Feb 202018

From Those Were The Days… currently on eBay is a truly impressive piece:

Douglas Aircraft Co 1960’s Skeletal Wood Model of the C-5 Cargo Proposal LARGE

The Buy-It-Now price is a substantial fifteen grand. It shows the internal structure of the Douglas proposal of the CX-HLS, what became the C-5, at fairly large scale. More pics after the break.

Computer graphics are great. But they would not compare to seeing something like this set up as part of a sales display. Of course, you can’t exactly email this thing as a PDF…

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 Posted by at 4:38 pm
Feb 192018

The NERVA nuclear rocket, studied throughout the sixties into the early 1970’s, would have been a great way to propel spacecraft. But a nuclear rocket is not the same sort of reactor as is generally designed for use in space to generate electrical power. A NERVA can produce *gigawatts* of thermal energy, energy which is carried away with the high mass flow rate of the hydrogen propellant. Power reactors, on the other hand, are generally designed for several orders of magnitude lower thermal power… a few thermal megawatts, perhaps, to produce a few hundred kilowatts of electricity.

However, the fact remains that a nuclear rocket *is* a nuclear reactor. For most missions it would burn for a few minutes, at most perhaps few hours, out of a mission lasting perhaps years. It is thus a bit of a shame to waste all that potential. So over the decades many studies have been made for using a nuclear rocket as a power generator .

One such study was reported by Aerojet in 1970. The abstract is HERE, the direct PDF download if HERE.

In this study, the NERVA would pump out 1,500 thermal megawatts during the propulsion phase(producing 75,000 pounds of thrust), dropping to 250 to 505 thermal kilowatts during the power generation phase, enough to create 25 kilowatts of electricity. This would be a very low-power, low-temperature use of the reactor, reducing system efficiency… but still, making use of a reactor that was already there, and not noticeably using up the fission fuel in the reactor. The reactor would be run at very lower power levels and hydrogen would flow through a closed loop built into the reactor; the warmed gaseous hydrogen would flow through a turbogenerator to create electricity; the warm hydrogen would then pass through a radiator built on the outer surface of the hydrogen tank itself.

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 Posted by at 3:26 pm
Feb 162018

A sci-fi ponderable.

Let’s say easy personal time travel exists. Let’s further say that you can go back in time and change history however you like, then come back to a changed present (but still be the original “you”). At what point do you, or the Time Cops, or whoever, decide that tinkering is not to be allowed?

As an example: let’s say you could go back in time a few days and stop the Parkland school shooting. Would you do it without ethical qualms? Pretty sure most people would say some form of “yes,” because from the point of view of *right* *now* as I type this, the only changes in the timeline would be positive ones. But let’s say you were given the option of going back in time and popping a cap in Hitler or Lenin or Stalin or Mao or Castro or Proxmire or LBJ before they rose to power and caused a ruckus. Would you do it, even if you could see the rough outline of the new timeline and everything was awesome? This seems like it would be trickier. Because if you did, you would be committing a kind of genocide on a scale never imagined in human history.

Let’s say you whack Hitler just as he’s taking over the Nazi party, say, 1925. Let’s further suggest that the whackage is of such entertainingness that the rest of the Nazis get whacked with him. Huzzah! No Nazis, no Holocaust, no WWII. Assume that, somehow, this leads to an era of peace and prosperity never before imagined; the Soviets give up that Socialism nonsense and become free market capitalists, the Japanese skip past the Rape of Nanking and go straight to tentacle porn; FDR not only never gets elected and thus doesn’t turn a depression into the decades-long Great Depression, but instead goes down in flames such that he drags the Democrat party down with him and from then on US politics is split between the Republicans and the Libertarians. Huzzah! Everything is awesome! Star Trek goes for eleven seasons, Reagan wins three terms, Orions to Pluto by 1990. Huzzah indeed!

But here’s the thing. Unless you buy into nonsense like fate, destiny, predestination, the universe having some sort of plan… virtually *nobody* who was born much after 1926 or so in the “prime” timeline is actually born. By changing politics in Weimar Germany, you’ve set in motion a cascade of changes that lead to a “prime” mother and father not meeting, or meeting but not doing the deed on the specified date, or doing it thirty seconds later, or sperm #1,452,355,343 rather than #1,452,355,342 being the one that succeeds at the egg. And when that kid isn’t born in 1927, that kid can’t have the Prime offspring in 1952, who can’t make a kid in 1983, who cant reproduce in 2018. You will have eliminated from the timeline something along the lines of ten billion people. Granted, you will have created ten billion *other* people, but for the most part judicial systems are underwhelmed with the argument, “yes, you honor, I murdered my infant…but hey, I got right on to making a replacement, so… we’re cool, right?”

So: how does whoever has the power over time travel decide what changes can be made? “No changes allowed” is the easy answer.

 Posted by at 4:47 pm
Feb 062018

The Falcon 9 Heavy flight went off seemingly without a hitch (as I write this it’s not yet clear if the core booster landed right on the barge EDIT: Whoopsie, the core smacked into the water near the barge at a stately 300 miles per hour due to a failure to ignite two of the three braking rockets). But the two boosters landing simultaneously, side by side… that is hands down no BS the coolest, awesomest, most hopeful thing I’ve ever seen. I’m beyond jealous of the people who work at SpaceX.

