Tuesday, July 05, 2011

A Nautilus-X for the Next "HMCS Bonaventure"

HMCS Bonaventure in 1965.

It's only been up for a day, but my July 4th, 2011 post "Ground Control to Marc Garneau" has already spawned more than its fair share of private comments, most of them focused on how much easier it is to critique a plan of action than to originate one.

But there are several obvious research areas where a bit of judiciously provided Federal government money could make the difference in guaranteeing future Canadian space competitiveness across a wide range of opportunities.

These potential research areas and emerging technologies aren't focused on unmanned robotics or simple Mars rovers. Instead, they are directly applicable to solving propulsion, orbital construction and environmental/ habitation concerns relating to long duration, manned, interplanetary spaceflight.

This makes them a far better way to ensure the continuation of the Canadian astronaut corps than anything wrapped around unmanned activities could ever possibly pretend to be.

Here are four specific areas where Canada could contribute, right now, to the proposed Nautilus-X interplanetary spacecraft as described in the February 14th, 2011 Popular Mechanics article "New NASA Designs for a Reusable, Manned Deep Space Craft, Nautilus-X" or to any other manned spacecraft program for that matter.
A conceptual design for the Nautilus-X MMSEV, non-atmospheric universal transport intended for lengthy multiple mission space exploration.

The design is based around inflatable modules built by Bigelow Aerospace with swappable propulsion systems including electrical propulsion like the variable specific impulse magneto-plasma rocket or VASIMR (which is scheduled for testing about the International Space Station), requires only "two or three rocket launches" to prepare, has a two year range (and could reach Mars and then return in a matter of months instead of years), carries six people, includes protection from solar radiation and could be available within ten years for only $3.7 billion USD (at least according to the Popular Science article. The HobbySpace website also has a pretty good description of the spaceship here).

How could Canadian companies contribute to this project, should it ever receive funding and move forward?

Some would argue that we are already contributing to the propulsion component through Nova Scotia based Nautel Limited, which is acting as a subcontractor to US based Ad Astra Rocket Company to develop RF power solutions for deep space plasma propulsion, according to the article "Nautel: Where it Really is Rocket Science" posted on the company website.

Of course, money for this initiative is tight and the company makes most of it's profit from the design, manufacture, sales and support of high power radio frequency (RF) products for AM and FM broadcast, navigation, industrial and space-based applications.

Perhaps the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) could help out with a couple of contracts to help move this technology forward.

Since the Nautilus-X proposal also requires "two or three" rocket launches to prepare, it is expected that there will be a requirement for orbital construction.

For this, we can turn to Canadian space systems company MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA), with it's legacy of expertise using the iconic CanadArm to help build the International Space Station and it's current $280 million USD contract with satellite operator Intelsat to perform on-orbit satellite servicing as outlined in my April 3rd, 2011 post "A Backgrounder for On-Orbit Satellite Servicing."
The Canadarm unloading cargo during STS 116.

Generally considered the most experienced space robotics company in existence, MDA has progressed far beyond the robotics generally required to build a small Mars rover, although its not been so proud as to refuse a recent CSA contract for the development of a small Moon rover.

For food and life support, we could contribute through some of the tools being proposed as part of the Canadian Advanced Life Support Systems (CanALSS) Roadmap as described in the April 18th, 2008 CSA press release "Proposed Canadian Advanced Life Support Systems (CanALSS) Roadmap Workshop Announcement."

The CanALSS program is ongoing and was most recently discussed by ComDev International VP Ron Holdway at the last Canadian Space Commerce Association conference and AGM in March 2011 as described in my March 20th, 2011 post "News and Notes from the 2011 CSCA Conference." The concept of building space greenhouses to grow food and provide an ecology for space habitats seems like a slam dunk for space agencies and organizations looking at long duration missions and trips to Mars, even if they're not using the Nautilus-X. 

We might also want to take a look at the work being done by Ivan Milan, the owner of EcoSpace Engineering and the University of Guelph, which together have developed a methodology utilizing insect larvae to process organic waste into "nutrient rich organic fertilizer and protein rich animal feed in just a few days without the use of chemical additives and absolutely no residue or pollutants" according to the EcoSpace Engineering website.

According to the May 6th, 2011 post "Manning Innovation Awards: Trends in Canadian Innovation" on the MaRS Discovery District website, Milan and Ecospace have even recently received a Manning Innovation Award, which is usually a first step in Canada to additional funding.

So we've got Canadian companies capable to of dealing with propulsion, life support, waste disposal and construction. With so much of the technology available in Canada to build major components of an interplanetary, manned spacecraft, it's odd that our government and CSA leaders are focused instead on smaller, unmanned projects.
HMCS Haida postwar.

While the Nautilus-X is not presently funded, quite a number of other potential projects are coming down the pipe just waiting for innovative companies to contribute useful technology relating to propulsion, construction and environmental/ habitation concerns.

Canada would be well served by encouraging it's space system firms to contribute to these projects.

At some point, perhaps Canadian companies could even begin contributing enough to have vessels named after famous Canadian ships like "Bonaventure" or "Haida."

Then we'd really "punch above our weight."


COMMENTS:


From: Spacemit

I thought you might be intrigued by a new Canadian scientist who has innovated, developed and built two different types of electric space propulsion systems whilst at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Both projects are partially funded by the National Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

The Micro-fabricated Electrospray Ion Thruster (MEIT)  in particular is suitable for micro and nano satellites as its designed to scale up using innovative micro-fabrication techniques applied to porous materials to eliminate the need for heavy  pumps and valves in the complete engine. It's very small and lightweight.

The other engine is for larger satellites and is called the DCF thruster.

You can get details and the respective PhD thesis and related publications by clicking on the links at http://www.wix.com/dancourtney/main#!__projects and http://www.wix.com/dancourtney/main#!__phdabstract.

Would Canadian industry or DND be able to exploit these technical advances?

Who knows but nano and micro satellites currently do not have any propulsion, but with the MEIT would enable far wider mission scenarios. Even just being able to de-orbit under control and in a short time rather than being space junk could be useful.

Editors Note: I'm still having trouble posting comments but if there is something you'd like to comment on, I'm posting comments manually so don't be shy. Send your questions, queries, concerns and comments to mr.chuck.black@gmail.com.

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