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Moon NASA Space Science

Europe's Space Agency Wants To Do What NASA Can't 136

coondoggie writes "The European Space Agency is moving forward with a plan to land an autonomous spacecraft on the moon by 2017, with the idea a manned vehicle could land there sometime in the future. It's a mission NASA had on its roadmap before the current budget debate, but such plans seem doomed now. The ESA is now seeking proposals for a lunar lander that would land on the south polar region of the Moon, which possible deposits of water ice, heavily cratered terrain, and long periods of sunlight make promising for explorers and scientists, the agency stated."
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Europe's Space Agency Wants To Do What NASA Can't

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  • Re:NASA Can't? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Thursday April 01, 2010 @09:35PM (#31704042) Homepage Journal

    "Nasa could do that."

    Oh, really? A bunch of pathetic, fearful old women, sitting around, nattering about risk, can actually do that? You do realize that today's NASA is not the same NASA that put men on the moon, don't you?

    When the mission was to put men on the mooon, the atmosphere was much like the atmosphere aboard a warship.

    Today, there is no mission, and the atmosphere is more like a cruise ship catering to octogenarians.

    It's NOT an easy cruise to the moon, or mars, or anyplace else out there. We need some kick-ass, no-nonsense types to decide that we are going to space, then get it done. Blabbering and yakking about risk has it's place, but when it becomes the primary concern, nothing gets done.

  • Re:NASA Can't? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Liquidrage ( 640463 ) on Thursday April 01, 2010 @09:50PM (#31704074)
    Yeah, if only NASA had some autonomous vehicles on the Moon or Mars or something. Then they'd be really cool.

    I'm as disappointed with the lack of progress in the space program as anyone because I think we could do more. But I'm not going to support a sensationalist headline that craps on the agency that currently has the most advanced program and greatest achievements. And that includes the current as well as the past.
  • by Fnkmaster ( 89084 ) on Thursday April 01, 2010 @10:31PM (#31704172)

    I think this is the first non-April Fool's story today. Thank god. It's funny when it's one or two stories. It's just fucking annoying when it's the entire day.

  • Re:NASA Can't? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 01, 2010 @11:09PM (#31704260)

    Yes, I would greatly applaud it if all those "kick-ass, no-nonsense types" went to space. As far away as possible.

  • by R3d M3rcury ( 871886 ) on Thursday April 01, 2010 @11:12PM (#31704264) Journal

    Imagine having hundreds of hubble-class telescopes actively scanning for mining targets worth $20,000B ea. requiring little to no propellant to harvest.

    I have a feeling you're being a bit optimistic.

    First, I assume you're talking about a target worth $20 trillion (that's $20,000,000,000,000. That's a lot of zeroes). What substance exists that would have that value?

    But let's say you find it. We'll use gold as an example. The current price for gold is $36,120.81 per kilogram. So, to get $20 trillion dollars, we'd need an asteroid with a mass of 553,697,440 kilograms. Let's say you go ahead and drag in all these as yet undiscovered golden asteroids. What's that going to do the price of gold on Earth? I'll tell you what--it'll drop to next to nothing. Everybody will have more than enough gold and the price will drop. Frankly, because of speculation, just announcing that you're bringing this much gold to market will cause the price to drop before you even show up with your first gram.

    Platinum? It's about 1.5x the value of gold, so you'd need less of it. But you still have figure that when you show up with a whole bunch of Platinum, you're going to drive the price down--that's basic supply-and-demand economics.

    What you need to find, of course, is Unobtainium--something that doesn't exist on Earth. Of course, finding this Unobtainium is going to require a bit more than a bunch of telescopes (since you don't know what you're looking for). Also, assuming you find your Unobtainium, you need to figure out what it's useful for so that you can convince people to buy it so that they can turn it into something useful.

