Russian. Space. Lasers.
That’s right, Russian scientists are developing massive lasers capable of blasting some of the half-million bits of space junk orbiting our planet into oblivion.
Precision Instrument Systems — a research and development arm within the Russian space agency, Roscosmos — recently submitted a proposal to the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) for transforming a 3-meter (10 feet) optical telescope into a laser cannon, the RT network reported.
Scientists at Russia’s Altay Optical-Laser Center will build this debris-monitoring telescope. Then, to turn it into a debris-vaporizing blaster, the researchers plan to add an optical detection system with an onboard “solid-state laser,” according to the Sputnik news agency.
After that, it’s sizzle time. The cannon will train laser beams on pieces of orbiting detritus in low Earth orbit, heating up the bits of floating junk until they are entirely demolished, according to RT.
Human-made space junk consists of discarded or broken parts of spacecraft, launch vehicles and other objects sent into space, and it comes in many sizes. Approximately half a million bits whizzing around the planet are the size of a marble or bigger, and about 20,000 of those are at least the size of a softball, NASA reported in 2013. These bits travel at speeds of up to 17,500 mph (28,164 km/h), and at such speeds, even a relatively small particle of debris could seriously damage a spacecraft or satellite.
In 2015, Japanese researchers presented plans for a spacefaring, debris-blasting laser mounted on a powerful telescope intended to detect cosmic rays, Space.com previously reported. Their study described combining many small lasers to produce a single powerful beam that would vaporize matter on the surface of space junk, generating a plume that would propel the debris lower in its orbital path, eventually causing the object to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.
And earlier this year, researchers in China published a report proposing another laser-based approach to dealing with space garbage; their solution also suggested using satellite-mounted lasers to nudge orbiting debris into a lower orbit.
Clearly, space debris is a problem that would likely benefit from a futuristic solution like a laser cannon. However, while Precision Instrument Systems representatives confirmed the existence of their report to Sputnik, they “declined to elaborate further” on any details related to the project’s production time frame or its technical requirements.
Amazon chief Jeff Bezos outlined his plan to colonize the moon with his rocket company Blue Origin in partnership with NASA by the year 2023.
The multi-billionaire who recently unseated Bill Gates as the richest man on the planet has set his eyes firmly on the moon.
And AC Charania, business development director for Blue Origin, revealed the rocket company aims to establish a base on the moon within the next five years.
Mr Charania said the company is “actively working” towards a lunar landing mission dubbed Blue Moon.
He said: “Blue Moon is on our roadmap and because of our scale, because of what we see from the government, we brought it a little bit forward in time.”
The bold venture will see the company partner with US space agency NASA, reports the Express.
Earlier last year in May, Mr Bezos outlined his plans to conquer the moon during a live talk at the Seattle Museum of Flight.
The Amazon boss said the time has come for humans to return to the moon but with the goal of staying.
Mr Bezos suggested setting up lunar colonies on the Moon’s poles, where direct sunlight does not reach certain ice-filled craters.
He said: “We have proposed to NASA this idea of returning to the moon and we would like to set up a cargo service for that.
“We call the program Blue Moon and we have an architecture and some technologies that will allow us to soft-land large amounts of mass on the surface of the moon which could be necessary if you wanted to build a permanent settlement there.
“I think we should build a permanent human settlement on one of the poles of the moon and it’s time to go back to the moon but this time to stay.
“There you would want to preposition a whole bunch of equipment and supplies before the humans show up and some of those things might need to be assembled on the surface of the moon and that’s the kind of thing that could be done by advanced robotics with machine learning systems on board.”
In February 2018, President Donald Trump’s administration proposed increased resources to NASA’s 2018 budget to expand the space agency’s moon exploring options.
NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot revealed the US Government was interested in seeing NASA focus on more Moon-based research and mission.
Mr Lightfoot said: “This proposal provides a renewed focus to our human spaceflight activities and expands our commercial and international partnerships.”
But Blue Origin is not the only private rocket manufacturer chasing NASA to the moon.
US-based SpaceX, founded by South African billionaire Elon Musk, is looking to send people on trips around the moon in the near future.
Mr Musk said in February 2017: “We’ve been approached to do a crewed mission beyond the moon, from some private individuals. And they’re very serious about it.
“They’ve not given us permission to release their names yet. But they have placed a significant deposit.”
SpaceX’s commercial moon flight is penciled in for a launch date sometime in mid-2019 after an initial setback.
Nevertheless, Elon Musk is dreaming big. At the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide today, Musk announced SpaceX’s plans for an enormous new rocket that he says will go to Mars in 2022 and maybe eventually provide speedy trips around Earth.
The rocket, which Musk calls the BFR — the first and last letters stand for “big” and “rocket” – is smaller than the one he announced at the same event last year, carrying 150 tonnes compared to the previous design’s 300. It’s still more powerful than any of SpaceX’s or NASA’s other planned rockets.
Musk said that he plans to replace all of SpaceX’s other space vehicles – the Falcon 9 and Falcon 9 Heavy rockets and the Dragon capsule – with this new system.
“All of our resources will then turn to the BFR, and we believe that we can do this with the revenue we see from launching satellites and from servicing the space station,” he said.
