The NO Cottage Bizar in Second Life

The NO Cottage Bizar installed at Isla Myvatn

Courtesy of a visit to Clifton Howlett’s Highland Retreat (see: A Highland Retreat on Second Life), I became acquainted with an absolutely engaging (for me) building design by Marcthur Goosson, which immediately set my little mind churning as to the possibilities lying within it for a little kitbashing.

The build in question carries the rather awkward name of NO Cottage Bizar, which really doesn’t do the building justice – although the tag to the name does help illuminate things: medieval restored ruin with modern materials. In short this is a structure that evokes what may have started as a medieval castle or fortified house, which as the years passed was extended as the need for fortifications faded prior to being abandoned, only to be rediscovered in more recent times and once again built-out using modern materials to form a unique home.

The original build – it is delivered as a complete 99 LI build, without a rezzing box, and the Copy-Mod version includes a set of shadow maps to help with the production of custom textures. There is also a full permissions version

This sense of history is imbued through the care in which this 99 LI design has been put together, notably with the use of textures and maps. Stand before the building, and it is possible to see the most aged part of the building, with its irregular stonework and masonry to the left, gradually giving way to later elements with their faced and squared stonework and more managed mortar, some of which bricks-up what might have been older parts of the building’s lower level, before returning to an older wall once more, something resembling a curtain wall that might have once enclosed a courtyard.

Within these elements are the “modern” aspects of the building: the courtyard (if that is what it was) has been full enclosed with cement walls and roofed over to turn it into a large room, the roof forming a balcony reached via the stairs of a still-standing tower which may once have opened onto the original wall. Elsewhere, the interior spaces have been built-up with brick and cement walls, new cement beams keyed into them or the original stonework, in places supported by upright beams in order to support new upper floors. These can be accessed either via the old tower stairs or by iron stairways which, with the iron reinforcements visible in places, give the rebuild something of a post-modern industrial look.

Some of the original rooms within the NO Cottage: two on the lower floor, linked by the large wooden doors. Below these are pictures of the two upper floor rooms

All of this provides a total of five rooms – two up and three down; two of the latter linked by imposing wooden doors which perhaps marked the limit of the original keep, and more modern glass doors. Together, these rooms provide living accommodation of a highly individual kind, whilst the care of the design means that if the finish on the internal walls is not to your liking, you can safely replace them; something I’ll come back to in a moment.

“But hang on a minute!” I hear you cry, “didn’t you blither on about kitbashing a new house just a few days ago? And now you’ve got another one?” Well, yes I did, and no, I haven’t. The modified Tromp Loeil Noa Ranch Cottage I recently reviewed / documented is still the main house; but I have a thing for old ruins in the grounds of my homes, as I’ve mentioned in the past, and on seeing the NO Cottage, I was stuck by a) how marvellous it looked, and b) how it it could make an interesting focal point for the island home, not as a house but as … a swimming pool / summer house. And once the idea entered my head, it became and itch I had to scratch.

Top: the original entrance to the NO Cottage and delivered to a purchaser. Bottom: my conversion as a part of installing the swimming pool – an area with sunken jacuzzi and a shower, with the walls re-textured in an off-white and a new partition added for the jacuzzi

As I’ve previously noted when discussing kitbashing, before starting any project, the first step is to ascertain exactly whether or not the end goal can be reasonably achieved. So off I toddled to the Marcthur’s in-world store and play clicky-click on surfaces, checking faces, parts, etc., to satisfy myself what I wanted to do could be done.

Fortunately, Marcthur designs his builds with the intention that they might be modified (he even sells full perm versions of structures like the NO Cottage so that, subject to a license agreement, they can be made a part of another build and sold); as such, I quickly confirmed this build could be modified and so went ahead and picked up the “standard” Copy / Modify / No Transfer version (L$1499).

