says they'll be ramping up to 400 grams a year by 2019, if Congress doesn't follow through on the funds they need, NASA will end up deprived of missions that so many in the astronomy community have set their hopes on.

I'll hold out hope for the moment though as we're in an upward trend with promises to go upward-er still...

In other news, the POTUS just signed a law allowing for privatization of asteroid resources. Here's to hoping that if money-interests realize they can turn a profit in space, NASA will see some collateral benefits.

With the advent of reusable rocketry, I'm hoping that we'll finally get that golden age of space exploration we've been promised and not some sort of Office Space... 

Me too! I just wish the mission was coming along sooner - the way things are going, it won't even be launched until the late 2020s probably, and won't get out to either Uranus or Neptune until the 2030s. It'd be a fantastic mission, though, especially considering that the Ice Giants haven't gotten anything but flybys and telescope time until then.

Like I said, I wish they'd just develop one of the small nuclear reactors they've been fooling around with. They definitely could use the added on-board electrical power and durability, and there's only so much you can do with solar power - once you get out past Jupiter, it just becomes nearly infeasible (even Jupiter sucks with solar power). Even RTGs are limited to maybe a couple of KW IIRC.

We'll see on the asteroid thing. I've never thought it was particularly practical to mine resources on asteroids for use on Earth - the costs are just astronomical. Kilogram for kilogram, the cost of sending an automated mining platform out to a Near Earth Asteroid is likely higher than the value of whatever platinum group metals they could pull out of it. You'd mine asteroids so you can use them in space, to defer some of the cost of sending everything up.*

* Although that has its own problems. Space hardware is expensive, complex stuff - it's usually good if you can frontload as much of it as possible in development on Earth, rather than trying to put it all together in space.

It goes without saying that all of these proposals require a breakthrough in space propulsion. A breakthrough that I believe is less than 20 years away.

It needs a breakthrough, but not in space propulsion. Chemical or nuclear-thermal propulsion is fine for moving people around inside of Jupiter's orbit, and solar-electric/ion powered ships are good for moving lots of cargo (or solar sail ships, which I think will be the "sleeper hit" in terms of space propulsion).  You can also use the solar-electric ships for moving people faster than chemical propulsion, if you want to build ships with kilometer-square-area solar arrays.

It's getting into space that needs a breakthrough, either through cheaper rockets, reusable rockets, or viable reusable space planes - or all three preferably (big dumb rockets for cargo, SSTO space planes as people haulers).

 

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Hmm, well, traveling through other dimensions has its risks. But it would be nice to have a much faster way to get through space. And a space elevator or somesuch to get into space easier.

All the science missions are great, but I really would like to see colonization of Mars or elsewhere occur. I know there's immense challenges, like figuring out how to ensure everyone doesn't just die of radiation within a couple years, but I see a basically incalculable value in having the human race not keeping all its eggs in one basket anymore, as it were.

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Hmm, well, traveling through other dimensions has its risks. But it would be nice to have a much faster way to get through space. And a space elevator or somesuch to get into space easier.

All the science missions are great, but I really would like to see colonization of Mars or elsewhere occur. I know there's immense challenges, like figuring out how to ensure everyone doesn't just die of radiation within a couple years, but I see a basically incalculable value in having the human race not keeping all its eggs in one basket anymore, as it were.

Do remember a movie is a movie, however there is risks to everything. I agree, however no matter what planet we colonize we will evolve to fit the planet or moon. I don't know how long it would take us to evolve to a different species, but when the native americans crossed over (10,000 years ago?) They started to move away from the rest of humanity slowly but surely.

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It needs a breakthrough, but not in space propulsion. Chemical or nuclear-thermal propulsion is fine for moving people around inside of Jupiter's orbit, and solar-electric/ion powered ships are good for moving lots of cargo (or solar sail ships, which I think will be the "sleeper hit" in terms of space propulsion).  You can also use the solar-electric ships for moving people faster than chemical propulsion, if you want to build ships with kilometer-square-area solar arrays.

It's getting into space that needs a breakthrough, either through cheaper rockets, reusable rockets, or viable reusable space planes - or all three preferably (big dumb rockets for cargo, SSTO space planes as people haulers).

 

Well, actually, 6 months to get to Mars is simply too slow. And having to rely on Hohman transfer windows - meaning having to wait for planets and asteroids to align their orbits before a transit can be commenced - is hugely limiting.

What is needed is a propulsion system that frees us from those constraints. Chemical propulsion is 80 year old technology, ion drives are only better from an energy efficiency perspective, but that is still not saying much.

We need something that is a huge leap forward to open up space for humanity.

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There is some interesting chemistry going on near the surface of Titan that suggests it could be the result of some kind of biological process.  The life forms would have to be very exotic in nature and unlike anything we've ever seen, but it is possible.  So much so, that somebody put together a model of what the structure of such life may look like.  

For now it is being chalked up to natural processes.  We probably won't be able to determine whether or not life exists on Titan until we send a probe to check it out.  

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Hmm, well, traveling through other dimensions has its risks. But it would be nice to have a much faster way to get through space. And a space elevator or somesuch to get into space easier.

All the science missions are great, but I really would like to see colonization of Mars or elsewhere occur. I know there's immense challenges, like figuring out how to ensure everyone doesn't just die of radiation within a couple years, but I see a basically incalculable value in having the human race not keeping all its eggs in one basket anymore, as it were.

Some good news that actually came out of the International Space Station is that the "deadly radiation" we've been so worried about in space does seem like it may not be as deadly as previously anticipated.

That's certainly not to say that it's safe out there, but that the challenge just happens to be unexpectedly surmountable.

