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Random Ideas

Posted by: Horus - Thu Oct 18, 2007 2:01 am
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Post Random Ideas   Posted on: Thu Oct 18, 2007 2:01 am
Hey people, I am new here but I decided to have a go and throw a few random ideas around to see what kind of responce I get. You see I am optimistic that last 50 years of spaceflight are nothing compared to next 50 years. I have a vision of endless frontiers of space. However dreams don't come true if all you do is sit around all day dreaming about it. I'd like to identify what critical tech is needed to establish a space faring civilization... preferably a human one. Here is my rough list:
1. Extremely high energy density reactor
2. Novel propulsion methods- plasma thrusters or reactionless drives
3. Lightweight radiation and asteroid protection
4. Effective management of "space sickness" syndrome.

What do you people think? Have I missed anything important?

Personally I believe that we will not enter a true space age until we have powerful, safe and reliable reactors, or a least a compact energy source. Presently we have only one energy source that fits the bill- fission reactors. However tech is still primitive and fission reactors are definetly not safe. Offcourse there is the fussion tech, but while it is promising we are yet to see a single working fussion reactor. However fussion tech is our best bet at this time as we do not yet know any more energetic process besides antimatter reaction.

Which brings us to the matter of antimatter :wink: . Our current methods are simply way too inefficient, that could change. In principle it is easy to produce e+ all you need is a y-photon with at least 1MeV of energy. We could produce that via synchotron radiation. So it seems to me that all we need is a specially designed synchotron build to produce 1MeV y-photons, which in turn produce e- and e+ pairs and use magnetic trap to store e+. Now e+ is not much use as a power source but it can be used a a catalyst for fusion reactor, which would get us into space.

Does anybody see any holes in my reasoning so far?

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Post    Posted on: Thu Oct 18, 2007 5:26 am
Great to see new faces here. I have some ideas on what you wrote but I'm already on the jump so I'll go into details later. Just one thing:

#2: "reactionless drives"..you mean propellantless drives?

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Post    Posted on: Thu Oct 18, 2007 1:09 pm
I would think storing any useful amount of antimatter would be WAY more dangerous than operating a fission reactor. I am pinning my hopes on fusion power. Maybe foolishly, but it seems to be most likely thing to work.


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Post    Posted on: Thu Oct 18, 2007 11:09 pm
I consider fission reactors safe with the proper design and maintenance. The problem with all such nuclear reactors (fusion as well) is the public (more published) pseudo-opinion that "nuclear" is bad.

That has become some kind of societal reflex. So the bigger problem imo is not to get a fission/fusion reactor (safely) working but to get the public to accept this kind of technology.

Another comment on your energy ideas: We do know other energetic processes besides fission/fusion and antimatter.

The Casimir effect (or better know as Zero Point Energy) is based on the Quantum theory and delivers an median energy of 0.5*hf (Planck constant and frequency).

This effect is not pure theory or a mathematical model, it has already been measured.

About antimatter: Besides the difficulties (regarding safety) to store antimatter, we are still far away from being capable of producing reasonable amounts of antimatter.

About radiation and asteroid protection: I'm not sure if a "debris" protection would be needed but at least the radiation protection can be done quite simple. Just put water (that you'll need anyway at your target) around your inner spaceship hull.

I'm not sure what you have in mind at your fourth point, Horus. Do you mean the effects of microgravity on bones, muscles etc? That could be countered by artificial (rotating) gravity to some degree and of course by short (=fast) flight durations.

I see here another problem besides the "normal" health issues: What about the psychological side? Being away from "home" for months or years and millions of kilometers with no possibility to just go back.

The the social relations in the crew: Even on "short" duration flights (6 months Mir/ISS expeditions) conflicts already occured. Now imagine that not 2 hours from Earth away but 2 years. Another point is how to handle illnesses, diseases or death of crew members?

Finally for today I would add a number 5 on your list: We need closed cycle environment control systems (air, food, water, ...)

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Post    Posted on: Fri Oct 19, 2007 3:04 am
OK, the thing I am talking about here is not anti-matter drive which is impractical, but AM assisted fussion, which uses AM to catalyse inertial confinement fussion reaction. It does not need great quantities of antimatter and hence is not liable to blow up in your face. Also there would be no need for strong and complex magnetic fields of more conventional magnetic confinement and I dare say the thrust to weight ratio would also be greater.

After a bit of reseach on the matter of antimatter I identified three main problems:
1. Inefficient energy to matter conversion
2. Inefficient matter/antimatter separation
3. Intimatter Storage

If AM assisted fussion reactor is to work these three must be solved. Here is my take on them:
1. Today's medhods are inefficient because AM is produced as a result of high energy collision, I am not sure but I think if Y-photon is energetic enough It should produce proton/anti-proton pair - much better in terms of energy cost than conventional method. Last time I checked they didn't yet have Y-ray sources enegetic enough to produce such photons. But I am optimistic that such sources can be made, In fact I am working on one at the moment... :idea:

2. That's more of an engeneering problem, I am sure there is a pattern of electric and magnetic fields that can do the job.

