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Cambridge N-Prize Team To Build Balloon-Assisted Rockets

timothy posted about 6 years ago | from the view-is-great-from-up-here dept.

Space 93

Rob Goldsmith writes "Earlier this week we heard that Cambridge University Spaceflight would be entering the N-Prize competition. The N-Prize is a competition to stimulate innovation directed towards obtaining cheap access to space. Most importantly, the launch budget must be within £999.99. Cambridge University Spaceflight plan to win the prize using a balloon and a rocket. They have now opened up an official forum where the public can track their progress." The linked story has images from a test flight of July 23, and an interview with a member of the team, Ed Moore.

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The Lardassification of Amerika (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24360809)

I am so tired of seeing these big fat lazy porcine bovine selfish gluttonous LARDASSES everywhere I go. I can't go out in public for even half a day without seeing tons of them. And they all have this pathetic attitude that it's somehow not their fault that they're fat and never even try to do anything about it. They really seem to honestly believe that, it's so goddamned pathetic. Hey fatasses, you didn't get 200 pounds overweight in one day, and you aren't going to look less like a tub of lard and more like a human fucking being again in only days or weeks either. It will take time and it will take work and you're too busy being lazy and feeling sorry for yourself to see it through. Guess what lardass: waddling might be cute when a duck does it, it's an insult to humanity when you do it to keep the cellulite on your thighs from giving you a fucking rash. And these lardasses who neglect their children and allow their kids to be fat as well - why aren't they in jail for child abuse?

And seriously what's with these rude fatass bitches who block doorways with their horrible folds-of-fat bulk or take up more than half a hallway and expect me to wait for them to pass? WTF? I'm not the one who can't even control his own god damned eating, why the fuck should me, a healthy person, have to stand aside and wait for a disgusting fatbody? Why should we reward their voluntary disease state? Next time you go to a store, look at who parks in the handicap spaces. Most of them have two arms, two legs and are not using a cane or a walker or a wheelchair or anything like that - theyre just fucking fatasses! So somebody turns into a disgusting fat porker and we let them park CLOSER to the building... whos perverted idea is that?!?! They should have to park much much FARTHER away because they need the exercise of walking even more than the other people do. God damn fatasses, once "fat acceptance" became a political movement I knew we were going to throw all logic out the window. "Fat and stupid" go together for a reason - they both suggest disease states that would never survive if things were the way Nature intended.

Re:The Lardassification of Amerika (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24360843)

why the fuck should me, a healthy person

It's "I", not "me", you fucking pathetic moron. Clearly you're at least as stupid as the people you're pissed off about. Oh, and FYI, you are not "healthy" either, you're a flaming nutjob or you wouldn't troll like you do. Fucktard.

Re:The Lardassification of Amerika (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24360979)

Stop whining. Who else would we have to laugh at? Besides, the reason why you were modded down was because most of the folks here are sysadmins who live on Chee-toes and Mcdonalds. I'm fat myself -- in the dick, that is >:->

Re:The Lardassification of Amerika (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24361053)

Fat people can stop eating to lose weight. You would have to stop breathing to lose stupidity.

Inflation (3, Insightful)

circlingthesun (1327623) | about 6 years ago | (#24360825)

What if someone did it for just under £999.99 but then the price of say rocket fuel goes up?

Re:Inflation (4, Informative)

dvice_null (981029) | about 6 years ago | (#24360885)

"Receipts must be produced, if requested, for all items or services purchased which fall within the ã999.99 budget"
http://www.n-prize.com/rules_in_full.html [n-prize.com]

So if you get a receipt from the fuel you used in the winning flight, it doesn't matter if the price goes up. If however you fail and you need to buy more fuel to try again, then the increase in price would be a problem to you.

Re:Inflation (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24360933)

What if someone did it for just under ã999.99 but then the price of say rocket fuel goes up?

The price of fuel hasn't really gone up very much, if at all. What's happened is that the money supply has increased, causing major inflation. The "War on Terror" in Afghanistan and Iraq and federal government bailouts of large banks were financed by "printing" (most of it is electronic actually) money from NOTHING and then spending it, which the Federal Reserve is more than capable of doing (so are other banks; see Fractional Reserve Banking [wikipedia.org] ). When you keep doing that with hundreds of billions of dollars, it devalues the currency because there is X amount of wealth represented by Y amount of dollars in circulation. If Y increases while X does not increase or increases more slowly than Y, then each dollar is worth less than it was previously. Yes they are a cartel, yes they control the market by carefully adjusting how much oil they produce, but for the recent oil price hikes we keep hearing about in the media, OPEC is merely adjusting their prices to match the current value of the American dollar.

By the way, the Federal Reserve is a private corporation, which means that allowing them to print money and control our currency is UNCONSTITUTIONAL because only the federal government has this power. They are one part of a worldwide organization known as the World Bankers which controls the currency of almost every "industrialized nation" on the planet. Like most threats we face today, the founding fathers warned us about this one:

"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs." -- Thomas Jefferson

"Deprive the people of all property". Sound familiar? How's that mortgage market doing these days?

Basically, if you can create economic crises and social unrest, if you can bankrupt a nation anytime you want, you can take over that country without having to fire a single shot.

Re:Inflation (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24361077)

To mod as Insightful the person who mentions "What if fuel prices increase?" while modding down as "Offtopic" the person who discusses why they have and might increase is contradictory, at best. They are either both offtopic or both insightful. I think sometimes moderators forget that "Offtopic" and "Troll" are not synonymous with "I disagree" and "I don't like what that guy said but I won't try to refute it".

Re:Inflation (5, Insightful)

causality (777677) | about 6 years ago | (#24361223)

To mod as Insightful the person who mentions "What if fuel prices increase?" while modding down as "Offtopic" the person who discusses why they have and might increase is contradictory, at best. They are either both offtopic or both insightful. I think sometimes moderators forget that "Offtopic" and "Troll" are not synonymous with "I disagree" and "I don't like what that guy said but I won't try to refute it".

This was a politely worded post. You worded this in a non-inflammatory manner and explained why you feel the way that you do, did not use invectives or name-calling and did not even take a very controversial position, and yet you were still modded as Troll. This is one of the better statements on the recent quality of Slashdot moderation that I've seen in a while. You point out that they were not applying the moderating guidelines and they respond by failing to apply them some more, without ever explaining why they disagree with you because they probably realize they would not have a leg to stand on. I'm fully expecting to get modded to -1 myself for pointing this out, but that's okay. I have karma to burn and I'll feel better for having done it since I believe this sort of bullshit needs to be called out wherever it occurs.

Re:Inflation (1)

evilviper (135110) | about 6 years ago | (#24362367)

The grandparent was perhaps not a troll, but it certainly was an extremely off-topic rant, and it's more than appropriate that it get modded down.

The parent was just complaining about moderation, which is almost always off-topic, and is generally modded as such.

Your post, too, is just a pointless complaint about one random bit of moderation that has no real significance.

