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Mar 1, 2007

Superconducting Maglev Launch Technology

Posted by in category: space

From Physorg.com:

With a typical launch cost for a spaceship around $20 million, it’s difficult to practically conceive of a space industry beyond federally funded agencies. Nevertheless, many people believe that expanding space travel—whether for research purposes, entertainment, or even colonization—is not impractical. Bridging the economic hurdle may be technologies such as the maglev launch assist. According to an analysis, the cost of launching payloads into the low earth orbit with maglev may be achieved with only hundreds of dollars per pound (John Olds and Peter Bellini).

Most recently, researchers in a group including Wenjiang Yang and his colleagues from the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have investigated the possibility of the “Maglifter,” a maglev launch assist vehicle originally proposed in the 1980s. In this system, a spaceship would be magnetically levitated over a track and accelerated up an incline, lifting off when it reaches a velocity of 1,000 km/hr (620 miles/hr). The main cost-saving areas would come from reduced fuel consumption and the reduced mass of the spaceship.

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Mar 1, 2007

9th Nanoforum Report on Nanotechnology in Aerospace

Posted by in categories: nanotechnology, space

“The importance of the space sector can be emphasized by the number of spacecrafts launched. In the period from 1957 till 2005, 6376 spacecraft have been launched at an average of 133 per year. The has been a decrease in the number of spacecrafts launched in the recent years with 78 launched in 2005. Of the 6378 launches, 56.8% were military spacecrafts and 43.2 were civilian. 245 manned missions have been launched in this period. 1674 communication or weather satellites were also launched. The remaining spacecraft launches has been exploration missions.”

Read the entire report here (requires free registration)

Feb 28, 2007

Lasers to detect and deflect asteroids

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, defense, existential risks, lifeboat, space

Graduate student (University of Alabama Huntsville) Blake Anderton wrote his master’s thesis on “Application of Mode-locked lasers to asteroid characterization and mitigation.” Undergraduate Gordon Aiken won a prize at a recent student conference for his poster and presentation “Space positioned LIDAR system for characterization and mitigation of Near Earth Objects.” And members of the group are building a laser system “that is the grandfather of the laser that will push the asteroids,” Fork said.

Anderton’s mode locked lasers could characterize asteroids up to 1 AU away (1.5 × 10 to the 11 meters). Arecibo and other radar observatories can only detect objects up to 0.1 AU away, so in theory a laser would represent a vast improvement over radar.

A one page powerpoint describes their asteroid detection and deflection approach About 12 of the 1AU detection volumes (around the sun in the asteroid belt) would be needed to cover the main areas for near earth asteroids.

40KW femtosecond lasers could deflect an asteroid the size of Apophis (320meters, would hit with 880 megaton force) given one year of illumination and an early start in the trajectory.

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Feb 23, 2007

Missile Defense Shield Expands to Europe

Posted by in categories: defense, geopolitics, military


The Ballistic Missile Early Warning Radar System (BMEWS) at Fylingdales, U.K.

The ongoing debate on the proposed missile defense shield in Europe is heating up. Poland and the Czech Republic are among the possible sites and the UK is now showing interest in supporting the missile shield. Fears over the destabilising effects of such a shield was confirmed by a Russian general who said that they would target the system.

Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, said America would trigger an “inevitable arms race” if it deployed interceptors in Europe to knock ballistic missiles out of the sky. A senior Russian general rumbled that Russian missiles would target any interceptors in eastern Europe. Poland’s prime minister told his people that Russia was trying to “scare” them. The Czech foreign minister (a prince with a splendid moustache) complained of Russian “blackmail”.

“The aim is to break ground on a European site in 2008, and for its interceptors to become operational in 2012. This week the Polish and Czech prime ministers said they were keen on hosting the missile-defence sites. That is a change: talks with the Poles have dragged on for years, thanks to elaborate Polish demands for things such as extra missile defences for their own country. Yet both Mr Blair and his Polish rivals face objections from three sources: from Russia, from many of their own voters and from fellow European leaders.”

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Feb 18, 2007

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Displays Gaps in Nanotechnology Understanding

Posted by in category: nanotechnology

Like the Lifeboat Foundation, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists is an organization formed to address catastrophic technological risks. In catastrophic risk management, vision and foresight are essential. You take at technological, social, and political trends which are happening today — for example, steps towards mechanical chemistry, increasing transparency, or civil atomic programs — and brainstorm with as many experts as possible about what these trends indicate about what is coming 5, 10, or 20 years down the road. Because catastrophic risk management is a long-term enterprise, one where countermeasures are ideally deployed before a threat has even materialized, the further and more clearly you try to see into the future, the better.

