Parallel to many people who have an interest in space and its realted technologies, I am a science fiction fan and I work in computing. I am not a trained scientist. Therefore, I appreciate my ideas may appear crude and rudimentary, but perhaps someone will think they contain informaiton that could be adapted?
We know that necessity is the mother of invention and this has been the source of many creative ideas, some of which have become reality, such as mobile phone technology and now, the smaller and more cost effective satellites that will hopefully eventually replace the larger antiquated satellite models.
I have a number of queries about what may or may not be possible in the future, based on available technology now. As the new UK ISIS has just opened, please feel free to forward my questions on to anyone who may specilise more in this field or want ot hear my ideas further.
I've already mentioned that I saw in recent news items that mobile phone technology has been leveraged in some satellites to make them smaller and easier and cheaper to launch.
(1) It also occurs to me that although we have not developed artificial intelligence yet, we must be (or almost) at the point where we can create an articial robot human drone (with no intelligence) that can be controlled remotely, either by WI like motion senosrs, or wearing some kind of Virtual Reality suit? The drone mimicks the action of the person wearing the suit or operating the controls. They have audio and visual feedback in real time.
The applications for this are boundless. Ones that occur to me immediately are:
Repairing space stations, satellites and clearing space debris.
Working in hazardous nuclear plants to help clear up leaks.
Rescuing people from burning buildings, arctic, mountain rescue, or any hazardous area.
Maybe even sorting through landfill to "mine" recyclable materials as this could also be hazardous to humans, but it would also make the operators jobs a little more interesting.
This could be a whole human, or perhaps just a torso, especially if being used in space.
(2) We all know that the majority of a rocket's fuel is expended in escaping the Earth's velocity. Therefore, the higher the point the rocet launches from, the less fuel is used. We have already seen similar things along the lines of shuttles being towed, or launching from the top of anohter plane. A re-usbale platform, perhaps powered by hydrogen or helium balloons could take a craft high enough to take off from. I don't know if the gas from the balloons could be pumped into the rocket fuel tanks before launch, whether they would need jettisoning away altogher, or ifit was safe to launch with them in the vicinity would all have to be worked out.
(3) If the above idea worked, perhaps nuclear waste could be floted up here and either shot off into the sun or into out space?
Anyway, I am always happy to discuss any of my ideas further and be told why it is not possible. To me, economics is often the major hurdle to voercome with any scientific development.
Thanks for your post! Interest in the site is always welcome :-)
To answer your points:
1) Sort of already exists. NASA has built a 'human torso robot' called Robonaut R2 to evaluate the use of humanoid robots alongside astronauts. It was launched to the ISS in February. See http://robonaut.jsc.nasa.gov/default.asp.
2) Balloon-lofted rockets already exist, and are called rockoons. Cambridge University Spaceflight was in the process of building one. They work ok for suborbital rockets, but to launch an orbital rocket with a useful payload, the required balloon would probably be unmanageably big. As soon as you started to pump fuel gas out of a balloon, it would start to fall ;-)
JP Aerospace has been working for many years on a concept called Airship To Orbit (ATO). Opinion is divided about whether it's actually physically possible. http://www.jpaerospace.com/
3) Technically possible, politically utterly impossible, particularly given the 1% failure rate of current expendable launchers. If it fails to reach orbit, what you have is an ICBM with a radiological warhead. Neighbouring countries tend not to like that...
Economically, deep burial will be much, MUCH cheaper for the quantities required.
If the platform was of a large enough surface area, the balloons could be on the exterior, far away from the centre where the launch took place. You could even use the robot drones as "ground crew", etc.