David Kirkpatrick

October 18, 2010

DARPA’s shooting for the stars


From the link:

NASA Ames Director Simon “Pete” Worden revealed Saturday that NASA Ames has “just started a project with DARPA called the Hundred Year Starship,” with $1 million funding from DARPA and $100K from NASA.

“You heard it here,” said Worden at “Long Conversation,” a Long Now Foundation event in San Francisco. “We also hope to inveigle some billionaires to form a Hundred Year Starship fund,” he added.

“The human space program is now really aimed at settling other worlds,” he explained. “Twenty years ago you had to whisper that in dark bars and get fired.” (Worden was in fact fired by President George W. Bush, he also revealed.)

But these ambitious projects will need whole new concepts for propulsion, Worden advised. “NASA needs to build a true starship, probably using electric propulsion, probably also using solar energy and nuclear energy.

Microwave thermal propulsion (Kevin Parker)


July 12, 2010

Tiny satellites …

… are changing astrobiology research for the better.

Just check these things out:

Small satellites such as the commonly used 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm CubeSat are easier and cheaper to put into low-Earth orbit. Credit: Weber State University

Also from the link:

The biggest advantage of nano- and pico-satellites is that they are a bargain. Most of the cost saving comes at the launch stage. Unlike conventional satellites, they don’t need a dedicated launch vehicle where they are the primary payload. “They’re so small they can hitch a ride on somebody else’s rocket,” Santos says. NASA’s nanosatellite missions cost two million a piece as opposed to the tens of millions needed for a conventional satellite.

Their affordability also comes from being built with off-the-shelf electronic circuit chips such as microprocessors and radio frequency transmitters and receivers. These are the same components that are inside smart phones, hand-held Global Positioning System units, and digital cameras.

In fact, the miniaturization of electronics has been the driving force behind small satellite technology, making it affordable, says Twiggs. “Electronics today are much more power-efficient than electronics of the past; that helps us,” he says. “Ten or fifteen years ago we couldn’t have found the components for the price that we could’ve afforded.”