Lisan al Gaib: Heart to Heart

November 9, 2011

(The following was submitted to the Occupied Times some three weeks ago! Alas they have much better things to print than my humble offering. So here it is!)

Prologue: The natural omens were looking good as I set off from the wilds of suburbia for a particularly English “urbi et orbi” [to the city and to the world] to which I might add “et deos!” The technoMagic was working a treat: I had forgotton to reset the clock! So was early for a change.

Cockfosters provided a free parking space as near as you can get and I had a delighful chat with the Station Master: excluded from the ticket office so that he could help with the automated ticket machines. And there you have it! In a nutshell: technoFail.  But more was to come!

Ascending the escalators at St Paul’s this cyber correspondent was assaulted with a hellish racket: a fire? A Bomb? The Ticket machines had exploded like something out of ET. Exposing their inner workings for all to see. Red lights blinking gates agape and in total failure mode to prevent a fare dodger.
On enquiring: the poor harrassed Station Master revealed it was a computer failure. Something to do with the clocks going back and an ‘improvement’ in the software. Twelve stations and a thirteenth: St Paul’s? Also experiencing ‘technical difficulties.’ The TechnoOmens were looking good too. Result!

Going up to the Cathedral was a bit of a surprise because to be honest it was the first time I had ever felt the urge to actually see it close up. There was a half remembered drunken incident in and around November 1974. I think we called it the “Great City of London Bomb Blast Pub Crawl” But everything was a bit of a blur and when you gotta…

Navigating your way through the souless streets. With glass to the left and shiny steel to the right. Suddenly you turn a corner. And it looks like a bit of the Cathedral has broken off! As if some passing giant has has taken a fancy to a chunk, snapped it off and then discarded it like an empty ice cream cone made out of Portland stone.

Further on, past some very useful impromptu weapons or the makings of a very good bonfire. [Old habits die hard.] Your “Voice from the Outer World” rounded the corner into an expectant crowd and, unsurprisingly, the expectant energy was palpable.

But to Business! I was on a mission to see a man. Who it was is unimportant. However there was a nice Anonymous butler who was able to direct me to where The Man might be found. “Not in!” “Busy last night.” “He may have crashed.” Having helped run a few S.F. Conventions in my time: I was not too surprised. Indeed the dedication and purposeful activity of a thoroughly Occupied Hotel was very much in evidence. Even though it was in a Churchyard.

Distributing some real hugs and prezzies to make up for all the virtual ones over the last two weeks. And it had been just two weeks. So it was back to: “Whose Space? Our Space!” Where I bumped into a very engaging woman who turned out to be The Man’s PA! The conversation ranged from The Prisoner to Paganism with a little Politics thrown in.

Well you ‘ave to…

Monologue: On to the other Business of the day. Which started superbly and ended in a bit of a mess. It has been reported accurately elsewhere, even in some outlets of the mainstream media. But I must bear witness that although “good” = “god + o”; god + £ = gold! Putting aside such word play: I think that The Bishop actually does have a heart of gold and ultimately will be the solution to the little crisis of faith that the C of E is experiencing at the moment. Remember they have to reach Consensus too. Perhaps we can give then some training in our ways that might Facilitate the process.

Alas The Dean is less malleable. Possibly some of that discarded Portland stone. But to be charitable in a “caritatis” sort of way: he is inbetween a rock and a hard place. And possibly blaming the protestors for being put on the spot. Well we are putting him on the spot. But through no fault of our own!

“Answer the question” Dean. “Answer the Question.” No. Don’t ask your Head. Ask your Heart instead and answer: The Question.

Ultimately for this witness it comes down to whether the modern Church renounces violence. Or acting in such a way so as to cause violence. That is a conundrum for the Church to resolve. And for the Occupiers to prepare for.

Dialogue: Visiting a Process meeting, happened almost by accident but I had overheard; wandered by and got sucked in. Participatory democracy is like that: anyone of us has a problem (or two) but everyone can come up with a solution. It’s a new way of doing things and I must admit totally different from my days in Trade Unionism where you simply did not have the time to come to a Consensus. Alas it was always: Compromise. Compromise. Compromise. and we are were we are!  However, because of where I was, at that particular moment in Time and Space: I was able to sign a nice card that the Occupation had bought for the ex Cannon [sic] Giles.

After that it was a quick trip into Starbucks to see what the HIGNFY fuss was all about! Interesting. It gave me ideas… Waiting Is!

Consensus is not an easy process and coming to a collective decision, especially over complex issues may take some time. But it seems to be working. Naturally as a Left brained Scientist it can be made more efficient. But my Right brained Artist suggests that this system should be allowed to evolve organically. Indeed it behoves us, as a nation, as a species: to create the space and spaces for this movement to grow. I think that it is the genesis of a new political system. Direct Democracy. Consensus Politics. There will be a lot of labels as useless as “Anti-Capitalists.” Or from my student days: “Mooching Scum!”

I can’t speak for them (Us:) We’re are not allowed to! But it is my humble opinion it is time to end this global corporatist neo-feudal state. And I have met a huge crowd of fellow travellers. The Movement building out from all the Occupations worldwide might just do that and that is why the onepercenters and their shills are so afraid.

The evening ended with a totally unexpected heart to heart chat with one of the Occupiers with too many problems and too little time. Go down there. Join in and give them a hand.

You’ll be a changed person for it. I was.

Epilogue: Back to reality street. The bits of ice cream stone seemed to have melted in the night. And the St Paul’s ticket machines were ticketing as usual. Apparently they had been down for about three hours.

