Friday, September 23, 2005

Energy, alternative and future

A lot of people talk about alternative energy (especially to oil nowadays). Some examples are alteng and ergosphere. I appreciate the care about middle-level engineering things. One can leave the details to the experts and enterpreneurs.

But a few important, highest level questions are not being asked:
  1. what would the cost / effort of these alternative energy methods be?
  2. is really so much energy needed?
These questions are interconnected.

A lot of alt energy schemes handle the subject around the current energy needs of whichever country the author is from, and how they could / could not be fulfilled with alternative energy methods.

I claim they never will be because:
  1. alternative energy will be more expensive
  2. current (western) energy levels are not needed
The first one is quite clear. Over millions of years, plants have grown, died, decayed and been compressed in deep earth, accumulating oil. At this moment over 80 million barrels (over 8 billion kg) of that oil is pumped out from underground pools every day. It's practically free energy! It can't get any cheaper than that. (And it's not gonna last millions of years with this kind of use either.) Maybe someone can make a magic invention for an even cheaper technology, but I would not count on such dreams. There is no magic bullet.

The second one can be valued partly by looking at history - energy consumption per capita has been rising steadily in almost all western countries for very long. It could theoretically also go down, and people would just return to previous "state of existence" or "standard of living". (That were possible if done with style, and requires more lengthy handling in another post.)

So, what if energy consumption was halved in western countries?

If done right, I bet there would still be food for everyone.

Sure, the GDP would drop to around half, economists would cry madly and a lot of people would have to shift jobs from drawing fancy lines in an office to weeding on a cabbage farm, but who cares? We would still be alive and would have ways to express ourselves, have family and friend relations and all that important stuff. I don't know if we would be so unhappy. At least in the end, our kids could adapt to the situation.

If things go to the worse, energy production would drop a lot more, more quickly and the infrastructure couldnt adapt and a lot of people would starve to death. I don't know if this is likely. It should be studied more.

Feel free to comment!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

NASA's moon plan

Spaceref reports about Michael Griffin's new shiny plan of future for NASA. In quick generalizations, the main components are:
  • CEV - it would be a somewhat Apollo-like capsule that would fly first at around 2013. Landing on land.
  • "stick" - a 25 t launcher created from the current space shuttle's solid rocket booster and a mostly new second stage.
  • SLV - a heavy (>100t) launcher created from the shuttle's main tank and two solid rocket boosters plus a new upper stage.
  • A lunar module that takes 4 guys to the surface of the moon for a week.
  • Then you need a stage to push the stack out of earth orbit to moon.
Moon missions would have a big SLV launch with the translunar stage and lunar module, and the crew would arrive with a stick-CEV later and dock with the stack in earth orbit. Then it's off to lunar orbit, from where four astronauts would land with the lunar module (use descent stage here), spend a week down there, come back up (ascent stage), dock with the stack and head back to earth. Some forward compatibility for Mars missions will be designed into the hardware. I'll post my personal thoughts on this whole thing later, but it seems surprisingly sober on first hand. Oh, the pricetag? 100 billion dollars.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Funny link of the day

It seems the american military are pondering to send soldiers to faraway lands through space (powerpoint). I wonder why all the words start with capital letters.

There was an american program in the seventies about putting a manned spacecraft in the nose of a submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missile. Project space cruiser. Looks cramped in APR's pictures.

Well, with some 370 billion in military funding[1], one can conduct some studies...

[1]: CIA world factbook, http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/us.html

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

fellow quakeguy

Another guy not living that many hundreds of kilometers from me and a much better mapper and general nice guy, Jago, has his own blog at blogspot too. Oh. Here. Among other things, he answers the question why to map for such an old game as quake. After all, it turns ten years in 2006.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The cold equations of spaceflight

Jeffrey F. Bell writes in his usual colourful fashion in his newest spacedaily op-ed, The Cold Equations of Spaceflight about the unrealistic nature of a lot of past space development and the "fanboys" too.

I've come to some of the same conclusions myself. I think his best line is:
The Cold Equations dictate that rockets need to look like oil storage tanks, not the sleek spaceships of science fiction.
Yeah, that says it the most elegantly. It's funny how political processes so often can without worries fly in the face of physics, like the X-30 or X-33 projects. There are probably many things currently (though in my opinion the American ballistic missile defence is not so clearly one of them) that are being done similarly, money being wasted while almost everyone involved in the real engineering or science part understands that there will never be clear results to show. It might even be quite true about the global warming.

The one thing about rocket development that outlines the difficulties, is precisely the mass ratio. On a speculated single-stage-to-orbit vehicle using the most energy-efficient propellants, Bell mentions that the mass ratio becomes 92% fuel, 8% everything else.

Then your payload can be maybe only 12% of the "everything else" part, making the mass breakdown to 92% fuel, 7% rocket, 1% payload. (Out of that rocket, a lot of weight is on engines and plumbing, so the tanks are probably only 5% of the total mass.) Since it's really hard to make containers that can sustain many G:s of acceleration and hold 18 times their own weight in fuel (especially with light fuels like hydrogen), you might run into unexpected problems and increase the weight of the tanks and engines by a modest amount like 6%. Have fun, since you have just halved your payload! The absurd mass ratios make margins very thin and the design and development extremely sensitive.

Seems like some have buried those dreams of reusable single-stage-to-orbit vehicles or high-energy yield hydrogen and concentrate on leanly manufactured good quality hydrocarbon rockets with two stages and in-house built engines. I'm talking about SpaceX of course. With their first smallish rocket to launch before year's end, I'm looking forward to it as the most sensible plan in the medium term to send stuff into space.

To return to Bell's article once more, I think he is being a bit unfair. The fancy ships like the gliding lifting body x-33 or the vertically with a rocket engine landing dc-x were only prototypes and their mass ratios and other properties shouldn't be directly compared to refined rockets.
I'm still not exactly sure though, if those approaches would have some role as first or second stages in rockets or even payloads.

the template and some links

The outlook of the site is horrid currently. I'm working on it as soon as I can get on a computer with decent image editing software.

In the mean time, one can check these sites:
Space and rockets:
Hobbyspace's rocket news blog
spaceref & spacedaily space news sites

Quake:
func messageboard on quake mapping
besmella-quake on quakeworld.

That's what I can come up with right now.

Blog opened

This blog opens now. Expect random interval posts and rants about society, science, space things, inventions and even some quake map things.