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Slideshow: Robots in Space

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RogueMoon
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attention spans: the Achilles heel of the space program
RogueMoon   5/23/2013 9:40:13 AM
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good post, SparkyWatt.  Your multi-point response made a lot of good points particularly this one point you made at the last...

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Most of the people who object to this stuff do so because of money.  They scream about 100 billion dollar - 10 year programs as huge wastes of money.  100 billion dollars over 10 years in the US is less than $10 per family per month.  I would gladly pay that to put a colony on the moon.  People who beef about that simply have no sense of proportion.

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I agree with you 100% SparkyWatt.  It's the attention span of the American public that kills any program scope beyond a YouTube video made in a simulation lab.   It's not about the money.  There's plenty of money to bail out failing multi-national banks but not even a fraction of that for space exploration. JPL is the sweetheart becuase they get regular funding and use only the oldest vehicles to launch their tiny payloads.  Nice pictures, good streaming video, but what else?

Larger investments in space launch technology are only a waste of money until another 20-30 years from now you reap the benefits.  We are soon to get another post-Apollo generation to look back at NASA's lack of progress for the meager yet supposedly wise expenditure of money.  The human organism hasn't been back to the moon's surface for over 40 years.  Ever notice NASA doesn't run a comprehensive timeline history of its successful programs from start to present?  It starts with Yuri Gagarin, moves up to Apollo, fast forward to the early 80's shuttle highlights... then? the 90's, X-33, nope.  Space Station history from 1984 to present? nope they only fast-forward to highlight reel stuff post-launch 17 years later.  That's right, 17 years of reviews and billions of USD outsourced to Russia later.

We had the most practical yet ambitious program minted post-Columbia called Constellation.  Just as you said, the program got politicized, criticized for its cost (to be made in smaller multi-year payments, not the supposed lump sum figure that kept being posted in the news) then dumped right after the shuttle retired.  What we have today is the most ambition our government chooses to muster.

 I wanted to extend one important thing here that seems to not be widely understood.  This applies to space robotics too.  Whether it's lifting water, aluminum, silicon, or just the human meat bags flying the vehicle, its price per mass to orbit that is nearly the only the determinant.  It's not a manned vs. unmanned issue.  More payload to orbit for less money benefits EVERYONE.

All ambititous space exploration (beyond the ho-hum of today) comes down to having regular and far cheaper access to orbit from the Earth's gravity well.  This means the vehicle technology needs a quantum leap forward to make any real difference beyond either the "economy of scale" approach which fails to get taxpayer buy-in for the lump sum $100B+ price tag or the pseudo-open-source "dumping" approach currently practiced by today's space agency which builds old tech vehicles to yield results as high-tech as what was seen in the 1960's.

Like education of our children, the space program of today is an explicit function of the investment choices or lack of investment choices made in years and decades past.  It starts by having a plan and sticking to it.  The American public needs a longer attention span to make sure we get what we paid for.

 

warren@fourward.com
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Re: Robots in Space- Just when you weren't afraid to go back!
warren@fourward.com   3/29/2013 4:15:21 PM
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There has been a robot in space for decades.  Who can forget "Warning, Warning Will Rogers."

I am not happy for robots in space.  I want humans!  It is our destiny.  Robots can suppliment but not replace.  It is our nature.  We just lack a government and space agency without vision.

But I repeat myself...

 

Battar
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Re: Robots in Space- Just when you weren't afraid to go back!
Battar   12/8/2012 10:57:31 AM
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Sparky, seriously, would you be willing to leave earth and go live on the moon, in a life-support bubble? Think of the shipping rates from Amazon to your new address.

SparkyWatt
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Re: Robots in Space- Just when you weren't afraid to go back!
SparkyWatt   12/7/2012 6:25:00 PM
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Your comments are correct if you ignore three factors:

1 - A ship with a large cabin is far harder to launch than a collection of parts.

2 - I mentioned in my post the possibility of mining the moon for bulk materials, potentially structural members and partitions, which is a large part of the weight.  These would never have to leave the Earth.  Granted, developing the capability for manufacturing complex parts on the moon would be long term, so the electronics, precision machined parts, and so on would have to be shipped up to the moon.  Other heavy items that it may be possible to get on the moon include the oxygen and water (of which evidence has recently been found).  That is quite a weight savings.