  • by MartinSchou ( 1360093 ) on Thursday April 01, 2010 @11:16PM (#31704272)

    how about we solve the cost issue of just getting into orbit

    This is a fairly straight forward problem with no solution apart from possibly mass production. It inevitably takes so much energy to get to orbit - nothing apart from discovering new laws of physics will change that. That doesn't mean there aren't ideas on the drawing board, that will lower the cost by something like a factor of ten - but none of those are suitable for anything you want to stay alive.

    Low earth orbit requires a speed of a minimum of 7,814 m/s. Now my math is a bit rusty, so I might be off by quite a bit. To get to 7,814 m/s you need 30.5 Mjoule/kg. That's ignoring everything else, including drag. And like I said, that number is probably wrong, but let's go with it for a moment.

    Usually we use hydrogen in our rockets, and with an energy density of 10.1 MJ/liter, we'd need 3.02 liters. At 0.07 kg/liter that's 211 grams. At 1 g/mol that's 211 mol of hydrogen, so we need 105.5 mol of oxygen (2H2 + O2 => H2O). At 8 g/mol we need 844 grams of oxygen as well. So, just to get the energy required to get 1 kg of mass up to the speed required for low orbit, we now have to handle 1.055 kg of fuel.

    We also need some way to contain that fuel - more weight.
    We need some way to control the rate at which the fuel is spent - more weight.
    We need some kind of survival system for the human - more weight.
    We need some way to get him back down safely - more weight.
    We need something that keeps him alive while in orbit - more weight.

    So suddenly we don't need to accelerate just 1 kg of mass to 7,814 m/s, we might need to accelerate 4 kg to that speed. This isn't something we can just magic away.

    work on alternative propolsion systems to get places faster

    And how exactly do you propose we do this, without putting stuff into orbit to test if they actually work in real life as well?

    before blowing our cookies over manned trips to the moon, which add NOTHING of scientific value and solve no problems.

    So ... if you're taking your homebuilt duct-tape sail boat [youtube.com] out for a test, you'd rather aim for crossing the ocean than checking if you can get somewhere close by? The moon is pretty far away. Apollo 17 [wikipedia.org] took 4 days and 14 hours from launch to lunar landing. But apparently you don't see any value in learning how to get there faster than we can already manage? Oh, wait - you were just complaining about that. My bad.

    As it happens, they ARE working on various solutions to these and many other issues. And while your idea of "scientific value" apparently doesn't stretch to cover such things as developing new types of engines, material science to lower the weight you lift into orbit, developing better and lighter life support systems etc. While you may think those are just engineering challenges, they aren't until you actually have the science behind it nailed down. And even if it's just trial and error, that's still a scientific approach. And strangely enough, much of what we learn in space technology may "only" be engineering and production prowess, but that comes in pretty handy as well, and it can pay pretty good dividends.

    But you're right of course. Much better if all we do is not aim for pie in the sky, but aim for banana cream cake on Mars.

  • by timmarhy ( 659436 ) on Thursday April 01, 2010 @11:19PM (#31704284)
    this is why we need to figure out how to escape the earths gravity for much less then $20,000 a kg (the current cheapest price).

    space exploration has the potential to drive demand to new highs so even if you found this 500k gold nugget it wouldn't matter, because the process of exploring space is going to consume massive resources.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 01, 2010 @11:40PM (#31704342)

    Perhaps NOT unobtanium;

    Perhaps the issue itself is space based manufacturing.

    The costs involved for sending some humans to the moon are peanuts compared to sending millions of tons of cargo into space. (Think, EG, deep space imager satellites, com sats, new GPS sats, etc, all combined.)

    The issue is not trying to make space travel "cheap", but to make space technologies "Affordable." EG, Having some blue collar shmucks on the moon refining alumina into aluminium using big arrays of solar panels (No atmosphere, means you can have much less durable panels, abrasion wise-- the biggest problem with them on earth. You also dont have the problem with ecological impact.) and producing the satelites there. From the moon, you could litterally just toss one into space.

    The issue is that NOBODY wants to send joe-sixpack to the moon, so that he can operate that Mazak D500, churning out satelite parts.

