Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Space Race 2.0? Hardly.


The internet this past week has been abuzz with stories of NASA vs. their old nemesis, the Russkies - this time about plans to return to the Moon, and how NASA has turned down Russian offers of cooperation on the mission. Speculators speculate that this is to "deny Russia access to an isotope in abundance under the moon's surface that many believe could replace fossil fuels and even end the threat of global warming."

I initially thought to just ignore this and other similar articles because they are written by journalists who are paid to produce, regardless of the actual nutritional value of the content they churn out. However, when this particular article made its way to the Motley Fool financial discussion boards, and people there started discussing this as if it were serious, I realised that the Kool-Aid problem is as real as ever. And so we don our trusty capes and swords and once more proceed into battle with the forces of stupidity.

Problem: there are so many things wrong with this NASA vs Russia for the future of He3 story it's hard to know where to start.

Let's stick with the basics, then:

1) We don't have the ability to mine the moon
2) We don't have the space vehicles to go to or from the moon, much less transship anything of significant mass.
3) The ISS as we know it won't be functional in another 15 years (i'll take wagers on that if anyone doubts me), and can't serve as a staging post for any such transshipment.

oh, and here's the real doozy:

4) We don't have a functional fusion reactor on Earth, so fuel for such a "reactor" is, as the article points out, the equivalent of medieval alchemy.

But hey, they get paid to write, so they'll write, even if it's nonsense. And we'll continue to be Cynics, even though we don't get paid to be.

p.s. - Happy 40th Birthday to my brother Baber. Technically it's still May 1 where you are, but here in Sydney it's already the 2nd.

4 Comments:

Blogger Jon Goff said...

Its sad that of all the potential markets on the moon or for lunar derived materials, that the one that is the hokiest, longest term, and most pie-in-the-sky (He3) seems to be the one that has caught the imagination of the most people.

I don't think the economics are there yet for any of the other potential lunar markets, but at least for something like PGM metals on the moon, you know that if they are there and can eventually be economically extracted, that there is existing demand for such things on earth.

The challenge of making a lunar transportation system inexpensive enough to support profitable business is daunting enough! We don't need to make the case look even worse by focusing on resources that can't even be used yet.

~Jon

Wednesday, May 02, 2007 8:25:00 AM  
Blogger murphydyne said...

Okay, since I've breathed the Moondust how about:

1) Are we incapable of mining the Moon?
I would argue no, though the ability to do so escapes us at the moment. But I do not see the way things are now as the way things must always be.

2) Are we incapable of building such space vehicles?
I'm not thinking specifically in regards to NASA or RKA - they each have their own chains shackling them, but that doesn't mean that humanity is incapable of building such vehicles.

3) Have you considered the use of the Earth/Moon L-1 point as a staging area?
If we're smart enough to do so, then the ISS can indeed be used as a transit node (issues of NASA's control/management of the assets notwithstnding), as the delta-V from ISS-inclination LEO orbit will be about the same as from Bigelow's 40-degree Sundancer inclination, or 28-degree Kennedy inclination, or a 4-degree Kourou inclination. ISS becomes a place to get started in anticipation of later stations in more opportune orbits, as the post-LEO stage would use the same transport architecture.

4) Scarcity of supply & research $ are of course major issues here.
The U.S. doesn't make any He3, the lithium's sourced from South America. It also has other uses, such as in medical imaging, meaning that scarce fusion research $ are competing with the much wealthier medical industry $ for a limited supply. So the lack of progress is surprising how?

I don't regard He3 as a reasonable priority for a return to our Moon, but by the same token when we do go there we shouldn't overlook any of the SWIEs in our mining process considerations. Venting of SWIEs to space should be a big no-no. The Moon may even provide a better laboratory environment to finish the fusion research.

Our entire economic prosperity rests on energy delivery. We're at a crux in time where we have the opportunity to study what will be the next temporary solution. Over the intermediate to long term I'm more in favor of Solar power satellites (sourced largely from the Moon) than He-3, but I still think study of He-3 is important, and would even prioritize it ahead of things like the Large Hadron Collider or the James Webb Telescope (unless they can be shown to be on a technology path to energy delivery to our society).

Cynicism is fine and all, but I think that constructive cynicism is much more valuable than derisive cynicism. What would you offer up in the alternative to He3 efforts?

Saturday, May 05, 2007 9:23:00 AM  
Blogger Shubber Ali said...

1) Are we incapable of mining the Moon?
I would argue no, though the ability to do so escapes us at the moment. But I do not see the way things are now as the way things must always be.


We are incable right now. As per your own admission. What humanity can do or chooses to do 50, 100 or 1000 years from now is irrelevant.


2) Are we incapable of building such space vehicles?
I'm not thinking specifically in regards to NASA or RKA - they each have their own chains shackling them, but that doesn't mean that humanity is incapable of building such vehicles.


