The Asteroid Initiatives Solar Scout CubeSat Explorer

Artist’s rendition of Asteroid Initiatives Solar Scoutâ„¢ CubeSat Explorer deploying Chipsat Sensors at a Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) a few million kilometers from the Earth.


These sensors (about the size of a credit card) will embed themselves in the asteroid (or go into or
bit around it) and measure the asteroid’s properties, such as the water and metal content of the body, its mass and magnetic field, and even its internal composition. This can be done for a fraction of the cost of similar measurements from a conventional spacecraft – the entire package (Solar Scout + chipsats and their deployment mechanism) would mass about 20 kg at launch. Asteroid Initiatives will make it possible for individuals to own their own sensor to be deployed at a asteroid.

Asteroid Initiatives will substantially lower the cost of asteroid prospecting by leveraging the technology already developed for cubesats, chipsats, and cubesat solar sails, with the Solar Scout being based on the NASA developed NEA Scout.

Before you can do asteroid mining, you have to do asteroid prospecting, and the Solar Scout will make prospecting affordable.


The Current Status of the “Anomalous Thrust” Results

There is a recent paper from the NASA / JSC “Eagle Works” that discusses “anomalous thrust” from various sorts of drives that (to be blunt) violate at least the conservation of linear momentum. These have gotten some breathless reports in the press (Nasa validates ‘impossible’ space drive
) and also the inevitable push back (How to fool the world with bad science)

I thought that the “bad science” take was pretty appropriate when all we had to go on was the conference abstract. Now, however, the full paper, Anomalous Thrust Production… (still not peer reviewed), is out, and it is much better. I still think it is wrong, but I do not think it is bad science, and it will, in my opinion, have to be refuted experimentally.


The “null thruster” in the abstract (which showed about the same effect as the test thruster) is something of a red herring. Reading the paper, they have a true “null load,” which shows no thrust, while the “null thruster” was a modification of a Cannae drive that was not supposed to produce thrust in the Cannae drive theory, and so this was more of a test of drive theory than the experimental setup. In any event, they tested several types of drives, and so weren’t dependent on the Cannae theory overall.

They did pretty much all of the things you would like to see as experimental checks, at least on a first read (such as reversing the direction and making sure the thrust reverses).

They seem to have done a thoughtful and careful job, including testing in vacuum and documenting what they were doing.

So, I still think they are likely wrong, but this ups the ante. In my opinion, you can’t just say “this is obviously wrong.” I bet there will be a bunch of attempts to replicate it in labs all over the place.

I find the theories here (and I have now read several in some depth) to be bad, either wrong, or handwavy, or both*. I would discount them entirely. In the unlikely event that this effect is real (and I mean, some non-standard physics effect), then the theory is likely to be something different than any of the proposals, The experiment’s the thing, and the game now has to be disproving the Eagleworks results. Only once a bunch of people have failed to do that (or one person has done it) is there much else to say.

* On pushing on virtual particles or quantum spacetime or whatever. These are 1 GHz photons, more or less. Such pushing would cause a _vacuum_ dispersion. Vacuum dispersion limits are set by timing of high energy photons from Gamma Ray Bursts across cosmic distances. These tests use ~ 100 MeV photons over ~10^10 light years, and so are many orders of magnitude tighter than the NASA Eagle Works results. This in my opinion rules out any photon – vacuum interaction as the cause of these anomalous thrusts.

The Moon passing in front of the Earth



This photo, from the Epoxi (or Deep Impact) spacecraft from 31 million miles away, shows the Moon transiting (i.e., passing in front of) the Earth. What strikes me is not the Earth (although notice the Sun glinting off of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans) but how dark and alien the Moon looks. The Moon may look white in the night sky, with nothing to compare it to, but it’s really about as dark as an asphalt parking lot, and that really shows in this picture.

This picture was the NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day for Sept 3, 2008.