A sign from God? Or Loki just for the lulz…

“Waiting Is” Martian concept of contemplative waiting from R.A. Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land”


Now we see the violence inherent in the system.

April 21, 2011

An open letter to Khalid IzzelDin et al
Sorry for the delay in response but I was asleep! (Global Village and all that sort of thing…)

@brobof as you said no one person can truly represent all. No one on the roundabout represented me from day 1. #againstprotests #Bahrain

@brobof that is why if before going to the roundabout someone asked me what I want I would have been more sympathetic. But I was ignored!

First you should have gone to the roundabout and engaged in the revolutionary political process. A rare opportunity to found a new broad spectrum political party was sadly crushed IMHO. Unfortunately in a real ‘mature’ democracy the political parties tend to set out their wares much like a merchant but, alas, when they get into power their goods tend to be faulty and even non-functional.
But, unlike a merchant, you can’t get a refund.
A case in point are the LibDems in the UK who PROMISED to vote “No!” to student fee increases but the moment they got into power.
It’s called a “U-turn”
So when a mass protest movement arises so does the opportunity for real change. Hamad if he was a wise ruler would have seized the opportunity to advance his nation in the process. But we both know that another neighbouring Royal Family would NEVER allow that.

So back to the Lulu Party! At one stage I was in communication with someone claiming to be close to the CP and were trying to get around the ‘protocol’ of his arrival there. Incognito.

Imagine that for a political statement.

However he was prevented by you know who. But there were many Sunnis, ExPats and totally non sectarian individuals who wanted to join in the revolutionary movement. The latter are rare and fragile beasts but their transformative powers profound. Once a revolutionary movement is born it NEVER dies. It may not be successful but many Aristocracies and Autocracies have fallen because of it.
It becomes only a matter of time. Short of mass murder and genocide. egs Charles I, Louis XVI,… Stalin, Pol Pot, Pinochet, …Gadaffi And they all failed in the end.

@brobof Violent protesters scared me and my family! Bandits, vigilantes, and vandals! No sympathy from me! #againstProtests I wanted Police.

Well if they threatened you personally then: “Yes!” But then you would have to have been on the front line of your ex-pat state police. I have yet to read of any substantiated account similar to the daily violence being inflicted on the Shia villages every night. Or the violence carried out on the officially approved opposition. Barring of course the state media: BTV and the GDN. I suspect that this ‘violence’ was second hand via these self same sources but please correct me of this contention if, in fact, a single member of your family was actually attacked, threatened or otherwise harmed in a manner similar to the way that the protestors are currently being threatened attacked and, in some cases, killed. Or indeed if your car was smashed up, your house firebombed, or your father, uncle and son dragged away by masked men speaking with a foreign accent.
Whilst violence is to be deplored. Violence on the citizen BY THE STATE is to be condemned. You would at least agree with me there.

@brobof I am #againstProtests in #Bahrain because protesters wanted to takeover and rule me. I don’t want them to rule, I don’t trust them.

Then you don’t want a democracy. “Rulers” went out of fashion in the Middle Ages shortly after the Black Death. Their final nail in the coffin came with the beheading of Charles! Thereafter: “the ones that Govern do so by the accord of the Governed.” Those that forget this axiom often get beheaded: Louis XIV . Or shot: Nicholas II. Most Royal families in western democracies now keep their heads down and are respected for it!

@brobof #KingHamad #Bahrain is the only one I trust to rule uniting all components of #Bahrain since #ConstitutionalMonarchy with elections.

You don’t have a Constitutional Monarchy: Hamad abrogated its foundation (1973) and still has absolute power. Article 33 [Head of State, Powers]. You don’t have to trust him he just “is.” By dictat.
And just how many al-Khalifa’s have you in positions of power? I would contend that the actual Govt. of Bahrain actually resembles a Mafia Family Business. Do you trust all of ’em? Sometimes this blind loyalty simply astounds me. Whilst people in the U.K. have a great deal of respect for the Queen, they have very little for the heir apparent and even less for the Queen Consort. Republicanism is very much alive here. It’s just biding it’s time and waiting for Royal Excess.
Gerrymandered elections aside the Bahraini Parliament is a toothless, tissue thin pretext of real politics.

@brobof a country as small as #Bahrain can’t Progress without Peace, Security, and Order. This public assembly terrorized rest of Bahrain!

It might have ‘terrorised’ the PM when it looked like the CP was agreeing that it was time for a new Prime Minister! (Ahem! Article 67 [Limitations] Point a.)
However for the bulk of the population: I would contend that they were mildly inconvenienced but repeatedly ‘terrorised’ by ‘terror’ reports by BTV and non-credible State spokespersons concerning the ‘terrorists’. When a government turns to lies and propaganda ANYTHING it states is void. Perhaps 30 years will pass before Bahrainiis will be allowed to discover who the real ‘terrorists’ were. But I suspect that even you know the truth just as do: the CIA, HRW, Amnesty International, the UN and many other bodies.
I would further suggest that that “Peace, Security and Order” implemented as people are dragged off in the middle of the night, harrassed at check points, killed in custody, subject to secret military trials without due process,… is not the sort of “Peace, Security and Order” of a vibrant Democracy. It is at best the “Peace, Security and Order” of repressive totalitarian state of the sort that Stalin enacted. Indeed “Peace, Security and Order” at the point of a gun is classic Orwellian DoubleThink.
BTV = MiniTru!

@brobof I’m not stupid enough to let any one group go protest decide to go rule an let them rule #Bahrain! Where’s my voice? Isn’t it civil?