Re:Inflation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24363247)

The grandparent was perhaps not a troll, but it certainly was an extremely off-topic rant, and it's more than appropriate that it get modded down.

Ok ok. But how do you explain this [slashdot.org] ? or this [slashdot.org] ?

Re:Inflation (1)

evilviper (135110) | about 6 years ago | (#24368871)

Ok ok. But how do you explain this? or this?

Both posts happen to be factually incorrect. There is no "sliding scale" of due process. There are only a couple instances enshrined in law where the burden of proof is of a different level. On the low-end, if you are accused of a crime of less than a certain dollar amount (about $1,000) you aren't allowed the right of a trial by jury. On the high-end, treason explicitly requires TWO independent witnesses to testify to the crime. But between those two extremes, due process is completely consistent. A shoplifting trial has the same burden of proof as a murder trial, and caries with it the same rights and processes.

The second post, being modded "troll" instead of, say, "overrated" seems a fairly minor error, and even IF it was blatant moderation abuse, it's a transitive issue that isn't worth wasting time on (the next time you post the same thing, the moderation will likely be different), and still wouldn't excuse wasting time on an off-topic comment complaining about it.

Re:Inflation (1)

Spy der Mann (805235) | about 6 years ago | (#24370395)

Ok ok. But how do you explain this? or this?

Both posts happen to be factually incorrect.

This is why there's a mod called "OVERRATED". Troll should be used for trolls ONLY. And BTW, this is why I wish there was a "-1, incorrect" mod.

Re:Inflation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24376079)

Both posts happen to be factually incorrect. There is no "sliding scale" of due process.

In fact there is. Due process is not about criminal trials. It covers ANY deprivation of life, liberty, or property by the government. Thus your entire argument is irrelevant. The linked posts are factually correct.

The due process burden is different for

  • a criminal conviction - notice of charges, right to respond, confront all witnesses, jury trial, reasonable doubt; the highest standard
  • detaining an enemy combatant - notice of charges & opportunity to dispute before neutral decisionmaker, but no right to jury or to examine all the evidence
  • denying welfare benefits - notice and opportunity to respond, independent but not completely neutral decisionmaker
  • stopping disability payments - notice beforehand, opportunity to respond afterward

And other situations too numerous to mention, most of which have absolutely nothing to do with crimes, convictions, and juries.

You do receive credit for replying to my arguments instead of modding my post down. THAT is how the system is supposed to work. Troll != armchair lawyering disagrees.

IAAL

Re:Inflation (1)

causality (777677) | about 6 years ago | (#24395967)

Your post, too, is just a pointless complaint about one random bit of moderation that has no real significance.

It is only our self-importance that would lead us to think that anything discussed here has real significance. By contrast to what is "out there" and available to be experienced by the human perception in this mysterious universe, all topics on Slashdot are quite mundane. The real value of the site is that there are a lot of people here who have good sense and take relatively wise positions on questions of freedom, choice, markets and monopolies, personal responsibility, and technology. This value occurs in spite of the mundane nature of the topics, not because of it; therefore to point out that this complaint or that summary or these trolls or those topics have "no real significance" is to miss the point.

There is no scorecard here, and to keep track of one would be vanity. That my little comment may have contributed in some small way to the fact that other moderators have decided to mod those posts up is a joy, especially since I say whatever I say without needing to have that happen at all, so it is most difficult to disappoint me. But that too isn't the point. That someone, somewhere may have decided to more carefully consider what they do and why they do it, instead of just going along with a knee-jerk type of reaction is what matters more to me, whether they actually decide to do what I would have done or not.

Re:Inflation (1)

dfn_deux (535506) | about 6 years ago | (#24365159)

You point out that they were not applying the moderating guidelines and they respond by failing to apply them some more, without ever explaining why they disagree with you because they probably realize they would not have a leg to stand on.

I agree with the essence of what you are saying, but must point out that Slashdot's moderation system does not allow one to both comment an article AND moderate in the same comments section without nullifying their moderations. Thusly it a person who issues a dissenting moderation cannot possibly also explain the reasons for their moderation. Slightly broken system IMHO, but better than many other web forums which I frequent.

Re:Inflation - offtopic (1)

r_j_howell (519954) | about 6 years ago | (#24367301)

I understand your frustration with moderation abuse. But it certainly seems to me that a reasonable moderator could, in a story about the N-Prize, consider a question about the rules on topic and a rant about the Federal reserve offtopic.

Re:Inflation (0, Troll)

seandiggity (992657) | about 6 years ago | (#24370213)

Good to see someone calling out /. on its sloppy moderation, which has gotten pretty ridiculous recently. I recently had some respectably-modded posts that were retroactively modded down to Troll. So, from what I can tell, some moderator(s) didn't like one of my most recent comments and went back and modded my older comments down. Needless to say, I was a bit stunned.

This is my only post since then, because I'm afraid to post comments lest my karma keep falling. We'll see what happens with this one...

Re:Inflation (1)

jeiler (1106393) | about 6 years ago | (#24361397)

The first was an honest question. The second was modded offtopic because it was a false-to-fact political screed that did not provide an accurate or honest answer to the question.

Re:Inflation (2)

hvm2hvm (1208954) | about 6 years ago | (#24361701)

That doesn't make it a troll. Just uninformed. If you want to show that he's wrong, then come up with better, more reliable information, don't just mod it down like he's a ranter.

To get to the first level of offtopic, I think he may have a point but the problem with claims like that is proving them which is impossible because if the government can print money to fight a war, they can cover it up in bureaucracy until not even they know who is cheating and who is not.

And on topic, they should market this as hard as possible, to start making people aware of the possibilities that arise from cheap space travel.
People should understand that the small amount of money that's going into research is probably more important than all the military budget.
Also, they should market those that fail slightly. Who cares they got it only in 1200 pounds? More competition would make the price even lower.

Re:Inflation (1)

jeiler (1106393) | about 6 years ago | (#24361871)

That doesn't make it a troll.

The "World Banker" rant was not moderated troll--it was moderated offtopic. However, deliberately giving blatantly false information certainly qualifies a poster as "troll-kin" in my book.

Re:Inflation (3, Informative)

jeiler (1106393) | about 6 years ago | (#24361277)

By the way, the Federal Reserve is a private corporation....

The Federal reserve is a government institution--your assertions to the contrary are false (and the "World Bankers" drivel is sheerest bullshit). (Cite [wikipedia.org] )

Re:Inflation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24367227)

It is neither. It is privately owned and held, as are the member banks. It operates independently from the government with little oversight other than selecting appointees. In your linked article there is a notable quote by Ron Paul, who is rather outspoken on the problems with the Federal reserve system.

it's very secretive. As a member of congress, I can find out more information about what the CIA is doing than what the FOMC is doing, the central bank, what they're doing on monetary policy

Also, while there is a heavy air of irrational paranoia around his 'World Bankers' reference, there is also a significant amount of secretive collusion between the worlds central bankers, and they wield disproportionate power to the accountability they face. This power should be in the hands of the peoples representatives, not in the hands of unaccountable independent entities.