3. Once the problem of antiproton mass production is solved, this one becomes trivial, already there are containment systems on the drawing board that can store AM in solid/liquid state instead of ions, this should increase storage capacity by several orders of magnitude.

So to sum it up, we should concentrate on making sources of hyper energetic Y-photons in about 4GeV range. Any ideas?

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Post    Posted on: Fri Oct 19, 2007 3:48 am
Now, Reactionless Drives- me favourite topic. I define reactionless drive as any method of propulsion that does not rely action-reaction rocket principle. The most obvious exeample are solar sails both conventional and magnetic, then there is the "warp" drive that distorts space to get from A to B. Reactionless drives facinate me becouse we are told that rocket engine is the only way to travel in empty space. Ofcource you and I know that space is far from empty, it is full of photons, ions, magnetic fields and god knows what else. My big idea is this: why don't we use all that stuff in space to propel against like a submarine and a ship does against the water. All we need is a suitable "propeller" and we are set. Have I missed any major concept?

I think I heard about the Casimir effect somewhere before, have they had any success of extracting energy from it so far, I heard a rumor that "cold fussion" gets its energy from Zero Point fluctuations? About energy production, according to theory proton is "unstable" and decays into neutrinoes and leptons converting its mass almost wholly into energy. If there was a way to speed up this process, by say bombarding hydrogen with y-photons we would have and inexastable supply of energy right there.

The way I see it the radiation problem has been solved, most of the harmful radiation is in the form of ions, and we can protect ourselves the same way Earth protects itself - via magnetic field. In principle I don't see why a superconductor wouldn't be a superb radiation shield.

Humans weren't made to live in space, by "space sickness" I term any adverse health (mental health included) effects from living outside Earth's biosphere. I for one have grave doubts that unmodified humans can "acclimatise to living on the Moon for instance. I am a bit hazy on the subject, does anyone have sources on reseach in this matter?

Oh, I completely forgot about closed enviroment cycle. Good spotting Klaus. It reminds me of that time I made a "simple" closed enviroment cycle diagram, the monster took the whole page... Guh, sometimes I wish we had a magic device for converting CO2 into C and O2 :(

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Post    Posted on: Fri Oct 19, 2007 2:01 pm
Horus wrote:
I heard a rumor that "cold fussion" gets its energy from Zero Point fluctuations?
Oh! Don't go there. Rumors and zero point energy. Might as well say magic.


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Post    Posted on: Fri Oct 19, 2007 7:00 pm
By definition, your "propeller" idea is NOT reactionless.

I would think that a solar sail would be a much better implementation of the principle. Wouldn't work for interstellar travel so much...


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Post    Posted on: Sat Oct 20, 2007 12:39 am
campbelp2002 wrote:
Might as well say magic.

Focus Pocus and volia - Free energy. Tis just magic. :lol: But as one famous person said any sufficiently advanced tech is indistinguishable from magic or some such. The fact that its all crap is entierly beside the point.

Hmm, I wonder what a space war would look like. From what i've been able to gather there are a lot of weapons that would work well in space:
Particle Accelerators, Nuke missiles and hypervelocity guns, also there are x-ray Phasers (I always wanted to say that word in a legitimate conversation 8) ) and plasma guns as well as many other exotic weapon designs. So we'll probably have enough fireworks going, bugger about the sound but...

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Post    Posted on: Sat Oct 20, 2007 1:48 am
I was thinking... most conventional thermonuke reactions produce a lot of neutrons, not only does this waste energy but it also makes reactor radioactive which brings back the question of radioactive waste and such. As Klaus pointed out conventional fussion reactors might never become politically viable after all. Funny I never thought about that before, I just kinda assumed that fussion reactors would be clean.

Its not all lost however. Carbon catalysed hydrogen fussion does no produce any neutrons. True the fussion temp is higher, but that's an engeneering problem. If anti-matter can catalyse conventional fussion it should catalyse carbon cycle reaction as well. You might need to combine inertial and magnetic confinement, but there should be no reason why it can't be done.

An alternative to novel reactors, might be a way to have high energy storage devices- energise them and watch then go to orbit. Isotope bomb comes to mind here. Apparently nucleae of some isotopes can store and release energy in the form of y-photons,- a power of a nuke with no radioactive sideeffects.