The upper levels of the NO Cottage as delivered (top) and after my mods. I kept the original walls in one, but retextured the floor and duplicated the supplied fireplace and resized it to fit (this room is still a WIP at the time of writing). Top open-out the pool area, I removed the floor of the second room entirety, and di some minor touch-up / fixing around the iron stairways

I’m not going to bore you with a blow-by-blow account of the transformation; hopefully the images here will explain. Suffice it so say, with the add of a few prims, the removal of a few parts (the bars over some of the windows, the internal doors an upper floor, the replacement of the lower floors (with the aforementioned prims, and some duplication of parts to provide additional detailing + some re-texturing of a room and the addition of some internal lighting, I ended up with something that I think worked out quite well, and which fits with the rest of the garden and which only increase the base build’s LI by 4.

All-in-all the The No Cottage Bizar is a genuinely eye-catching design and well-put-together build, one which makes the L$1,499 price very reasonable. It is evident thought has gone into designing it to be both flexible in use as well as ready-to-use. While the shadow maps are something of a specialised inclusion (the full maps – diffuse, normal and specular – are available with the full permissions version), they do offer the means to provide your own textures for use in the Copy / Modify version, and making the finished look more unique to yourself.

Top: the original “main” rooms of the NO Cottage, and bottom, how things look post pool conversion, complete with the installation of beams to properly support the archway and stairs

More broadly, I hope this piece shows that there are some superb builds available which, with time and imagination, can be made into ideal homes or – with a little application and care for modding, can be made into something personal and unique, be it simply decorating it as a home, to getting ambitious and looking for a way to fit something more unusual – such as a swimming pool!

And, of course, for my part, I now have another unit I might one day convert into a house 🙂 .

The four shots of my lower floor mods put together

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Erotic Art in Second Life

Heartsong Erotica Galleries
Note: as the title of this piece – and the gallery – should reveal, the art on display at Heartsong Erotica Galleries is of an erotica / adult nature, in places featuring nudity. As such, the images at the gallery and in this article should be treated as NSFW. 

Heartsong Erotica Galleries is a venture new to me, and which I believe has only recently opened. Operated by Luanamae Heartsong, it is located on a sky platform and offers four gallery spaces built around an open square displaying 3D art, all of which is defined by the description four galleries dedicated to elegant and sensual erotic art.

Heartsong Erotica Galleries: Kitten (Joaannna Resident)

Erotica in art is not new, and certainly not exclusive to Second Life; however, it is a subject which can draw looks of distaste among some and / or be considered antithetical to Second Life. Yet while the terms “erotica” and “erotic” are most commonly used to define subject matter intended to be found sexually stimulating, it doesn’t necessarily mean either nudity or sexual acts. Just take John William Godward’s The Old, Old, Story (1903) as an example; both characters within it are fully clothed, but the manner in which the woman teases the man through the simple act of dropping flower petals as she regards him was, for the time at which it was painted, charged with eroticism.

And herein lies another truth; as  Honoré de Balzac once noted: eroticism is dependent not just upon an individual’s sexual morality, but also the culture and time in which an individual resides; as such it is not only – as the hoary old quote about beauty goes – in the eye of the beholder, it is also fluid and changing with time.  And it is this latter point which is ably demonstrated within the collections of images offered at Hertsong Erotica Galleries for the current (as of late January 2023) exhibition.

Heartsong Erotica Galleries: Tatiana Easterwood

Within the four galleries are collections by Dante Helios (Gallery One), Tatiana Easterwood (Gallery Two), Emeline Laks (Gallery Three) and Kitten (Joaannna Resident). (Gallery 4). Each offers a different perspective on erotica in art (although there are some overlaps here and there – notably between the images presented by Tatiana Easterwood and Emeline Laks).

Within Kitten’s pieces (some of which have been previously offered through her 2022 Noir exhibition within the Annex of Nitroglobus Roof Gallery (see: A Kitten’s Noir world in Second Life), there is neither nudity nor overt sexuality. What there is, however, is a subtle shading of sensuality imparted in several ways: the classic noir style within several of the images through their use of greyscale to evoke a cinematic era where eroticism and sensuality were more more obliquely referenced (ibncluding through the use of smoking, something also seen in these images); the suggestions of vulnerability through pose and the use of a veil, etc. Thus, within these pieces is a sense of erotica of times past.