Re:Inflation (1)

jeiler (1106393) | about 6 years ago | (#24378929)

It is neither. It is privately owned and held...

Try again. "The Federal Reserve System is an independent government institution that has private aspects, but is neither a private organization, nor operates for a profit." Cite. [wikipedia.org]

as are the member banks.

Try again. Many of the member banks are not privately owned, but publicly-held and publicly-traded corporations.

It operates independently from the government with little oversight other than selecting appointees.

Try again. "Congressional oversight and statute, which can alter the Fed's responsibilities and control, allows the government to keep the Federal Reserve in check." (Ibid.)

In your linked article there is a notable quote by Ron Paul, who is rather outspoken on the problems with the Federal reserve system.

it's very secretive. As a member of congress, I can find out more information about what the CIA is doing than what the FOMC is doing, the central bank, what they're doing on monetary policy

Paul's objections to the Fed are not only well known, they're strong enough that I, for one, will boldly state that I suspect him of "spinning" the facts on this assertion.

Also, while there is a heavy air of irrational paranoia around his 'World Bankers' reference, there is also a significant amount of secretive collusion between the worlds central bankers, and they wield disproportionate power to the accountability they face. This power should be in the hands of the peoples representatives, not in the hands of unaccountable independent entities.

Please do not take the following as a flame: I do not intend it to be so. Considering the factual errors in your previous paragraphs, can one be blamed for doubting the accuracy of this last paragraph of yours?

Nothing has changed for 500 years. (1)

cheekyboy (598084) | about 6 years ago | (#24382597)

bankers run the planet, like they did since Napolian.

hopefully this is the last time, and those aliens come down, and rape their ugly asses till they bleed.

They zap em to a black hole somewhere.

Dont be a govt appologetic goon for hire, scum bag (1)

cheekyboy (598084) | about 6 years ago | (#24382579)

Really?

Its a govt entity? then where is its SEC filings and members who make profits?

They are granted legal right to print money, ie, legal counterfeiting as such. They are still goons.

Anyone, I dont care, since you will be stuck in the waste land. Its all of americas corporates and bankers who have already stolen trillions and are in the caymen islands.

Enjoy paying of the loans for decades.

What an interesting article. (0, Offtopic)

WelcomeOurOverlords (1309475) | about 6 years ago | (#24360903)

I, for one, welcome our new balloon rocket overlords.

Re:What an interesting article. (2, Insightful)

fyoder (857358) | about 6 years ago | (#24360941)

I, for one, welcome our new balloon rocket overlords.

Otherwise known as BOC and Cambridge Precision [ucam.org] .

I can see the usefulness of sponsorship by private enterprise, and it's reasonable to expect the sponsor to want their name on the craft, but this is ridiculous.

What would anyone do with 10-20 grams in orbit? (3, Interesting)

nasor (690345) | about 6 years ago | (#24361009)

I'm not really sure what the point of this is...what is anyone going to do with 10-20 grams in orbit? Can you even make a transmitter + power supply that small that would still be powerful enough to communicate with the ground? Or are you just supposed to send up 20 grams of foil or something that can be tracked with ground radar?

The X-prize was about getting people into space, which I think most people can see uses for (even if it was sub-orbital). I'm not really sure about this. Although I guess it's a great way to get a lot of free publicity, especially since the odds of anyone actually claiming the prize money are very low.

Re:What would anyone do with 10-20 grams in orbit? (4, Interesting)

Squarewav (241189) | about 6 years ago | (#24361305)

I think the point, if there is one, is they wanted the rockets to have a payload and not just be a cylinder filled with rocket fuel. As for the size, I'm assuming its low to not only make it easier to achieve but to avoid people being accused of making missiles. Governments have a tendency to take notice when people build rockets large enough to carry explosives

Re:What would anyone do with 10-20 grams in orbit? (2, Informative)

Original Replica (908688) | about 6 years ago | (#24362403)

Governments have a tendency to take notice when people build rockets large enough to carry explosives

It was apparently big enough to take pictures, and Governments notice that too. [slashdot.org]

Hmmm. (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 6 years ago | (#24363727)

E=MC^2.
40 lbs coming in the RIGHT fashion from orbit, can do a LOT of damage.

Re:Hmmm. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24364383)

Remember terminal velocity.

Re:Hmmm. (2, Insightful)

Ambiguous Puzuma (1134017) | about 6 years ago | (#24365059)

E=mc^2 would only be relevant if the payload consisted of antimatter. And producing antimatter on that scale is far beyond our current capabilities.

I think the formula you're looking for is (1/2)mv^2 [wikipedia.org] , with a high value for v.

Re:What would anyone do with 10-20 grams in orbit? (3, Interesting)

evilviper (135110) | about 6 years ago | (#24362313)

Can you even make a transmitter + power supply that small that would still be powerful enough to communicate with the ground?

When you have a 2+ meter dish with high-gain LNBF properly aimed, you can pick-up a radio signal from a wrist watch...

Or are you just supposed to send up 20 grams of foil or something that can be tracked with ground radar?

It wouldn't be a bad idea to send up something like a concave sheet of metal (aimed towards the planet) to use as a simple signal reflector. I'm sure hams and DXers would love the idea. It would be a lot easier and more consistent than bouncing signals off the moon.

It would be a very interesting world if we had a significant number of those in orbit. From the comfort of your living room, you could listen-in to any radio signals, being broadcast anywhere in the entire world, provided only that you have equipment that is sensitive enough to pick the weak incidentally reflected signal you want, out of the background noise.

Re:What would anyone do with 10-20 grams in orbit? (1)

mikael (484) | about 6 years ago | (#24363659)

Good job satellites don't have satellite dishes mounted to face the earth...

Couldn'tthe surface of a satellite (cylindrical or spherical) reflect radio waves ....

Re:What would anyone do with 10-20 grams in orbit? (1)

evilviper (135110) | about 6 years ago | (#24388377)

Good job satellites don't have satellite dishes mounted to face the earth...

Umm... What?

Couldn'tthe surface of a satellite (cylindrical or spherical) reflect radio waves ....

It potentially could... IF it didn't have an LNBF directly at the focal point of the dish, designed specifically to block (or "collect") all signals received. Also, it really isn't the ideal shape for a signal reflector.

Re:What would anyone do with 10-20 grams in orbit? (1)

famebait (450028) | about 6 years ago | (#24366863)

Can you even make a transmitter + power supply that small that would still be powerful enough to communicate with the ground

Yes.
And even if you couldn't:

I'm not really sure what the point of this is

This really ought to get you barred, you know.

Re:What would anyone do with 10-20 grams in orbit? (2, Insightful)

Candid88 (1292486) | about 6 years ago | (#24368815)

"I'm not really sure what the point of this is...what is anyone going to do with 10-20 grams in orbit?"

