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Fusion Steps Forward: U.S. National Ignition Facility Unveils 'Super Laser' May 31, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in : Fusion Power, Helium-3 , 4comments


The National Ignition Facility in Livermore, CA made big headlines today by unveiling their ‘super laser’, a major step towards developing fusion power.

Fusion power is essentially the main reason there’s a ‘base race’ back to the Moon at all. Its fuel is helium-3— a resource rare on Earth, but abundant on the Moon—and its potential as a nearly-limitless energy source is astronomical. (Check out the excellent article by Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt for the full skinny, as well as his 2006 book on the subject).

Governor Schwarzenegger embraced the project with bear-hug enthusiasm (a pretty big development in and of itself):

“‘This laser system is an incredible success not just for California, but for our country and our world,’ Schwarzenegger said. ‘NIF has the potential to revolutionize our energy system, teaching us a new way to harness the energy of the sun to power our cars and homes.’ “- “US lab debuts super laser“, AFB via Brietbart.com

This laser represents the first time there has been a fusion laser capable of producing positive energy gain—that is, producing more energy than it took to ignite it. Clearly, an important step towards having fusion power as a viable everyday energy source.

Every development in fusion power solidifies the value of being involved in helium-3, and therefore, further encourages lunar efforts (both public and private). The pace and scale of lunar development are—and will remain—deeply intertwined with the status of fusion power as a technology.

For all the neat details of the laser itself, check out this 10-minute PBS feature from last year on it (as well as the National Ignition Facility’s own surprisingly-spiffy website):

MoonPop: Sam Rockwell as a Helium-3 Miner in "Moon" (2009) March 8, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in : Helium-3, MoonPop, private sector , add a comment

It’s time for another in my running series of features on the Moon and lunar colonization in pop culture, and today’s is as related as pop culture could possibly be: the upcoming film “Moon“.

Having premiered at the 2009 Sundance Festival and slated for wide release June 12th, “Moon” stars Sam Rockwell (IMDB) as a helium-3 miner (!) stranded at his private-industry mining outpost for three years.

To have a wide summer release than even mentions helium-3, never mind is largely about it, is going to be some amazing PR for the base race.

The movie is directed by Duncan Jones, son of David Bowie; Bowie’s first big hit was, of course, Space Oddity (a previous MoonPop feature here itself).

Below is a clip from the film (via a Teaser-Trailer.com Youtube video), involving an accident Rockwell has with his helium-mining vehicle:

Keep an eye here for coverage of the film, and the impact it has as a landmark of the Moon in pop culture.

India's Chandrayaan Flags the Moon November 16, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in : Chandrayaan-1, Current News, Helium-3, Indian Space Research Organization, lander, Peak of Eternal Light, Shackleton, Youtube , 1 comment so far

I’ve been flagging “Chandrayaan” on a lot of my moon posts as of late, but now the Chandrayaan-1 has done me one better, flagging something itself: the Moon.

The craft’s Moon Impact Probe, carrying the Indian Tricolour (pictured above) on its side, landed on the Moon on Friday, making India the fifth (or fourth; videos seems to state fourth, but that linked article from the India Times states fifth) world entity (after the U.S., Russia, Japan, and the 17-nation ESA) to reach the surface of the Moon.

That is a picture the Moon Impact Probe took before impact (from the India Times); the prode landed just 32km from the all-important Shackleton Crater near the South Pole, a very likely location for a future full-fledged colony or colonies (due to its rim being a Peak of Eternal Light, a.k.a. eternal solar power and other benefits). So its likely that future colonists (robotic or otherwise) will come across, or at least take field trips to, this Indian tricolor in the future :)

Below is a great video from CCTV on the Probe’s landing, which rather interestingly, also confirms the active Indian interest in helium-3 (something not mentioned in the official ISRO Moon Impact Probe page):

Chandrayaan-1 Payload Feature #2: Sub KeV Atom Reflecting Analyser (SARA) November 13, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in : Chandrayaan-1, Chandrayaan-1 Payload Features, Helium-3, Indian Space Research Organization, solar wind, Sweden , add a comment

Today is the second in a series of features on each of India‘s recently-launched Chandrayaan-1‘s scientific payloads.

The Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter has 11 scientific instruments onboard to complete an array of measurements: five Indian instruments, and six from other nations and organizations (including the ESA and NASA). Today is the first look at one of the foriegn payloads: the Swedish Sub KeV Atom Reflecting Analyser (SARA).

