Still more on the Interplanetary Superhighways, and why fantasy trumps fact in movies

by guest blogger Ken

Still more on the Interplanetary Superhighways (IPS), this time in an American Scientist article entitled “The Interplanetary Transport Network”. Authored by Shane Ross, definitely one of the authorities on the subject, it is more academic than the recent article in New Scientist, but also a lot more informative in really understanding the concepts.

Shane (I’ve been corresponding with him off and on since my ISU Master’s project on cislunar infrastructure architectures) introduces a lot of well-illustrated concepts in orbital mechanics, but also stresses that these concepts have to be considered geometrically, in three dimensions, and with the effects of gravity thrown into the mix.

He lays out how we’ve come to our current understanding of the IPSes, from Kepler to Koon & Lo, by way of Poincaré and Farquhar and others. He notes how the understanding of the chaos functions underlying the IPS network have applications in chemistry (and vice-versa), and even galactic manifestations of gravitationally-created tubes.

It’s a solid article, well worth the read, and not just because he also notes some of the benefits of an L-1 station. Benefits such as:

1) Hubble-ization of space-based instruments
Assemble them at EML-1, send them to their stations, and return them for servicing in the future with little or no propellant required. I had no idea that the fuel on the Genesis mission was 5% of the spacecraft mass at Earth departure. 5%! That’s unheard of! (Well, not anymore…)
2) Optimization of trans-asteroid belt probes
Spacecraft could be dropped into multi-moon missions at the gas giants. q.v. JIMO
3) Ready access to the Moon
Shane says hours to the Moon’s surface, I thought it was about a day. In any event, you have global access to the Moon’s surface and constant-return capability to EML-1.
4) On-ramp to IPSes

(I’ve long advocated numbers 1, 3 & 4)

The 8-page article alone makes it worth the $4.95 cover price, and there are a lot of other good articles in there as well, like why TV these days is all cross-cut and jiggly and other annoying things. Turns out that not only are we hard-wired to hone in on motion and complexity, but our brain rewards us for doing so. Wow, so all those couch potatoes out there are stoners. And maybe I should just relax and enjoy those motion-rich banner ads on the internet. It also turns out, no duh, that marijuana (oral) ranks as the least toxic of the recreational pharmaceuticals, and only dextromethorphan (WTHIT?), GHB (date-rape drug), isobutyl nitrate (inhaled), datura (?), nutmeg (oral), and intravenous heroin rank more toxic than alcohol.

On a more pleasant note, Sky & Telescope‘s June issue has a cover article on “Cosmic Disasters: Fact vs. Fiction”. The article is written in the context of an astronomer pitching fact-based movie ideas to a studio exec. Supernovas, black hole birth death rays, and errant black holes are all covered. The author also has a very interesting insight into why Bruce Willis is the one that saves us from an asteroid and not a real NASAnaut.

(What, you thought I was going to give it away? Go buy the magazine…)

One thing that is notable is that the errant black hole scenario is the most plausible of the scenarios in our neck of the woods. What’s interesting is that no matter how fast a black hole is traveling it will still leave visible evidence of its presence that will precede it.

A micro-black hole passing through the plane of the ecliptic might have a negligible effect on the larger bodies, but you’ll definitely see the effects in the cloud of small objects that also orbit the Sun.

This is one reason why we really need to get to work on developing a census of the objects around us in space. The obvious starting point is the sunward NEOs, which we really know nowhere near enough about. This would be a good job for an instrument parked somewhere beyond the clutter out to GEO. (Golly, EML-1 would be a great place to start, and the setting up of the equipment could be done as a Trans-GEO test-run for a CEV. See how this is all linking together?) Then we get a census out to the asteroid belt, then we get to work on the Kuiper Belt and Oort cloud objects.

Is this sexy science? No, not really. However, science is only one of the three aspects of the Vision for Space Exploration. Security is another, and I believe that our men (& women) in uniform would call this type of thing ‘Situational Awareness’. As a businessperson I would sure want to know what their composition is, as well as the orbit. That’s the commerce side of things.

Perhaps commerce will provide us with the solution. Thinking back to my younger days in NYC I think I have an idea…

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6 Responses to Still more on the Interplanetary Superhighways, and why fantasy trumps fact in movies

  1. Paul Dietz says:

    This is one reason why we really need to get to work on developing a census of the objects around us in space.

    This is in the works.

  2. Dan Schrimpsher says:

    Yes they do call it Situational Awareness (coupled with the ideal of Engagement Ops and Force Ops). That is, interestingly enough, what my company develops. Maybe I should propose a solar system version of our SA tool, hmm….

  3. murphydyne says:

    Yes, Mr. Dietz, but are those CCDs going to be looking sunward? Those are the ones to be concerned about, as we keep finding them a couple days after they’ve passed the Earth outbound. Putting a rockwatcher in space makes it a lot easier to look inward towards the Sun as you don’t have the atmosphere diffusing the light all over the place.

  4. Paul Dietz says:

    They estimate that Pan STARRS will be able to detect 99% of the relevant asteroids with the proper search strategy. This includes looking at ‘sweet spots’ in the sky along and counter to the Earth’s motion vector (any asteroid capable of hitting Earth must pass through the Earth’s orbit, so on near misses it will appear directly in front of or behind the Earth).

  5. Big D says:

    Does anyone have a link with a good summary of delta-v/transit time to/from all of the local ML and SL points and local bodies?

  6. Paul Dietz says:

    Oh, one other comment…

    Is this sexy science? No, not really.

    Actually, I think the results they’re expecting from Pan-STARRS (or other high-data-volume surveys) are very sexy. Large data sets are crucial to using statistics to find dynamical fossils of past solar system evolution. And even astronomers who turn their noses up at anything in the solar system will appreciate the dark matter mapping and supernova detection capabilities.

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