I couldn't disagree more. Getting anything into orbit for less than 1000 GBP has a great number of uses. Several "pico-satellites" have been put in orbit, of which the various CubeSats http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CubeSat [wikipedia.org] are good examples. These use relatively inexpensive equipment and the lightest of them are only a few hundred grams so I do not think it ridiculous to envisage someone developing a 20 gram satellite.

If the launch could be done for under 1000 GBP then it raises the realistic possibility of 'personal satellites', which at the very leat sound really cool. Not to mention the numerous research and possible commercial applications of large numbers of small but inter-connected & inexpensive satellites.

Re:What would anyone do with 10-20 grams in orbit? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24373299)

maybe it's related to the budget. 10-20 grams for £999.99. £20 mil for 200-400kg?

How much does the balloon help? (1)

nasor (690345) | about 6 years ago | (#24361033)

Are there any rocket scientists here who could enlighten us about how much the balloon would really help with getting something into orbit? As I understand it, the problem with getting into orbit is that you have to get going really really fast - it's not just a matter of being up really high.

Re:How much does the balloon help? (4, Informative)

TimeTraveler1884 (832874) | about 6 years ago | (#24361079)

I might have answered your question in another post [slashdot.org] .

Re:How much does the balloon help? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24361081)

One advantage I might imagine is that pulling a rocket up even a few kilometers and launching from there puts you above a large part of the atmosphere. Atmospheric density decreases exponentially height (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barometric_formula), so for example, at 5 km, the rocket only has to cross half the atmosphere, reducing drag a great deal. Naturally, the rocket must still accelerate above escape velocity (which is not significantly changed at 5 km above sea).

Re:How much does the balloon help? (1)

c1t1z3nk41n3 (1112059) | about 6 years ago | (#24361089)

I'm even remotely qualified to answer this but it's Slashdot so what the hell. I always thought that the way orbit worked was that you got far enough away that you could equalize the reduced pull of the earths gravity with your forward momentum to achieve a stable relationship. Wouldn't getting essentially free altitude reduce the amount of fuel necessary to achieve that, resulting in reduced costs? I believe launching closer to the equator has a similar benefit where the added rotational velocity of the Earth gives you a free boost.

Re:How much does the balloon help? (3, Insightful)

TimeTraveler1884 (832874) | about 6 years ago | (#24361329)

I always thought that the way orbit worked was that you got far enough away that you could equalize the reduced pull of the earths gravity with your forward momentum to achieve a stable relationship.

Achieving orbit is not about how far away you are away, it's all about your angular velocity. You could theoretically achieve orbit at sea level, but atmospheric drag keeps that from happening on earth.
As satellite orbits the Earth, it is constantly accelerating, not because its speed is increasing, rather because it is constantly changing direction (speed + direction = velocity, change in velocity = acceleration).

The acceleration of gravity is 9.8m/s, so if you can achieve an acceleration of 9.8m/s in the opposite direction, you will be in constant free fall and establish an orbit.

It takes a lot of energy (32MJ/kg) to sustain this acceleration on Earth and maintain an orbit. However, you are correct that it takes less energy to enter into a geo-synchronous orbit than other types of orbits from different latitudes. Sorry I can't find a reference for it at the moment though.

Re:How much does the balloon help? (1)

tehcyder (746570) | about 6 years ago | (#24370567)

How do you know all this stuff if you're a time traveller from 1884?

I call shenanigans.

Re:How much does the balloon help? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24372483)

The acceleration of gravity is 9.8m/s, so if you can achieve an acceleration of 9.8m/s in the opposite direction, you will be in constant free fall and establish an orbit.

It takes a lot of energy (32MJ/kg) to sustain this acceleration on Earth and maintain an orbit. However, you are correct that it takes less energy to enter into a geo-synchronous orbit than other types of orbits from different latitudes. Sorry I can't find a reference for it at the moment though.

Ok, first the statement about 9.8m/s acceleration in an opposite direction. That is normal everyday life. It is the opposite of free fall. Gravity applies a force capable of accelerating you 9.8m/s down, the force of your feet on the ground accelerates you 9.8m/s up. Net force 0, so you stay in place.

Second, LEO is the cheapest energy orbit. The energy of orbit is the kinetic energy due to the velocity of the orbiting body. From friction with the atmosphere, this kinetic energy is lost and the satellites / ISS degrade to a lower energy orbit. If higher orbits were lower energy than lower orbits, then things would "fall up" and move away from the planet as they lost kinetic energy. That is basically negative gravity: things spontaneously fly apart instead of sticking together.

Energy per kilogram for various orbits. [wikipedia.org]

Re:How much does the balloon help? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24539679)

Actually, it appears that you can get quite a bit of mass up pretty high - a LOT more than I'd thought, and it seems I wasn't alone in my previous understanding.

There is a company in Texas that's been actually doing it for a number of years with Air Force and Commercial and scientific and advertising payloads. Now, I'll grant you that it seems mighty crazy because we've all just grown up *knowing* that the only way to orbit is with a modified ICBM... but, fact is, that it may not be all that crazy after all.

http://www.universetoday.com/2008/07/22/floating-to-space [universetoday.com] is see a book review related to that company.

And/or, search google video for "Space Balloons" to see the Discovery network show about the lauching of the huge BLAST telescope launch.

http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=21557 [spaceref.com]

It's actually pretty interesting... if we read a little before we post about how it "just can't be done"

Here's the thing that gets me the most (even if this exact way of doing it is not the way)... Getting Commercial volume cargo *back down to earth" is directly addressed with this technology whereas it elsewhere that little missing part of Space Business is directly avoided and all of our excitement tends to be over payload launch discussions instead.

I'd really like someone to read that little book "floating to space" about a company that is doing it instead of just talking about it and, after reading the short & fast book, come back and talk about the potentials of airship style payloading.

Robert Smith
Kirkland, WA
www.smithvoice.com

Good luck (4, Interesting)

TimeTraveler1884 (832874) | about 6 years ago | (#24361057)

I'll admit, I don't know what the N-Prize is and I did not RTFA; I am assuming the goal is to reach some kind of sub-orbital or LEO flight. I've looked in to this for my own balloon projects. The energy savings from using a balloon are only a small percentage of the overall energy required to achieve orbit.

It takes about 20 times the amount of energy [wikipedia.org] to reach LEO than it does to just reach the same altitude. When you compare this energy requirement to the savings of launching from the ceiling height of a weather balloon [wikipedia.org] (40km) it is not much; especially considering you still have to get to the Karman Line [wikipedia.org] (100km) plus the weight of fuel required, which must then be lifted by even larger balloons. Therefore, it's more economical and efficient to burn the fuel as close to ground as possible [wikipedia.org] .

I'm only an armchair rocket scientist though, so I might have this all wrong. In any case, I certainly wish them good luck - Maybe I'll go read the article now.

