Saturday, November 13, 2010


I know this is dated material, but I have never had time to look it over completely.  A couple hundred pages of pdf to read over about the Columbia accident.  My impression going in is that we have a political problem.  One thing about this report that I can comment upon right now is that it was quite thorough.  In that respect, it is impressive.  I'll have more to say on it later.

NOVA: Columbia - Space Shuttle Disaster

Update:  I haven't written anything new about this yet, but I have thought about it.  I continue to believe that we have a political problem.  This may have contributed to the accident, but probably didn't cause it directly.  If you look at the budget history of NASA, it is called upon to do more and more with less and less money.  Therein lies at least part of the problem.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A short blurb on the following post

from Nextbigfuture.  I have it listed at my stumbleupon page.  Well, I haven't been on my stumbleupon page in a couple of years.  All the links are still there.  And I saw this one from 2008.  It was about in vitro meat.  Reminds me of the post I wrote recently about aquaponics and aeroponics .  Here you are, you can also produce meat without the animal.  If you're interested, there's a paperback that covers the topic:  Meat Substitutes: Tofu, in Vitro Meat, Soy Protein, Quorn, Wheat Gluten, Tempeh, Textured Vegetable Protein, Bk Veggie, Laetiporus

Gold moving again

But this time it is moving down.   Let's look at some charts and see what's going on here.

[Most Recent USD from]

The dollar hasn't moved much, so that's not what is causing this move.

[Most Recent RUSSELL from]

You have a downward move here, but it isn't all that big.  About 1.5 %.

[Most Recent CBOE from]

The commodity index is about 2.5% down.  That is a little less than gold at this juncture.

[Most Recent XAU from]

About 3.5% on the gold index.

What's up with all this?  China is making some noises about tightening up monetary policy?  How does that affect policy over here?  Has the Fed changed its QE2 plans?  If China goes with the tightening, does the Fed follow?  If the Fed doesn't follow China, what then?  A weaker dollar, I would think.  This is what the administration wants.  So why all the consternation?  The stock markets should be pleased.  But that's not the case today.  This hasn't changed my opinion.  Unless the Fed changes policy, we still have an inflation scenario.  But this might cool down the commodities a bit.  China is driving that up.  If China slows down, commodity prices could fall, or at least slow down their upwards move.  But that doesn't account for a weaker dollar.   Obama could be looking for a weaker dollar to help exports.  In short, nothing has fundamentally changed in my opinion.

NOTE: these charts may change tomorrow even if they are posted here.  As of this post, the charts look like that now.  Tomorrow, these charts could look different.  These are not screen shots but java created charts in real time.  As of this moment, it is 1:20pm central time, 11/12/2010.  

Space politics as a canary in the coal mine

Like a lot of things, the wheels seem to come off after Clinton left office.  This may surprise people who see this blog as a right wing blog.  Why would I write that?  This blog isn't going to be a blindly partisan blog.  The objective evidence exists, why deny it?  Things were going much better before Bush took office.  So, do I blame Bush for it?  This is too simplistic an analysis.  It is the one most people will make.  People will say that if it happens on his watch, it must be his fault.  I want to go deeper than that.

History didn't start on January 20, 2001 when Bush took office.  In terms of the manned space program, what did Bush inherit?  He inherited the Shuttle and the International Space Station (ISS).  The Shuttle had a history that predated Clinton's administration, but the ISS was mostly a Clinton initiative.  As for the Shuttle, it first flew in 1981, so it was 20 year old system by the time Bush came into office.  The Challenger disaster happened during the Reagan administration.  But other than that, it had a safe and productive operational history.  The ISS was still under construction.  The Shuttle was being used in large part to build it.

The wheels started coming off with the Columbia Accident.  Now, instead of being an anomaly, there were two catastrophic failures with the loss of two crews and two Shuttles.  There were the investigations of each and the results of each investigation.  The result of the last investigation was the conclusion that the Shuttle needed to be retired.  So, the question arose, what comes next?

Let's start with the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.  This is guidance for what came next, which was the Constellation program, which in turn, was recently cancelled by the Obama Administration.  I haven't read this yet.  The question I want to answer is this:  was the Constellation program a good response to the problem with the Shuttles, or was it a bad response?  What was good about it?  What was bad about it? 

After studying that, I can merge that with what I have already produced on this blog.  I have looked at the Augustine Commission and gave my opinion on that.  The Augustine Commission is the most recent guidance on future manned exploration of space.  But it isn't necessary the last word.  Politics being what it is, some adjustments are inevitable.  The political problems we are facing now are related to cost efficiency.  The previous questions related to safety.  Now the question is a matter of economics.  Combining these two factors together poses the ultimate question.  Is manned space exploration worth the risk in terms of human life and economic costs and benefits?  

I think that it is.  Not only that, but our future as a species may depend upon it.  If we fail, then we may fail as a species.  We may meet the fate of the dinosaurs.  But why the failure?  Is it possible to succeed?  Is it feasible politically?  Never mind the costs and benefits.  This question relates to the ability of human beings to do what it takes to survive as a species.  It is a collective problem.  It affects everyone on this planet.  It may well be technically and economically possible to explore and colonize space, but that is meaningless if it isn't politically possible.

