Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. – Sagan

Monday, February 27, 2012

Interstellar news: Project Bifrost

Not so much “interstellar” but a start. Here are 2 quick links I’d like to bring to your attention about Icarus’ efforts to send us beyond where any humans or robots have yet to go.

Icarus Interstellar Inc. is teaming up with General Propulsion Sciences, a small propulsion research company based in D.C., to pursue the development of NTRs and other fission-based space technologies. At the center of it is a project Bifrost, a ship that uses a nuclear fission rocket based on NERVA technology to get us to interplanetary destinations much quicker than we can achieve now.

NTR technology promises to deliver specific impulse twice of what current chemical rockets can provide, making it ideally suitable for Earth-Mars missions. Faster transits mean less time in the deleterious effects of space on human flesh.

Further reading:

Project Bifrost: NTR rocket to the stars [Link - Discovery News]

Project Icarus: Contemplating Starship Design [Link - Centauri Dreams]

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Taylor Wilson Story. Or how I squandered my youth.

You have to read this.

Taylor Wilson built his first bomb at age 10 and was the youngest person, at age 14, to successfully produce a nuclear fusion reaction. His life’s passion? Nuclear propulsion. Incredible read.

“He told me he wanted to build the reactor in his garage, and I thought, ‘Oh my lord, we can’t let him do that.’”

Story at PopSci.

Are small nuclear reactors the future of energy?

Westinghouse has gotten government approval for a nuclear reactor design, the first since 1978. The Westinghouse AP1000 reactors are going to be built in Georgia, hopefully ushering in a new era of nuclear energy production that will curb or almost entirely eliminate our dependency on foreign oil.

Instead of the giant reactors of the past few decades, small modular reactors, SRMs for short, have the advantage of being safer, transportable, and cheaper.

Cross section of reactor. Source: gizmag

Check out gizmag’s feature article that covers the history of large reactors, their problems, and how SRMs hope to solve those issues.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Airplanes of Tomorrow

Head on over to to check out this gallery of futuristic airplanes. I love the look of those flying wings from Northrop Grumman and that double-wide D8.

“Northrop Grumman’s concept is based on the extremely aerodynamic “flying wing” design. The four Rolls Royce engines are embedded in the upper surface of the wing to achieve maximum noise shielding.”

Friday, February 3, 2012

2012 shaping up to be a stellar exo-planet year

Scientists have announced the most promising life harboring exo-planet so far: a planet of at least 4.5 Earth masses, orbiting its red dwarf star in the habitable zone. The habitable zone is generally considered an orbital zone around a star in which a planet can retain water in liquid form. The planet, called GJ 667Cc, orbits a star that’s part of a trinary start system.

“It’s definitely the best candidate,” says astronomer Abel Méndez of the University of Puerto Rico in Arecibo. “If it’s rocky, then it will be more compelling evidence that this is a true habitable planet.”

The planet, the second planet from the star, has an orbital period of about 28 days making it likely that it is tidally locked, i.e. it has no rotation, therefore the same side always faces the sun. The star is a red dwarf, dimmer and cooler than the sun, and with a habitable zone that’s much closer than the one around our own Sun.

Last week Kepler made news over announcing 26 new confirmed planets part of multi-planet systems. Of particular interest is Kepler-33, a system demonstrated to have five planets. Most of these planets range in size between Earth and Neptune.

Credit: NASA

We live in interesting times. I predict that this year we will discover a planet, maybe more, that not only is in the habitable zone for life in general, but one that would make for a very compelling destination for further scientific study. Specifically, a planet that orbits a G-class star, is snug in the habitable zone, and is roughly the same mass and density as Earth, with gravity between .8 and 1.2 G. Oh, and a moon would be nice.

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