3 - I also mentioned in my post that there is no re-entry required to return to the moon.  That eliminated the need for heat sheilding, and reduces the structural requirements, and vastly increases the re-usability of the craft.  Shipping up two thirds of an interplanetary craft that can fly 20 or 30 missions is far more efficient than trying to launch the whole thing when it can only be used once without a major refit (as was the case with the Shuttle).

As to the telescope point, un anmanned system like Hubbel can do (and has done) wonderful things.  But it cannot adapt to a new mission quickly.  The problems with robotic missions are: They have to be planned years in advance (because they have no capability to move beyond the mission they were designed for or for self repair), there is no first hand observation, reacting to something outside the plan is not possible, there is little or no ability to inspire.  Robots can do a lot, but they cannot take people there emotionally.

You talked cynically about "Hollywood drama".  While it is true the media hypes everything, consider this.  Nobody is going to explore without something exciting to explore.  We need to inspire kids to get into science, and we won't do that unless someone can stand at the forefront and say, "this is amazing!"

Consider also that we are outgrowing our cradle.  The only place to go is up.  If we don't learn how to go elsewhere, we will have nowhere to go.

Most of the people who object to this stuff do so because of money.  They scream about 100 billion dollar - 10 year programs as huge wastes of money.  100 billion dollars over 10 years in the US is less than $10 per family per month.  I would gladly pay that to put a colony on the moon.  People who beef about that simply have no sense of proportion.

Battar
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Re: Robots in Space- Just when you weren't afraid to go back!
Battar   12/7/2012 5:14:19 PM
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Sparkywatt, every single nut and bolt of an interplanetary spaceship launched from the moon would first have to be launched from Earth, so the "far less energy" physics don't add up. A Hubble type telescope could be placed, unmanned on the moon, (what would a man do in the telescope that couldn't be done by telemetry?) but it would be continually rotating with the moon, while if placed in orbit it might be easier to keep it pointed where you want to look. Earth is a good place for launching robots to Mars, too. Can't see the point of sending people to do a robots' job, unless it's just for the Hollywood drama.

SparkyWatt
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Re: Robots in Space- Just when you weren't afraid to go back!
SparkyWatt   12/6/2012 2:03:56 PM
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The moon is a perfect exploration base.  An interplanetary spaceship assembled there could be launched with far less energy than from Earth, and returned without re-entry.  This would enable a ship of livable size to be built by shipping the complex systems up from Earth.  The Moon itself could be mined for simple bulk materials.  In this way a ship with cabin space equivalent to a small house could be launched repeatedly from the moon for approximately the energy cost of an Apollo spacecraft.  Such a space base would be a logical step on the way of sending people to Mars or Vesta.  Also, with virtually no atmosphere, systems that combine the best of Hubbel and Palomar could be placed there and manned.

Battar
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Re: Robots in Space- Just when you weren't afraid to go back!
Battar   12/5/2012 9:17:05 AM
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Sparkywatt,

                  Just waht exactly would be the use of a permanent outpost on the moon? And if it was setup, is there any reason that it souldn't be fully automated/robotic, rather than launching millions of dollars worth of life support with each human space tourist?

Jack Rupert, PE
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Re: Cast of robot characters
Jack Rupert, PE   10/19/2012 10:54:26 AM
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Interesting point btwolfe.  I never thought of the marketing angle, but it makes perfect sense.  A lot of these robots are not just being purchased by the technical gurus to fill the function that they were designed for.  They have to be approved by the non-technical or outside organizations who are providing the funding (or worse, a Congressional committee).  If these things look "nice" or provide and interesting photo-op, there is an increased chance of approval even if there is no functional difference.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Cast of robot characters
Rob Spiegel   10/5/2012 11:04:26 AM
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Good distinction, Chuck. These robots are not designed to interact with humans.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Cast of robot characters
Rob Spiegel   10/5/2012 11:02:04 AM
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Yes, Ann, there is a certain beauty to robots designed exclusively for function. Even so, you can still see certain elements of nature appearing, particularly insect functionality.

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