Sub KeV Atom Reflecting Analyser (SARA)

SARA is a device mainly to study the magnetosphere (or in the case of the Moon, the lack thereof) and solar wind interactions with the lunar surface.

Developed through the ESA in collaboration with the Swedish Institute of Space Physics and the Indian ISRO’s Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, the payload itself is of Swedish development while the data processing unit is Indian.

Solar wind experiments were peformed on the lunar surface during many of the Apollo missions (11, 12, 14, 15, and 16); they analyzed the chemical components of lunar surface in relation to the solar wind, and found that the lunar surface had been enriched with atomic nuclei, including helium-3, a major motivator behind this current base race.

While details on the SARA’s mission are vague, the impression that I get is that the SARA’s additional solar wind analysis, going by the above connection between solar wind and the all-important helium-3, could yield interesting information regarding the chemical composition of the moon, possibly for mining purposes (helium and otherwise). So, perhaps, the result of this seemingly unassuming device could end up being commercially significant.


Check back within the next couple of days for the next feature, on another of the Indian payloads, as well as for any other updates on the moon mission’s progress that may come along :). You can find the first payload feature (and all the features as they’ll be posted) here.

Picture of the Week: Finally Got a Plasma October 29, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in : Fusion Power, Helium-3, ITER, KSTAR, Picture of the Week, South Korea , 2comments

That is an image from the Korea Times (by way of Gizmodo) of the first plasma generated by South Korea ‘s KSTAR (Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Reactor) fusion reactor.

The experiment back in June produced 2 1/2 times more plasma than anticipated, which was good news for the project and for other, similar projects, like the high-profile ~$7-14 billion ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) reactor being built in France.

Fusion power is considered a leading motivation for moon colonization, as a primary fuel for it (helium-3) is rare on Earth, but plentiful on the Moon. Seen as an ultimate power source, fusion power could be a solution to certain problems that may crop up in the next 50 years.

Last year, South Korea announced plans to launch a lunar orbiter in 2020 (similar to the craft just launched by India), so they could be getting ahead of the game with their early development of the fusion side of things.

India Launches Chandrayaan 1 Moon Mission (News) October 22, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in : Base Race, Bulgaria, Chandrayaan, European Space Agency, Helium-3, Indian Space Research Organization, Japan, Kaguya, Roscosmos, rover, Russia, selenography , add a comment

Today, India’s Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully launched it’s first lunar mission, the Chandrayaan 1.

An unmanned lunar explorer (a la Japan‘s Kaguya), the Chandrayaan-1 (which is “moon craft” in Sanskrit) is set to map lunar topography in 3D, creating (as the ISRO puts it) a “3D atlas” and notably, chemical mapping of the lunar surface.

While I haven’t found any specific references to helium-3 in any Indian or other documentation of the Chandrayaan project, that prominent “chemical mapping” goal suggests that, like Russia, China, NASA, and others, India is seriously interested in the resource potential of the Moon.

The craft is carrying scientific payloads for six other organizations (check that link for specific pages for each one), including NASA, Europe’s ESA, and Bulgaria’s Space Research Institute.

This story got some big media play in the form of a huge front-page Drudge Report splash, with a huge picture of the Moon in the place usually reserved for the likes of Obama and McCain. Here’s that spectacular image (which ran with an “INDIA TO THE MOON!” headline):

I’m a little surprised at the high-profile coverage, as this Indian mission isn’t a whole lot different than JAXA‘s, which didn’t appear to get quite the same sort of media push. I think this speaks to the sort of excitement the Base Race can generate, especially as the significant 2010-2020 decade pulls closer (and as things domestically get more and more grim in the meantime).

The Chandrayaan-1 mission is expected to last for two years, with Chandrayaan-2, a joint Indo-Russian moon rover venture, shooting for 2011.

NASA Chief Mike Griffin's Interesting 50th Anniversary Comments October 8, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in : Apollo, Constellation, cooperation, Fusion Power, Helium-3, McCain, NASA, Obama, Space Shuttle , add a comment

Recently, Michael Griffin (Administrator, a.k.a the chief, of NASA) made some interesting comments to the Agency France-Presse (AFP) when discussing the 50th anniversary of NASA and NASA’s current state:

“[Christopher Columbus] travelled for months and spent a few weeks in the Americas and returned home. He could hardly have said to have explored the New World. So we have just begun to touch other worlds.”

-Mike Griffin, referring to Apollo 11‘s first walk on the Moon

Mr. Griffin went on to talk about how the explorers of the 15th century set out not knowing exactly what they’d find, and what value it would have. Griffin stated, “We can’t prove today that we can exploit what we find to the benefit of humankind”, though personally I beg to differ (and so do others more significant than me).