    As long as "the moon" (or space in general)remains the exclusive purvieu of "Astronauts" and "MIT grads", then there will NEVER be affordable space travel. Period.

    (this coming from an aerospace engineer. We make drawings, and come up with fabulous ideas and technical plans. But the machinists are the ones who make it real, and Machinists are about the closest personification to joe sixpack I have ever seen. If there is to be any hope of space based manufacturing being leveraged to reduce space technology deployment costs, then somebody has to buck up and send them up there.)

  • by Rakishi ( 759894 ) on Friday April 02, 2010 @04:53AM (#31705004)

    First of all, all he said was that MANNED space flight to the moon is a waste of money. Your post magically manages to utterly avoid explaining why that is the case. Please explain why manned mission to the moon are so important. Well? He said nothing, I might note, about manned flights into LEO or testing new propulsion systems in space or unmanned missions. So what do those manned mission to the moon gain, please do explain.

    Second of all, 30.5 Mjoule/kg is nothing. It looks like a big scary number but so does a mole of carbon if you write it out as the number of molecules. One kilowatt-hour of electricity is 3.6Mjoules and costs around $0.10.

    In other words 30.5 megajoules of energy costs under $1 for me and less than that if you've got a dedicated generator. So no the amount of energy needed is not a barrier and the laws of physics are perfectly happy with sending things into orbit at $1 however our technology is not capable of that.

    In fact, let's look at the cost of actual fuel shall we?

    1kg of H2/LOX propellant costs roughly $1 from what I gather. The space shuttle has a 70:1 propellant:cargo ratio but it uses solid boosters so let's say 100:1 using h2/lox. That's still $100/kg compared to roughly $20000/kg for the space shuttle and $3000/kg (or around there) for a commercial satellite launch. So quite evidently the energy and fuel costs are not the direct problem even in practice.

    Your argument about weight as a result is bullshit since even with all the extra weight we already send up the energy cost is not the main cost (of course certain propellants aren't as inexpensive as h2/lox). The costs in the end come down mainly to things like design costs, construction costs, testing, infrastructure, maintenance and so on. Unavoidable with current designs but not fundamentally impossible to surmount.

    A low-maintenance often used reusable craft will give you something like $200/kg to leo costs given existing constraints. More exotic methods (space elevator, nuclear propulsion, ground based lasers, etc) would probably bring that down to something like $10/kg. So yes, there is plenty of room for improvement.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 02, 2010 @05:26AM (#31705064)

    The only April Fools joke would be if AFRICANS put a rover on the moon. Or a rocket into space. Or even got a rocket off the ground. Or a plane. Or built a car. Or even a bicycle...

    But don't worry about that, because the TV said it's "racist" to protest against your children's country being invaded by sub-70 IQ third worlders... I'm sure your children are going to be so grateful when they are living in a third world country, surrounded by hate-filled black criminals...

  • by Osmosis_Garett ( 712648 ) on Friday April 02, 2010 @05:37AM (#31705080)
    The whole reason this is important, and that no-one seems to be talking about here, is that we need another planet. There's no way we can sustain our current population on this planet into the future, and the population is growing. People will start to die en mass and life will become tragic and harsh for a much higher ratio of people (currently, thats just life in the worst places to live). We need to figure out how to create contained ecosystems and how to use the resources of other planets (and moons and asteroids and dwarf planets and eventually exoplanets). Some work is going to get done in LEO for sure, but advancing the knowledge of how to actually exist on another planet will always be valuable and important progress. Eventually, earth will just be a retirement planet, where its nature and remaining resources are protected and safe from development, and can be treated like the rare and delicate jewel that it is.
  • by Carewolf ( 581105 ) on Friday April 02, 2010 @06:40AM (#31705214) Homepage

    If it is an April Fools joke then the joke is ultimately on them. That something like this could be considered absurd would only highlight how incredibly pathetic space programmes have been for the last 30 years.

    Given that private space programs still haven't left Earth orbit. I find it highly impressive the public program maintains a 40 year leed on private enterprise.