Traditionally, The Bulletin has focused on the risk from nuclear warfare. Lately, they have expanded their attention to all large-scale technological risks, including global warming and future risks from emerging technologies. However, the language and claims used on their website show that the organization’s members are only just beginning to get informed about the emerging technologies, and the core of their awareness still lies with the nuclear issue.

From The Bulletin’s statement regarding their decision to move the clock 5 minutes to midnight, from the “emerging technologies” section specifically:

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Feb 18, 2007

Saudi Arabia and Russia Ready to Cooperate on Nuclear Energy

Posted by in category: nuclear energy

From Yahoo News:

RIYADH (Reuters) — Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter and a key U.S. ally, said on Wednesday that the kingdom does not see any obstacle to cooperating with Russia on developing a nuclear energy program.

“There is no obstacle to cooperate with Russia on… nuclear energy,” Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told a news conference.

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Feb 18, 2007

Asteroid shield related: deflection mission and other proposals

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, existential risks, lifeboat, space

A giant asteroid named Apophis has a one in 45,000 chance of hitting the Earth in 2036. If it did hit the earth it could destroy a city or a region. A slate of new proposals for addressing the asteroid menace was presented today at a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco.

One of the Lifeboat Foundation projects is an Asteroid Shield and the issues and points discussed are in direct alignment with Lifeboat. The specific detection and deflection projects are in the Lifeboat Asteroid Shield project.

Edward Lu of NASA has proposed “gravitational tractor” is a spacecraft—up to 20 tons (18 metric tons)—that it could divert an asteroid’s path just by thrusting its engines in a specific direction while in the asteroid’s vicinity.

Scientists also described two massive new survey-telescope projects to detect would-be killer asteroids.

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Feb 17, 2007

Open Source Terraforming

Posted by in categories: engineering, open source, sustainability

Whether we like it or not, geoengineering — a process I’ve taken to calling “(re)terraforming the Earth” — is now on the table as a strategy for dealing with onrushing climate disaster. This isn’t because it’s a particularly good idea; as far as we presently know, the potential negative impacts of geoengineering projects seem to significantly outweigh any benefits. Nonetheless, (re)terraforming has drawn an increasing amount of attention over the past few months. One key reason is that, if it could be made to work, it wouldn’t just moderate climate change — i.e., slow it or stop it — it would actually serve as a climate change remediation method, reversing global warming.

The cynical and the insipid apparently believe that pursuing the geoengineering option would allow us to avoid making any changes in technology or behavior intended to reduce greenhouse gas output. This sort of logic is wrong, utterly wrong. For any plausible geoengineering project to succeed, we’d have to have already stabilized the climate. As it turns out, the brilliant and clearly-needed advances in technology and changes in behavior supported by those of us who proudly wear the label “bright green” will do exactly this, reducing, even eventually eliminating, anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. We need to do this as quickly as possible. As the saying goes, if you want to get out of the hole you’re in, the first thing to do is stop digging.

But none of the bright green solutions — ultra-efficient buildings and vehicles, top-to-bottom urban redesigns, local foods, renewable energy systems, and the like — will do anything to reduce the anthropogenic greenhouse gases that have already been emitted. The best result we get is stabilizing at an already high greenhouse gas level. And because of ocean thermal inertia and other big, slow climate effects, the Earth will continue to warm for a couple of decades even after we stop all greenhouse gas emissions. Transforming our civilization into a bright green wonderland won’t be easy, and under even the most optimistic estimates will take at least a decade; by the time we finally stop putting out additional greenhouse gases, we could well have gone past a point where globally disastrous results are inevitable. In fact, given the complexity of climate feedback systems, we may already have passed such a tipping point, even if we stopped all emissions today.

In other words, while stopping digging is absolutely necessary, it won’t actually refill the hole.

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Feb 12, 2007

Inflatable Habitats for Polar and Space Colonists

Posted by in category: habitats

From Physorg.com:

Humanity has long since established a foothold in the Artic and Antarctic, but extensive colonization of these regions may soon become economically viable. If we can learn to build self-sufficient habitats in these extreme environments, similar technology could be used to live on the Moon or Mars.

The average temperature of the Antarctic coast in winter is about −20 °C. As if this weren’t enough, the region suffers from heavy snowfall, strong winds, and six-month nights. How can humanity possibly survive in such a hostile environment?

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Feb 11, 2007

Iran negotiator: Nuclear program ‘no threat to Israel’

Posted by in categories: counterterrorism, geopolitics, nuclear weapons

From CNN:

MUNICH, Germany (AP) — Iran’s nuclear program is not a threat to Israel and the country is prepared to settle all outstanding issues with the International Atomic Energy Agency within three weeks, its top nuclear negotiator said Sunday.

Ali Larijani, speaking at a forum that gathered the world’s top security officials, said Iran doesn’t have aggressive intentions toward any nation.

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