Heartsong Erotica Galleries: Dante Helios

Tatiana and Emeline, by contrast, offer what might be considered “erotica of times present”, many of their pieces offering as they do sensual depictions of sexual acts between adult avatars (not that art depicting sexual acts ins confined to modern times – by which I loosely mean post WW II onwards; rather that the public exhibiting of art depicting sexual acts is more broadly tolerated in the west than had been the case during the early 20th century and before).

Within Gallery One, Dante presents images which (for the most part) might be said to reflect another lasting element of erotica: the fetish of clothing and footwear, particularly when applied to the female form. However, it is also perhaps the more discomforting of the four exhibitions, given the manner in which some of the pieces in the left and centre sections of the gallery might be seen as leaning into themes of puberty and sexuality; in this, I admit to finding these latter images personally disquieting.

Heartsong Erotica Galleries: Emeline Laks

Overall, with the exhibits rounded-out by 3D pieces produced by Pit Banx and Phenix Rexen within the square linking the four galleries, Heartsong Erotica Galleries is an interesting new venture for the display of art of a more erotic nature within Second Life.

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A Highland Retreat on Second Life

Highland Retreat, January 2023 – click any image for full size

Clifton Howlett, often working in collaboration with friends, is a region designer who always produces something very special to visit and appreciate. Over the years, I’ve written about the various regions designs he has produced / co-produced, from those celebrating Walter Moers’ Zamonia series, which I wrote about in 2020 and again in 2021, and his “hidden” regions (Hidden Lake and Hidden Bottle, which I covered in May and October 2021) and onward. So it was a good deal of delight that I headed off to visit his latest Homestead region design, Highland Retreat.

Built with the support of Coralile Resident, the region is described as:

An idyllic Scottish island perfect for relaxation. With picturesque landscapes, cosy cottage and hidden secrets, it offers a peaceful escape from daily life. Ideal for nature lovers and tranquillity seekers.

– Highland Retreat About Land

Highland Retreat, January 2023

Which is actually saying the very least about this rural, almost pastoral setting; a place rich in inspiration and with a rugged and natural beauty which draws visitor in and invites them to stay.

Visits start on a small isle to the north-west of the region, linked to the larger isle by a small bridge as it spans the narrow channel between the two. A track meanders gently over the undulations of the main island from this bridge, pointing the way generally south-east and passing between and open-air events space using what might the flagstones of an otherwise demolished building or the stones taken from the older walls of the building across the track from it or for the dance floor area.

Highland Retreat, January 2023

The building from which these stones may have come sits on a shoulder of rock, looking over the track and event space to the island’s eastern coastline. The track itself twists around the rocky side of this bluff-like hill to reach the entrance to the building, branching a couple of times as it does so.

To say this it is quite magnificent in design would be an understatement; it is one of the more unique structures I’ve come across in Second Life just for its mix of architectural sensibilities and clear sense of age and semi-organic growth. Called the No Cottage Bizar CM Build, it is by Marcthur Goosson, and while I’ve seen several of his buildings used in public regions across SL, this is the first time I’ve encountered this particular design. It suggests a fortified manor house of the kind common to the north of England and to Scotland, which had been naturally extended during its long occupation, prior to falling into ruin and abandoned (leading to the re-use of old stone for the dance area mentioned above?), only to be given a new lease of life courtesy of modern building materials and engineering techniques.

Highland Retreat, January 2023

Sitting on the island’s highest point and overlooking the channel separating the landing point from the rest of the region, this building has a lot to offer visitors and is highly photogenic in its own right, indoors and out – more, in fact, than might first be apparent. A boardwalk runs outward from the small garden on its west side, connecting it with a large deck built out over the cliffs of the channel. Also on this side of the building, and a little further south from the garden, is a smaller ruin. Built from bricks and mortar, it appears to have been constructed much more recently in the island’s history – but not so recent that it also fell into disuse at some point, the single surviving window suggesting it might once have been a little chapel.

