I Get Ideas…

It’s always a mixed emotion when you read a magazine article about a new technology that’s now hitting the market that you had independently thought up 7 years ago. On the one hand there’s the “Hot Dang! That idea really works?!? I am so Smart, I am so Smart, S-M-R-T!” reaction, followed almost immediately by “Darn. I wish I had followed through on that. That guy’s going to make a lot of money.”

I had just such a moment last month on the way up to Oregon to pick up my family. I was sitting in a magazine shop there in Sacramento, reading all the technology magazines to keep myself from going crazy during my multi-hour layover (you know you’re bored when you’re kicking yourself for not having brought the orbital mechanics book as “light reading”). I openned up what I think was Popular Mechanics or Popular Science, and there was an article in there about ultrasonic bone repair devices.

Back when I was 18, I was taking a health class at BYU (one of my last classes I had left in my undergraduate at the time). The teacher mentioned that bones are actually mildly piezoelectric–ie that every time you strain the bone by putting a load on it, it creates a small voltage across the bone. I had recently taken a materials class that had been discussing how corrosion works, and I realized that this piezoelectric effect might also be related electrochemically to how our bones pickup calcium. My thought was that the small induced current was likely taking the form of Calcium ions being pulled into the bone latice, kind of like how “Sea-crete” forms by pulling Calcium ions out of the ocean onto a charged metal latice. So, I figured that by stimulating a bone with ultrasound, you could put loads on it that would be enough to induce calcium acretion without being high enough to potentially damage a weakened bone. I figured it might also be a good way of dealing with at least some of the issues related to zero-G bone loss. Unfortunately, being 18, broke, taking 20 credit hours that semester (followed by 21 the next semester), I let the idea fall through the cracks as it were.

Now that I know that the invention itself actually works, it’d be interesting to see how close my simplified understanding of the process actually matches with reality.

On another “warped minds think alike” note, I noticed that the “space tourism” capsule that LM was pushing in their articles uses a dual-purpose LES/OMS system. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who noticed that you don’t actually need an OMS if you have to abort before orbit, but that if you don’t need to abort, you don’t need the LES. By placing the engines in the center of the capsule base, they greatly lower the required thrust of the escape system, because (as Henry pointed out), that force is driven by the separation force at transonic speeds, and that is mostly driven by the fact that you get a low pressure zone behind the capsule when it tries to separate (if you have engines around the outside, or up at the top). If you have engines or something in the middle that can fill that low-pressure bubble with high pressure gas, the thrust requirements end up going way down. It’s a good idea, and not just because I independently came up with it.

Now I’m just wondering how long it is before LM decides to start offering capsules on all of the launches as an insurance policy against a launch failure. Even though they’ve had over 100 consecutive succesful launches, that still only puts their demonstrated reliability numbers in the 98% range at a 95% confidence interval. I wonder if they could build a “satellite recovery” capsule for less than they would save on launch insurance by having that capability…

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Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff

President/CEO at Altius Space Machines
Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
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3 Responses to I Get Ideas…

  1. Ed says:

    The thing about great ideas is that, because they are great ideas, they occur to more than one person at around the same time. Technology advances to a certain point that makes new things possible, and then several people all hit on the same idea of how to implement that new technology in a new way.

    For instance, back when I was in high school (geez, has it really been twenty years already?), I came up with an idea for an optical data storage device that could be overwritten. It involved lasers and a rapidly spinning disk. I didn’t follow through on it and develop the technology myself, but I’m glad that someone else did, because those CD/R-Ws are pretty darn useful things to have around.

  2. Zen Punk says:

    What tourism capsule are you referring to? Got a link?

  3. Bill White says:

    Zen Punk, see nasaspaceflight.com for the Bigelow-LM announcement.

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