In a democracy the majority rules. End of story. However in a mature democracy this is modified by various interest groups, lobbiests, and a whole bunch of other stuff to prevent excess.
But under an absolute autocrat with absolute power you have no voice. Indeed under your current imposed Constitution the mandatory respect for the King is absolute. Article 89 [Representation, Immunity]
On a lighter note I would direct you to this:
Which explains where real power comes from.


No Dice

July 27, 2010

“Freelancer” – a personal view.

Having been an S.F. Fan from before I was born (I inherited the gene from my father) … any Space Related Game always tempts me. Put a rocket ship on it and generally you have a sale! However being a computer gaming klutz who still gets beaten by Pong, I have always steered clear of first person shoot em ups: Lacking the killer instinct and lightning fast keyboard skills required for this sort of thing. Hunting and pecking on the keyboard even for WASD is not a viable way to survive in a combat zone. “Q” where’s “Q?” Thus I have tended to stick to the strategy games. However a friend (Thanks DT;) lent me his copy and suggested I have a go. And I did for about four days of hardcore testing. Pushing the boundaries of the mechanics. And the limits of my patience.

The game won.

So in order to get something positive out of the experience. Here is a review. Wholly personal. Largely negative!

As an initial nitpick (see below) …I would have called the game: “Teetotaler” for, despite almost all the out of combat action taking place in a Bar, Trent never gets a drink! Except an inital freebie when he arrives onto the scene. Personally knowing what I know now I would have hired on as a hand on the first transport back to my home system…

My experience can be summed up in three ‘uns’ : Uncomforting. Unconsistant. Unsatisfying. (With apologies to the Queen’s English!)


The setting is relentlessly distopian (may contain spoilers) escaping endless wars on Earth the losers settle the Sirius system [1]… Where they go about continuing the process!
The singular character “Trent” arrives in the Liberty Systems settled by Americans [2]. The regime: a relentless police state where all the planets are run and owned by the Liberty Police Inc which is at liberty to create its own laws and seemingly designer drugs! Within about an hour of game play this Freelancer wanted to kill all the ‘good guys’ and join the motley crew of Rogues, Junkers, Xenos, Lane Hackers and Outcasts to bring the whole rotten regime down. Indeed the introductory sequence of  missions would seem to indicate three occasions where a singular actor can turn on their benefactor and turn the tide in favour of the opposition. Thus unlocking an entrée into the counter-culture. Alas despite pounding away at my wingman [Mission 1] I was curiously unable to kill him and pounding away at the prison ship I was supposed to protect [Mission 2]; merely produced a “Mission Failure: You fired on a friendly object.” Along with Captain Nemo I don’t regard prison ships as “friendly objects!”
And there you have it. Freelancer is predicated on the genocidal destruction of ‘terrorists’ (vide freedom fighters) and your only option is to freelance for the IDF! Whilst one can compromise by going for non lethal ‘kills’. I.e. destroying the ship and tractoring in the Escape Pod; the main method of making money is assassination and/ or mass murder[3]. Having designed real game settings for some forty odd years, I could have made any number of suggestions to make the setting more palatable. Indeed the provision of names and screams of the dying are a distinct personal turn off. You know that these people don’t have an Escape Pod. If you have to kill anything in my book: make it a zombie as it is dead already!


Despite being a 3D game, which it does in a workmanlike fashion, Freelancer is hopelessly planar. The local star map is flat which is really poor since an additional rotatable 3D display animation would have been well within the programming power at the time. Similarly the pretty planets, space stations, pirate bases, asteroid fields, dark matter clouds and assorted debris fields seemingly float in a flat plane within their individual systems. There are no orbital mechanics of any description. Or gravity. Annoyingly every time you enter a Gate or a Station or any other game node you have to wait for the game to right your ship into the ‘local horizontal’ before you can dock. During this needless process you still get shot at. Thus the setting is too unreal for this space cadet for whom physics comes first. To quote Montgomery Scott: “Ye canna change the laws of physics…” Or I would add: Basic Newtonian mechanics.
A simple remedy would have been to advance the timeline by say: 1000 years; use pocket universes and artifactual systems in gravitationally maintained Kempler Rosettes and other such orbital oddities. Obviously the designers had never read Phillip Jose Farmer or, curiously: Larry Niven!
However the internal inconsistancies are far worse. Apart from the horrendous misuse of particle physics, astronomical terms and almost every SF cliche in the book. My main contention is fundamental. Freelancer is based around the concept of Interstellar Trade Gates and In-System Trade Lanes manufactured and maintained by a Multi-System Corporate State. Both are very ‘whooshy’ and bright and needlessly assault both eyes and ears.

Maybe it’s my age.

However as a ‘real’ transport system they fail. Any Star Trader or mathematician in Euclidian Space will tell you: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. And Freelancer is positively Cartesian when it comes to ‘offical’ non-combat orientated travel. The transportation network is a non-starter bearing in mind all the stopping and starting and local horizontaling every time you enter or leave a Trade Lane or a Gate. Not to mention the Lane Hacking and the pirate attacks at each node. Or worse still, close inspection by the Police/Navy… it is quicker and quieter just to go your own way. Have a doze at the con or a can of ‘Liberty Ale’; listening out for any hostile chatter on the open comms. The sound track is also a big giveaway. Outside of both the in game and out of game ‘fuss’ of the Trade Lanes, it’s generally a case of using “Go To” and using the out of game time to read a book; work on another computer or my fave: making a cuppa. If you do get killed you can always replay the bit that went wrong. But this rarely happens as out in deep space all the usual hostiles are neutral. I have formation flown with Rogues with whom, only a few minutes previously, I have been involved in a desperate dogfight! Huh! As Spock would say: “Illogical Captain Trent.”
Mooching around a Pirate Base with a hold full of Gold is a different matter…