These chapel remnants overlook the sweeping curve of one arm of the track as it passes around a rocky outcrop to reach a small meadow. This is home to a series of standing stones, suggesting the island has been occupied from the earliest times, the stones roughly hewn and lacking the more regular finish associated with more famous henges. A long, altar-like slab of rock sits within them, its top carved, its base wrapped in a low-lying mist. a swirl of wind sweeping a spiral of blackened petals up into the air, sparking the imagination to think of sacrifice and burning…

Highland Retreat, January 2023

To the east of this, the land slopes gently down to the south-eastern coastline, the grass connected to another arm of the island’s track by a further boardwalk. From this headland, complete with bench seat, it is possible to look back along the curving eastern shore and the shallow arc of its bay to where a dock sits out over the water, a motor launch tied-up alongside. The southern coastline can also be partially seen from here, birch trees obscuring some of the view, as it sweeps back west and then north, a little camp site and fishing raft just visible, encouraging visitors to walk to them.

Just as this part of the coast starts to turn northwards, so to does the land rise, forming a grass-covered shoulder to protect the standing stones from sea-spray. Rocky, sloping cliffs drop to the water from here, partially masking the island’s secret: a set of drowned steps sitting above a great archway carved from the living rock, a shimmering blue portal within its span forming a gateway to a hidden cavern – which I will leave to you to visit.

Highland Retreat, January 2023

Set under a suitably dour sky mindful of the weather in Scotland, Highland Retreat offers itself to many EEP settings (I took the liberty of taking some of the photos here under my preferred “travelling” EEP settings), and offers multiple places to sit for those who wish to tarry within its borders either on their own or with someone close to them. Needless to say, opportunities for photography abound, and the entire setting is rich with a sense of place which makes visiting a joy.

In this latter regard, wandering across the grass, poking at the ruins and standing stones, I felt mindful of places along the north coast of Scotland, notably close to the coastlands of Caithness and also, conversely, parts of England’s Northumberland coast (a part of the country I deeply love and have spent a lot of time exploring). In this, Highland Retreat continues the tradition of all of Clifton’s designs in setting free the imagination and letting it roam through the landscapes he and his creative collaborators provide.

Highland Retreat, January 2023

Definitely one to catch while it is available.

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2023 SL SUG meetings week #4 summary

Otter Lake, November 2022 – blog post

The following notes were taken from the Tuesday, January 24th, 2023 Simulator User Group (SUG) meeting. They form a summary of the items discussed and is not intended to be a full transcript. A video of the entire meeting is embedded at the end of the article for those wishing to review the meeting in full – my thanks to Pantera for recording it.

Server Deployments

  • On Tuesday, January 24th 2023, the simhosts on the Main SLS channel were updated with simulator release 577628, comprising an update for HTTP_CUSTOM_HEADER usage in llHTTPRequest(). Previously, a maximum of 8 custom headers were allowed, and each header had a hardcoded limit of 253 bytes. With this update, both of these limits
  • On Wednesday, January 25th, 2023: the RC simhosts should be updated with simulator release 577734, comprising both the HTTP custom headers update described above andthe updates previously deployed to BlueSteel and Le Tigre in week #3), comprising: stability improvements, fixes for a number of bugs, including the one preventing 30-second sound loops from being played back, and introduces new functions to the LSL API to allow for sound playback across any prim in a linkset. The new LSL functions include:

Week #5 should see the deployment of a fresh simulator RC. It will have a fix for key sorting in LSD Find Keys. llVerifyRSA and llSignRSA and llHMAC. A region_rating for llGetEnv and a few more stats in llGetSimStats.

Available Official Viewers

This list reflects the current status of available official viewers on January 24th, 2023:

  • Release viewer: Maintenance P (Preferences, Position and Paste) RC viewer version 6.6.8.576863 Monday, December 12, 2022 – No change.
  • Release channel cohorts (please see my notes on manually installing RC viewer versions if you wish to install any release candidate(s) yourself).
    • Maintenance R RC viewer, version 6.6.9.577678, released January 19 – translation updates and the return of slam bits.
    • Maintenance (Q)uality RC viewer, version 6.6.9.577581, January 18, 2023.
    • Performance Floater / Auto-FPS RC viewer, version 6.6.9.577251, January 4, 2023.
  • Project viewers:
    • PBR Materials project viewer, version 7.0.0.577610, January 19, 2023.
      • This viewer will only function on the following Aditi (beta grid) regions: Materials1; Materials Adult and Rumpus Room 1 through 4.
    • Puppetry project viewer, version 6.6.8.576972, December 8, 2022.

