Dec 13, 2012

Deathstars and David Criswell

Posted by in categories: space, sustainability


When the possible mixes with fantasy it should turn peoples heads- it does not happen very often. But this toungue-in-cheek petition is actually a case of truth being so close to fiction and no one seems to be noticing. I have been posting in the comments section of Centauri Dreams lately due to my disappointment with the contributor situation on the lifeboat blog and I am now happy to share edited versions of them here.

December 11, 2012 at 7:50

It is now the second decade of the twenty first century and we actually have a
tremendous amount of technology available and devices that may have been tested in some form in the past and found to work quite well but by various circumstance did not enter production. The example that every real space nut is aware of is the Aerojet AJ-260 monolithic solid rocket booster. Each of these put out over 7 million pounds of thrust and would probably have been used in a pair with yet another aerojet product called the M-1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M-1_(rocket_engine) as a core liquid engine as in the Titan configuration. This was the logical progression of a more powerful partially reusable vehicle to replace the Saturn V; a vehicle with over twice the first stage thrust. Instead we tried to go cheap with the Space Shuttle and recieved zero ROI. In fact we have the ability to build much larger solid boosters of up to 325 inches. Built with submarine hull technology it is recovered at sea and resused. This system is the only practical reusable technology as the liquid shuttle motors turned out to be a total waste of time returning to earth for reuse.

We can look back a half century (!) and see that it was Aerojet who had the equipment to set up a base on the Moon. By comparison the equipment that SpaceX is pushing as the next generation is.….a hobby rocket. With a pair of the largest possible solid rocket boosters and a core cluster of liquid hydrogen/oxygen along with upper stages, the HLV is the most efficient method available for getting into space. Getting into space by landing a payload on the moon. Chemical propulsion is completely appropriate for getting to the Moon where atomic spaceships can be assembled, tested, and launched on missions to set up the next base of operations. Eventually the ability to build large spheres with solar energy and lunar ore will make Bernal Spheres several miles in diameter available. This size should not be surprising considering there is no gravity and solar energy can be manipulated to refine and form large sections for such a sphere.

What may be the perfect place to build Bernal Spheres may be the same locale proposed for the next NASA space station http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2165/1. With vast amounts of microwave energy beamed from the Moon and focused this may be the place to melt masses of ore with microwaves and blow them up like glass balls. Balls several miles in diameter to start with.

Accelerated by beam propulsion and decelerated by H-bombs these Bernal Spheres, first proposed in 1929, may reach speeds of 10 percent of light and be our first starships before the end of this century. If revivable cryopreservation is available then several thousand colonists could be carried and if not then a small generaqtion crew would propagate for the journey. Not only starflight may be accomplished but our Earth powered by Lunar Solar Power allowing a western quality of life with a very high standard of living for a population of 10 billion. No more have-nots. Beam propulsion energy beamed down from relays in orbit from the Moon would allow cheap lift to space a reality and millions leaving the planet everyday for Bernal Sphere Lives in the outer planets or the many or the few leaving on star treks. Except for cryopreservation and more refined beam technology this is all just technology from over a half a century ago. The refinements in microwave beaming have come about through clean fusion energy research devices used by Kevin Parkin in his propulsion research. http://thesis.library.caltech.edu/2405/1/Parkin-Thesis.pdf

December 11, 2012 at 17:21

One of my favorite talking points concerns military spending; we can spend the public treasure on training our young people to clear buildings with automatic weapons or we can train them to build spaceships. We can keep building nuclear aircraft carriers and submarines or we can build spaceships. The money is going to be spent and supposedly a democracy has the right to choose how. Considering the tens of thousands of heavy bombers built in world war two and the fleets of jet bombers built in the cold war, supporting a launch schedule of 50 to 100 super heavy lift vehicles a year is not only possible but actually a easy goal. I will now tread on tricky ground by characterizing in the same category as jumbo jets; only construction costs are being looked at.

Considering the construction practices and materials, you would think the cost for a super-heavy lift vehicle should be close to the fly away price of a jumbo jet. This is a vehicle that can land a space shuttle payload at the lunar poles. It is simply a matter of retooling factories and retraining people.

The same amount of money for a different defensive strategy based on creating energy in space instead of stealing it on Earth. I was never a fan of Space Solar Power because just like O’Neill figured out in the 70′s we cannot send these truly gargantuan power station constructs up from Earth. But I have recently become quite interested in Criswell’s Lunar Solar Power. Within a realistic survey of the technology available it does not seem like there is any flexible path to the stars- only LSP has the potential to get a large number of human beings off the Earth by eventually providing enough energy to make the holy grail of cheap access to space possible- by way of Beam Propulsion. There really is no other contender technology.