Attention people and Game Designers in particular: in the real (3D) universe you can select a huge number of trajectories and thus rarely run into any trouble until you get to your destination. As the old sailor adage has it: the problems get bigger the closer you get to shore! Just as there are multiple courses to a home port, there are any number of transfer orbits to Space Dock. Even Hohmann ones!
It is this fundamental fault in the game concept that finally ‘did it’ for me. Apart from the preceeding battle during which this keybord klutz has died and died and died and…. died! The lead character “Little Miss Trouble” tells us to head for the Badlands. A pleasant purple cloud with pointy obsidian asteroids. And hull rotting radiation? Hint: Set a way point and bug out if the Outcasts get a lock. (I tried to hail and join but they just won’t listen.) But LMT and the game insists on using the Trade Lanes. The obvious route is to turn up the thrust to max, drop every mine & counter measure you have and run for it! IN A STRAIGHT LINE. Jinking to avoid the occasional incoming. But no. You have to use their ridiculous transport system and get killed. Every frakking time. Even the Rogues don’t do that and they are pretty stupid!
But it gets worse. “Freelancer.” It says it on the box. You can keep declining LMT’s ‘Missions’ (to move their hackneyed plot along) but the game mechanic locks you out. Or rather in!
Despite declining her offer again and again and again and… the game still locks you into yet another opportunity to decline. Eventually it doesn’t even allow you that and locks you into the Mission anyway. No matter where you are. I have been en route from an outpost in an entirely different system; only for the game to assume that I am in the system related to LMT’s latest Mission and locked out of all Gates! Presumably they don’t mesh with the program’s ‘reality.’ If that was a glitch then it was bad programming. If it was intentional then that is damning programming by my book. If the designers had any inclination to the stated motivations of their lead character. His second action; after discovering that his previous deal had fallen through would be to make enough cash for a first class ticket back to the civilised Bretonia systems where, somehow, he managed to collect his American accent!

I defy anyone with any SF Roleplaying experience from Traveller to Fading Suns to have done anything else.


Despite the promise the trading option is a poor one, a very poor one. There is no factor for long haul. Goods are moved from point to point: flatly, accruing value as they move from source to destination. With no real regard for distance and/ or trouble involved. Commodity pricing does not seem to fluctuate even after massive deliveries. Indeed fuel cost is free, despite being a commodity! Go figure.

Oh and they still shoot at you no matter what cargo you are carrying.

As for the combat: even if I were a teenage kill freak with a yen for blowing people into radioactive debris for no meaningful reason; the game still lacks in the interest department. The dogfight simulator is very good. And the Head Up Display superb. Point & Click Piloting is one of the best I have seen and surprisingly even usable by this keyboard klutz. Which is a first! But after a few they all feel so much the same. There is little variety and as one reviewer has stated: dogfighting ceases to be exciting and becomes a chore. Even worse to get better weapons and out of Liberty, you need to have a higher “Level.” I find this mechanic most objectional. Personally I blame D&D for that kludge. And to gain a Level you need to complete missions that are either personally objectionable or of guaranteed lethality at my level of skill. Thus knowing that no matter how much time I practice, I will never win. And that the game makes no allowances for slow reaction times… Towards the end I would merely blast out into the void and look at the scenery. If trouble found my way usually the game would send its own (LPI/Navy/Bounty Hunters) enforcers to deal. A game where the only thing you want to do is nothing is not worth playing. IMHO.
1: As any astronomer will tell you the Sirius system only contains two stars and neither are likely to host planets capable of supporting life. I HATE games that pick on a real astronomical term …and then use it wrongly. No excuse. This is simple disinformation. FAIL.
2: The game is relentlesly voiced by Americans even the Bretonians (English) Rheinlanders (German) and Kusari (Japanese) were all voiced by American accents. Laughably so.
3: The attrition rate is unbelievable even if the Freedom Fighters were using accelerated cloning technology the ‘birth rate’ could never keep up. From the firepower concentrated on them, the genocide would be over in a few years.


A Trial version is here


(The zip file scanned by Avast seems to be O.K. But “Caveat Downloador.” The MS link is busted… typical!)

Freelancer has been extensively Modded:


(Maxima Caveat Downloador 🙂

Modding Tutorials:


My friend paid £1. 99 in Oxfam. I think he was robbed!

However this is what I want for Xmas:


Fine tune everything and then… Blammo!!! Watch out Universe here I come.



July 17, 2010

Low Earth to Geosynchronous Orbital Spacecraft

One of the oft quoted memes, usually by proper rocket scientists to armchair astronauts, is that “Rockets are not LEGOs.” But what if they WERE!

For this to work we must assume a New World Order. As I write the world is in the process of designing no less than six different space to ground [S2G] ballistic capsules:  Orion CEV (NASA);  PPTS (RKA); Dragon (SpaceX); ARV (ESA); ‘Ratri [1] ‘ (ISRO); CST-100 (Boeing).  The capsules already in service Shenzhou (CNSA) and Soyuz (RKA) bring this total to eight. The DreamChaser(SpaceDev) -not a capsule- makes nine. Talk about needless duplication of effort!

