Posts Tagged ‘Proxima Centauri’

Stephen Hawking on Why We Need to Colonise Space

September 6, 2017

Next Monday evening, 11th September 2017, on BBC 2 at 9 pm, Professor Stephen Hawking will present a programme arguing that humanity needs to colonise another world. Entitled The Search for a New Earth, the blurb for the programme on page 72 of the Radio Times runs

Physicist Stephen Hawking thinks the human species will have to populate a new planet within 100 years if it is to survive, with climate change, pollution, deforestation, pandemics and population growth making life on Earth increasingly precarious. In this programme he examines whether humans could relocate to other planets, travelling the globe to meet scientists, technologists and engineers working on the means and method.

There’s more information about the programme on page 71. This passage states that

Stephen Hawking is convinced that, if we are not to risk annihilation, humans need to leave Earth within the next 100 years and make a new home on another planet.

It sounds like sci-fi, but a planet has already been discovered “in our neighbourhood” that’s a contender: Proxima B is in the Goldilocks Zone (the narrow orbit where conditions are perfect to sustain human life), but we’d need a massive technological feat just to get us there.

Astrophysicist Danielle George and Hawking protégé Christophe Galfard explore the practicality of where and how e could create a human colony in space.

There’s also a single page feature about the programme in the Radio Times on page 31, which includes Danielle George’s replies to the following questions

Do we really need to leave Earth?

What does a new planet need to be human-friendly?

How many people will it take to set up a colony?

Stephen Hawking believes Proxima B may be the most suitable planet. Why?

How far away is Proxima B?

How long would it take to travel 4.2 light years?

Could we fit 20 years’ worth of astronaut food into a spaceship?

Dow we have the right to take over another planet?

Do you think there is the will to make this happen?

Regarding the amount of time required to journey to Proxima B, George states that using current chemical rockets it would take 250,000 years. But there is a project at Caliphornia where they are experimenting with propelling a nano probe the size of a mobile phone sim card using a laser beam. This may make it possible for such a probe to reach Proxima in 20 years.

That last sounds like a version of the old proposal to use space-based lasers to send a light sail to another star. One of the proposed missions was Starwisp, which would use solar sails to carry a 50 kilo instrument package to Alpha Centauri. The probe would reach a speed of 1/3 of the speed of light, and make the journey in something like 20 years.

The veteran hard SF writer, Larry Niven, also used the idea of laser-driven solar sails in his classic The Mote in God’s Eye. This is about the encounter between an expanding human galactic empire, and an alien race, the Moties. These are so called because their homeworld is a planet in a nebula dubbed Murchison’s Eye by humanity. The Moties are highly intelligent, but lack the Anderson Drive that has made it possible for humans to move out into the Galaxy. Instead, they have sent a vessel out on the centuries long voyage across interstellar in a ship using such a solar sail, powered by laser beam from their own system. It is the light from the laser beam which has given the Moties’ nebula its characteristic red colour.

As well as being super-intelligent, the Moties also possess between three and four arms, depending on their caste and function, and change sex throughout their life. Which makes me wonder whether the writers of the X-Files’ episode, ‘Gender Bender’, about a group of sex-changing aliens, who live an existence like the Amish had also drawn on the book for their inspiration. As well as the writers of Doctor Who when they decided that the Time Lords are also not restricted to remaining the same sex when they regenerate.


Ross Forster-Fraser on the Terran Trade Authority’s ‘Great Space Battles’

April 21, 2017

I’ve put up a series of videos this week about Stuart Cowley’s Spaceships 2000-2100, and the great space art on which it was based. The book was supposedly published by the Terran Trade Authority, a future international governmental organisation administering the world’s trade, particularly with other worlds. It was a ‘future history’ SF tale, about the spaceships that would take humanity first to the planets of our solar system, and from thence to the stars Alpha and Proxima Centauri and beyond. The illustrations in the book were taken from SF book covers, which were used by the writer, Stuart Cowley, as the basis for descriptions of these craft and their fictional histories.

Spacecraft 2000-2100 was one of series of similar books published by the fictional TTA. The others included Great Space Battles. In this clip I found on YouTube, Ross Forster-Fraser, another enthusiast for the books, talks about this book.