Oh, lovely. "Humanity" is capable, eh? Which organisation or government are you referring to then, or are you simply using the romantic notion of human ingenuity on this one? with that definition, virtually any problem on the world today, such as landmines, childhood vaccinations, or AIDS, is solvable. There's just that little pesky thing known as the combination of capital and political will holding it back.


3) Have you considered the use of the Earth/Moon L-1 point as a staging area?
If we're smart enough to do so, then the ISS can indeed be used as a transit node (issues of NASA's control/management of the assets notwithstnding), as the delta-V from ISS-inclination LEO orbit will be about the same as from Bigelow's 40-degree Sundancer inclination, or 28-degree Kennedy inclination, or a 4-degree Kourou inclination. ISS becomes a place to get started in anticipation of later stations in more opportune orbits, as the post-LEO stage would use the same transport architecture.


Sure, in theory that would work fine. have you noticed that annoying little reality that we haven't even assembled anything meaningful at GEO yet? And you're talking about building a transship point at L-1. Science fiction right now.


4) Scarcity of supply & research $ are of course major issues here.
The U.S. doesn't make any He3, the lithium's sourced from South America. It also has other uses, such as in medical imaging, meaning that scarce fusion research $ are competing with the much wealthier medical industry $ for a limited supply. So the lack of progress is surprising how?


The lack of availability of He3 is NOT the issue. The lack of a working commercial fusion reactor that produces more energy than it consumers IS.

Your argument is akin to saying that the reason we don't have warp engines right now is that we don't have enough dilithium crystals and anti-matter, not that no one actually has developed warp engine technology yet.


I don't regard He3 as a reasonable priority for a return to our Moon, but by the same token when we do go there we shouldn't overlook any of the SWIEs in our mining process considerations. Venting of SWIEs to space should be a big no-no. The Moon may even provide a better laboratory environment to finish the fusion research.


So you are proposing building a full fusion research facility on the moon? Have you looked at how much mass a single launch vehicle will get to the moon for us?!? How much do you think building and sustaining a lunar base is REALLY going to cost? How much political will is there in the US, given all of the economic externalities that are going on (war, subprime meltdown, social security, deficits, you name it) to actually maintain such a program, outside of the space tragic community?

Hint: NONE.


Our entire economic prosperity rests on energy delivery.


And?


We're at a crux in time where we have the opportunity to study what will be the next temporary solution. Over the intermediate to long term I'm more in favor of Solar power satellites (sourced largely from the Moon) than He-3,


SSP may be a great source of energy - just note my previous comment about assembly at GEO, never mind how much more difficult you made it by assuming we'd be mining the moon for materials....


but I still think study of He-3 is important, and would even prioritize it ahead of things like the Large Hadron Collider or the James Webb Telescope (unless they can be shown to be on a technology path to energy delivery to our society).


Well, you've just lost a big portion of the science community, then - and the public, which is more mesmerized by photos from space telescopes than fantasies about lunar mining.

Cynicism is fine and all, but I think that constructive cynicism is much more valuable than derisive cynicism. What would you offer up in the alternative to He3 efforts?

Derision is a result of listening to too many fan-boy tragics babble on about things like lunar mining and SSP without actually factoring in that thing known as reality - eg, economics, politics, and phyics.

As for our constructive comments - read back in the early days of our blog postings - the position, and solution, has NEVER changed.

CRRATS - CHEAP, RELIABLE, REUSABLE ACCESS TO SPACE is the answer. Until you have that, the rest is meaningless but makes for great sci-fi, powerpoint presentations, and fodder for our blog.

Saturday, May 05, 2007 4:21:00 PM  
Blogger murphydyne said...

Speaking of realism, I'm curious what your timeframe is for this CRRATS, and whether everything else should just stop until this particular goal is achieved?

You're right - I don't do politics, but I do do economics (I'm an investment banker/banker/analyst/underwriter/trader - all current job titles) and I do have a bit of a grasp of the physics (ISU MSS, cum laude). I know all about the photos and their effects, as I've experienced it first hand time and again at space outreach events. But if that's all that people know because that's all that they've ever been shown, what do you expect? Are they not allowed to be shown any other concepts? Are they not allowed to be told what could be possible based on what we've learned?

Oh, and I used humanity specifically to not name any particular organization. I ignore who will do it, I just know that it will be done, because eventually enough folks will realize how important it is.

I'd like to be on the winning team (i.e. USA & Super Friends),but I'm also pragmatic enough to recognize that at this point we (USA) have only an iffy chance of ensuring that our core values of liberty and freedom are reflected in future human Solar System culture. The next 20-40 years are going to be very important, and the USA has stumbled out of the blocks, but the American democracy/capitalist (sorta) machine is notorious for unpredictable but great results - look at computers. What we have now was only a faint gleam in a few fan-boys eyes 25 years ago.

Monday, May 07, 2007 9:03:00 PM  

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