So for the purposes of this thought experiment, this Future Historian assumes that “The Collapse” has happened: a confluence of resource depletion; water wars; global warming; eco-collapse and a mass extinction of the human population. Hurrah! The survivors have picked themselves up, formed a stable world govenment/ workers paradise and discovered they have one last chance to get Out of the Cradle. If they mess it up this time there are no second chances and the future is a one planet culture until the Sun inflates and makes us ALL a Galactic Might Have Been. Alternatively if we can avoid all that sort of thing. This sort of thing might be a sensible way forward.

First stage. Cheap access to space: Skylon. Crash program. NOW! Sorted.

O.K. Perhaps a two stage to orbit variant or even an equatorial Mag Lev launch track at high altitude to further improve efficiency. But I digress…

Without cheap access to space we remain DOOMED. Disposable rockets are an unsustainable technology. Heavy Lift an unsupportable technology. A reusable launch system remains our only long term option.

Now what does it launch so that we can harvest the Asteroids and start to incorporate the resources of the Solar System into our worker’s paradise?

Second Stage. Modular space craft: LEGOS.

The following borrows heavily from the:

“Soyuz Evolution: Vestrecha “Reunion”- a series of long term and long duration manned space utility vehicles (SUVs)” (Anglo-Russian Co-op., Project Congreve.)

All crewed SUV modules:

  • fit inside a nominal 5 cubic metre box with notional interconnects on the faces of that box
  • have at least one next generation: androgenous and active autonomous docking system [A4DS]
  • are capable of remote operation and autonomous rendezvous and docking
  • at least one Universal Common Berthing Mechanism hatch with a 130 cm square opening. (Just to be different!)
  • internal whipple shields for orbital debris
  • external attachments for kevlar / thermal padding, cable routers, handholds, Space Station Remote Manipulator [SSRMS] grapple fixture (or equivalent)
  • integrated power systems inc. solar array (detachable); batteries (rechargable and replacable); mechanical charger (emergency); power bus (universal)
  • integrated and automatic power inter-connectors between modules providing a universal bus
  • a wired backup for communications and computing via the universal bus
  • integrated wireless communications and computing network
  • integrated thermal control cooling loop and automatic inter-connectors between modules
  • an emergency distress beacon
  • minimal ship to ship, ship to ground communications
  • limited life support: CO2 scrubbers; oxygen reserve; emergency food and water supply

and critically

  • long term durability in the space environment. Entirely space based, all systems would be re-designed to maximise ease of maintenance and repair in zero-gee: externally and internally.

Crew Modules
Vs-G Orbital Command Module [2 x A4DS] “Gagarin” At present the CEV/ PPTS re-entry module and command module are one and the same. The Vs-G has the re-entry capabilities removed but retains and extends those required for orbital manoeuvre: navigational platform; command, control and communications; integrated attitude control systems and wireless links to remote attitude and main manoeuvre rocket motors. Includes: workstations for ROV operations: minimal personal  hygiene compartment, extended life support, food storage and reconstitution facility. Normally docked to an upgraded Service and Propulsion Modules (u.i.), the VsG is thus provided with power, life support services [LSS], tankage and motor capacity for long duration flights with minimal crew (2 fixed seats). Short duration crew (fittings for 10 minimal acceleration hammocks) for transport between stations, habitats, deep space vessels or free flying platforms, from a deep space vessel to the surface of an asteroid;… and as an emergency return of crew (as many as can be crammed in) from the Lunar Orbital Outpost; L1/ L2 Gateways or other cis-lunar habitats. The VsG would include the latest in ‘fly by wire’ and auto-piloting/ naive operations support. Whilst various standard operations: in flight refuelling; rendezvous; docking; course correction and other critical operations will be manually achievable by suitably trained pilots; they should be rarely required!

Vs-L Orbital Work Module [1 x A4DS, 1 Airlock Hatch] “Leonov” An enlarged version of the Pirs/Poisk orbital module this becomes the location of hazardous activities: notably the Mk. X zero gee Toilet [2].
Module has internal fittings for four Next Gen SpaceSuits and MMUs; equipment for the recharge and maintenance of same; a separately pressurised vestibule for EVA preparations; airlock;…  Also standard fittings for Univeral Standard Payload Rack used for potentially hazardous experimental packages. Module has external fittings for EVA support including inflatable vacuum porch and illuminated external work platform. EVA consumables resupply, equipment storage,…

Vs-K Orbital Habitation Module [1 x A4DS] “Krikalev” This Module evolved to become a ‘safe haven’ with better radiation protection; Closed Loop Life Support  Systems [CLLSS]; compact zero gee kitchen, food storage and mess; group entertainment/briefing/’window’;  personal hygiene facilities: toilet and fresher. Provides accommodation for four (to eight) additional passengers. This may be adapted from the proposed conversion of the Integrated Cargo Carrier (ATV) into a “Habitation Module” as part of the PPTS.

Vs-V Lobby Module [6 x A4DS] “Volynov” Non-maneuverable. Largely identical to the proposed Russian multiple docking node with six UCBM docking ports/ hatches. Integrated power and life support nodes. Enables the construction of multi-module craft specialised for long duration missions.  Exterior has even more external attachments for cables.

Vs-F Repair and Construction Module [1 x A4DS, 1 Airlock Hatch] “Feoktistov” A specialised combination of the Vs-G and Vs-L optimised as a “shirt sleeve” construction tug for ‘hands-on’ large scale projects: SPS deployment; Habitat construction; recovery of spent kick stages; transportation of small asteroids;… Exterior has attachment points for a variety of remote manipulators and external tool kits.

