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NASA Space Science Technology

NASA Studying Solar Powered "Space Tugboat" 86

Posted by samzenpus
from the Teddy-the-space-tugboat dept.
Zothecula writes "Last year, NASA announced it was seeking proposals for mission concept studies of a high-power solar electric propulsion (SEP) system that could be used in a 'space tugboat.' Such a ship would be used to ferry payloads in low Earth orbit (LEO) into higher energy orbits, including geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) and Lagrange point one (L1) — saving on fuel and the use of expensive secondary boosters. NASA also anticipates an SEP system could be used to propel spacecraft into deep space for science missions and for the placement, service, resupply, repositioning and salvaging of space assets by commercial operators."
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NASA Studying Solar Powered "Space Tugboat"

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  • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rtb61 (674572) on Wednesday February 01, 2012 @05:30PM (#38896301) Homepage

    Might be smarter to attempt to 'surf' the planet's electromagnetic field.

  • maybe invent a (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FudRucker (866063) on Wednesday February 01, 2012 @05:39PM (#38896415)
    solar powered sanitation satellite that just robotically collects debris in orbit, and when its payload is full it commits suicide by diving in to the atmosphere over the pacific ocean so what does not burn up on entry falls harmlessly in to the sea
  • Yes! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Wednesday February 01, 2012 @06:01PM (#38896691)

    This is exactly the kind of basic space infrastructure NASA should be working on. Space tugboats, construction vehicles, mining drones and assayers, cargo haulers, all the simple stuff that makes a civilisation run smoothly. We need to walk before we run, and that means mastering the basic techniques of constructing and operating these types of vehicles long before any thought is given to colonising the moon or Mars.

  • Re:Sigh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by khallow (566160) on Wednesday February 01, 2012 @09:35PM (#38898619)

    Unfortunately, the teabagger types seem to think that "government = bad, corporation = good"

    Careful, your insipid bigotry is showing.

    so they want to privatize everything regardless if there's any competition at all.

    If only there were evidence for this assertion. Demonizing political opposition is a favorite past time on Slashdot, but it rarely hits the mark. But as it turns out, there are a lot of perils in privatization.

    Failures of privatization can sometimes be traced to a market that naturally lacks competition, such as the electricity grid, but more common causes of failure are forced actions, artificial scarcity and abundance, or rent seeking.

    For example, California attempted to deregulate its electricity industry, but the three main providers had the option to deregulate or not (that means here that they had a choice between fixed rate and a floating rate for consumers which started lower, but actually exposed them to the cost of the electricity they were buying). Only one of them had made the switch by the time that the California electricity crisis [wikipedia.org] happened and the other two were prevented from doing so.

    The three primary negative effects were: rolling blackouts which had a modest effect on California residents and industry, a huge distortion in generator-provided electricity prices in and around California which resulted in regional energy intensive businesses such as aluminum smelters in Washington state and copper mines in New Mexico shutting down, and the depletion of capital of the three big Californian electricity providers which resulted in one bankruptcy and another coming very close to bankruptcy.

    This all got fixed by first, allowing electricity providers to set up long term contracts for peak electricity rather than forcing them to buy all that power on the spot market, and second, by exposing electricity consumers to the actual cost of their electricity. Thus, we have here both forced actions (required to buy peak electricity on spot market) and artificial abundance (consumers not paying the cost of their electricity). It's also worth noting that California had blocked virtually all new power plant construction for about a decade (artificial scarcity of power generation capability) which contributed to the problem greatly.

    The Russian attempt to privatize its oil industry (a policy which it has done much to reverse, I gather) provides an excellent example of rent-seeking. The "oligarchs", a collection of well-positioned businessmen, politicians, and/or crime lords bought assets for a fraction of their cost and made vast amounts of wealth almost instantly. If those assets had been sold by open auction, Russia would have gotten a lot more money for them, the local industry would have been more competitive and probably vigorous, and there wouldn't be subsequent moves to seize and redistribute these assets to a new set of cronies.

    So in summary, it's worth noting that privatization at any cost routinely results in remarkable failures. I think in general it's a good idea to privatize most government functions, but it's worth remembering that such a process is very easy to break and/or corrupt.

Never test for an error condition you don't know how to handle. -- Steinbach

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