Once the BFR is up and running, he said, its first tasks will be satellite launches and bringing cargo and crew to the ISS.
Fly me to the moon
Then, Musk said, it will make its way to the moon. “This will enable the creation of a lunar base. It’s 2017 – we should have a lunar base by now,” Musk said. “And then of course Mars, becoming a multi-planet species. Beats the hell out of being a single-planet species.”
The top stage of the rocket will be big enough for 40 cabins, each of which could hold up to 5 or 6 people, along with a solar storm shelter and entertainment area. Musk said that after the initial 2022 mission to Mars, he plans to send 4 BFRs to Mars in 2024, two of which are set to be crewed. Musk’s plan is to have them mine water and extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to make fuel for return missions.
Other companies are doing a myriad of things that will be essential to making a Moon colony a reality.
The designs for the lunar and Martian habitats both feature inflatable pods that would be launched to the moon or Mars ahead of time. These will act as the base of the settlement, and then robot-operated 3D printers will cement together regolith — loose soil and rocks — to form a protective shield around the pods.
In the construction industry on Earth, using robots and large-scale 3D printing in the building process is relatively rare, “but when considering extra-planetary structures, they become an absolute necessity,” Irene Gallou, head of the research and development unit at Foster + Partners, told NBC News MACH in an email. “Forcing ourselves to incorporate these features into relatively small, but highly complex buildings lets us develop our knowledge and project into the future.”
Wilbur Ross, the U.S Secretary of Commerce had this to say about the future of space.
The first man on the moon held an American flag. In the not-too-distant future, astronauts on the moon may be holding fuel pumps.
The future for American commercial space activity is bright. Space entrepreneurs are already planning travel to Mars, and they are looking to the moon as the perfect location for a way station to refuel and restock Mars-bound rockets. As much as this sounds like the plot of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” it is coming closer to reality sooner than you may have ever thought possible.
A privately funded American space industry is the reason. This industry is making progress in leaps and bounds. The global space economy is approaching $350 billion and is expected to become a multitrillion-dollar industry. There are more than 800 operational American satellites in orbit, and by 2024 that number could exceed 15,000. Thanks to public-private partnerships, for the first time in seven years American rockets will soon carry NASA astronauts into space. Long dormant, Cape Canaveral is now bustling with activity. America is leading in space once again.
Space tourism may only be a year away. Tickets for human flights into lower earth orbit have already sold for $250,000 each. Earth-based mining companies may soon face stiff competition from the mining of gold, silver, platinum and rare earths on asteroids and even other planets. A race is already developing to create the technology that will bring those crucial resources back to earth.
Competition is already fierce, with Russia and China challenging the United States for leadership, and about 70 other countries working their way into space. But today’s space race is different. It is driven by innovative companies that are finding new solutions to get to space faster, cheaper and more effectively.
As these companies advance new ideas for space commerce and nontraditional approaches to space travel, they seek the legitimacy and stability that comes with government support and approval. They yearn for a government that acts as a facilitator, not just a regulator. Government must create frameworks that enable, rather than stifle, industry.
Unfortunately, our system for regulating private space exploration and commerce has not kept up with this rapidly changing industry. For example, when it comes to licensing cameras in space, we review small, high school science-project satellites the same as billion-dollar national defense assets, leaving too little time and too few resources for crucial national security needs.
In May, President Trump signed Space Policy Directive 2, which will make important strides toward modernizing our outdated space policies. These changes include creating a new office, the Space Policy Advancing Commercial Enterprise Administration, within my office to oversee coordination of the department’s commercial space activities, establishing a “one-stop shop” to work on behalf of the budding private space sector.
This will be a major change. At my department alone, there are six bureaus involved in the space industry. A unified departmental office for business needs will enable better coordination of space-related activities. To this end, I have directed all Commerce Department bureaus with space responsibilities to assign a liaison to the new Space Administration team, including the International Trade Administration, Bureau of Industry and Security, National Telecommunications and Information Administration and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
When companies seek guidance on launching satellites, the Space Administration will be able to address an array of space activities, including remote sensing, economic development, data-purchase policies, GPS, spectrum policy, trade promotion, standards and technology and space-traffic management. The new office will also enable the department to manage its growing responsibilities in space.
The department will take on a greater role when it comes to regulation and promotion of space activity. But as the agency charged with promoting job creation and economic growth, we will not engage only in oversight, but will support American companies so they can compete and lead on a level playing field.
Collectively, these efforts will unshackle American industry and ensure American leadership in space. This is essential to technological innovation, economic growth, jobs and national security. But, perhaps more important, it is rejuvenating the American passion for space exploration.
I can still remember when President John F. Kennedy declared that America would put a man on the moon and when Neil Armstrong took that first step on the lunar landscape. Glued to televisions, Americans were filled with excitement and national pride during the Apollo missions.
In April I felt that same passion as I visited the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs with Vice President Mike Pence. “As we push human exploration deeper into space, we will unleash the boundless potential of America’s pioneering commercial space companies,” the vice president told the crowd.
This is a very special time in space history — there is a convergence of technology, capital, and political will. The United States must seize this moment.
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
August 14th, 2018