Vs-B Re-entry Module [1 x A4DS, 1 Escape Hatch] “Belyayev” An enlarged version of proposed CEV/ PPTS re-entry modules with a long life de-orbit solid/ hypergol retro pack; hypergolic attitude control thrusters; ballute; parafoil wing; flotation bags; landing thrusters;… This Module is evolved to become capable of naive Space to Ground (S2G) transfers with an automatic re-entry capability; carrying incapacitated crew (minimally seven), or just a single frightened tourist! Initially only the interior fittings will be reuseable. With modifications, eventually valuable exterior sub-assemblies should be capable of re-use. Ultimately utilising a disposable aeroshell or ballute the Vs-B core will be wholly reusable. Range: anywhere in cis Lunar Space. Evolving to Cis Terran Space (SEL1 to SEL2).

Vs-T Greenhouse Module [2 x A4DS] “Tsiolkovski” In addition to the extensive CLLSS systems, this human tended module would contain a hydroponics facility not only for fresh foods: herbs, spices and other high value plants but an essential ‘connection’ with nature.  Carniculture and myco-protein reactors would be supported by aquaculture tanks located toroidally around the module providing radiation protection and a source of fresh protein.

Other Modules would support a Spin component. Notably a Vs-V Spin Isolation Hub with four hatches to two, or four, spin modules incorporating tether mechanisms. Once sealed and lowered into place, these modules could provide: Medical, Gymnastic, Hygiene, Experimental and other facilities where spin gravity is required. These would either incorporate a counter spinning flywheel  or on larger deep space vessels be installed as counter rotating pairs.

Support Modules

The form and function of the existing Soyuz service module [PAO] and all proposed Service Modules are divided into separate propulsion and life support modules. Both provide power via solar arrays, batteries and fuel cells; naturally feeding into the universal power bus.

Vs-N Long Endurance Chemical Propulsion Module “Nikolayev” [1 x A4DS] Requires Orbital Propellant Repository [OPR], International Space Station [ISS]; Lunar Orbiting Outpost [LOO], Nearside Station [EML-1] Farside Station [EML-2] and eventually transportation nodes beyond. Currently the Soyuz has a ‘life in orbit’ of six months with plans to extend to one year. This relatively short period of ‘cool soaking’ must be extended to a full ‘cold soak’. Ultimately with an indefinite duration ‘cryo soak’. Initially using ‘green’ hypergolics and then ‘zero boil off’ LOX/LCH4[3] tankage; used for both main propulsion and RCS. Propulsive systems and flight electronics must be capable of being prepared for a prolonged ‘cryo soak’. In a similar manner to that of a family leaving the house for an extended winter holiday: the plumbing is drained of highly diffusable helium, cryo-propellants LOX (54.36 °K ) LCH4 (91 °K) ,… temperature sensitive equipment will be buffered using a suitable fluid, circulated via radiators, to maintain an even temperature; gyros will be spun down; most of the solar arrays retracted; batteries set to trickle charge from a singular array or external source;… In this condition the module will be capable of being docked to some facility as a last resort backup; a non-emergency return vehicle  (LOO) or spare rescue craft (ISS).

Vs-P Long Endurance Service Module “Polyakov” [2 x A4DS] Principally applied to non-closed chemical and mechanical methods of life support. Whilst attached to a node in a ‘warm soak’ would see the principle consumable: water plumbed in as part of the CLLSS or as radiation protection of that node. For a ‘cold soak’ the water would be drained while other systems: atmospheric filters, CO2 scrubbers, would be robust enough to withstand the cold. Electronics and sensitive mechanical systems would be buffered in a similar manner to those of the VsN. This module would not only provide LSS for  spacecraft returning from a distant target but also act as emergency LSS attached to a free flying orbital outpost/ space refuge attached to an automated facility.

Vs-S Long Range Chemical Propulsion Module “Sevastyanov” [1 x A4DS] Studies have shown that a nuclear engine is too mass intensive for short duration/ short haul missions. Short of a breakthrough beyond existing studies, notably: LANTR (Lox Augmented Nuclear Thermal Rocket); TRITON (Pratt Whitney Rocketdyne [pdf]) or a Nuclear powered VASIMR (Ad Astra Rocket Company) Or public acceptance of, say, a next generation pulsed bomblet system such as  MiniMag Orion; the routine operation of a nuclear vessel in cis-lunar space is unlikely. Even when the exploration of NEO asteroids, the moons of Mars and the industrialisation of the Main Belt takes place; there still will be a place for a LOX/LCH4 motor optimised to the space environment. Especially if the propellants concerned can be obtained off Earth: utilising an atmosphere skimming Hydrogen propellant factory PROFAC and lunar derived oxygen LUNOX. The starting point is an upgrade of the wide belled Apollo Service Module engine: burning LOX/LCH4 upscaled from the XCOR/ATK Methane Motor.
In addition to the durability and reliability obtained from the Long Duration variation; this Module should be capable of being repaired a long way from any orbital ‘spacedock’. The module comprises multiple motors/ nozzles and a core ‘inboard’ propellant capacity, complemented by attachment points for stageable external tanks. The latter could carry beacons to allow eventual recovery/ reuse.

(VsT+ Long Range Service Module ) “Tsiolkovski Mk2” Long term life support will probably require more than just tankage and will require regular access for sowing, weeding, pruning, harvesting and general tender loving care. Resembling his “cosmic greenhouse” this module will be largely uncrewed with a CO2 rich and water saturated atmosphere.)

Long Range Ion Propulsion Module An autonomous SEP Tug based on the CLIPPER Program.

