Tuesday, April 21, 2009

On Asteroid Defense and a Good Reason for Having National Space Programs

This planet is at some risk for the impact of an asteroid or comet. The last time a "big one" hit us, it was extinction for the dinosaurs.

I will be attending the First IAA International Planetary Defense Conference in Granada, Spain, the last week in April. That conference will look at ways and means to defend ourselves from this threat.

I am going because my paper from last fall was accepted for poster presentation. It concerns the potential benefits of adding electrostatic attraction to the "gravity tractor" concept, one of several possibilities.

For asteroid deflection defense overall, there are three serious ("killer") concerns as I see it:

(1) adequate warning time is beyond our technical means for the more numerous smaller bodies,

(2) no adequate propulsion exists to get out there quick enough to do any good,

(3) most of the few objects sampled so far appear to be loose rubble piles, not solid objects capable being pushed by most of the deflection force concepts.

Item (3) - the rubble-pile problem:

The gravity tractor is attractive for item (3) because it is a body force, and could "tow" a sand pile with the force of gravity as the tow cable. We already have the micro-thrust ion and plasma thrusters that could do this job.

The gravity tractor requires long lead times because the forces are so small. It takes a long time to build up deflection effects, which is why items (1) and (2) are such conceptual "killers".

My electrostatic upgrade to the gravity tractor provides a "tow cable" that might be 4 orders of magnitude stronger, for very little added equipment to the spacecraft. Getting more deflection faster eases somewhat "killer" items (1) and (2), and, it just might make possible a second attempt if the first fails.

Item (2) - the response-time problem:

In my opinion, item (2) can be solved by dusting off the old 1950's "Project Orion" concept for nuclear explosion propulsion. That's the nearest-term super-powerful atomic rocket concept available, and we did everything but put one together and test it, back then.

There is also the solid core nuclear thermal rocket, which we actually did build and test quite successfully about 1959-1972. It is a lot less powerful than the explosion approach, but still far better than the best chemical rockets.

The solid core nuclear rocket has a more powerful cousin, gas core nuclear, which was well-studied experimentally, but never built and tested as a rocket engine, about 1965-1972. With any of these, the idea is to get out there very quickly, with multiple options for deflection forces, and do whatever is needed, based on what you find when you get there.

Item (1) - the distant-detection problem:

We need some observation equipment dispersed out there in space, all around the solar system, to find and characterize these things. Immensely-powerful propulsion would make this possible in a realistic fashion.

The key to all of this, and much more, is therefore immensely-powerful propulsion:

We need that nuclear explosion drive, and the gas core nuclear thermal rocket, for a variety of compelling reasons besides asteroid defense. Our past history with solid core nuclear thermal rockets says that neither of these is safe to do, down here on Earth.

Space stations are no help. You cannot develop rocket engines hanging weightless in space, where every test is a flight test.

But, as if made-to-order by God for us, the moon waits, only 240,000 miles from home. Airless, waterless, and uninhabited, it truly is a safe place to test dangerous things.

I cannot think of a better reason to go back to the moon, than to test and develop those immensely-powerful atomic rockets.

G.W. Johnson 4-21-09

Sunday, April 19, 2009

On Tax Rebellions, Tea Party Campaigns, and Secession Movements

On Tax Rebellions, Tea Party Campaigns, and Secession Movements

These things are pointless attention-getting behavior. They are staged either for, or taken advantage of by, those with hidden agendas.

Simply voting the bastards out, to end corruption in government, would accomplish pretty much the same end, and with a lot less trouble and collateral damage than any attempted secession, tea party, insurrection, or other defiant or violent acts.

The problem we face lies within both parties, and is quite independent of their agendas and ideologies. Both parties are completely corrupt, and most of the candidates they bring to us are also completely corrupt.

Special interest money talks way too loudly in all levels of American politics. Party agendas always seem to trump doing the people's business. All of this is very wrong.

In recent decades, both parties' political agendas have been and still are the most egregious crap. It is through debate and compromise that we get ideas that might actually work.

I have not seen any willingness (in either party) to engage in real debate and compromise, not since before the "Reagan Revolution" of 1980. Pathetic.

I recommend: vote for no incumbent unless you can personally verify that he/she did more good than harm while in office. Very few will qualify, if any.

It takes time to put down "roots" in the corruption system. That "garden" therefore needs frequent weeding. This is quite independent of any party preferences any of us might have.

In point of fact, this voting choice must supersede any party preferences. As also the voting patterns of any truly worthy representative should also supersede party agendas (and that is one thing I look for, and I rarely find, if ever).

On the November 2008 ballot, I found only three names of incumbents I could justify voting for. Since then, I think I have found one more I can justify retaining.

But no one else !!!!!!!!!! Not one, of a plethora of office holders, candidates, or opponents. There’s a lot of “I don’t know” on this list, but, unless I know, I vote "no".

If everyone approached their civic duty voting in this way, we eventually would have largely-honest, largely-uncorrupted government. Please consider doing this yourself, and also passing along my recommendation to others, if it makes any sense to you.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

3 Solutions to the Somali Pirate Problem

3 Solutions to the Somali Pirate Problem 4-10-09

Once again, this problem receives some US media attention because this time it is an American ship.

(1) The oldest, least bureaucratically intrusive, and most cost-effective solution has been known for over 500 years: lightly-arm the merchant ships.