It works like this; chemical propulsion to get to the moon where nuclear missions can be launched and eventually enough power can be beamed to Earth to allow beam propulsion to replace chemical propulsion.

Considering the 150,000 bombers built by the allies in World War II I think we certainly have the ability to send a hundred big rockets a year to the moon if a couple decades down the road we have enough power beamed back to give everyone on earth a house with cheap electricity and clean water. A very high standard of living for everyone on Earth with zero carbon emissions and pollution. With enough electricity giant plasma reformers can break down contaminated materials and even nuclear waste could be safely lifted off planet with beam launched vehicles. Eventually the population will drop as space habitats become extremely attractive places to live and Earth becomes a vacation destination.

The public really has no clue that such a future is entirely possible- there are no technical challenges that have not been answered or laws of physics that have to be broken.

Though I am not really a Zubrin fan and do not consider Mars a good destination for various reasons, a chapter in one of his books describing the superships built by the Chinese Empire and their abandonment is really the classic lesson that should be taught to the public anyone advocating space travel. There is nothing stopping the human race from going into space except our lack of vision.

The ploy to make money off militarizing space fell on it’s face decades ago. The main reason for this is that if you want clear the table you can send a couple vehicles up in satellite opposite orbits and explode ball bearing filled warheads; no more satellites. This is the equivalent of nuclear weapons making war obsolete on the surface below, Mutually Assured Destruction of everything in orbit makes any weapons on the moon or elsewhere redundant. The only airspace that counts is zero to a couple hundred miles straight up. It only takes a couple minutes to get up there and they cannot be stopped.

Launching from the Moon has no purpose because to even contemplate destroying all these ground launched space weapons and making Moon weapons relevant means profoundly contaminating the planet with fallout from nuclear weapons and that brings MAD back into play.

This is the main reason there is no army base on the moon right now. The secondary reasons why there are no military bases Beyond Earth Orbit is of course the expense- it is hard money when building weapons that sit on a runway or in a silo are easy money. It is easy to roll hundreds of defense contracts cumulatively worth hundreds of billions through the door but anything that goes into space with a human in it has a microscope on it. No profit there.

December 13, 2012 at 15:20


The valid military mission for space is a CAPS Comet Asteroid Protection System; atomic spaceships armed with nuclear weapons. This also can answer another threat- engineered pathogens- by establishing survival colonies on other bodies in the solar system to guarantee species survival.

You would think with drones taking over pilot roles and Navy surface forces contracting that the military would be all over going into space. But the military mind is not famous for successfully preparing for the next war.

The war we are fighting right now is basically one of exploitation; the masses of poor are being manipulated with religion to violently oppose the status quo of haves and have nots on this planet. It took a while for the lightbulb to come on but it finally dawned on me recently that the solution to conflict on this planet is to provide every human being on earth those basic qualities of life that remove the percieved need for militant activity. The only system that has a strong possibility of winning the war against exploitation does so by exploiting Lunar Solar Power as advocated by David Criswell.

It is a truly epic project and is not a sure thing by any means; microwaving the atmosphere is going to have unintended consequences. But to bring the carbon footprint down to zero and have basically cheap endless electricity for the predicted 10 billion people on Earth may very well compensate for the downside.

December 5, 2012 at 16:05 Concerning Skylon:

The “point” is this- orbital speed is not the goal, escape velocity is. Getting to the moon with a worthwhile payload is the key to getting into space on Atomic Spaceships. LEO is just going in endless circles at very high altitude- going nowhere not fast enough. Chemical propulsion is appropriate for getting out of the magnetosphere without contamination the biosphere but that is all. The moon is the place to test, assemble, and launch the nuclear systems necessary to go anywhere in the solar system.
The holy grail is not Skylon or Falcon or anything resembling them; there is no cheap.
What is required is a couple thousand Isp and the only way to do that is beam propulsion. This line of reasoning ultimately ends with David Criswell’s concept of Lunar Solar Power.
The same magnitude of power necessary to even begin to think about any interstellar mission. Which, by the way, is what this blog (Centauri Dreams) is about.

December 6, 2012 at 16:24 –you cannot escape from the box you are trapped in- the money box. Whenever someone starts quoting economic formulae or strings of zeros it means only one thing; they are not going anywhere.

