Monday, April 7, 2008

Just Stuff

Sorry for no posts recently...

Tonight I (I think) corrected a problem with the dash on the Lexus. You see, when it is cold out, the dash wouldn't light up. Which means you can't see anything - speed, temp, fuel level (and the fuel gauge doesn't read when the dash isn't lit due to lack of power anyway). Yes, it's "analog" (not digital), but when it's not lit, it's all black. Anyway, there's a little capacitor on the dash power supply board that, over time, loses its capacitance when the temperature is low. So I pulled the instrument panel from the dash (good tutorial here), removed the bad capacitor (C212 on this image), and installed a new one. Ok, not quite so simple: I tried to desolder the old capacitor while gently pulling and rocking it with a pair of pliers, and managed to rip the capacitor from the PCB - along with its traces (the copper on the PCB that carries the current wherever it's supposed to go). That wasn't so bad, though... one of the traces I'd already identified with a through-hole on the PCB (those allow the connection to go from one side of the board to the other), and the other side I tracked to the common ground on the PCB. For the common-ground one, I just used a knife to gently scrape away some of the PCB overlay, revealing a small portion of the copper common ground underneath, and soldered the new capacitor to that. After soldering the new capacitor on, I checked the continuity of the capacitor wires with the other side of the connection (i.e., a point along another end of the PCB trace), found near-zero resistance (i.e., a good connection), reinstalled the instrument panel, turned it on, and the gauges lit up. Success! Now I just have to hope that it'll work when it's cold, too (which I assume it will, since it's a brand new capacitor; as long as there aren't any others that are bad, anyway).

Now... what about the fuel for the LS? I filled it up today for $64. Yuck! It seems, however, that we do have a ready supply of liquid hydrocarbon in our solar system... at Saturn's moon Titan. It seems that Titan has great lakes of liquid hydrocarbon, each of which has more liquid hydrocarbon than all the natural gas and liquid petroleum reserves on the earth. In fact, it rains liquid methane there! So what we need to do is harvest all that liquid hydrocarbon and transfer it to earth. How? Well, we could attempt to move Titan into an earth orbit, but it might mess up the methane cycle during transit. So I guess we'll have to colonize titan. Now, we could try to do it all with robots, but it would probably be more fun with people. The one-way trip took Cassini something like 7 years. However, I have a few suggestions to improve this. First, assemble the ship going to Titan in a very high earth orbit, thus reducing the force necessary to exit earth's gravitation pull (I could be off on this point, but I figure a rocket of similar capability of the one that launched Cassini from earth, if ignited from orbit, would result in a higher initial velocity and would thus not require as much of the Venus/Earth slingshot to increase the vessel's velocity for the interplanetary voyage). This would be the initial harvesting mission.

A second series of vessels would be sent in periods such that they would create a Saturn/Titan and earth orbit... sort of like a comet. We might want to put these in a solar orbit. These vessels would simply be transports... they would remain in this earth/Saturn/Titan orbit. The actual cargo vessels, those transporting the liquid hydrocarbon from Titan to earth, would be launched from Titan, dock with the transport, fire a booster (thus slowly increasing the velocity of the transport as these transports occurred), make the journey to near-earth, disconnect from the transport and dock with an orbiting space station, and then be transferred to a shuttle-like landing craft for final transport to earth. In the meantime, an empty cargo vessel would dock with the transport, fire its booster (again, boosting the velocity of the transport), and be transported back to Titan for filling with liquid hydrocarbon. Thus, once the cycle was in place with a number of the transport and cargo vessels in operation, a periodically-continuous supply of liquid hydrocarbon (fuel) would be made available to earth. Yes, the initial time to harvest would be on the order of 10-15 years, but after that initial delay we'd have a constant supply of fuel for our vehicles, heating, etc.

That's my solution to the rising fuel prices. NASA could do exploration and research, the government would fund the project, and abundant fuel, not controlled by a minority of the earth's governments, would be available to consumers. And who wouldn't want to say "My car is running off space fuel!"?

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