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Last edited by Horus on Sun Oct 21, 2007 1:23 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Post    Posted on: Sat Oct 20, 2007 6:42 pm
Boron-11 fusion is clean too. True, the temperature is higher, but as you say, that is an engineering problem.
Quote:
The fusion process recommended by Dr. Bussard takes boron-11 and fuses a proton to it, producing, in its excited state, a carbon-12 atom. This excited carbon-12 atom decays to beryllium-8 and helium-4. Beryllium-8 very quickly (in 10^-13 s) decays into two more helium-4 atoms. This is the only nuclear-energy releasing process in the whole world that releases fusion energy and three helium atoms -- and no neutrons. This reaction is completely radiation free.
And the reactor is small and light weight. I read a paper somewhere stating why any such reaction (Boron-11 or Helium-3 or other such reactions) is theoretically impossible to sustain, but I didn't understand the nuclear physics so I just have to decide who to trust, and I picked Bussard. Bussard did not say it would work for sure. He said that he couldn't find a reason it wouldn't work and that $200 million would be enough to build a working prototype to conclusively prove or disprove it. Unfortunately Dr. Bussard died two weeks ago.
http://www.science.edu/TechoftheYear/TechoftheYear.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Bussard


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Post    Posted on: Sat Oct 20, 2007 9:30 pm
@Horus: Antimatter storage is already quite advanced. We even have portable storages, so called Penning Traps.

Some interesting numbers: "Producing" 1 anti-proton costs about 10 cents. A space mission with matter-antimatter annihilation would need at least 10^20 anti-protons (which is also far far out of the production capabilities we have).

The biggest "producer", the CERN, can produce about 10^12 anti-protons a year. That is about 1 nanogram. Even an anti-proton catalyzed fusion propulsion would need per "fuel load" about 1 gram.

I personally would favor currently a space-rated fission reactor as the technology already exists and would be sufficient for a lot of mission we currently can only dream of.

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Post    Posted on: Sun Oct 21, 2007 1:19 am
I've been thinking about reactor efficiency and heat exchange. Most reactors have pretty low efficiency, even allowing for a pretty impressive 80-90% efficiency of plasma reactors you're still left with a lot of waste heat, methinks that orbital lift vehicle is going to melt without the coolant. The most obvious solution is to aircool with a ramjet intake. Even with today's technology it is possible to build one stage to orbit fission ramjet shuttle that would make spaceflight as cheap as hypersonic transatlantic flight is today... if you are willing to accept 2% chance of catastrophic nuclear accident per flight that is. One wonders if the tech is already there in the form of a black project in Nevada desert somewhere... :?

So this whole waste heat thing got me thinking if there is or could be a replacement to a reactor, some sort of "battery" that could store vast energies and release them later to lift a shuttle in orbit. Time for some maths:
1kg in LEO has 8000^2/2 or 32 MJ
So a decent energy storage system would have about 100MJ/kg energy density. That's like ORDERS of magnitude more than our best energy storage devices we have. There are few energy storage systems that can even theoretically approach this. Antimatter is one, quasi nuclear isotope bomb is the other, especially if one can "recharge" the isotopes. But the most surprising perhaps is plasma. I do not remember the details but apparrently a ball lightning has struck a bathtub or something full of water and evaporated like a ton of water. Based on some of rough calculations that ball lightning musta had a lot of energy. Maybe it is practical to store energy in plasma before launch and use all that energy to lift off to orbit.

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Post    Posted on: Sun Oct 21, 2007 1:50 am
Tis is true that todays methods of Antimatter production are vastly inefficient but to assume that tech will not improve is like saying that Al will never become popular because in 19th century it cost more than gold (a LOT more). First of all todays' SCIENTIFIC particle accellerators are highly inefficient. They were build to accellerate relatively few particles to highest energies possible. INDUSTRIAL particle accellerators will able to accellerate lots of particles to relatively low GeV range with 99% efficiency (like that of a transformer or alternator). Second, antimatter today is produced through high energy collisions. When I say that it is the most ass-wipe way to produce Anti Matter I am underestimating by orders of magnitude. To produce Antimatter we need 4GeV Y-photons, today we can make about 1MeV Y-photons sychotron radiation. I believe that we could produce th 4GeV photons, am I currently working on it and it looks promising but I need to do a bit more reseach into it. Third, Penning Traps SUCK, big time. Their fatal weakness is that they could store only ions. By the time you get significant mass of charged antimatter into it, the electrostatic repulsion rips it to shreds. I envision antimatter in the form of "cold" plasma contained through magnetic confinement- that should make storage density quite good.

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Post    Posted on: Tue Nov 13, 2007 12:02 pm
Hello, Horus,

just this moment - while viewing your posts and thread again - I remeber the point I am thinking about again and again.

The idea being most difficult and problematic is getting to another star. Since no object can move by speeds faster than that of light each mission to another stars where humans might go and stay is to be expect to last a whole lifetime and longer.

And during that time communication to Earth and the whole solar system should be provided.

Including the required unmanned robotical mission there this is a very complex challenge.

So I would add very advanced communication techniques and methods as well as extremely advanced information processing methods, techniques and hardware which include quantum computers but by far don't be restricted to them.



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