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Comment Re:Don't hold your breath (Score 1) 169

That's part of the problem. Generally when one takes a complex system and focuses in a narrow-minded approach toward optimizing just one aspect they end up blowing it on other aspects. For example, an equally well reasoned but precisely opposite argument to OTRAG is Big Dumb Booster concept, where rather than trying to mass-produce many small rockets, you make singular giant rockets because when you compare the economies of giant rockets to those of small rockets, the giant rockets usually win.

OTRAG has some good concepts, but again I think they went too far. Not only are they pushing their propellant costs way up - which to be fair, is by design, accepting the fact that propellant is only a very small fraction of total costs - but they're also pushing up every last part of the handling costs, which unfortunately is not so small of a fraction of the total costs. And they're incurring a lot of size-related costs - load capacity of the pad and tower, environmental impacts on the surrounding area, etc - without gaining the typical size-related economies of scale, as OTRAG's extreme size only yields proportionally small payloads. It has almost no potential to optimize costs further, as they're willfully making propellant a significant fraction of total costs and the design basically throws away any potential for economic reuse. And with numerous heavy steel stages and the first stages having to separate at low altitude due to the low performance, it's basically a bomber ;) And with all of those stages clustered together they're really putting themselves at risk for cascading failures - stage separations are one of the riskiest parts of rocketry as-is, and cluster elements can interact in unexpected ways even when you only have a few of them.

So no, I'm not a big OTRAG fan, I think the design goes too far. I think SpaceX hit the right balancing point in this regard - enough of a degree of mass production to keep production streamlined (dozens of tanks and hundreds of engines per year), but not so much that you have to have huge numbers of stages and crazy-low performance (aka crazy-huge mass). They did this sort of balancing act in a lot of regards. For example, in rocketry there's often been a conflict between structural tanks (which can bear all of the loads during launch) and balloon tanks (which rely on internal pressure not to collapse). Balloon tanks have much better performance (meaning that they save you a lot of mass and thrust requirement - aka money), but they're a pain when it comes to handling because you have to keep them pressurized at all times after construction, even during transport, and if you have to do repairs, it's expensive. SpaceX uses a sort of semi-balloon tank design - their tanks are strong enough unpressurized to hold themselves up, but not to bear the forces of launch - they require internal pressure for that. So you can transport and handle them without hassle, but they still get excellent payload fractions - to the point that that if they were to launch their first stages without upper stages or payloads on them, they'd nearly be SSTOs. And the design is of course aided by their use of aluminum-lithium alloy - which normally is expensive to work in a reliable manner (it doesn't take well to being melted), but the friction stir seam welding system they use is really near ideally suited for it.

Just like in life, rocketry is about balance. OTRAG is more Kerbal-ish ;)

Comment Re:Refugees? Not so much. (Score 1) 131

RCP8,5 is 0,53-0,98m by 2100... which is only about 84 years from now. With the rise at 2100 predicted at around 0,9-1,8cm/yr over the 2100-2116 period (minus the current 0,32-0,36mm/yr) the total would be something like 0,62m-1,21m (2' to 4') - basically, a typical person sitting, kneeling, or similar. The amount of rise however does vary to some degree based on location, and some isolated areas (like Baffin Bay) are even expected to get a drop (about 5% of the worlds' oceans). The northeastern US and northeastern Canada are projected to get a particularly large rise, so a statue there could be in a more upright position or built to a larger scale - the waters off of New York are projected to rise a median value of 0,3 meters in just the 2081-2100 period alone. New York's 2100 RCP8,5 range is about 0,5 to 1,2m - adjusting to 2116 would put it at 0,6-1,5m (on top of the pedestal of course, which would be about 1,3 meters tall).

RCP8,5 is of course the "business as usual" line... which has been the best bet thusfar. The "if we make huge efforts" RCP2,6 prediction is about half of the RCP8,5 predictions. There could be some other object on each statue to denote the RCP2,6 line.

Comment Re:Refugees? Not so much. (Score 1) 131

Huh? It says right in the summary: "Moody's family eventually moved to Springdale to live with him and work for Tyson and other poultry companies based in Arkansas". Is "working for Tyson" slang for "running from climate change" that I've never heard of?