The reason to go into space is not filthy lucre. This is a question on which may hang the extinction or continuation of the human race. If money cannot be made then it will not happen is the common perception. It will not happen for money. The best way I have found to understand the problem is to look at the U.S. defense budget. It is so immense yet almost invisible to the public who do not question the vast mountains of treasure being expended on shiny cold war toys. It seems that endless billions of dollars are consigned to endless lists of defense contracts.
Anyone who says we do not have the money to accomplish massive projects in space is a liar or ignoring the trillion dollars a year that disappears into the military.
The truth is that weapons and black projects are easy money; they often have no mission or cannot do the supposed mission they are intended for. They do not have to- mostly they just sit somewhere or are “classified.” I know from personal experience that much of the money spent on defense goes into programs that do not work as advertised or do not even work at all.
Spaceships are hard money- they have to work. No profit there.

December 6, 2012 at 16:52

Private space propaganda has had the effect of making it seem all so easy. Electric propulsion will not get you through the Van Allen belts fast enough. So far only Hydrogen and Oxygen have the kick necessary to get people out there. The Rocket Equation is not going to change. As for “refueling in orbit”, that is the most magnificent job of pushing baloney ever accomplished. Repeat a lie enough and people believe it. Liquid hydrogen technology was perfected at tremendous expense but that technology does not include storing and transferring it in space. In fact- it has never even been attempted due to the nightmare plethora of problems that arise. It is ultra-cold exotic stuff that does not store well, requires pre-cooling with liquid helium to transfer, and since a transfer pre-cool cannot be done completely it generates boil-off. Re-liquifying the boil off results in the exothermic form of hydrogen which promulgates more boil-off in the storage tank. That is just the beginning; zero G effects and radiation make everything even more difficult.
This is why they store oxygen in high pressure tanks in the ISS. Hydrogen is not even a possibility.

Storable propellents make earth departure stages very large compared to hydrogen oxygen stages. What turns out to be the best solution is a Heavy Lift Vehicle just like the much maligned SLS. The Ayn Rand-in-space-club wail and gnash their teeth and dogpile anything that appears in the blogosphere criticizing their demi-god Musk and his hobby rocket tourist scam. But that does not change the fact that there is no cheap.

December 7, 2012 at 16:33

Reusability is a myth. It is why the RS-68 was built. The key to resuability is robust construction and maintainability. Both are impossible with rockets. Fill a egg thin container with super cold liquified gas, subject it to extremes of heat and vibration; it and the controlled bombs called rocket motors then get thrown away because it costs far more to inspect, rebuild, and fly them again. And anyway performing complex maintenance in space is not practical.
There is no unobtanium or wishalloy that is going to change that.

December 8, 2012 at 18:52

Concerning the statement that “everyone agrees” that lowering launch costs is key.

Really? It would seem that spending MORE money on space access would be key. Like that one trillion that will be spent on the F-35 stealth fighter over the next half century. It does not work as advertised and never will but shareholder checks are going out. This piece of junk may eventually drop some million dollar bombs on some illiterate mountain tribesmen to justify it’s existence. Considering we have reusable solid rocket boosters that put out 3.6 million pounds of thrust ready for production but instead complain they cost too much and want to go cheap, I think your point is actually ridiculous.

Concerning why I appear to angrily dismissive of private space;

I do not appear to be, I AM angrily dismissive. The are scamming the taxpayer. Hobby rockets and billionaut toursts are not a space program.

Considering how I seem to be mistaking cheap access to LEO as unimportant;

You seem to be mistaking Low Earth Orbit for deep space. You are talking about going in endless circles at very high altitude. I think it is a stupid waste of time to think that way. 30 years of tin cans going around and around is enough.

Concerning questioning the powers that be fairly and with respect about launch costs;

Fairness and respect have nothing to do with it. It is all about greed. The “recieved wisdom” is that oversight and transparency is above all things the most important factor in space exploration. We know this by the Apollo 1 fire- probably the single most important event in the race to the moon. It took some people burning to death to make us hold the profit motive in contempt and demand the job be done rigtht. We know this from the Space Shuttle Program that used a single cooked-up think tank study to promise ridiculously low prices per pound to orbit. And the pressures to launch and budget cuts that prevented any escape systems being fitted or retro-fitted causing the loss of two shuttle crews. There is no cheap.

Concerning my narrow view of practical propulsion schemes;

Like steam engines, we know the thermodynamic realities of rockets pretty well by now. Everything revolves around exhaust velocity which I hope can be grasped by comparing the numbers for rocket fuels and electric propulsion. Back in the 50′s ex-nazi/future nasa member Von Braun did calculations for reusing expensive rocket stages and came up with feeble payloads of a few tons delivered from massive lauch vehicles. Those calculations are just as valid today as they were then and lead to the same conclusion; our gravity well and rocket fuel exhaust velocities mean reusability is not practical. But there is obviously money to be made by lying about this and advertising the impossible.

