Saturday, January 19, 2008

New Orbiter Toys: Oppie and VASIMR

I've got so much I need to be doing that I really shouldn't even be looking at Orbiter toys, but there are some cool new add-ons I wanted to try. So far I've only had time to install them and take a few quick pix. So I'll just give a little preview and then get back to work.

Scott Conklin ("Usonian" on the Orbiter forum) has released MER-2003, his detailed version of the Mars Exploration Rover missions which launched in 2003 and arrived on Mars in early 2004. Of course the real Spirit and Opportunity are amazingly still active after four Earth years, and with Scott's add-on and documentation, you can re-create the major parts of this mission from launch to landing, and even drive and operate the robot arm on the simulated and animated rovers. Multiple scenarios are provided so you don't have to fly the whole mission just to play around on Mars. Additional free add-ons are needed for the Delta launch vehicle and for interplanetary navigation (IMFD). The included manual tells what you need and how to install and use it. Very cool.

Another recent one I like is the USS Bekua VASIMR (links to several good references are on that page) by "nickd." I will have to write more about this later, but this add-on models a NASA interplanetary spacecraft design based on a next-generation propulsion system that NASA has investigated for several years (I don't know the current status, but funding for such advanced propulsion system research has been tough for a long time - this 2002 article is a good overview). VASIMR stands for Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket and it would require a nuclear reactor to provide the electrical power to drive it. This project has been led and championed by astronaut and plasma physicist Franklin Chang-Diaz and offers the potential for much faster interplanetary flights.

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