Too bad I'm not a sculptor, I'd love to launch a climate change-related kickstarter which both sides could get behind. I'd offer to - if I could raise the expenses - make life-sized bronze statues of the world's most prominent climate-change deniers and install them on popular beaches around the world where permission could be gotten. Each statue would be on a pedestal on which is engraved one of their more prominent quotes denying climate change. The proportions of the statues would be such that at low tide the base of the pedestal is at sea height, while at high tide the top of the pedestal is at sea height, and the total height of the person matches up to the projected sea level rise over the next century.

Hence, if those denying climate change are right, a century forth they're left with a statue on their beach mocking all of the Chicken Littles. If those arguing that it's real are correct, they get to gloat as they watch the statue sink a bit further beneath the waves every year for the rest of their lives and a cautionary dive site for future generations.

Comment Re:Geothermal (Score 1) 199

Here in Iceland some people are against it because of the need to build roads / powerlines out into wilderness areas (and subsequent roads/pipes to each well from the central plant), and because of the wastewater ponds. And some complain about the increased H2S emissions in the area

Personally I think that's taking things way too far. Of course there need to be regulations and environmental controls, but you really don't get much more low environmental impact per MW than geo. And there's lots more pollution controls that can be put on them if so desired than we actually impose on them, it's not like clean coal where the technologies are basically economically prohibative.

Comment Re:Geothermal (Score 1) 199

150mW (milli, not mega) per m2 at most,

Which is why geothermal isn't harvested by laying a blanket across the whole planet.

150mW * 510000000000000 square meters is 67TW, four times higher than global energy consumption.

  But gee, if only there was some sort of way to harvest geothermal other than laying a blanket across the whole planet. Something like, say, if heat would collect somewhere over long periods of time. Like, throughout the entire thickness of the many-kilometers-thick crust and so on down all the way to the center of the planet. You know, that would be so awesome if there were unfathomably vast amounts of heat trapped in the rock that makes up the Earth that has accumulated over time, and if instead of laying blankets, we could just drill into it and take the heat out of the rock in the form of steam, with each area you drill lasting for decades or even longer. Wouldn't that be great?

Too bad that's not possible....

Comment Re:Geothermal (Score 1) 199

Drilling a ton of extra holes in the planet's crust and venting our core heat all into the upper atmosphere at a massively increased rate

This is where a facepalm unicode character would be handy (not even going to *touch* the "volcano capping" thing).

Earth's temperature is what it is due to an equilibrium between inputs (primarily the sun) and outputs (primarily radiation to space). Heat radiates from the air very quickly, as you may have noticed by how cold it gets on a clear winter night vs. when it's cloudy. Heat does not "stick around". In fact, the higher the temperature, the faster it radiates, and not by a small margin - the rate of radiative heat loss is proportional to the temperature in kelvins to the *fourth* power.

The planet cannot warm because you "add in excess heat", of a magnitude not even the slightest bit comparable to the sun. It warms if you change the surface radiative balance, based on how well sunlight penetrates to the surface vs. how well heat radiates away. Sunlight enters in the visible spectrum but leaves in the IR spectrum, so a change in the proportion between these two figures changes the equilibrium temperature (that is, it rises up to the point where the increased radiation rate due to the higher temperature compensates for the lesser ability for IR to penetrate the atmosphere without absorption/re-radiation. The most powerful of gases in our atmosphere at accomplishing this is water vapor; however, water vapor has a short atmospheric residence time (it's constantly entering and leaving, with an average residence of only a couple weeks), so it's nothing more than feedback and fluctation around whatever other factors are driving the system. The two most significant gases that have relevant residence times are methane and CO2; both cycle, but methane cycles over a couple decades and CO2 over a couple hundred years. It's a bit more complicated than that - for example, an individual CO2 molecule on average will be absorbed or emitted every couple years. But in terms of the ability to be absorbed in a way that doesn't correspond to a corresponding short-term release - aka, sequestration - is a much longer timeperiod on average (and it varies depending on the total to sequester).