From the above Modules a variety of Space Utility Vehicles can be configured in orbit suited to the task at hand. Large scale passenger transit can be achieved by a cluster of Vs-K attached to a Vs-G+Vs-N; emergency repairs by a Vs-F; refurbishment of a free flying facility by a Vs-L and a Lunar Orbiting Outpost (LOO) constructed by an appropriate assembly of modules integrated to the Lunar Orbital Propellant Repository (LPR). Similarly stations at the various Lagrangian points gain modularity, redundancy and reconfigurability. Such Modules also become the basis for bases on Phobos & Deimos and other NEOs until we start to terraform these worldlets into habitats!


1: This author’s designation: Hindu goddess of Night.

2: Space Potty humour

3: LH is just too volatile and valuable to be wasted as ‘boil-off’!


“The British, the British. Their Boffins are the Best…

July 6, 2010

…I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest”

(A Song of Patriotic Prejudice, Flanders and Swann)

This slightly amended expanded post was inspired by American inquiries as to the latest on the Mini-Magnetospheres experiment that made the Space Blogs abuzz (2) (3) almost two years back:

New spaceship force field makes Mars trip possible

Rather than derail the thread any further 😉 I decided to post this update/ reply/ sloppy piece of partisan hyperbole here.

Alas no new news from Rutherford-Appleton. Which may be good news! The original paper was proof of concept.  With funding (the magic word!) the next stage is a working model (1) and more importantly a facility to test it. Generating a solar strength plasma is in IMHO the REAL challenge! From what I understand the team reckon about 5 years (say 10) to turn the working prototype into space capable hardware. Then we would need to test it, BEO, on mice and (then) old men.
I say (handwaving) that the 2020 timesale fits.  (Solar Max is around 2022 so bad solar flares  😦 but less GCRs 🙂 Swings and Roundabouts.

As for details? Sorry this is British Boffinry. Like the Jet Engine, Apollo Fuel cells, …Skylon. This is one of the disruptive technologies we will invent. Only to have our Government: ignore it. Then underfund it. And then fail to capitalise on it commercially. Then slap a D-Notice on it stating “National security.” And then hope that everyone else ignores it too.

Why? Because it is Science and our Politicians don’t do Science because they are Stupid. This especially true with Space Science. To understand even a smidgen about Space Science you have to be really really clever. At about the level of your 7th Grade. This embarasses our Polititians as they are just not that clever.

I would add that although we British do not have a space program per se. We like to think that our under funded, under resourced under appreciated boffins do our bleeding edge ‘bit.’
Examples: Ion engines on GOCE; impact penetrometer and an accelerometer on Huygens (Titan lander) and the super conducting magnets in VASIMR! (4) Also our MilComSatNet: “Skynet” 😉

I would add that we have our ‘bits and pieces” on Planck.
(1) http://www.minimagnetospheres.org/
(2) http://environmentalresearchweb.org/cws/article/yournews/36558
(3) http://www.universetoday.com/2008/11/04/ion-shield-for-interplanetary-spaceships-now-a-reality/
(4) http://www.adastrarocket.com/Release060309final.pdf

I thank you for your tolerance 🙂

This post acts as a prolog to the next: Why Solar Flares are good for us.


Why Solar Flares are good for you

July 6, 2010

Well Our Sun has been usually quiet but that’s the Solar Cycle for you. There are no sunspots for months on end… and then three come along at once. We shall see if the predictions of a Dalton Minimum or even a Maunder Minimum play out to be a load of cold air. And, as the cycle ramps up, put paid to the Skeptics who believe that the solar output has a greater climate forcing function than we do!
(Personally I think it’s all bad!)
Even in scientific circles it is tempting to use sensationalism about the Sun shutting down or alternatively frying our power grids. This sensible article restores some balance to the subject.

This sensationalist (see title above!) believes that it is, in part, due to the large number of Solar Eyes we now have in place:

Link to animated gif


  • SOHO still giving us some great data and lovely images (Ro.)
  • STEREO providing the now obligatory third dimension
    and the new kid on orbit:
  • SDO The latter links to an awesome home page that provides live pictures of the surface of Sol! With a zoom feature and multispectral filter.
  • As well as PICARD; HINODE; RHESSI et al

With such an abundance of data, it is easy to get carried away. Like IKAROS. Yo Ho Ho!

So why all the hardware? Well apart from the dangers of an over- or under-heated primary and the fact that an erupting sun makes for some awesome public outreach. With a bit of luck sometime during the next solar maximum we will be venturing out beyond the cosy blanket of our Earth’s magnetosphere. The magnetic screen that protects Gaia and her extensions such as the humans aboard the ISS from the worst excesses of an angry sun…

But I hear you say “Hang on a minute you said Solar Maximum! Surely we should travel during a Solar MINIMUM.”

Well you would be right. In a perfect Universe. But there are a lot of other Suns out there: some of them very nasty indeed. Also colliding supermassive black holes, magnetars and other such exotica that throw out what are called Galactic Cosmic Rays. [GCRs] Now whilst a solar flare or coronal mass ejection [CME] are pretty bad, these two types of Solar Particle /Proton Event [SPE] do not have the penetrating power of a GCR. Which, according to Wikipedia, have energies (measured in Electron Volts) …so high that no known natural process could have created them!

If a SPE produces proton bullets, these GCRs are heavy metal cannonballs: stripped nuclei of elements ranging from hydrogen up to iron; with some exotics from even higher up the atomic mass scale!