In Brief

  • BUG-233107 “Objects failing to render is happening more frequently of late” – is rising slowly up the priority list, however, from the discussion at the meeting:
    • There may actually be two issues at work, with some conflating them into a single problem, and / or there is an issue impacting both the viewer and the simulator.
    • Both issues may additionally be cause a race condition with messaging, leading to rendering / rezzing problems.
    • It is suggested, pending an actual fix, alt-camming out a good distance, waiting several seconds and then ESC-ing the camera back to its default position can fix both issues by forcing the viewer to call for a complete scene update.
    • One of the problems is most persistent on either initially logging-in or following teleporting into a region; it rarely happens on crossing between regions via foot or vehicle.
  • Please refer to the video below for further discussions at the meeting.

The Trompe Loeil Noa Ranch Cottage In Second Life

The Trompe Oeil Noa Ranch Cottage, as modified by me for Isla Myvatn

So, a week or so ago, I visited Gothbrooke Forest, a charming setting in which is located a copy of the Trompe Loeil Noa Ranch Cottage (see: A wander through Gothbrooke Forest in Second Life). At the time I noted the house was one I could end up purchasing for personal use and – as is my way – modify.

Well? Guess what this post is about (if you hadn’t already from the pretty obvious title…!).

Cory Edo is one of my go-to house designers for a number of reasons; many of her builds are light and airy, her work generally (but admittedly not always) lends itself to a fair degree of modification / kitbashing, and her prices are more than competitive. All of this is certainly true of the Noa Ranch Cottage. Although that said, It is also pretty big for a “cottage”, at least by UK terms…

The original Noa Ranch Cottage and my modified version, inset. Note that I also replaced the deck and base of the house to better suit my needs, and added the deck railings as well as re-textured much of the house

With a 122 LI, a footprint of 37 x 24 metres and priced at L$625 (with a “snow” option available for a separate purchase price of L$100), the Noa is an highly induvial style of home well-suited for modification. It comprises a large main room with large windows to the front aspect and a curved roof which extends out of the front deck. This room is split into two parts, defined by a 3/4 height diving wall running part way across it.

To the front is the living area, complete with a large brick fireplace. A basic kitchen sits in one of the back corners of this room, whilst the space behind the dividing wall alongside of it offers space for a dining area. A narrow hall runs behind the kitchen, between it and the rear wall of the house and serving one of two back doors accessing the rear deck.

To either side of the fireplace are sets of double doors. Those towards the front of the house provide access to a second ground floor room of a fair size. The second pair access a small hallway with three doors: one to the rear deck of the house, one to a further ground-floor room and one back to the second front room. This hall also provides access to the stairs serving a small landing and the single, large upper floor room. On the opposite side of the main room to the two storey section of the house is a further small rectangular room with wooden walls on three sides and a single large front window.

A view of my modified Noa Rach Cottage, showing the opened-out main room (see below) with internal lighting added by myself

It’s a design which offers plenty of opportunities for furnishing “as is”; but for me, the kitbashing opportunities and the two-floor section were just too tempting to ignore.

As I’ve noted in previous write-ups of houses I’ve bought, Isla Myvatn has a “split level” landscape, lowlands to the west, and a raised garden atop cliffs and rocks to the east, with the house offering something of a divide between, generally with the upper floor opening onto the back garden, and the front lower floors facing west.

The upper floor landing provided me with the means to replace a window on the house with a sliding door to provide access from the house to the back garden.

One of the attractions of the Noa is that with its upstairs bedroom and landing (the latter with large windows to the rear aspect), it fit the design well, requiring only the addition of a home-made sliding door to replace one of the the windows, as shown above.