Re:Good luck (4, Informative)

GameMaster (148118) | about 6 years ago | (#24361235)

The idea behind balloon launched rockets has nothing to do with escape velocity/gravity. It has to do with aerodynamic drag. Aerodynamic drag plays a big role in eating up launch fuel at lower altitudes where the atmosphere is dense. A balloon launch bypasses that drag with a low cost, and disposable, balloon filled with hydrogen/helium without having to use expensive/heavy rocket fuel. The concept was developed and first implemented in 1949 and has been done a number of times since for high altitude experimentation and hobbiest projects. Wikipedia has a basic article inder the, somewhat archaic, name "rockoon" (mixture of rocket and balloon).

Re:Good luck (2, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 6 years ago | (#24363925)

The idea behind balloon launched rockets has nothing to do with escape velocity/gravity. It has to do with aerodynamic drag. Aerodynamic drag plays a big role in eating up launch fuel at lower altitudes where the atmosphere is dense. A balloon launch bypasses that drag with a low cost, and disposable, balloon filled with hydrogen/helium without having to use expensive/heavy rocket fuel.

There's two problems with this scheme

  1. The Hindenburg would just barely be able to lift John Glenn's Atlas booster.
  2. A disposable Hindenburg would cost tens of millions of dollars - while the few thousand gallons of fuel and oxidizer it replaced would cost a few thousand dollars.

Re:Good luck (2, Interesting)

sjames (1099) | about 6 years ago | (#24364007)

A disposable Hindenburg would cost tens of millions of dollars - while the few thousand gallons of fuel and oxidizer it replaced would cost a few thousand dollars.

Not necessarily. Being disposable, it wouldn't require much structure or external protection. It'll be destroyed long before damage can accumulate. It would mostly resemble weather balloons. The Hindenburg cost more, in part, because it was expected to see years in service.

Re:Good luck (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 6 years ago | (#24364779)

A disposable Hindenburg would cost tens of millions of dollars - while the few thousand gallons of fuel and oxidizer it replaced would cost a few thousand dollars.

Not necessarily. Being disposable, it wouldn't require much structure or external protection.

Yes necessarily. Being hundreds of thousands of tons of lifting force, it will require considerable (fairly heavy) structure to distribute that force across the lifting envelope and transfer it to the payload.
 

It would mostly resemble weather balloons.

Sure. In the same way my pocket calculator resembles a Cray supercomputer.

Re:Good luck (2, Insightful)

sjames (1099) | about 6 years ago | (#24367895)

Yes necessarily. Being hundreds of thousands of tons of lifting force, it will require considerable (fairly heavy) structure to distribute that force across the lifting envelope and transfer it to the payload.

It would require a support rail to attach the rocket. That part would be recoverable if desired. It would not require the outer skin (certainly not the iron oxide and aluminum paint!) control surfaces, engines, passenger gondola, etc.

Sure. In the same way my pocket calculator resembles a Cray supercomputer.

The computer I'm using now is much more powerful than a Cray from the '80s :-)

Re:Good luck (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 6 years ago | (#24369591)

Yes necessarily. Being hundreds of thousands of tons of lifting force, it will require considerable (fairly heavy) structure to distribute that force across the lifting envelope and transfer it to the payload.

It would require a support rail to attach the rocket. That part would be recoverable if desired. It would not require the outer skin (certainly not the iron oxide and aluminum paint!) control surfaces, engines, passenger gondola, etc.

The individual cells or balloonets that contain the lift gas aren't cheap, and will need structure to transfer loads between them and to the booster. It's nowhere near as simple as just providing a 'support rail'. If you propose it to be recoverable, you reduce the already sharply limited payload. On reflection, it will have to be recoverable as few are likely to approve of tens of thousands of pounds of structure falling uncontrolled from the sky.
 
Also, thanks for reminding me of a weight penalty I forgot - the necessarily increased structure of the booster to account for the fact that it can't simply use structure to carry the loads lengthwise and in the same direction as flight loads.

Re:Good luck (1)

sjames (1099) | about 6 years ago | (#24388899)

Also, thanks for reminding me of a weight penalty I forgot - the necessarily increased structure of the booster to account for the fact that it can't simply use structure to carry the loads lengthwise and in the same direction as flight loads.

Actually, I can easily imagine a setup where the structural load from listing actually is similar from the thrust load. I can even envision a cabling system where the lifting force is applied at the tail so that essentially if the rocket can support it's own weight, it can handle the balloon lift phase of the flight.

The load transfer could be as simple as a net. (allowing the use of weather balloons).

The balloon lift phase can be quite gentle since neither engine gimboling nor flight surfaces are needed to keep the nose pointed up.

While the balloons aren't what I'd call cheap, neither are the tons of liquid hydrogen and LOX that would be expended using thrust to reach the ignition altitude.

Just the savings in oxidizer are big enough that the air force and NASA have worked for decades to come up with a functional hybrid air breathing design (alas, no success) that would switch to onboard oxidizer at about the same altitude as a lift balloon can reach.

I'm not saying there aren't significant challenges or that it'll be free, just that it probably IS worth at least looking at.

One thing distorting the design choices is that cost/launch isn't the criterion, it's cost of the first launch. If it was cost/launch amortized over an operational schedule, I'd say an airplane makes a better first stage.

Re:Good luck (1)

GameMaster (148118) | about 6 years ago | (#24369037)

There's two problems with this scheme

The Hindenburg would just barely be able to lift John Glenn's Atlas booster.
A disposable Hindenburg would cost tens of millions of dollars - while the few thousand gallons of fuel and oxidizer it replaced would cost a few thousand dollars.

No one here has suggested trying to lift Atlas boosters with weather baloons (although the other response to your post suggests that it might, theoretically, be possible). Whats is being suggested here is no different than what was tried, and proven, in the 1940's and 50's with the original Rockoons. Existing, mass produced, weather balloon technology does just fine at lifting small rockets (as used in the n-prize and upper atmosphere experimentation) above the atmosphere's denser layers. The whole point of the concept is to launch micro-satellite's into orbit and lower the cost of entry for such projects such that the talented hobbiest/small business can do so.

Re:Good luck (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 6 years ago | (#24369927)

Whats is being suggested here is no different than what was tried, and proven, in the 1940's and 50's with the original Rockoons. Existing, mass produced, weather balloon technology does just fine at lifting small rockets (as used in the n-prize and upper atmosphere experimentation) above the atmosphere's denser layers.

Did it ever occur to you there's a reason why Rockoon was abandoned? Rockoons were attractive in the 40's and 50's when producing the rockets with the needed performance was difficult, but they failed to pan out in practice and were soon eclipsed by technology.
 
 

The whole point of the concept is to launch micro-satellite's into orbit and lower the cost of entry for such projects such that the talented hobbiest/small business can do so.

Except that it doesn't noticeably lower the cost of entry. Your rockets are actually somewhat more expensive (because of the structural penalties imposed by the launch method), and your launches are somewhat more expensive because you add the man hours needed to prepare, handle, and track the balloons on top of that required for the rocket. All you save is a fraction of your fuel - and fuel is cheap.

Re:Good luck (1)

GameMaster (148118) | about 6 years ago | (#24405085)

Did it ever occur to you there's a reason why Rockoon was abandoned?