To take the analogy further: a machine gun bullet is easier to stop than a cannon ball. As the SPE energies are, on average, lower than those of an individual GCR. Also in the Cosmic Battlefield Beyond Earth Orbit [CBBEO] a spray of bullets from a SMG (Solar Machine Gun) will kill you but… here the analogy breaks down. Whilst on the terrestrial battlefield the effects of human vs cannonball are …messy; the chances of being hit by a cannonball are markedly less than that of being hit by a machine gun bullet. More significantly whilst a GCR will cause significant cellular damage, the body can repair itself. At a biochemical level: the damage to DNA could trigger cancer or inherited genetic defects. However both these effects can be mitigated. Either with post mission scanning and prompt oncological techniques. Or techniques commonly used by in-vitro fertilisation labs all over the world. Should a mission require astronauts still wanting children even at the end destination(?) It would be a simple task to produce some viable embryos, freeze them down and store in a radiation hardened medical space located in the ‘storm cellar’ within the space craft. On arrival at the colony: implant and gestate to taste!

As to the long term effects of GCRs the jury is still out. Only 27 humans: the Apollo Astronauts have ventured beyond our magnetosphere through the Van Allen Radiation Belts and out into the CBBEO. Whilst dodging the SPE bullet, the solar storm of August 1972 during the gap between Apollo 16 and 17; all the astronauts encountered GCRs. Causing scintillations as they zipped through their eyeballs! Fortunately none of them seem to have experienced any lasting damage except a almost imperceptible increase in contracting cataracts and mild forms of cancer. However as a statistical sample, the population is too small and the exposure largely unmeasured.

A heavy and prolonged SPE is, however, lethal. Even a lesser event will cause the gamut of  symptoms of radiation poisoning. Ranging from slight nausea at around 50 milli Sieverts (Sv)  to radiation burns, bleeding from all orifices and death due to metabolic breakdown. (LD 50 is around 4 to 5 Sieverts.)

Now the above Solar Eyes and their successors will allow us to predict ‘inclement’ solar weather. But as for the GCRs that sleet across our solar system in all directions: there  is no warning. And to protect  a crew from all their effects would require positively herculean amounts of shielding. So much so, that vast amounts of fuel and massive engines would be required. Further complicating an already complex mission.

But to quote Wiki:
“The Mars Radiation Environment Experiment (MARIE) was launched in 2001 in order to collect more data. Estimates are that humans unshielded in interplanetary space would receive annually roughly 400 to 900 milli-Sieverts (mSv) (compared to 2.4 mSv on Earth) and that a Mars mission (12 months in flight and 18 months on Mars) might expose shielded astronauts to ~500 to 1000 mSv.[7] These doses approach the 1 to 4 Sv career limits advised by the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements for Low Earth orbit activities.”

But any radiation is to be avoided. Like compound interest, it is a killer!

So here we are in the middle of the CBBEO, SMG’s to the centre and GCRC’s in all directions. What is the poor spacegrunt to do. Well curiously nature has provided an answer. At the height of the Solar Maximum: the magnetic field strength of the solar system or “Heliosphere” is vastly increased and, just like our Magnetosphere, prevents many but not all of these GCR Cannonballs from entering the inner solar system. Perversely the safest time to travel to Mars or anywhere else is at the peak of the solar storm season! Hoping that the sun only flares and any CME is heading directly away from your path. My best guess: a set of sequential hydrocarbon rich walls filled with water surrounded by more hydrocarbon composite fuel tanks filled with methane or hydrogen reaction mass. A bit of advanced British Boffinry, light ship, a big engine and a short journey!

Nautical parallels abound and spacefarers will add to the legacy of their seafaring ancestors. We even have icebergs!

Of course we now know that the whole solar system is sailing; bobbing up and down as it circum-navigates our Home Galaxy. Some time ago we left the sunny doldrums of of the Local Bubble. Currently our Solar System is cruising the choppy waters of the Local Interstellar Cloud but what’s that ahead the G-Cloud?
We may be entering some rough waters. We have 1,000 – 100,000 years to get ready. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)

Some advanced reading: Galactic cosmic ray response to heliospheric environment changes and implications for cosmogenic isotope records.

V. Florinski and G.P. Zank



Brilliant! One cup of really hot tea and this appears on the Interwebs:”

Magic Anti-Radiation Curtain to be Installed in the ISS

Thus proving once again that all we really need to know is where our towel is!


Post Pulsar Post

June 2, 2010

“Pulsar” was the call sign given by Expedition 23 Commander Oleg Kotov to the Soyuz TMA-17 responsible for bringing them home. The following is a roundup of links to the landing for those that missed it.

Farewells and Hatch Closure
Useful video showing how the Russians K.I.S.S.

Undocking from the ISS
This video has several firsts for me. An occlusion of ‘da Moom’ by the Soyuz as it departs; followed by an orbital Moon Set as the ISS and Soyuz orbit round the curve of the Earth and a very wierd digital glitch that makes Pulsar look like it is leaking ‘smoke.’
The banter is good too!

The camera crews arrive at the landing site with some VERY trippy footage.

Sitting in State
At least the weather was better this time for the usual post landing presentation! Welcome home to Khazakstan and Earth: Oleg, T.J. Creamer and Soichi Noguchi.

Some captured images here:
Business End
Beautiful View
Moon Set
Smoking Hot
After a smooth (?) re-entry the Official NASA Photos by Bill Ingalls (Sequence of six.) First makes NASA Picture of the Day!

May I add my thanks to @geekygirlau, @bethbeck @charlesgalles and @ChrisAstro for their live tweets of the event. As, despite all my good intentions, I nevertheless managed to sleep through the re-entry!

This just in the Roskosmos Pictures