Griffin also expresses support for international cooperation, a subject that was a key contrast between the Obama and McCain space plans (with Obama’s plan mentioning it often and McCain’s plan never mentioning it).

“The space station is much bigger and better and more impressive and more productive as a result of the partnership with Canada, Russia, Europe, and Japan, than it would have been if we had done it ourselves.”
-Mike Griffin

For some more interesting Mike Griffin interviews, check out this Popular Mechanics ’10 tough questions’ from 2007, and a Space.com grilling from about a month ago on the space shuttle program, changes to it, and the potential impact of that on Constellation. Seems like Mr. Griffin gets some tough gigs with these interviews, haha.

(Note: I think that 8.8mb portrait from NASA of Mr. Griffin is one of the largest images I have ever seen uploaded to the internet.)

Eternal Flame? Phoenix Lander Lasting Longer Than Expected October 6, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in : Base Race, Google Lunar X Prize, Helium-3, Integration, Phoenix lander, robotics, rover , add a comment

NASA’s robotic Mars lander, Phoenix, made news recently as it was snowed on. Let the Martian snowmen and snowball fights commence.

But, a subplot to this event and just as notable in the long run, is that the Phoenix lander has lasted much longer than anticipated.

Originally expected to last 90 Martian days (also known as “sols”; Martian hours, minutes, and seconds are 2.7% longer than Earth ones), the lander has operated for 120+. The Martian winter is settling in, and with the lander being at a pole, that means a long, cold dark and the probable end of the lander’s lifespan.

Considering that everything from the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize up through Helium-3 mining and moon base surveying and construction will be completed by similar robotic rovers and other heroic robots, the fact that as high-profile a rover as the Phoenix has proven much more durable than anticipated is great news for any and all forthcoming efforts to integrate, and then colonize the Moon.

Rovers proving more durable means that everything on Luna will get explored, built on, and mined that much faster and more efficiently (and more efficiency itself speeds things up again by freeing up R+D, etc. cash). If rovers and other equipment prove to consistently outperform expectations like the Phoenix has, then the pace of the Moon’s integration into our Earthbound society is going to get really wild.

The Phoenix lander’s perserverance has shone a bright light of promise into the future of robotic Martian, Lunar, and other missions.

Picture of the Week: Festival Coming Soon October 5, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in : Chang'e, China, Helium-3, Mythology, Picture of the Week , add a comment

That is that first Chinese photo of the Moon, taken by their Chang’e-1 (嫦娥一号) Lunar orbiter craft last year, as part of an imaging/exploration mission (including for concentrations of helium-3).

Check out this really interesting look from the China National Space Administration (CNSA) at the Chang’e-1 program and its goals, from the Chang’e project leader, Luan Enjie. He’s exceptionally well-spoken– here’s a great interview where he talks about his take on the differences from this space race (that I refer to as the “Base Race”) and the space rae of the 1950’s and 60’s.

The Chang’e program is named after the Chinese goddess of the moon, who (notably) only lives on the moon.

“The U.S. is the leader in deep space exploration.”
-Luan Enjie, opening statement of his description of the Chang’e-1 program

The way the Chinese space program has been rolling along in the past year, I think we could be seeing a ‘chang’e’ to that fact in the very near future ;)

Picture of the Week: It's A Miner Thing, and They're a Miner King September 10, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in : Base Race, China, Fusion Power, Helium-3, Integration, Picture of the Week, Russia , add a comment

From the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Fusion Technology Institute (by way of the European Space Agency) comes an artist’s rendition of a Helium-3 miner.

Helium-3 is a resource that is rare on Earth, but plentiful on the moon. It’s drawn a lot of interest, including officially from China and Russia, as the primary fuel for fusion power, which is something of the ultimate power source: clean and efficient, one shuttle’s load of Helium-3 from the Moon would be roughly enough to power the United States for one year. And that’s just one load!

While fusion probably won’t turn up until around 2050, that’s about the time we’re expected to be running out of fossil fuels and potentially in need of a new energy source. So, the idea among Russia, China, the U.S., and potential commercial efforts would be to get a headstart on collecting the fuel by stockpiling it early, and developing some kind of dominance over the resource in order to gain leverage (and massive profits).

So, as a result, even though we might not be seeing fusion power itself for a while, we’ll be seeing (and hearing about) miners like the one above much sooner.