TTA Spacecraft 2000 – 2100: Videos, Spacecraft and Book Cover Art

April 19, 2017

I put up a post at the weekend about a video I’d found on YouTube, in which a fan of Stewart Cowley’s Spacecraft 2000-2100 had made a short CGI film as a tribute. The film was a promotional video for the book’s fictional Terran Trade Authority, the global governmental organisation that had overseen the construction of the spacecraft which had taken humanity to the planets, and from then on to the nearest stars, meeting friendly creatures from Alpha Centauri, and fighting a war against aliens from Proxima Centauri.

The book Spacecraft 2000-2100 was a ‘future history’, of the type that was quite common in SF from the 1950s to the 1970s, when scientists and science fiction writers were confident that it would only be a matter of decades, perhaps only a few years even, before humanity established colonies in space – orbital cities, bases and then colonies on the Moon and Mars. FTL – Faster Than Light travel would be invented, and humanity would go on into the Galaxy ‘to seek out new life forms and new civilisations’, in the words of the Classic Trek.

The spacecraft in the book all came from SF book covers by some of the great space artists of the ’70s – Chris Foss, Angus McKie, Peter Elson, Bob Layzell, Fred Gambino and Jim Burns, around which the author, Stewart Cowley, wove his story of invention and exploration. It’s one of my favourite space books. The spacecraft depicted and their settings had a strange, otherworldly, literally alien beauty, even when the scenes were of industry or simple rocket launches. After I found the first video, I found another. This one is rather more complete. It uses the same computer techniques to recreate the spacecraft, as well as a whole scenes from the book. The spacecraft race across alien landscapes, rise into the air, hover above vast future cities, or prepare to dock with huge space stations.

I also found this video by Scott Manley on YouTube, where he talks about the book. He found it amongst his father’s old things, which rather dates me. Along with some of the other facts he mentions, he talks about the picture of an alien spaceship, which was plagiarised a few years ago by another artist, who entered his version for the Turner Prize. Apparently, the book was also republished in 2005, but was not well-received. The future history had to be rewritten, and some of the pictures were replaced by computer art. There has, however, also been a Role-Playing Game created, which is set in the same universe as the book.

Here’s a few of the book covers, from which the art was taken. Top far left is by Angus McKie; top let is Tony Roberts, bottom left is Bob Layzell, while bottom right is by Peter Elson. Neither of the two bottom images appear in the book. Other pieces by them do appear, and these show Layzell’s and Elson’s style
This and other great pieces of SF art can be found in the book Sci-Fi Art: A Graphic History by Steve Holland (New York: HarperCollins 2009).

Animated Video Based on Terran Trade Authority Spacecraft

April 14, 2017

Looking through YouTube, I found that someone had made an animated video about the spacecraft depicted in Steward Cowley’s Spacecraft: 2000 to 2100 (London: Hamlyn 1978).

The book’s supposed to be a handbook of 21st century spacecraft, published by the Terran Trade Authority. In fact, it’s a collection of illustrations from SF book covers by the great space artists Angus McKie, Bob Layzell, Tony Roberts and others, which Cowley then described as real spacecraft. These were part of a ‘future history’ of human space exploration and colonisation which included humans travelling to encounter intelligent alien civilisations on Proxima and Alpha Centauri, and fighting a war with the Proximans. As well as Spacecraft 2000-2100, Cowley also wrote Great Space Battles, the Tourist’s Guide to Transylvania, based on Horror book covers, and Home Brain Surgery and Other Household Skills. The artwork is stunningly beautiful. Here are a few examples.

As with so many books on space written in the 1970s, it had a timeline of what we could expect in the coming decades, predictions which now seem hopelessly dated and optimistic. For example, the ‘key historical dates’ in Spacecraft: 2000 to 2100 are

1987 – Introduction of nuclear powered engines: ion and plasma systems.

1990 – Foundation of the World Community Research Council.

1998 – WCRC North African Space Research Centres now operational.

1999 – World Trade Authority formed to co-ordinate international commerce.

2004 – The first spacefreighter, Colonial I, enters service.

2005 – Work starts on Lunar Station.

2011 – Lunar Station operational.

2012 – Work starts on Mars Station.

2014 – Introduction of the McKinley Ion Ultradrive in Colonial II.

2015 – Martian Queen makes first commercial passenger flight to Mars.

2018 – First shipment of new alloys from Lunar industry.

2027 – Warp0 Generator perfected by Henri devas.

2036 – Manned survey ship makes contact with Alpha Centaurians.

