Today I attended an space industry conference here in Orange County, California, sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Unlike the Space Hackers conference which also occurred today and to which I was also invited, this was not a New Space get-together, but a standard aerospace event which included a lot of old time engineers from the big old-time companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
Most of the talks today were engineering related. For example, one described in detail the engineering advantages of building ion engines and solar sails at the molecular level, nanotechnology to the max. Another talk, which I found astonishing and exciting, was an analysis of the orbital mechanics of getting to Mars. This analysis found that using constant acceleration as low as .01 G it would be possible to get to Mars in weeks, not years, and without the necessity of waiting for the perfect launch window. You could launch almost anytime. Though we don’t have engines that as yet can provide this much constant low acceleration, these numbers are not so high as to make it impossible. With some clever refinements, it might be possible to come up with propulsion systems capable of these constant Gs, and to do it in the near future. If so, it will open up the entire solar system to manned exploration very quickly. Not only will we be able to travel to the planets in a reasonable time, the constant Gs would overcome the medical problems caused by prolonged weightlessness.
It wasn’t these interesting engineering presentations that got my juices flowing however. Instead, it was presentation on public policy issues that completely surprised me and made me think the future of the American aerospace industry is really going in the right direction. This significant take-away was further reinforced by the audience’s reaction to my lecture in the evening.
» Read more