On Mars specifically, the magnetosphere that's long-since disappeared actually left sizable magnetized areas on the surface that would be able to provide some protection from the cancer-causing particles from space. I'm going to be cautiously optimistic (I agree with you though, it's obviously best to hold out celebration until we've actually got the problems solved)! 

In terms of launch advancements, has anyone been following the development of the Skylon? For those who haven't been, the basic idea AFAIK is to develop a jet/rocket engine hybrid so the spaceplane would need to carry far less liquid oxygen to get itself to space. By the time it needs to tap into its own reserves of oxygen it will already be far off the ground and going at supersonic velocities.

They recently made a pretty major engineering advancement in developing an oxygen cooling mechanism enabling them to continue drawing oxygen from the atmosphere far longer than it otherwise would: they can actually cool the oxygen going into the engine from 1000˚ C to -140˚ C in about 0.01 seconds.

I believe this unlocked a huge amount of funding for them and that they're now working on building two actual engines.

Considering how difficult it is to get into space this could have the potential to bring a new sort of efficiency to our approach to getting off Earth.

The group developing these engines (Reaction Engines Ltd.) claims it'll be able to carry about 15 tons to LEO or 20-25 astronauts at a time, with a launch rate of every two days.

I really hope this thing goes somewhere and turns out to actually work as planned.

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Some good news that actually came out of the International Space Station is that the "deadly radiation" we've been so worried about in space does seem like it may not be as deadly as previously anticipated.

That's certainly not to say that it's safe out there, but that the challenge just happens to be unexpectedly surmountable.

 

Were they talking about the cancer risk, or the damage from heavy iron ions in cosmic rays? The former's always been manageable - a three-year round trip mission to Mars gives you a 5% greater risk of fatal cancer later in life IIRC, whereas the current NASA limit is enough radiation to get a 3% greater risk. It's higher, but acceptable. 

The latter is the one I'm worried about. The heavy ions are mostly blocked by Earth's magnetosphere, and we have no experience with long duration spaceflight outside of it. We'd probably want to put either some animals or people in a long duration mission around the Moon first to check out the effects of it. 

Well, actually, 6 months to get to Mars is simply too slow. And having to rely on Hohman transfer windows - meaning having to wait for planets and asteroids to align their orbits before a transit can be commenced - is hugely limiting.

Six months is fine in terms of travel, and certainly not out of the range of our current capabilities (ISS and Mir missions have lasted for longer with few to no problems). Plus, as Bob Zubrin of the Mars Society loves pointing out, it comes with a built-in advantage. If you do the six-month trip (as NASA is mostly looking at these days IIRC), you get a free return trajectory Apollo-style that gets you back to Earth in two years if something goes wrong on the ship to block you from landing or going into orbit. 

Whereas if you're going much faster, you run the risk of coming back much later, coming back to miss Earth in its orbit, or going so fast that you're on your way to Alpha Centauri. 

 

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Were they talking about the cancer risk, or the damage from heavy iron ions in cosmic rays? The former's always been manageable - a three-year round trip mission to Mars gives you a 5% greater risk of fatal cancer later in life IIRC, whereas the current NASA limit is enough radiation to get a 3% greater risk. It's higher, but acceptable. 

The latter is the one I'm worried about. The heavy ions are mostly blocked by Earth's magnetosphere, and we have no experience with long duration spaceflight outside of it. We'd probably want to put either some animals or people in a long duration mission around the Moon first to check out the effects of it. 

The ions from cosmic rays are what causes the cancer danger - high energy radiation (ex: ultraviolet and x-ray light from the Sun) creates ions by a process called electron excitation, leading to an unbalanced charge in the particle. When such a particle hits you it could damage your DNA leading to cancer risks. 

Luckily as you pointed out, when something's ionized it's also subject to magnetic fields, giving us a way to approach and work with the sort of dangers from these charged particles

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Well, actually, 6 months to get to Mars is simply too slow. And having to rely on Hohman transfer windows - meaning having to wait for planets and asteroids to align their orbits before a transit can be commenced - is hugely limiting.

What is needed is a propulsion system that frees us from those constraints. Chemical propulsion is 80 year old technology, ion drives are only better from an energy efficiency perspective, but that is still not saying much.

We need something that is a huge leap forward to open up space for humanity.

Ion drives are good long term, because you can reach much faster speeds.  The acceleration is slow, but it has a higher ceiling than chemical propulsion, and as you said, it is much more efficient.  

There is solar sail technology which is still in development, but this technology should eventually lead to some good speeds.  It probably wouldn't help you much on your way to Mars, as it takes a while to accelerate, but it would help for missions to the outter solar system, and possibly one day for interstellar travel to a nearby star.  

Nuclear propulsion holds some promise, but you may have a problem getting past a few international treaties.  In the long run though, if we can work together as an international community, nuclear propulsion holds a lot of promise.  

Then you have some of your more exotic ideas such as using anti-matter, black hole decay, EM drive, and the Alcubierre drive.  All of these ideas though, if even possible, are so complicated and require technological advances so great, that it is unlikely that we'll see them in our lifetime or the lifetime of our children. 

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Well, I know of four ways to get around the universe faster then light.

1. worm holes- the problem is that we have no meaningful wya to control these nor do we have an active of theory on how to make them appear.

2. Mentioned earlier- Dimensions,  which we have no idea on how they work to begin with- Sting/M-theory are the current leading ideas last I heard but they are so complex that I doubt engineering would catch up for centuries.

3. FTL, the problem with faster then light is that we have no way to push past the barrier and we have no way to slow down. Theoretically speaking there might be plants and asteroids that are currently in the this netherworld and which they can never escape.

4. We have interspace teleporting, which I have no idea how it would work to begin with. The intra, space teleports would have to be sent out over a period of time, and thats assuming they suffer no damage and it would easily take a long time to enter another system. ANyway, we haven't even come up with any tech close to that to begin with.

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