Neil's News

Spaceship Pairs

9 December 2010

The Spanner mailing list is currently running a contest for Meccano models constructed with 30 pieces or less -- excluding nuts, bolts and washers. My submission weighs in at 29 parts.

[Meccano Klingon and Federation starships]

Bird of Prey:
1x 11a - Double bracket
4x 12c - Obtuse angle bracket
1x 18a - 1.5" Axle
1x 59 - Collar
2x 133a - Corner bracket
1x 136a - Handrail coupling
2x 212 - Rod and strip connector
2x 12a - Angle bracket 2x1
1x 12c - Obtuse angle bracket
2x 18a - 1.5" Axle
1x 59 - Collar
2x 62 - Crank
4x 63 - Coupling
1x 163 - Sleeve piece
2x 164 - Chimney adaptor
2x 187 Conical disc

Photo of the photo shoot. Though it turned out that my prehistoric camera was incapable of keeping both starships in focus, so I ended up shooting them separately and compositing the image.

It was actually rather nice to build something in Meccano that doesn't have dire consequences if it experiences structural failure. These spaceships won't throw glass and molten wax through a wall[?], or splatter the floor with pumpkin guts[?], or set fire to my apartment[?]. What a year this has been. And we're not done yet, the next project uses a 30 lbs cannon ball...

From a pair of fictional spaceships to pair of real spaceships.

Earlier this year I was talking to an engineer who was building the heat shield for NASA's Orion capsule. He showed me a mockup of the tile arrangement. I was surprised that the shield was symmetrical; reentry capsules fly in at controlled angles so that they generate lift thereby reducing G-forces and improving landing accuracy. Why then was the tile arrangement not offset so that the maximum shielding would be in the location of maximum heating? The engineer said that they'd considered this, but it had never been done before.

[Orion Thermal Protection System]

I pulled out my phone, surfed over the SpaceX's website and found a picture of the tiles on their Dragon capsule. Sure enough, they are offset for maximum efficiency. That caught the Orion engineer by surprise.

[Dragon Thermal Protection System]

NASA has 50 years of experience with reentry capsules, but is fearful of trying something new. SpaceX has no reentry experience and chooses the most efficient engineering approach. Guess whose capsule is overweight and still sitting on the ground? Guess whose capsule completed a successful first flight yesterday?

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