There is great excitement in some corners of the space exploration community this week, as several NASA people opened up a discussion with engineers and others outside the agency over a mysterious, possibly radically new type of engine:
After consistent reports of thrust measurements from EM Drive experiments in the US, UK, and China – at thrust levels several thousand times in excess of a photon rocket, and now under hard vacuum conditions – the question of where the thrust is coming from deserves serious inquiry.
Applications: The applications of such a propulsion drive are multi-fold, ranging from low Earth orbit (LEO) operations, to transit missions to the Moon, Mars, and the outer solar system, to multi-generation spaceships for interstellar travel.
Under these application considerations, the closest-to-home potential use of EM Drive technology would be for LEO space stations – such as the International Space Station.
Be hopeful, but cautious, and remember cold fusion. It's not at all clear if this thing really works, yet. Even if it pans out in the most ideal way, a lot of hurdles would have to be cleared before a souped up version could be designed.
But in theory, a drive that can accelerate and decelerate up to say, a middling 50-100 miles per second, within a few weeks, and that doesn't have to carry the fuel on board to do so, would open up our solar system in much the same way advances in wind power and navigation enabled the systematic exploration of the Earth's surface during the Age of Discovery starting about 500 years ago.
- Science writer Jennifer Ouellette has a flair for fearlessly tackling some of the most complex topics in physics and cosmology with superb writing and top-notch research. Here she dives into a classic form of analysis on a classic paradox in physics and a related, mind-bending idea, written for the benefit of the layperson, and one that we'll flesh out more tomorrow on Sunday Kos, called the holographic principle.
- Health care is part science, part policy, a bunch of inside baseball from the insurance industry, and a ton of politics these days. Which is why I never miss a post by Richard Mayhew over at Balloon Juice on those topics. I almost always learn something from him.
- NASA's Messenger Mercury spacecraft intentionally ended its life this week when it finally ran out of fuel for station keeping and plunged into that dense little planet. Craters on Mercury are named after artists and writers, even Tolkien has one! Messenger left a small, respectable crater behind, who do you think should get the honor?
- Blue Origins rockets into the private space-race:
Three weeks after revealing that its liquid hydrogen- and liquid oxygen-fueled rocket engine was ready to fly, Blue Origin, a startup space company owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, launched its New Shepard spaceship on its first flight into suborbital space, the company said Thursday.
Powered by the recently completed BE-3 engine, the rocket blasted off from Blue’s privately owned test site in West Texas on Wednesday (the time was not disclosed) and soared almost to the edge of space 62 miles (100 kilometers) above the planet.