Comment Re:Sputnik? (Score 1) 169

Half of Soviet missions to Venus failed anyway. They were just a lot more persistant about it ;) Really, the Soviet Union had a pretty terrible record for space exploration away from the confines of Earth - near universal disasters on their Mars program and not even an attempt to explore the outer solar system. But at least their persistence with Venus paid off - the US practically ignored our "evil twin". My favorite finding was the detection of iron during their descent through the clouds - they think it was volcanic ash, but even if it's just dust it's still neat to know that there's mineral condensation nuclei in the clouds.

Comment Re:Don't hold your breath (Score 1) 169

Also, it should be noted that mass production hits some obstacles when it comes to upper stages. You need a lot fewer engines, and higher ISP than you need for the lower stages (but not as much thrust requirement). You can do it with the same or similar ISP like SpaceX does (same engine, just vacuum optimized expansion nozzle), but that limits your scaling - it's fine to LEO/GEO but you're never going to get to Mars and back with a practical-sized rocket with those kinds of ISP figures. Which is why SpaceX's future plans hinge around in-situ methane production, so that they don't have to carry all of that return mass. It's a reasonable, although challenging, approach.

There are some possibilities mind you for getting more impulse out of their current designs. They're already taking some interest steps with the Falcon 9v1.2, aka "Full Thrust" - instead of having their LOX near its boiling point, they're supercooling it to just above its triple point and cooling the propellant to the maximum level of viscosity that their turbopumps can manage, so that they both increase in density, thus increasing both tank capacity and thrust. But while they're playing with increased viscosity propellants, they could take it to the next stage and go with mildly gelled propellants. The gelling isn't in and of itself a performance enhancer, but it lets you suspend aluminum (or if you don't mind the handling problems, lithium) particles in your fuel. Aluminum gives dozens of extra sec ISP, and lithium dozens more. Aluminum also increases propellant density, meaning more thrust and tank capacity (lithium unfortunately decreases it). While lithium metal is fairly expensive (a couple dozen dollars per kg), aluminum is cheap, about $1,50/kg.

Another nice thing (according at least to my CEA simulations with lithium) is that the latter significantly lowers chamber temperature, all other conditions (mass flow rate, expansion ratio, etc) being the same. Entering the conditions for the SSME, for example (77,5:1 expansion ratio, mass flow rate per square meter = 2223,8 kg/sec), CEA calculates (if SSME were lossless) 464,5 sec vac ISP (real world, after losses is 452 sec), 0,36g/cc propellant density, 3602,82K chamber temperature (real world 3573,15K) and exhaust of H2O (~76%) + H2 (~24%). CEA says that with a slightly different ratio you could add an extra 1,4sec ISP, but it's basically near maximum. With aluminum added to the ideal mix it calculates Al (43,9%)/LOX (39,1%)/LH2 (17,0%): 544,0 sec, 0,34g/cc, 3689,38K, -> H2 (~91%), Al2O3 (~9%). And with lithium, it calculates Li (30,0%)/LOX (34,6%)/LH2 (35,4%): 583,2 sec, 0,17g/cc, 2362,44K, -> H2 (~89%), Li2O (~11%). Now, these figures assume complete burning of the metals - which is often difficult to achieve in the real world with aluminum as its oxide has such a high melting point - but in general metalized propellants offer huge potential improvements to performance, with non-esoteric technology, and without posing serious pollution problems (like, say, using fluorine as an oxidizer does). So it'd be interesting to see what SpaceX could achieve if they could get their system to handle gelled propellants - the potential is huge.

(Note: these calculations are for adding metals to LOX/LH... but the same thing applies to hydrocarbon fuels, albeit to a slightly lesser degree)

Comment Re:Don't hold your breath (Score 1) 169

Indeed, and unfortunately, rocket technology is on the opposite side of the tech/price scaling curve. NASA has their own inflation rate used for budgeting long-term projects, and it trends much higher than the US national inflation rate. The reason is obvious when you think about it: back in the 1950s, many common commercial products were handmade, with domestic labour, but are now mass-produced with cheap overseas labor and advanced labor-saving technologies (depending on the type of product). But just like in the 1950s, NASA still builds things largely by hand, generally in small numbers, and with a highly skilled domestic workforce.