Who ever said Rockoons were abandoned? As far as I know, the technology is still being researched and has continued to be used for upper atmospheric research. One example is the Japanese rocket listed at the bottom of this page http://www.astronautix.com/lvs/rockoon.htm [astronautix.com] that was launched in 1992. I've seen others as well.

The thing is, Rockoons (or balloon launched rockets as they tend to be referred to in modern times) fill a niche. Even if they could be used for large rockets, they would take a lot more logistical effort so they have been relegated to small rockets such as the ones used for upper atmospheric research and now for hobbyist/small business efforts like the n-prize. For small rockets, it's possible to use off-the-shelf weather balloons. The groups that have, traditionally, launched things into space (governments) tend to want to send much larger payloads up.

Except that it doesn't noticeably lower the cost of entry. Your rockets are actually somewhat more expensive (because of the structural penalties imposed by the launch method), and your launches are somewhat more expensive because you add the man hours needed to prepare, handle, and track the balloons on top of that required for the rocket. All you save is a fraction of your fuel - and fuel is cheap.

I fail to see how the rockets actually, substantially, more expensive. Most, if not all, of the support structure is built onto the tether attached to the balloon and stays on the balloon when the rocket launches. It tends to be a rather simple, and cost effective, stabilizing rod and very little else. Since you were, almost certainly, already tracking the rocket, no extra cost is incurred there. As for the balloon structure, it is made light enough so that it's intended to be disposable/lost after launch. What's left of the balloon would act as a streamer to slow what little mass is attached as it falls.

As for the fuel, I think you may be underestimating the amount of fuel mass saved by avoiding the dense lower atmosphere. I've also been told that it affects, smaller rockets disproportionately compared to large rockets thought I can't vouch for the numbers personally. Adding fuel to a rocket tends to be a case of diminishing returns. The more fuels mass you add, the more mass the rocket has to push before it is burned. Also, while rocket fuel may be cheap in bulk quantities like those purchased by governments, that doesn't mean that it's cheap in hobbyist/small business quantities or that those groups are even allowed to purchase the more efficient (and, thus, more dangerous to handle) fuels.

What it really boils down to is that the n-prize and other micro-launch endeavors are a special case where the traditional notions of what is common sense for big rocket launches may, or may not, apply. This may lead you to question whether there is a need/good reason to launch micro-payload or for hobbyists/small business to have space launch capabilities, but that isn't what I'm addressing here.

Engine geometry and air pressure (4, Interesting)

viking80 (697716) | about 6 years ago | (#24361289)

You are correct in your energy estimates, but a high altitude balloon launch has other significant advantages:
1. Your rocket engine can be an engine with vacuum geometry meant to work well in space. This differs from an engine meant to operate at low altitude.
2. Your rocket design does not need to include complicated supersonic flight in dense air, so your vehicle can be more optimized for the mission at hand rather than aerodynamic.

Re:Engine geometry and air pressure (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24361537)

hmm fill a really really big balloon with hydrogen, bring oxygen, compress hydrogen and just light it up

might/should/can be scalable....

Close to the ground for BIG rockets (4, Insightful)

MarkusQ (450076) | about 6 years ago | (#24362021)

The "burn most your fuel close to the ground" only applies to big rockets that are having to use early fuel to get later fuel up to altitude.

In the present case both those assumptions are violated, making their approach more sensible than it sounds. First off, for a big rocket most of the energy required will be used to 1) get up to speed and 2) gain altitude, with 1) being the biggest concern. For a small rocket, both of these will initially be swamped by 3) friction. The higher you are when you start, the less of your fuel you will waste just overcoming drag.

Secondly, the rule only applies when you are gaining the altitude by burning fuel in the first place. When you aren't having to burn fuel to get up there, you'd always come out ahead launching from a balloon (or even a mountain top) provided you could figure out how to make it work. Heck, with a tall enough tower (hint: think GEO) based on the equator, you could launch a satellite by hand!

--MarkusQ

Re:Good luck (1)

ChrisA90278 (905188) | about 6 years ago | (#24371137)

"...The energy savings from using a balloon are only a small percentage of the overall energy required to achieve orbit..."

You are looking at this from a university "Physics 101" perspective. If you were an engineer you would not be allowed to "neglect the effects of the atmosphere" These effects are...

1) There is a huge amount a friction drag. You have to fly through many tens of miles at high mach numbers, this require a lot of power.

2) Because of #1 above the vehicle must be quite strong with a structure that can withstand large aerodynamic forces. This structure is heavy.

3) Remember the "rocket equation"? That aerodynamic shell counts as "payload" in the equation.

4) Sea level pressure is not the same as what we'd see at 50,000. The optimum design of a rocket exhaust bell depends on the ambient pressure. If you can start at a 50K feet you can optimize the rocket to work in low ambient pressure.

So if you can start at 50,000 feet you avoid quite a bit of aerodynamic force, so youe structure can be lighter.

Almost all space launches have there launch trajectories compromised. They waste a bit of fuel by going straight up (which adds zero "deta V".) before they pitch over. Also you will se them throttle the engines and run at less to 100% efficiency so as to reduce aerodynamic loads to keep them in limit.

No, I am not a rocket scientist but these are hundreds of them walking the wallways here at work. (I only do software.)

What is the point of this N-Prize? (0, Redundant)

tftp (111690) | about 6 years ago | (#24361169)

The requirements ask for lifting a 20g "satellite" (I'd call it a "space junk" instead). What could be the value of such a construct? More importantly, what value the humanity can obtain from building a super-cheap and super-unreliable launch vehicle that has a 20g payload? This N-Prize should be seen as a joke [wikipedia.org] .

Re:What is the point of this N-Prize? (1)

MagdJTK (1275470) | about 6 years ago | (#24361607)

What value can humanity obtain from you posting on Slashdot?

Re:What is the point of this N-Prize? (1)

tftp (111690) | about 6 years ago | (#24361621)

Discussion of issues leads to prudent decisions.

Re:What is the point of this N-Prize? (1)

Noodlenose (537591) | about 6 years ago | (#24362019)

Prime Minister, is that you?

Re:What is the point of this N-Prize? (1)

queazocotal (915608) | about 6 years ago | (#24362431)

What can be done in 20g?

What can't?

There are obvious limits.

You're not going to get a nice big lens on there for a decent camera. But a cellphone cam might just work.

You can't get active control of your orientation. Though with the above camera, and a couple of magnetic field sensors, combined with software, you can tell which way you're pointed.

You won't be able to send back large amounts of data - but a small pic or two per orbit, commanded by the ground should barely be possible.

As to what can be done in something slightly bigger - the sky is the limit. (or not).

I note that people have made complete flying R/C planed under half a gram.

If these people had relatively cheap access to orbit, what might happen?

Re:What is the point of this N-Prize? (2, Insightful)

tftp (111690) | about 6 years ago | (#24363481)

But a cellphone cam might just work.

