March 11th, 2014
The concept of a space elevator has been around for at least 50 years and was popularized during the 1970s with SF novels from Arthur C. Clarke and Charles Sheffield being published almost simultaneously. Up until now, the concept has remained the realm of science fiction and highly speculative engineering studies, but it looks like materials science has advanced to the point that we might be able to start building one in the near future.
The International Academy of Astronautics has released a 350 page report that explains in detail just how we might go about building a space elevator. It would likely be the biggest engineering project in human history, but the benefits are immense. We’ve reached the point where the biggest obstacles are economic and politcal, not technical.
magine a ribbon roughly one hundred million times as long as it is wide. If it were a meter long, it would be 10 nanometers wide, or just a few times thicker than a DNA double helix. Scaled up to the length of a football field, it would still be less than a micrometer across — smaller than a red blood cell. Would you trust your life to that thread? What about a tether 100,000 kilometers long, one stretching from the surface of the Earth to well past geostationary orbit (GEO, 22,236 miles up), but which was still somehow narrower than your own wingspan?
The idea of climbing such a ribbon with just your body weight sounds precarious enough, but the ribbon predicted by a new report from the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) will be able to carry up to seven 20-ton payloads at once. It will serve as a tether stretching far beyond geostationary (aka geosynchronous) orbit and held taught by an anchor of roughly two million kilograms. Sending payloads up this backbone could fundamentally change the human relationship with space — every climber sent up the tether could match the space shuttle in capacity, allowing up to a “launch” every couple of days.
The report spends 350 pages laying out a detailed case for this device, called a space elevator. The central argument — that we should build a space elevator as soon as possible — is supported by a detailed accounting of the challenges associated with doing so. The possible pay-off is as simple as could be — a space elevator could bring the cost-per-kilogram of launch to geostationary orbit from $20,000 to as little as $500.
March 10th, 2014
I’ve posted here quite a few times about Elon Musk and SpaceX. There’s a reason for that. Some of you may be familiar with Robert A. Heinlein’s story, The Man Who Sold the Moon and his character, D. D. Harriman. Musk is Harriman for our time, but instead of going to the moon, he wants to colonize Mars. Given what he’s accomplished so far, I think there’s a very real chance he might be able to do it.
In recent weeks, more details have been surfacing about SpaceX’s near and long term plans. They’re exciting.
From Aviation Week, SpaceX Says Falcon 9 to Compete for EELV This Year.
From NASASpaceflight.com, SpaceX advances the drive for Mars rocket with Raptor power.
In the next 10 years, Elon Musk wants to send people to Mars.
By the end of this decade, the 42-year-old CEO and chief designer of Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) plans to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). And next year, with the debut of a new Falcon Heavy rocket, Musk is aiming to fly reusable first-stage cores that could dramatically lower the cost of launch.
But for Musk, who founded SpaceX 12 years ago with the goal of colonizing other planets, the immediate future will be devoted to the more mundane task of launching commercial satellites.
SpaceX Co-Founder and Vice President of Propulsion Development Tom Mueller has revealed the company is deep into the development of the first “full flow methane-liquid oxygen” rocket engine. Known as the Raptor, nine of these immensely powerful engines – one or three cores – will be utilized to send SpaceX’s Super Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (SHLV) uphill on missions to Mars.
Update: Here’s an article with a detailed profile of their next flight – a supply mission to the ISS.
March 8th, 2014
I got an email today advertising Paste Magzine. I’m not sure why I got it, but it looked interested so I checked it out. It’s a web-based magazine featuring articles and reviews about movies, TV, music, games, and some tech subjects. So far, I’ve seen several good articles, including a profile of one of my favourite bands, Drive by Truckers and an article about Brian Wilson’s lost bedroom tapes. I’ll be keeping an eye on Paste in the future, although I’ll have to remember to do it since they don’t appear to have an RSS feed, silly people.
March 7th, 2014
This is something that city planners in Toronto should be taking into account, if they aren’t already. The latest climate models show that a warming world will bring more extreme rainfalls over parts of North America, including Southern Ontario. Condensed into a tweet: “Climate models show that in a warmer world, precip tends to be concentrated into heavier events w/ longer dry periods in btwn”.
Climate models project increasing days of extreme rainfall in the Northwest, Midwest, and parts of the Northeast, including some populated coastal areas that are already challenged by inundation and sea level rise. Several major watersheds are predicted to have more days of extreme rainfall by the middle of the century, including the Pacific Northwest, the Ohio River Basin, the Great Lakes, and parts of the Great River and Missouri River Basin. Meanwhile, the Southwest and some other areas frequented by drought are expected to see little difference in the number of extreme rainfall days.
March 6th, 2014
MadCap Flare 10 has been released. At first glance it looks to be an evolutionary release. The major new features being touted are advanced HTML5 output, an HTML5 skin editor, and 20 built-in project templates. There are quite a few other smaller improvements.
TechWhirl has a short first-looks review.
There are a lot of productivity enhancements in this release, which is a good thing. The combination of templates and a skin editor should make things a lot easier for new users.
Update: TechWhirl has publish another, longer review by Flare expert, Neil Perlin.
March 6th, 2014
Adobe introduced ExtendScript with FrameMaker 11, but hasn’t really done very much to promote it’s use. Documentation is sparse and there are only a few sample scripts. For a while, they were publishing new scripts weekly, but that seems to have stopped.
Now Russ Ward of West Street Consulting has assembled a very nice collection of free ExtendScripts designed to help beginners learn the language and how to sue it inside FrameMaker. The scripts are heavily commented and following through them from the beginner scripts to the advanced should give you a good introduction to ExtendScript. Some of the scripts are intended only as demos to be used with sample files, but there are a few that should be usable with any FrameMaker documents. Russ is owed a big thank you for making these scripts freely available – a lot of work went into these scripts.
Here’s the message he posted to the framers list today.
I’ve worked up a set of samples designed to help beginners get started with ExtendScript. This is mainly as a public service, as I felt there was a lack of simple, working samples out there to help new users get started. I really feel that the ability to customize FrameMaker is one of its great strengths and the acceptance of ExtendScript is very important to its future. So, if we want the product to stay competitive, it’s my belief that more ExtendScript usage is critical.
Anyway, I encourage you to get to know it, not just for FrameMaker’s sake, but also for your own professional development. Technical writers who can customize their tools, even in small ways, significantly increa5se their market value. ExtendScript can be tricky to get a hold of at first, even for an experienced FDK developer, but the effort is well worth it.
Enjoy, and feedback is welcome!