Image Credit: Alex Polimeni/Spaceflight Now
It is tempting to focus on the flash and success of SpaceX, owing to their masterful execution of new engineering triumphs and spot-on marketing efforts. However, it is also worth remembering that little to none of this would be possible without the granddaddy of them all – NASA – who is still working hard and producing valuable results in the Mars arena.
The new NASA Insight Lander is set to launch to the Red Planet on May 5th, which would give it an arrival date of November 26th 2018. Weighing in at 1,530 pounds, the primary mission of the lander is to study the planetary interior, attempting to detect tremors and studying heat which is coming from the mantle and core. “In essence, it will take the vital signs of Mars — its pulse, temperature and much more,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s science division. “We like to say it’s the first thorough checkup since the planet formed four-and-a-half billion years ago.”
For more details of this new Mars lander mission, please see the excellent article at spaceflightnow.com.
Are you interested to learn more about the robot boats (officially ‘Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ships’ or ASDS) that are part of the SpaceX fleet, whose primary mission is to facilitate the recovery of rocket first-stages at sea? Of course you are! So am I! The scope and breadth of what it means for a company to pursue a single minded goal, and to invent from whole-cloth anything they may require to get there is evident in so many aspects of the SpaceX operation. One small corner of that process – which could easily masquerade as an entire industry on its own – are the autonomous drone ships. Delightfully named after craft in the Iain M. Banks Culture series of novels, these ships contain their share of tech which should make other industries blush at the audacity of no-holds-barred, forward thinking innovation.
This will be the first of a multi-part series that dives into the known technology behind the drone ships, and today we will start with the engines.
Each of the football-field-sized ships (“Just Read the Instructions” stationed at the Port of LA, “Of Course I Still Love You” and the under construction “A Shortfall of Gravitas” based out of Port Canaveral) are driven by four diesel powered azimuth thrusters made by Thrustmaster. These marine propellers are designed to be rotated to any angle, allowing for high precision steering and the elimination of the rudder.
While it isn’t clear yet which model is being used on the ASDS, a likely candidate is the Bottom Mounted L-Drive Azimuthing Thruster, which specializes in absolute positioning capability for offshore supply vessels.
Their largest model of this line is the TH10000ML with an 8000 kW motor. Operating at a peak of 720 RPM, this drive is capable of generating 1337 kN of thrust and weighs in at a remarkable 194,006lbs. I like to imagine that there are 4 of these beasts under each recovery platform, and there are suggestions that these main engines are further assisted by additional smaller drive systems, all computer synchronized and coordinated with a proprietary GPS system.
The design specification of the SpaceX vessels, which are based on Marmac barge hulls, is that they must be capable of precision positioning within 3 meters even under storm conditions at sea. Imagine, keeping this floating platform stable enough to vertically land a rocket, then keep it steady enough to not simply tip over before it is secured through a combination of robotic and human assistants (the subject of a future article).
propclubjax.com – Captain’s Corner: SPACEX – The World’s First Rocket Recovery Vessel
Fox Trot Alpha – SpaceX’s Landing Drone Ship Is Just As Complicated As The Rocket
True South Marine – The SpaceX Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship
Defying nearly all odds for a human with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Stephen Hawking lived an amazing and productive life for 55 years after the initial diagnosis wherein he was given only a handful of years to survive. He became a household name for both lofty intellectuals and folks with even a passing interest in science, and shared his insights and passion with us fortunate souls as the world sped up around him.
In recent years one of his most vocal positions was that humanity absolutely must become a multi-planetary species, or face certain extinction from any one of a number of possible events: nuclear war, violent climate change, unexpected asteroids, or a sudden willful descent into the plot of Idiocracy. Not keeping all of the eggs in one basket is a good, pragmatic approach to nearly any endeavor, and the preservation of the human race should be paramount among them. Over the years, as we crested the milestone of the year 2000, and now find ourselves well into that century, he became increasingly frustrated at the lack of apparent interest or progress in returning humanity to the stars.
As we report on Mars Gazette with great fervor, the recent Falcon Heavy launch by SpaceX is, without doubt, the most purposeful, solidly executed and clearly stated step yet taken by mankind to honestly pursue and achieve that goal of human settlement offworld. I, as many others, mourn Dr. Hawking’s passing, though wonder if it may have been somewhat eased by this amazing scientific and social achievement. After so many decades of pain, tenacity and the stiffest of all British upper-lips, he managed to live long enough to see that step taken. He knew that he had fought long enough to see humanity finally achieve that next phase of our collective evolution, sometimes in spite of ourselves, and that the cause he had championed as one of his main projects in his twilight years would now be carried to completion. He could finally rest, knowing that humanity would carry on.