"We've got to get mass production" is often a mantra of the alt-space community, and really in large part what's kept Russian costs down. It's also what makes SpaceX competitive - not only are they set up to make lots of cores per year (last I heard it was something like 40), but they put 9 engines per core, and their upper stages are just short, single-engine versions of their lower stages. And the Falcon Heavy is, to the most part, three Falcon 9s stuck together.

One can of course take the concept too far (OTRAG, I'm looking in your general direction...), but mass production is indeed a key aspect.

Comment Re:Far more abundant than lithium? (Score 1) 173

Actually, it's just the other way around. The reserves of in-demand materials - especially those for which there was relatively little demand for previously - tend to grow, by orders of magnitude, over time. And the maximum production cost of lithium is essentially capped, because the oceans have an essentially inexhaustable supply, and it costs an estimated $20-35 per kilogram (last I checked, the figure may have gone down since then) to produce lithium salts from it. But nobody is going to be touching that in the foreseeable future because there are such vast reserves onshore - salars, hectorite clays, pegmatites, geothermal lithium, etc. Actually $7-ish/kg is rather expensive for lithium salts, the long-running price has been more like $4-5/kg. Which has led to a new rush of lithium exploration, as it was so underexplored previously. And companies are finding huge lithium deposits bloody everywhere. A lot in the US, actually.

It's simply not a rare element.

Comment Re:Far more abundant than lithium? (Score 1) 173

It's mainly manufacturing/capital costs. The most expensive "raw ingredient" in the batteries BTW is not lithium but cobalt. Which nobody ever mentions because it's not in the name of the batteries - you'd have people freaking out about "peak cobalt" if we had called them "cobalt cathode" batteries instead of "lithium ion".

Comment Re:It's dug out of salt lakes (Score 3, Informative) 173

Indeed, lithium mining from salars is actually one of the more benign mining processes that exists. You're out on an area that is virtually devoid of life, pumping up saltwater, letting it evaporate in ponds to concentrate it, selectively crystalizing the desired salts (such as lithium salts) out, and setting the remaining salts back on the salt flat. Every year the annual floods come and resurface the entire thing.

You know, sometimes it feels like people just want to hate any new technology.

Submission + - Scope of FBI National Security Letters Revealed by Lifted Gag Order (theintercept.com)

Advocatus Diaboli writes: One of the most striking revelations, Merrill said during a press teleconference, was that the FBI was requesting detailed cell site location information — cellphone tracking records — under the heading of “radius log” information. Traditionally, radius log refers to a user’s attempts to connect to a server or a DSL line — a sort of anachronism given the progress of technology. “The notion that the government can collect cellphone location information — to turn your cellphone into a tracking device, just by signing a letter — is extremely troubling,” Merrill said. The court ruling noted that the FBI is no longer requesting this type of information using NSLs, but wants to maintain the possibility of doing so in the future.

In the newly unredacted ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Victor Marrero wrote that the case “implicates serious issues, both with respect to the First Amendment and accountability of the government to the people.” According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, around 300,000 NSLs have been issued since 2001. By 2008, the Justice Department concluded that the FBI had been abusing its powers with NSLs, even after changing policies in 2006. “I feel vindicated today,” said Merrill. “But there’s a lot more work to be done.”

Submission + - With a heavy heart, I Disable Advertising 3

GerryGilmore writes: As someone with a 6-digit ID, and has been following /. for much longer, I've always wanted to support the site — ideally without coughing up real US$$. Hence, once the ads started, I was fine with it. And, once they started targeting based on recent purchases (yep, I just bought some Gibson Vintage guitar strings and — surprise — here's an ad for GV strings!), I was even OK with that. Recently (how recently I truly can't say, but call it within the last year) however, the number and intrusiveness of the ads has become untenable, so I just Disabled Advertising.

If you want to win my advertising heart back, a couple of suggestions:
No flash!! Too many reasons to list...
No sound!!! How does anyone allow this? Does no one realize how more-than-irritating it is for crap ad music/voiceover to start blasting out??
No javascript!! Look, I know, but — a fella can dream, right? Just like JS developers can dream that their scripts don't hang and lock up the browser. Just like FF developers can dream that FF doesn't consume every byte available. Just like....

"No, no, I don't mind being called the smartest man in the world. I just wish it wasn't this one." -- Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, WATCHMEN