As a fan of large, open spaces in a house, the Noa’s design also allowed me to make some changes to the main room, taking out the the double doors and the wall supporting them to create a bigger space, with a new wall and doll installed to allow me to keep two additional lower floor rooms. With the fireplace relocated slightly, this allowed me to create a new entrance to the door, replacing one of the windows with my home-built sliding door (a further copy of which replaced the original front door at the opposite end of the main room).

A basic floorplan showing the design of the original with the main room and 3 side rooms, and my modified version, with one side room removed and the others revised to create a larger main room and an new entrance hall

After this, all that was left was to replace the back wall and door and blank off the passageway to the second back door behind the kitchen, as neither were required, given the house backs up against the raised garden. Once that was done, I opted to remove the small room off the side of the house the the front door and install a new side wall.

All of the above should indicate the Noa makes an ideal house for modding, and while there are some issues with faces, it can also be re-textured relatively easily, as I hope the images here demonstrate, allowing the house to be further personalised.

Two further views of the interior of the Noa Ranch Cottage from two angles. The house following my modifications, seen from the kitchen, and (inset) the original viewed from the front door

As noted, Cory Edo is one of my go-to house designers, her builds offer imaginative and rich designs, and with the Noa (and the Jura Waterfront Cottage before it, which inspired my own scratch-build for private use), she has provided a superb house for use out-of-the-folder or for kitbashing. It I have any issues with the Noa at all, it is that not all of the walls have individual interior / exterior faces, meaning that some retexturing is limited, and with due respect to Cory, some of her textures are a little rough in places when it comes to my tastes – notable the decking and the outside of the curved roof; both of which were easily fixed.

An overhead view, showing the house and the raised back garden. The deck is not part of the original Noa build, but my own replacement, the the roof areas have been re-textured (with the flat roof replaces to allow texturing on two sides) as has the chimney 

All-in-all, for those looking for a new house and who have the space for it, the Noa Rach Cottage makes for a good purchase.

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Space Monday – going nuclear

An artist’s concept of a nuclear bimodal crewed transport, which could be used to deliver crews to the Moon or – in just 45 days – to Mars (Earth, the Moon and Mars not to scale). Credit: NASA

In the heydays of the early space race, both the Americans and Russians toyed with various concepts involving nuclear propulsion for human space exploration within the solar system.

In the United States, this work focused on three major areas of study: nuclear pulse propulsion (NPP) – literally exploding atomic bombs behind a space vehicle, propelling it forward, as exemplified by Project Orion; Nuclear-Thermal Propulsion (NTP) – the use nuclear motors in place of chemical rockets either from launch or once in orbit as seen with Project NERVA; and Nuclear-Electric Propulsion (NEP) – the use of nuclear energy to power low-thrust ion propulsion motors.

NPP was effectively (and perhaps fortunately) abandoned over both the fear of fallout from the vehicle’s atomic explosions during its ascent through the atmosphere and the signing of the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963. NTP, using a nuclear reactor to heat liquid hydrogen (LH2) propellant to create ionized hydrogen gas (plasma) which can be expelled via engine bells, has continued to be researched, although its use from launch was overruled dues to the radioactive exhaust plume (thus requiring liquid-fuelled rocket to lift the propulsion units to orbit where they might be used), and remains a solid concept for propulsion that could help reduce the journey time to Mars by weeks.

Nuclear-Electric Propulsion (NEP), relies on a nuclear reactor to provide electricity to an ion engine using an inert gas (like xenon) to create thrust (rather than spewing a radiative exhaust). The resultant thrust is less than that of either NTP or chemical propulsion, but it has the advantage of being able to be maintained for far longer periods, potentially allowing a crewed vehicle to gently accelerate to the half-way point to Mars before trying around and using that same thrust to decelerate gently and achieve orbit around Mars. This could cut a 6-month journey to Mars in half.

Experiments in NEP have continued through until recent times, including space-based test; NTP, however, only reached the stage of ground-based testing before being curtailed. However, it has remained the preferred approach to crewed deep-space missions, should nuclear propulsion on crewed vehicles again be seriously considered. The interest is now re-awakening in light of Project Artemis and America’s stated desire to both return to the Moon and reach beyond it to Mars, with a focus on new approaches to methods of propulsion.

