Science –

The Solar Federation –

by J. Tortorici

Face it, the colonization of the Moon and Mars are in the bag. We so have this.

The engineering is in-hand for a round trip to either body. What a wonder it has been to live in the era of planetary exploration over the past twenty years. Consider that humankind completed a photographic survey of the solar system in my brief lifetime.

NASA’s Constellation Program, which is developing the Orion spacecraft, the Altair lunar lander and the Ares rockets, will take humans to the moon for the first time in over 50 years, but this time we will stay. The details of environment will be hammered out in regular moon flights as the stage is set for a long-duration mission. Mars will be an extension of that science.

One problem: President Obama’s 2011 budget request for NASA cut the agency’s Constellation program completely, effectively canceling a five-year, $9 billion effort to build new Orion spacecraft and Ares rockets.

You can bet the house on an inevitable reality. The Constellation Program will fly again. Budgetary restraints are in a constant state of flux and this program will not stay in mothballs for long. Not to mention the efforts of private enterprise taking the reins in a business model fit for space. A permanent presence on the moon provides key stepping stones to deep space. It will happen.

NASA is developing a first-ever robotic mission to visit a large near-Earth asteroid, collect a multi-ton boulder from its surface, and use it in an enhanced gravity tractor asteroid deflection demonstration. The spacecraft will then redirect the multi-ton boulder into a stable orbit around the moon, where astronauts will explore it and return with samples in the mid-2020s. A permanent base on the moon remains a part of the big picture.

Orion and the SLS:

The campaign of exploration for these two bodies will provide research and development solutions for deep space travel. Here are my picks for the next big technical hurdles to be conquered: protection from radiation, development of site resources, and new propulsion. Okay, science guys…listen up!

Radiation in the form of high-speed particles is everywhere. Our planet is protected by an active magnetosphere deflecting charged particles. Without this shield, we would suffer the same fate as Mars, stripped of atmosphere.

The same phenomenon is the solution to protecting the human-form in deep space. NASA is taking the concept of a Magnetic Dipole Shield to new levels. The idea of creating a miniature magnetosphere makes infinite sense for a large vessel. Yes, you heard that right…”Divert power to the shields, Mr. Sulu.” This is proven science only needing to be tweaked. Also on the drawing board is a large version of this idea to protect the entire planet of Mars at a distance. A precursor to re-establishing a nascent atmosphere on the red planet is the kind of endeavor NASA was made for.

Personal protection is more problematic. There are two choices: more mass or more efficient materials. There are a multitude of issues with mass. Currently, Extra-Vehicular Activity requires a space suit of considerable bulk. Pressure, breathable air, temperature control, communication, and so on, contribute to the problem of mobility. It would be so much easier if the astronaut didn’t have to move, though not likely. A combination of these two principals will be the solution. Current personal shields look like medieval armor and are in a developmental stage. Keep at it, gentlemen.

Water ice is fairly common in the solar system. This is pivotal to the explorer’s survival on many levels.

The chemical elements in water, hydrogen and oxygen, are some of the most abundant elements in the universe. Astronomers see the signature of water in giant molecular clouds between the stars, in disks of material that represent newborn planetary systems, and in the atmospheres of giant planets orbiting other stars.

There are several worlds thought to possess liquid water beneath their surfaces, and many more that have water in the form of ice or vapor. Water is found in primitive bodies like comets and asteroids, and dwarf planets like Ceres. The atmospheres and interiors of the four giant planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — are thought to contain enormous quantities of the wet stuff, and their moons and rings have substantial water ice.


Perhaps the most surprising water worlds are the five icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn that show strong evidence of oceans beneath their surfaces: Ganymede, Europa and Callisto at Jupiter, and Enceladus (pictured) and Titan at Saturn.

The high school experiment of chemical electrolysis plays a major role. By applying an electrical current to water, we can separate its component elements, hydrogen and oxygen. Conversely, hydrogen and oxygen can be combined in a fuel cell to produce electrical energy. A fuel cell uses a chemical reaction to provide an external voltage, as does a battery, but differs from a battery in that the fuel is continually supplied in the form of hydrogen and oxygen gas. It can produce electrical energy at a higher efficiency than just burning the hydrogen to produce heat to drive a generator. Its only product is water, so it is pollution-free.

Ice provides the chemical components, man provides the science. The primary asset is less weight needs to be launched into space. The cosmos gives us filling stations around the solar system.

Propulsion solutions remain theoretical at this point. Choose your juice: solar sail, anti-matter, nuclear pulse, ion, and, of course, WARP drive, to name a few.

The fuel-conscious scientists at NASA may have cause to celebrate. Their colleagues at the Johnson Space Center tested an electromagnetic (EM) propulsion drive, which could replace traditional propellant during space travel. Although EM Drives have been tested in the past, the folks at Johnson were the first to conduct such trials under similar conditions found in space-in a vacuum. It works!

At present, Jupiter and its moons are a region of space to consider carefully before manned exploration. The radiation from this massive planet washes over the Jovian moons at a deadly level. NASA’s Juno probe orbits Jupiter in an eccentric ellipse, diving in close and then speeding away to save the satellite from being microwaved. The spacecraft is limited to thirty-seven orbits.

The Saturnian magnetosphere is far more benign. Here is the next horizon. The moons of Saturn are numerous and diverse, ranging from tiny moonlets less than one kilometer across to the enormous Titan, which is larger than the planet Mercury. Enceladus is a planet sized ice-ball. Saturn has sixty-two moons with confirmed orbits, fifty-three of which have names and only thirteen of which have diameters larger than fifty kilometers, as well as dense rings with complex orbital motions of their own.  Decades of exploration are set to provide resources and research yet unknown. Exciting times are ahead.

With this expansion comes the very human business of administration. Ah, the minutia. While international cooperation in space remains elusive, among scientists and engineers there is only the mission. A technical mindset may yet prove to be the salvation of our species. There will, no doubt, be a governing body or council of administrators. Let’s hope “the mission” stays in the forefront.

Our grandchildren are destined to be a part of the Solar Federation.