How awesome is this? It’s all the awesome. Give it up, Star Wars. There’s no awesome left for you.

Now would be the time for trump to get on live TV and say, in effect, “USA! USA! USA! This is what free men in a free market can do. It’s hyuuuge. It’s beyootiful. And I’m’a gonna take all the moneys the US current sends overseas and instead will pay SpaceX to launch a Trump Casino And Resort to Velles Marinaris.”

 Posted by at 2:07 pm
Feb 062018

Just a few hours from the launch window for the first test launch of the Falcon 9 Heavy, the highest payload capacity launcher since Energia. All goes well, at 1:30 3:15 3:45 PM eastern (11:30 AM 1:15 1:45 PM Mountain), the F9H will lift off from the same pad that launched Apollo 11. Giggity! The live stream of the launch will be carried in the YouTube window below.


 Posted by at 9:23 am
Feb 042018

John D. Clark’s “Ignition!” is  basically *the* book to read if you want a readable history of modern rocket propellants. The problem has been that it has been *long* out of print and the only ways you could read it were:

  1. Interlibrary loan of a tattered copy
  2. Online purchase of a *minimum* of a $200 copy
  3. Crappy free downloadable PDF.

Fortunately, Rutgers University is going to re-release printed (and electronic) versions in May. And it’s available on Amazon for pre-order, which is awesome because if you buy it through a link in this blog post, I’ll get a small fraction of a pittance and thus “Ignition!” will help feed some cats. It’ll be available in paperback, hardback and Kindle. I’m’a get me the paperback.


 Posted by at 8:37 pm
Feb 032018

Not a new theory, but now with a bit more evidence:

New research suggests toward end of Ice Age, human beings witnessed fires larger than dinosaur killer, thanks to a cosmic impact

There is one bit that has me raising a skeptical eyebrow:

The KU researcher and his colleagues believe the data suggests the disaster was touched off when Earth collided with fragments of a disintegrating comet that was roughly 62 miles in diameter — the remnants of which persist within our solar system to this day.

A 62 mile diameter comet would be many times bigger than the one that whacked the dinosaurs. So *perhaps* they mean that it was 62 miles in diameter before it fragmented, and Earth only hit a fraction of it. On the other hand if it fragments sufficiently, so that the chunks were reduced in size enough that they would all burn up in the atmosphere, there’d be no cratering. The total amount of energy dumped onto Earth might be many times greater than the KT impact, but it would come in the form of a quick flash of light and a series of mighty booms rather than a cratering event throwing gigatons of ash and tectites into the sky.

An important point for future discussions of planetary defense: it’s better to be ht by a cloud of little bits than a single giant impactor, even if the cloud hits with more total energy. The atmosphere serves as a bit like a bulletproof vest for the planet, and if someone if going to shoot you with a 12 gauge while you’re wearing such a vest, you’d rather they shot you with a mass of birdshot than a single deer slug. So arguments that planetary defense strategies should avoid energetic systems like nukes in favor of soft, slow processes like solar sails and gravity tractors and the like because nukes might fragment the impactor… not terribly good arguments.

 Posted by at 6:36 pm
Jan 312018

Recently sold on ebay was an apparently old display model. It came without markings, stand or engine nacelles, which were obviously formerly pinned to the rear fuselage in the usual bizjet position. So just what it is is unknown, but it looks too good to be Just Some Guys kitbash. But what it *is* is a headscratcher. It’s clearly a B-1 bomber forward fuselage grafted to a bizjet fuselage, but for what purpose I can’t guess. It doesn’t make sense to use a supersonic bombers cockpit as the cockpit of a small corporate jet, even as a way to utilize existing manufacturing infrastructure. Might it have been meant as a training plane, to teach future B-1 pilots the fine art of flying a Bone? A flying laboratory for the B-1 cockpit to make sure it was set up right?

Or did someone down at the model shop just get a little likkered up?

It appears t be a B-1A cockpit, dating it to the mid/late 70’s.

 Posted by at 10:24 pm
Jan 312018

A fanciful late 1950’s Martin Company illustration of a space station. This rendering features a large parabolic solar reflector to concentrate sunlight onto a boiler to run a turbogenerator for electricity, a hockey-puck shaped habitation section (you might think it was meant to rotate, but there are windows in the floor *and* a group of astronauts seemingly standing on the side of the thing, somehow not getting flung off), some standard 1950’s gee-whiz rocketships and something at far right that I can only describe as “a thing.” Maybe it’s meant to represent the radiator for the solar generators working fluid, but if so, it seems a terrible design. Maybe it’s the death ray.

 Posted by at 5:04 am
Jan 302018


Using AI to uncover ancient mysteries

The Voynich Manuscript is a centuries-old (early 1400’s) book of gibberish and odd illustrations. It has been untranslatable… until perhaps, now. An artificial intelligence system was taught hundreds of languages to figure out their patterns, then fed the Voynich manuscript… and it determined that it was written in coded Hebrew. With that understanding, the letters were found to be coded into alphagrams, where the letters in words are re-ordered into alphabetic order (Example: “example” becomes “aeelmpx”). The result is that 80% of the words are clearly Hebrew, and sentences are, if not really clear, at least comprehensible as being non-nonsense.

It still requires analysis by people who actually understand old Hebrew to make the book make any sort of sense, but it’s interesting to see that machines have cracked this old mystery.

 Posted by at 12:02 am