  • by MartinSchou ( 1360093 ) on Friday April 02, 2010 @08:19AM (#31705386)

    He said nothing, I might note, about manned flights into LEO

    He said he could see the point in a manned mission to Mars. Rather difficult to get to Mars without getting into LEO or higher.

    So what do those manned mission to the moon gain, please do explain.

    What is the point in going to Mars? Or having bases in the Antarctic? Going to the moon is a decent proving ground for a mission to Mars. It's close by - four days travel vs a couple of months at the moment, radio contact has a few seconds delay vs several minutes.

    Just setting foot on Mars and going "well, let's head back" would be stupid. Mostly because you can't really do straight return missions with our current technology. And if all we're sending are unmanned probes, time isn't exactly of the essense, meaning there's no point in trying to develop fasters ways of getting there.

    Setting up a base on Mars isn't going to be easy. We'd need to more or less bombard the planet with supplies before we set foot there ourselves. A lot simpler and faster to test perfecting landing and aiming against the Moon. Same with building a base on the planet. We've tried building various selfsufficient habitats (like Biosphere 2 [wikipedia.org], and they've been mixed successes. Those only tackle some of the issues we'd be facing on Mars, and unless we're 100% certain we can replicate the successfull experiments we will conduct on this here on earth, it'd be silly not to use the Moon as testing grounds. Much cheaper, faster and easier to ship replacement parts to the Moon, when we find that something doesn't work like we thought

    It's also a good place to test how to build a base, that will stop us from dying of cancer. No magnetic field means really nasty things with regards to radiation, and neither Mars nor the Moon has a suitable magnetic field. Probably better to learn somewhere close by rather than months away.

    How about figuring out how to set up production centers from scratch? If we can produce our own raw materials, fabricated materials etc. all the way to custom made production utilities, we can save a ton of money in supplies. We'd still need food, water and fuel, but if we can kick start industrial production planet/lunar side, we're pretty much golden. Hell, if we can manage to build a nuclear reactor, we don't even need that much fuel.

    Now, as for using the Moon as a 'stopping off station' for trips to Mars, I rather doubt there's a point to that. The Moon is about 380,000 km away, Mars is between 55,000,000 and 401,000,000 km. That's between 0.7% and 0.09% of the distance. Essentially the argument seems to be that if we're flying to the other side of the Earth on vaccation, we should really book some hotel time between 18 and 140 km away from our house. I expect it gets even worse if you do the energy equations rather than just distances.

    Now, using the Moon as proving ground for the technology we need to survive on Mars is just common sense. Unless we develop some way of getting to Mars and back that can be done in a few weeks round trip, but I don't think that's something we're going to see any time soon. But then again, my crystal ball IS broken, plus I'm an Aries - we don't believe in that kind of stuff.

    But even if we ignore a possible mission to Mars - what could we get from the Moon? How about the largest and best isolated radio telescope? The best optical telescopes possible - no atmosphere to worry about, much lower gravity which I suspect would allow you to build much much larger mirror arrays. No annoying neighbours who complain that your telescope is blocking their view.

    Imagine building an optical telescope that covers the entire bottom of the Cabeus crater [wikipedia.org]. It isn't subjected to sunlight, it's about 100K making IR astronomy even easier. I'm pretty sure the entire astronomy field can see a point in going to

  • " which add NOTHING of scientific value and solve no problems."

    There is a lot of the moon that could add to our scientific knowledge, and it's a great way to improve technologies that would be used in longer missions.

    Yes, we should also go to mars; however we should developing supporting technologies and get the to mars before we go there.

    Send robots and equipment to build housing facilities. Get food and water there ready for when the Astronauts arrive.
    A complete satellite communication system would be good as well.

    I would use the moon to test the initial house building technologies

  • Re:NASA Can't? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <dnaltropnidad>> on Friday April 02, 2010 @12:14PM (#31707236) Homepage Journal

    Yes, NASA could do that, and get it done in less then 10 years.

    What you describe is Congress.

If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith. -- Albert Einstein