Ack… some things are sent to try us… and this one has me really annoyed on several counts.
I recently came across an article suggesting that floating robotic factories mine Helium 3 (and methane) from the atmosphere of Uranus. This is being proposed as part of Project Icarus – a 5-year study looking at how to launch unmanned spacecraft to an interstellar destination. The spacecraft will need nuclear fuel… and this is where Helium-3 comes in.
So why Uranus. They argue that this gas giant has the lowest escape velocity of the big four (gas giants). Uranus’s rings are high and not showering the planet’s atmosphere with a hail of meteors, which of course is dangerous. The surface gravity (defined from the 1 bar pressure level in the atmosphere) is 90% that of Earth’s.
Full article can be found at:
So why am I annoyed?
1) I’m going to have add these gas miners into my novel Miranda… though to be fair they will only be background for what I was writing anyway. Still have to get these leetle details right.
2) They suggest only two viable designs for the robotic mining craft. The first uses nuclear powered ramjets and the second is balloons. There is actually a third design. I put it into my short story ‘Life Sentence’ and it uses methane fuel. If you don’t believe me, go get a copy of Issue 8 of Jupiter.
3) They used Uranus in preference to Neptune for the reasons stated. And these are very valid reasons. But I do think they need to look again at Neptune. Apart from anything else, if the planet is in the right part of the sky, it can be used as a last stop to take fuel on board.
Well, that’s me having a good old-fashioned grumble… grrr…