A cell phone CCD will be about 20 grams. But you also need the decoder, the DSP, and the transmitter, and the battery. If you still manage to do all that, then what's the use of a low-res image from 400 km? I understand that it might be cool once or twice, but that's what amateur satellites are for (this includes ham [amsat.org] and non-ham [stanford.edu] ones.) These satellites don't weigh 20 grams - they are larger, but they actually work.

Usually amateur satellites hitch a ride on some other commercial launch, for a fraction of cost. There is no need to invent yer own rocket for $2,000 - use already developed hardware that works for real. Besides, rocketry is not a safe hobby when you deal with enough propellant to lift something to an LEO. When you try to do it on the cheap things only get scarier.

On subject of RC planes: a half a gram RC plane only needs to receive, so its power budget is not as tough as a satellite that has to have a large antenna and/or a powerful transmitter to send its status and data back to Earth. But half a gram RC plane is still an achievement, and it is useful because you can fly it and enjoy its flight. People are free to make a 20g satellite also, but it will be far less useful than a tiny RC plane.

Re:What is the point of this N-Prize? (1)

queazocotal (915608) | about 6 years ago | (#24368731)

But a cellphone cam might just work.

A cell phone CCD will be about 20 grams.

No it won't.
The ST VS6555R0H9 for example. VGA, 4.5*4.5*2.5mm, I'd guess .25g tops.

There are slightly larger cameras going up to a couple of megapixels.

But you also need the decoder, the DSP, and the transmitter, and the battery.

Decoder, DSP, and micro I can directly address, as I have a board using a similar (but 2MP) cam about to go for production that is now about 4 grams, 5 including the microSD.

If I put maybe $400 into weight reduction, and build them by hand I can drop that to around 3.5 grams, including an 8GB microSD.

If you still manage to do all that, then what's the use of a low-res image from 400 km?

I'm tempted to drag out the famous quote 'What's the use of a newborn baby' - with regards to electricity, but that's way overstating the case.

At the moment, it's complex and hard for small organisations (say a medium sized electronics department in a university) to get anything launched.

I hope by vastly reducing the entry burden that more people will start innovating - where there is little at risk, there can be lots of risk-taking, much as the computer industry only exploded when computers got cheap enough that innovation in software got cheap.

Yes, you can beg for a ride-along, but this is not cheap in terms of effort you need to put in to it. (and that time costs money too).

Besides, rocketry is not a safe hobby when you deal with enough propellant to lift something to an LEO. When you try to do it on the cheap things only get scarier.

This is of course an issue.

However, constraining the rocket element to perhaps 10Kg, with a thrust profile meaning that it cannot hit the ground under power, selecting appropriate launch sites, and ensuring a low burnout weight will all greatly mitigate risks.

On the subject of mass budgets, which you raise.

  • Camera - 1g
  • Solar panel -4g (2*26cm^2 emcore) (3W peak, 0.5W average per orbit)
  • CPU+RAM+SD+power managment - 4g
  • Battery - 4g 150mAh Lion.
  • Magnetometers and IR heat sensors - 1g
  • Radio 2g - 10mW 433MHz
  • Structure - 4g

Cost per kilogram (2, Informative)

32771 (906153) | about 6 years ago | (#24361175)

This wouldn't even make too much sense since
with that kind of money a kilogram in orbit would cost around 50000 pound. There are much cheaper means of getting to orbit:

http://www.futron.com/pdf/resource_center/white_papers/FutronLaunchCostWP.pdf [futron.com]

Interestingly small launchers seem to be less efficient than larger ones on average.

Maybe one should just try to hitch a ride.

On the other hand this seems to be a fun project.
I hope they are successful.

Re:Cost per kilogram (2, Insightful)

GameMaster (148118) | about 6 years ago | (#24361635)

It seems to be an attempt to open up space launch capability to the little guy. Sure, when you look at the numbers, those big launch vehicles seem to be down-right cheap per lb., but good luck getting your 1lb. hobby project onto one of those launches. The organizations responsible for launching those rockets are, most likely, working exclusively with companies and fellow governments that need to launch 100lb+ payloads. Even if they'd work with an individual/small business, the red-tape and per-project overhead would destroy those per-lb. price numbers. Is it a good idea to make it possible for any average Joe to launch micro-satellites into space? I don't know, but that seems to be the goal of the N-Prize.

Re:Cost per kilogram (4, Interesting)

queazocotal (915608) | about 6 years ago | (#24362383)

Cost per kilo is somewhat missing the point.

Firstly, you can't buy a kilo to orbit. You simply can't.

You may be able to beg a ride-along if you have the right political connections, but otherwise it's impossible.

Secondly, it's unlikely that if 20g to orbit is $2000, 200g to orbit will be $20000.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly.

20g to orbit can't do much. You can put a bad camera, a radio, a solar panel, and a magnetometer on it, and maybe if you push the envelope really hard a 3-axis gyro. (to calculate your orbit)

200g however, even if it was $10000 per flight is in the realm where universities with modest physics, aerospace, or electronics facilities might consider it interesting to put up a small test sat.

Your cellphone weighs under 200g, even if it has GPS, GSM, accellerometers, wifi, camera, ...

With 200g in a small satellite, you've got a good shot at a reasonable camera, stabilisation using the earths magnetic field, GPS, a much better radio, solar panels, batteries to keep it alive during dark.

It's even reasonable that you could have a small part of it - say 50g - as a single-shot rocket able to optimise the trajectory.

I note that http://www.rcgroups.com/forums/showthread.php?t=814157 [rcgroups.com] there are amateur build fully remote controlled planes at under half a gram.

Re:Cost per kilogram (1)

32771 (906153) | about 6 years ago | (#24374903)

>Secondly, it's unlikely that if 20g to orbit is $2000, 200g to orbit will be $20000.

My assumption was that this rocket is either your only means to space and you have to assemble in orbit (I don't know how), or that for comparison you hitch a ride and pay by weight. Then having the Kg to orbit price helps comparing your options. However I doubt that you can get away with only paying for the weight, probably they let you pay for a part of the launch service and that won't be cheap.

Also I just read somewhere (not just your comment) that hitching a ride is difficult and only infrequently an option.

The reason this might not be entirely illegitimate a comparison is that the N-Prize doesn't require you to put the licensing and other non-technical stuff on the budget to win the prize, so in our wonderful world of engineering we only pay for the price to put a kilogram into orbit.

Just as a side note regarding the non-technical aspect, if you plan to go into orbit you are most probably exceeding the amateur rocket class and you need a license from the FAA for an ELV:

http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr;sid=411c0579c5834b8dfae3aee3e75392dd;rgn=div5;view=text;node=14%3A4.0.2.9.9;idno=14;cc=ecfr [gpoaccess.gov]

I don't know how much this costs but I fear you are going to lose as a hobbyist just because of the requirements. The guys from Cambridge may have a better chance to pull this off I guess.

Also notice that the US is said to have the least complex regulations for you to reach space as a commercial enterprise for instance, so I wonder whether you will find an easier country to deal with.