The Dutch were very successful at this, starting with the first of their “East Indiamen” in 1497. These fast, lightly-armed cargo vessels had less trouble with piracy, unlike the ships of the other nations.

Today, the chief impediment to arming cargo ships is reported by authorities at the US Merchant Marine Academy to be international maritime law. Unarmed ships get through customs inspections faster.

Aw, come on, folks! Use common sense. It’s easier and cheaper to change that law slightly, than it is to ransom ships and crews.

(2) For ships not armed, my advice is don’t stop when the pirates approach. These Somali pirates, in small boats, are armed only with assault rifles and grenade launchers, so there is little risk of serious damage to any full-size ship.

Think about it: small boat next to big ship. For the pirates to get on the ship’s deck some 30 to 100 feet above the water, two things must happen: (1) the ship must stop, and (2) the ship must drop a ladder or open a door in the hull. So, don’t!

But, better yet, what if all the ships were armed and shot back, sinking the bad guys more often than not? Pretty soon, the pirates would be doing something else for a living.

(3) The other solution is more bureaucratically intrusive and less cost-effective. It is a successful technique employed in both world wars: the escorted convoy.

If the cargo ships travelled in convoys accompanied by warship escorts, these pirates would never attack. But, there is the regimentation and inconvenience of sailing only to convoy schedules.

Plus, there is the expense of providing lots of naval escorts, when there are not that many warships in all the navies of the world, as compared to all the cargo ships. International shipping in convoys will be slower, and lower volume.

So, arming the cargo ships is still the better solution, just as it was 500 years ago.

The best use of military resources is to attack pirate strongholds on land, when that is deemed appropriate. One must consider the balance between killing the bad guys and killing innocent bystanders when staging such attacks.

The US Navy warship watching the current drama off Somalia was named for a veteran of the Barbary Pirate wars and hero of the war of 1812: William Bainbridge. A place name from the Barbary Pirate wars, Tripoli, is commemorated in the US Marine Corps hymn.

That retrospective just goes to prove that history really does repeat itself, especially if one does not learn from it.

Arm the damn ships!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Thoughts on the North Korean Rocket Test and Beyond

This test was apparently only partially successful. Two chunks landed, one near Japan, the other in mid-Pacific. Mid-Pacific is too close a splashdown for a two stage satellite launcher, from North Korea.  See also "Third North Korean Nuclear Test" dated 2-15-13 above. 

For those splashdown locations, there should have been a third stage to actually orbit a satellite. There may have been, but, if so, it apparently never separated from the second stage. (Their first test only flew a few seconds, so this was actually a big improvement.)

Regardless of what the politicians and pundits may tell you, any satellite launcher is an ICBM, and vice versa. Look at the history of the US civilian space program:

Three civilian-only rockets: Vanguard, Scout, and the larger Saturn-5 moon rocket (with the OSC Pegasus/Taurus and Spacex's Falcon series nearing fruition)

Seven ex-military combat rockets: the Redstone/Jupiter/Juno family, Atlas, Thor (now Delta), Titan, and the smaller Saturn-1.

Same for the Russians: the "R-7" rocket that launched Sputnik, and still launches their Soyuz, was also their first ICBM.

North Korea has already tested an A-bomb inside a cave, albeit unsuccessfully (more "bang" than just the high-explosive trigger, less than a full nuclear fission explosion). Once their satellite launcher works, and their A-bomb works, they can deliver a nuke anywhere on Earth.

North Korea can simply buy the fissionable materials to make the A-bombs, it's available entirely too easily on the world market. If you don't need too many weapons for your schemes, that is a feasible way to become nuclear-capable. We Americans are the ones they hate the most: so we really are their ultimate target, one way or another.

North Korea is (and has been for many decades) demonstrably unresponsive to economic sanctions. Their people are starving to death in the cold and the dark, to support a huge military establishment, plus a dictator and his high command living in luxury.

Dictator Kim Jong Il has been erratic at best in his decisions and policies. And, he is apparently now in ill health (many say he recently suffered a stroke). When he dies (and he will fairly soon, I think), his generals will take over, as a military junta.

These generals may be more rational in their dealings with us and the rest of the world, but they will still be foes, just as implacable as now. One should compare them to Kim Jong Il's father and predecessor, Kim Il Sung. He was the man who personally started the Korean War in June, 1950.

North Korea is not yet a threat just right now, but it soon will be, once the generals are running it, and their rocket and A-bomb work is completed. They will then start another war to unify Korea, and threaten us with nuclear attack to forestall intervention.

There is another similar threat, of much wider significance - Iran. They have already launched a satellite. That rocket can now be used as an ICBM to hit any place on Earth. All it needs is a warhead.

Iran is close to having production capability for its A-bomb. Peaceful-only nuclear power is a political fiction: the difference between reactor-grade and weapons-grade uranium is merely the number of passes through the same equipment.

One of Iran's goals is domination of the Greater Islamic World. They will wage war to do it, by proxies like Hamas and Hezbollah if possible, but if not, that's what the A-bombs are for. The only check on Iran's ambitions is Israel's A-bomb inventory, but only as long as Israel has them and Iran does not.

Iran's other goal is the abject humiliation of the oil-dependent West, especially America. They have made no secret of this. Once they have the A-bomb to put on their rocket, we can expect nuclear blackmail over oil.

Their proxies already decapitate captives with kitchen knives on live TV. To them, this is just killing on a larger scale.

"Cassandra has spoken".