2038 – Language barrier broken.

2039 – Trade & Technology Exchange Agreement signed with Alpha.

– World Trade Authority becomes Terran Trade Authority.

2041 – First orbital industrial centre off Jupiter completed.

2042 – First Energy Absorbent Defence Shield (EADS) produced by the TTA.

2045 – Dr Hans Berger introduces the Gravity-Resist Generator.

2046 – Mars Shipyards completed.

2047 – Pathfinder IX Survey Ship destroyed by Proxima Centauri.

– Alpha Centauri attacked.

2048 – Interstellar Queen destroyed by Proxima Centauri.

– War declared.

2049 – Terran Defence Authority formed.

2052 – Battle for Mars.

2060 – Invasion of Proxima Centauri.

2068 – Peace Treaty negotiated.

2073 – First jet tube opened on Earth, between Europe and America.

2078 – First settler ship leaves for Arcturus.

2090 – Second settler ship.

2096 – Starblade introduced as first Alpha spaceliner.

If only!

Here’s the video:

Cameron Scraps Solar Power – Another Setback for Science

October 4, 2015

My last blog post was about David Cameron’s decision to ‘cut the Green crap’, as he called it, and remove the subsidies from solar power. Presumably this was becoming a bit of nuisance to his backers in the petrochemical and nuclear industries. Plus, now that he’d won a second term, he clearly didn’t think he needed to deceive the public anymore with the line that his was ‘the Greenest government ever’. That whopper was disproved the moment he started promoting fracking.

Cameron’s scrapping of solar power might be another blow to scientific research in this country. The potential of solar energy as a cheap, practical source of power has been known from the 19th century. I’ve blogged before about the French scientist and engineer, Pifre, who at an exposition in Paris ran a newspaper press power by steam generated from a parabolic mirror about 18m in diameter.

Pifre Steam Press

Scaled down, the principle has also been applied to create ‘solar ovens’ that can cook food by focussing the sun’s rays. One such device was featured a little while ago on The Gadget Show, along with the other weird and wonderful doohickies and thingummies.

Solar panels have been used for a long time to provide power for spacecraft, but light from the Sun could also be used to provide propulsion for spacecraft. It’s been suggested that a spaceship propelled by a sail catching light from the Sun, called ‘Starwisp’, could take a 50 kilo instrument package to the nearest star Proxima Centauri, at about a third of the speed of light. If so, it would mean that the journey there would take only about twelve years or so, as opposed to the tens of thousands that a journey by a conventional spacecraft using chemical rockets would take.

It’s also been suggested that sunlight could also be used as the ignition system for a ‘solar thermal’ rocket. In this spacecraft, light from the sun would be focussed on the chemical propellant through mirrors, igniting it to create the force to move the vehicle through space. At the moment this is highly speculative, and there are a number of problems that need to be solved, but it’s a possibility.

I’ve also heard from my father that down in the south of France giant mirrors were used in one of their iron and steel plants. I don’t know whether this is true, and just one of those rumours. Given the investment the French have made into new technology, like carrying on with rocket research long after we gave up, it’s certainly possible.

Steam Rocket Cart

Two members of the Sacramento Rocketeers working on a steam rocket-powered go-cart

And I wonder if solar energy also couldn’t be used to drive cars. There are already experimental vehicles using solar panels, but I also wonder if you could use it to heat steam and provide a motive source that way. In the 1960s the US government had a programme to promote rocket experiments in schools as a way of getting children enthusiastic about space travel and help them to catch up on the Russians. One of the projects schoolchildren could make were steam rockets. These could also be used to power go-carts. There’s a picture in one article on the American schools’ rocketry programme, which shows a line of such steam buggies in a race.

Now anything involving rockets, combustible materials and hot gases is not something you try at home without the experience of someone, who knows exactly what they’re doing. But I wonder if someone couldn’t use a system of parabolic mirrors or lenses to run a steam engine to power a small vehicle. There’s certainly an opportunity there for research.

And this is possibly why Cameron wanted to scrap government subsidies for solar power. There’s so much potential there, that it really wouldn’t surprise me if this had frightened Cameron’s paymasters in the oil industry. So Cameron wanted it scrapped. Not only is this bad for the environment, but it’s also potentially damaging the kind of science that could lead to better, cleaner, more environmentally friendly and efficient vehicles. And take us to the stars.

And Cameron can’t allow that.