Archive for February, 2010

Mayan Dawn

Today on Discovery Enterprise we will be exploring some New World archaeology. Through breathtaking discoveries, archaeologists are uncovering the early years of the ancient Maya to reveal a dynamic, sophisticated culture that was flourishing before the time of Christ. The Preclassic Maya, which was once dismissed as primitive. Yet, they erected massive pyramids, created elaborate art, and developed writing. The Mayans were also accomplished in Astronomy. So join us as we take a voyage through time to witness the – “Dawn of the Maya”.

Dawn of the Maya

Nukes for Defense

The Rudd Labor government has a complete ban on nuclear energy for Australia. However concerns over global warming has increased support for the nuclear option. After all nuclear energy is the only emission free method of producing base load power. Tony Abbott believes its an option we need to seriuosly consider. Peter Cosgrove has come out in support and so has Labor Party stalwart Bob Carr. Yet there is another reason to support nuclear power – defense.
Now I’m not considering nuclear weapons here. The only time that would be an option would be if there was a nuclear arms race in the region and we should all pray that never happens. My concern is nuclear propulsion for the navy, especially for our submarines.
Our six Collins class subs are classified as guided-missile submarines (SSG) most other conventional submarines are hunter-killer (SSK). Most SSK patrol close to their bases or at most 1000 nautical miles away. .Our boats are required to operate at greater distances, To reach the Persian Gulf or the Sea of Japan the Collins boats need to travel over 4500 nautical miles. Therefore they are considerably bigger then other conventional submarines and uniquely designed for our usage. That brings its own problems. It makes them more expensive and less reliable then a more common design would be. Importantly they never did meet their original design specifications. They were originally specified with a submerged transit speed of 16 knots over 10,000 nautical miles. That was reduced to 10 knots over 9000 nautical miles as the technology just wasn’t available. The lower transit speed reduces the time they can spend on patrol by nearly half.
The government is now considering a replacement for the Collins subs. One option is an improved version of the current Collins boats but they would still have the speed limitations issues. That’s why an increase to twelve subs has been proposed. Considering we have enough difficulty finding crews for six subs how we would crew twelve remains an unanswered question. Another option is to improve their performance by adopting new technology such as high temperature superconductor motors and Li-ion batteries. Again that raises concerns over their ultimate cost and reliability.
None of these problems would arise if we had nuclear subs based on proven designs. They would have all the range and speed we would require.. A local nuclear power industry would make maintaining nuclear subs easier but its not really required. For one thing there is no direct link between civilian reactors and submarine reactors . Their design is very different with subs using highly enriched fuel. Also refueling is not a requirement as modern submarines need to be only fueled once for their 20 year plus service life. The maintenance and operation issues could be addressed by requesting US help until we train our own people. That’s what the UK did that when they constructed their nuclear fleet. However the government ban on things nuclear means nuclear subs can not be considered.
Labor’s ban on nuclear reactors not only reduces our options to reduce CO2 emissions it also reduces our options to properly defend our nation.
Readers are referred to Vital Sign by Abraham Gubler in Defense Technology International April 2008 for more information regarding the current non nuclear options.

Titan, a sense of déjà vu?

Today on Discovery Enterprise we focus our sights on Saturn’s mysterious and mesmerizing moon Titan. Titan is a moon shrouded in a thick orange red atmosphere which, like the planet Venus, hides its surface from the gaze of terrestrial astronomers. To paraphrase the great Winston Churchill, Titan was a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. And, our puzzlement over Titan only deepened when we pierce its veil and obtained our very first pictures of its surface.

So much so, and quoting directly from an upcoming article in Scientific American entitled “The Moon That Would Be a Planet”:

“….. On the morning of January 14, 2005, at the European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany, the pictures caused jubilation and puzzlement in equal measure. None of us expected the landscape to look so Earth-like. As Huygens parachuted down, its aerial pictures showed branching river channels cut by rain-fed streams. It landed on the damp, pebble-covered site of a recent flash flood. What was alien about Titan was its eerie familiarity”.

And, it is this sense of déjà vu that prompts us to ask the question is Titan, A Place Like Home?

BBC Horizon – Titan, A Place Like Home?

Titan: A Place Like Home? Also on YouTube

The Day the Universe Changed Episode 1 -The Way We Are

Today on Discovery Enterprise we are presenting the first episode of an exciting series of documentaries entitled “The Day the Universe Changed” hosted by BBC science historian and journalist James Burke.

The first episode of the series outlines how the rational thought and incessant questioning that typified Ancient Greek culture shaped and continues to influence the Western Civilizations way of thinking, living and interacting with the world around us. Inherent in the Western way of life is constant change brought about by compounding knowledge and new discoveries, processes that stem from the Ancient Greek practice of endlessly questioning the world around them. These developments in the intellectual history of Western thought have produced corresponding changes in whom and what we are as a society. It is this trajectory in human thought, for better or worst, which will continue to shape humanity for the remainder of this century.

A very interesting web site well worth a visit is the home page of the James Burke Institute for Innovation in Education and its flagship project, the Knowledge Web. And, if you would like to purchase this and other documentary series by James Burke we encourage you to visit Documentary-Video a great online store where you can purchase a wide selection of documentaries.

The Day the Universe Changed Episode 1 -The Way We Are

NASA’s Puffin

We have discussed flying cars but this is more like a flying motor cycle, and an electric one at that.

More here.

Tutankhamun’s Fireball

Today on Discovery Enterprise we join a team of interdisciplinary scientists in a solving a scientific detective story worthy of Sherlock Holmes. Our mystery begins in Cairo’s Museum of Egyptian Antiquities when an Italian mineralogist discovers a mysterious green gem in the center of Tutankhamun’s necklace. A gem compose of a bizarre form of glass whose origins can only be traced to a time well before the dawn of Egyptian civilization and the fiery heat of a nuclear conflagration. The game is afoot when we go on an intrepid odyssey into the heart of the blistering Sahara desert in search of Tutankhamun’s Fireball.

Tutankhamun’s Fireball

Black Sky: The Race for Space

Today on Discovery Enterprise we focus on the private sectors efforts to carry private citizens into space. In the light of NASA’s recent policy shift in relying on the private sector to raise the venture capital and develop the technologies that will take future astronauts into low Earth orbit and beyond this is an especially appropriate documentary feature to watch.

Follow Burt Rutan on his quest to build a personal spacecraft dubbed Space Ship One and capture the elusive X Prize: a $10 million award that will go to the first privately funded, non-governmental group to build a spacecraft capable of carrying three six foot two, one hundred and ninety eight pound adults to an altitude of 62 miles twice in 14 days. Since the contest began in 1996, more than twenty teams had entered, representing the United States, Canada, Russia, England and Argentina. But Burt Rutan, the first to sign up, looks and won. No other X Prize competitor could have matched his success or track record in aircraft design.

Black Sky: The Race For Space