I agree with your third point but it holds some promise. Spaceflight has driven miniaturization and it will continue to do so unless some drastically cheaper way to orbit comes along. Also the N-Prize requirement says that your payload should not weigh more than 19.99g.

Squeezing costs (0, Flamebait)

VincenzoRomano (881055) | about 6 years ago | (#24361243)

By making sure there's no American [slashdot.org] onboard.

Re:Squeezing costs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24361555)

Yah screw you buddy.
Like a license is the worst of their cost.

Asking for space junk? (1)

financialguy (680124) | about 6 years ago | (#24361365)

I love the open source ethos of this project, but I wonder about the wisdom of letting every Tom, Dick, and Harry shoot stuff into space. In most places there would at least be laws against some yo-yo shooting up trash on purpose, I also have to wonder about a bunch of pseudo-terrorists of the Luddite variety wanting to crap-up space just because they hate technology, spy satellites, etc.

The obvious problems are a) Some people probably said the same thing about the Wright brothers and b) People are going to figure this out at some point anyway, so this prize will (at most) just hasten and publicize this capability.

The next prize should be one for creating an affordable galactic garbage truck.

Re:Asking for space junk? (1)

cailith1970 (1325195) | about 6 years ago | (#24362479)

The chances of them all being on the same orbit as satellites, etc, is so remote when it comes to the possibility of things colliding with one other it's not really worth considering.

Also, most if not all of the things being shot up into space aren't going to stay in a stable orbit, and will likely burn up on re-entry so they should be "self-disposing".

the trick seems to be (1)

Adult film producer (866485) | about 6 years ago | (#24361517)

in how you use the heat. Focus the suns rays on a pipe with water running through it and then what? I built a solar air heater using popcans for $80 and use it during the summer to heat water and during the winter it heats and recirculates air in the house. Here is a solar heater someone else built (same thing here) http://www.fieldlines.com/story/2007/8/20/124818/249 [fieldlines.com]

999 a typo? (1)

suck_burners_rice (1258684) | about 6 years ago | (#24361911)

If the budget is 999 pounds (which is, what, 2000 bucks I think?) to access space, then now is the time to release the warp field technology I've been perfecting in my lab. I'll be the dude who changes the world when some folks from the planet Vulcan pass by Saturn and notice my warp-speed ship flying towards some darn place or another. I think 999 pounds is a typo. There's no possible way, hot air balloon or not.

Cheap method of launching into outer space FTW! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24362405)

1. 2000 cans of baked beans and a funnel placed in appropriate orifice.
2. Wait an hour or so. Strike match below funnel.
3. ???
4. Profit!

Space Pollution (1)

dontmakemethink (1186169) | about 6 years ago | (#24362571)

Just as we're making some progress with the atmosphere, the N-Prize comes along to encourage any idiot with 1k quid to fire an unguided projectile into the same part of space where multi-billion-dollar satellites are passing by at relative speeds of over 20,000 mph.

If a major satellite exploded and much of the shrapnel remained in orbit, in time it would collide with another major satellite, creating more shrapnel, before you know it satellites become unfeasible, and we step back several decades in a few hundred fields of science and communications.

Satellites from their inception have taken damage from microscopic "space dust", and the term "space pollution" was coined, with the dire potential consequences of making near outer space unusable, not to mention the constant falling debris.

Re:Space Pollution (2, Funny)

dontmakemethink (1186169) | about 6 years ago | (#24362589)

"And here's the 2-2 pitch, oooh boy, Johnson's been decapitated by a fallen solar panel, drat the luck. Leiter steps in in relief. Brought to you in ultra-low def by Comcast."

How about going the other way? (3, Funny)

harlows_monkeys (106428) | about 6 years ago | (#24362653)

How about rocket-assisted balloons? That would probably be a lot of fun, too.

Re:How about going the other way? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24366487)

... or given your user name: rocket-assisted baboons?

William Gibson had a similar idea: (1)

HoaryCripple (187169) | about 6 years ago | (#24363063)

In his short story, "Red Star, Winter Orbit" William Gibson writes,

Korolev stared at the man, who had the blundering, careless look of someone drunk on freedom since birth. "But you don't even have a launchpad," he said.
"Launchpad?" the man said, laughing. "What we do, we haul these surplus booster engines up the cables to the balloons, drop 'em, and fire 'em in midair."
"That's insane," Korolev said.
"Fot us here didn't it?"
Korolev nodded. If this was all a dream, it was a very peculiar one. "I am Colonel Yuri Vasilevich Korolev."

I continue to be amazed by William Gibson's vision.
I highly recommend this short story, and his entire short story anthology "Burning Chrome."

I think I saw this in Batman (1)

slimjim8094 (941042) | about 6 years ago | (#24363127)

Didn't he use it to get out of that building in China?

Fine, you want content? Seesh.

Cheap access to space is good, but maybe this is too cheap. We don't just let any dude buy and fly a plane, a car, or even a boat. Except space is different: you're so high up that if you fuck up it can affect people literally halfway around the world.

Just look at the pain it is to travel between countries by plane. Governments will be foaming at the mouth if this ever turns into something useful (OMG MISSLES) and we can barely hold back from blowing each other up as it is.

Still, this is too light to be useful. But it won't be for long...

Wow, this must be a serious topic... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24363809)

Not one post as tagged as "funny", balloons and rockets, c'mon guys!

Doubt It'll Work (cheaply at least) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24363971)

In Ben Rich's (director of the skunk works in the 80's) autobiography, he mentions how one of the other aerospace companies had a scheme to launch a small rocket powered spy plane from a balloon. It was then calculated that the balloon would have to be several miles in diameter in order to carry the necessary weight.

Hydrogen is the key (1)

Dollyknot (216765) | about 6 years ago | (#24366345)

Hydrogen is strange stuff, you can use it as a fuel and in a balloon.

So get an enormous hydrogen balloon and use it to lift another balloon of oxygen plus a rocket engine.

Use the rocket engine to increase the orbital velocity of the rockoon, as the orbital velocity increases, the whole kit and caboodle would spiral outwards.

I am not a rocket scientist nor a mathematician, so I would ask all those far cleverer than me, how big would the hydrogen balloon have to be, to get the whole thing to geostationary orbit.

As an aside, a hydrogen balloon would be a cute way, to take water to the desert.

Iceland has lots of electricity, they say they are going to use all that spare electricity to smelt aluminum, no - use it to extract hydrogen from the sea.

Use the potential energy that exists in the hydrogen, to fly the balloon to an area of desert, then you use the oxygen that all ready exists in the desert and connect it to the hydrogen, that is in the balloon, viola you have taken both energy and water to the desert.

Cambridge isn't a university... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24366405)

It's a College!

http://www.cambridgecollege.edu/

Honestly, if the OP can't even get that right, why should I read the rest of the article?

Original idea or did they pick it up from SF? (1)

GuerreroDelInterfaz (922857) | about 6 years ago | (#24379073)

      More precisely "Songs from the Stars" by Norman Spinrad.

      Any earlier reference?

--
El Guerrero del Interfaz

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