One of these new approaches is the rather tongue-twisty Bimodal NTP/NEP With A Wave Rotor Topping Cycle. The “bimodal” references combining NTP fission to generate the electricity required to power a NEP ion engine, while the “wave rotor” effectively meaning a “supercharger” which further compresses the reaction mass to deliver greater power to the NEP. Research into the approach suggests a transit time to Mars could be reduced to just 45 days.

Based on conventional propulsion technology, the most fuel-efficient Mars crewed mission profile offering the longest period for surface exploration is the Opposition Mission. This requires crews to spend between 6 an 9 months each way in transit between the two planets, with a surface stay of up to 23 months. However, a bimodal nuclear propulsion system could both reduce the transit time each way to 45-60 days, allowing crews to spend more time on Mars, whilst also potentially releasing a mission for the 26-month launch windows, enabling a crew to make an emergency return to Earth if required.

A breakdown of a biomodal transport vehicle. To the right, and docked against the Transhab module is an Orion MPCV, used to deliver crews to the vehicle from Earth and return them home at the end of a mission. The TransHab is a 6m diameter living / working module, powered by conventional solar arrays. Aft of this is the Mars descent / ascent vehicle, then the propulsion control module. The centre of the vehicle comprises the fuel tanks (which also help shield the crew vehicles from radiation from the propulsion module). The combined propulsion (NEP / NTP) module is to the left, also housing the Wave Rider “supercharger”). Credit: NASA

As well as propulsion, NASA is looking at ideas using nuclear power systems for long-duration surface missions when solar and wind power cannot be used / relied upon, These include  KRUSTY, the  Kilopower Reactor Using Sterling Technology, a joint venture between the space agency and the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) successfully demonstrated in 2018. Then there is a new take on the hybrid fusion / fission reactor, first selected by NASA for development in 2013 and which has recently seen renewed investigation, and which is now showing promising signs for future use.

Conventional fusion methods generally comprise either inertial or magnetic confinement, using extreme pressure or a powerful magnetic field to compress a fuel such a deuterium (hydrogen-2), forcing fusion to occur. Both require significant energy input and the generation of significant amounts of heat – around 15 million degrees centigrade. As such, both require large, heavy systems and associated cooling – although this hasn’t stopped the likes of Boeing developing concepts for hybrid systems to propel crew-carrying interplanetary spacecraft to rival biomodal NTP / NEP powered craft.

Hybrid fusion / fission utilises high-energy fast neutrons from a fusion reactor to trigger fission in non-fissile fuels. It is still a complex method, but it has the advantage of being capable of of generating multiple fission events from a single neutron, rather than a single reaction per neutron, requiring less fuel feedstock, and as the fuel is non-fissile, output from the reaction is not radioactive. In fact, such a reactor could even use waste from other fission reactions, disposing of it. Even so, the systems required for hybrid fusion / fission reactors have tended to be extensive and mass-heavy, competing directly with bimodal NTP / NEP systems in size, complexity and mass.

The Boeing hybrid fusion-fission crew-rated space transport, 2021. Credit: Boeing Aerospace
However, a team from NASA’s Glenn Research Centre, Ohio, have developed a potential way in which the complexity (and mass) of a hybrid propulsion system could be significantly reduced.

Selected for Phase I development by the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) programme, the team has focused on the development of a special lattice into which deuterium can be packed in densities around a billion times greater than a within the core of a conventional hybrid reactor. This, combined with the ability of the fusion process to generate multiple fission reactions, means that overall, less deuterium fuel needs to be carried for feeding into the reactor, thus also reducing the mass of all the associated tanks, piping, etc., required to handle it. Further, the nature of system means that reactions can occur at far lower temperatures than a standard bimodal system, further reducing mass and complexity by eliminating much of the thermal control mechanisms and radiator surfaces required to remove the heat needed to generate the fusion reaction, and the heat it also generates.

Continue reading “Space Monday – going nuclear”