December 10, 2012 at 19:37

Concerning the possibility of operating reusable launch vehicles and spacecraft like an airline;

Fantasy. You might as well be discussing star gates and hyperdrives. You get to your “hotel” and what happens next? Since liquid hydrogen depots are not going to happen for a very long time (I do not think ever) if you want to go anywhere except in circles you will have to board a Earth Departure Stage using storable propellents. The Isp numbers for UDMH and N204 mean your ticket to the moon is going be about the size of Saturn V first stage. Understanding these numbers is why we made it to the moon; it is obvious that the most efficient way is a direct launch from Earth by way of a Heavy Lift Vehicle with hydrogen upper stages.
This is the first thing that anyone interested in space travel should comprehend; THERE IS NO SUBSTITUE FOR A HLV WITH HYDROGEN UPPER STAGES!

This is the second thing that anyone interested in space travel should comprehend; CHEMICAL PROPULSION WILL ONLY GET YOU TO THE MOON- NUKES ARE NEEDED FOR HSF-BLO (human space flight beyond lunar orbit).

It is not the airlines and tourists are not going to Mars. It is a scam. There is no cheap.

December 10, 2012 at 20:17

Concerning space “entrepreneurs” hopes for the future;

They clearly hope that the public remains as stupid as they are for believing the fairy tales they are telling.

Any space program that can be called such begins where Apollo left off- with at least a Heavy Lift Vehicle launching every month landing payloads on the moon near ice deposits. There is no flexible path- it is very direct and determined by physics to be possible with the appropriate technology and massive funding. So far “new space” is just a way to funnel tax dollars into those “enterpreneurs” pockets for nothing in return.

December 12, 2012 at 14:45

“Getting to Mars with chemical rockets is totally possible if you start in LEO”

The last mission profile I read had a 100 ton Earth Departure Stage. There was no mention of how much radiation shielding the crew would have or if they had an artificial gravity system. The will suffer some permanent bone loss and serious debilitation without artificial gravity; without massive shielding on the order of a couple hundred tons the first bad solar event that heads their way will kill them if mutated pathogens do not do them in first.

Chemical Propulsion will only get you to the Moon. Nukes are required for Human Space Fight- Beyond Lunar Orbit (HSF-BLO). The mass of radiation shielding removes any possibility of chemical propulsion being practical. The possible half exception is launching a beam propelled stage from the Moon and use aerobraking to slow down on arrival to Mars. But that would require large solar power installations and antennae fields on the moon. And you might boost your way to Mars this way with a couple thousand Isp beam propelled Lunar Departure Stage but you have to get back.

In any case all the really interesting places to go- low gravity icy moons- are in the outer solar system. Mars may seem “just close enough” and being a planet may seem to make it more hospitable in some way but this, like reusability, is a myth.
Bombs are the only way to carry a massive shield and get out past the asteroid belt and back within the psychological limits of the crew- which are probably around 5 or 6 years. This Moonwater filled shielding shell massing a minimum of 400 tons is one of the key elements in a closed loop ecosystem capable of supplying clean air and water to a crew for those 5 or 6 years.

I do not think this situation is going to change when they inflate some playboy clubs for going in endless circles at very high altitude. Of course Private space advertises it that way.

December 12, 2012 at 20:31

Concerning the difficulty transporting nuclear fuel and an atomic spaceship to the Moon;

“pits” can be sent to the moon in a human-rated capsule with a very powerful escape system on the SLS. That is as safe as it gets and after a hundred and thirty shuttle missions with no escape system and with packaging designed to survive vehicle failure that is the risk that must be accepted. A typical deep space mission lasting 5 or more years would require a couple thousand of these pits. This nuclear material represents the base fuel that when formed for a pulse unit system has an Isp so far beyond any chemical fuel that you must admit any comparison is completely ridiculous.

While electric systems have high Isp’s, comparing their typically ounces of thrust to a bomb is even more ridiculous. The Moon has high quality ore to build alloy pusher plates in the thousands of tons range required- and thorium to fuel reactors for use in deep space. But in the short term thin discs can be sent to the moon on HLV’s and stacked to form thicker plates to construct the initial spaceships for the first bomb propelled deep space missions. The best destination for this mission is Ceres in my opinion. You can read more of my desperate plan to save the planet at–



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