Politics is often driven by economics.  If the economics of manned space exploration won't work, then the politics  may not support it.  But if the politics on the whole is too dysfunctional to ascertain the costs and benefits and correctly formulate policy in accordance with these findings, it won't matter whether it is feasible and desirable or not.  It just won't get done.  The political bridge will be just too far.  A way has to be found to cross that political bridge.

My opinion as of this writing is that there is no vision in current space policy; actually it may be far worse than that.  The guy who wrote that says he's pissed.  My question is, why isn't everybody pissed?  This most recent election may not improve matters any.  There is no vision because of the confused nature of our politics.  What Bush does gets cancelled out by Obama.  The next president or this Congress just elected may cancel out this president. In the meantime, we are losing ground.   Money keeps getting spent, but little is accomplished.  If the manned space program is dying, is it because we are dying as a nation?  When will we wake up?  Ever?  If we don't do it, who will?  Anyone?

I am going to keep posting on this subject.  The next project is to study the Columbia Accident Investigation Board pdf file.  I will post on that coming up.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Nukes on the moon?

Not bombs, but reactors.  There are small, safe reactors that might fit on a rocket, and perhaps even a moon lander.  This is a speculation, but it may be possible.  According to this, the reactors are the size of hot tubs.  Doesn't say what it weighs.   Now, the Altair lander for the Constellation program can carry tons of cargo.  If the hot tub size reactor doesn't weigh too much, it might just fit.  With as much power as one of these generates, it would be possible to do a lot of interesting stuff.

Austan Goolsbee on growing the US economy

Austan Goolsbee on Obama's growth strategy

In theory, this may work.  In practice, it will mean a possible trade war.  Our
trading partners will not likely give up their market share here without a fight.
As for doubling exports, that is just a number being pulled out of a hat.  He
doesn't justify that number.  What justification does he have in saying that it
can be reached?

Who's Getting the Bone?

Don't worry, the title is in reference to money being the dog's lunch, a bone. The dog in my opinion is China. They are going nuts because of QE 2. For many years now, the Chinese have been given affirmative action help in order to grow their economy. The yuan is worth so very much more than it's official price. Again for years now they have been taking over manufacturing for all of the things we used to make. So as the USA lost market shares to the Chinese we lost jobs as well. QE2 MAY BE A BARGAINING CHIP TO GET THE REST OF THE WORLD'S HANDS OUT OF THE COOKIE JAR. I have no way to prove it, but we have been trying to get China to play fair for a long time, and they just won't do it. They are the dog, they've got the bone and they'll fight to keep it. We are left to play a game of chicken, basically telling the world,"if we go down, we're taking you with us. Play nice or we all get spanked.

Rand Simberg

...doesn't like the Deficit Commission recommendations regarding NASA's Commercial Crew program.

It’s pretty clear from the announcement that they don’t even understand the purpose, and that it would save NASA billions. In fact, they are unwittingly recommending ending NASA human spaceflight, and consigning us to continuing to be held hostage by the Russians for years.

I have downloaded the Deficit Commission pdf.  I may be commenting upon this in connection with the Augustine Commission.  How do you square the Augustine Commission with this?  They are going logger heads at themselves.  These two commissions are Obama creations.  I guess that explains it.

Update:  I did a quick skim of the Def Comm pdf.  They propose 200 billion in cuts, plus a gas tax increase of 15 cents.  Plus a few other items to reform tax code and social security and health care.  Not much on the above story.  It is there, but no explanations nor justifications were given for the cut in Commercial Crew.  The above story advocates the program for the reasons given.  That's how you get a penny wise pound foolish argument.  Don't cut muscle, just cut the fat.  This could get interesting with the new Congress.
I took a screen shot of the page in which I underlined the cut in question:

More on the Def Comm at Huffpo.  I made a pretty cynical comment over there.  It reminds me of the song
Dirty Laundry, by Don Henley.  Nothing constructive is likely.

Update 2:  If cuts are desired, then move back the timetable to Mars.
That ought to save some money.  As I mentioned before, a trip to
Mars is too ambitious.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Newsweek 50

What makes these people powerful?

Newsweek has a list of the most influential political figures.
Some are former political government officials, but many are
talk show hosts. Some are journalists.  There are a few others
outside these three areas.  I guess it would mean one of the
following: win an election, start a popular talk show, or
become an influential journalist.  This is Newsweek story,
so maybe the list is their list.  Other people would disagree
with their list.

The story is here:

Not on the list is George Soros amongst others.  Soros is not
powerful?  But Soros is not a media personality.  But he does
get involved in politics.  Newsweek is tying money making skills
to this.  Maybe Soros doesn't make money at this per se, but
that doesn't mean he has no influence.

I question the methodology in making this list.  It is a list
of who makes the most money at "it", meaning the "it" is
defined by them.  Whoever is "it" seems the be the target,
I would think.

I could rephrase it my question as this  "what makes these
people popular?"  Are they popular because of their ideas,
or are they popular because of their personalities?  Does
popularity translate into political power?  Does it really?
Limbaugh is at the top of the list, but the Republicans lost
big in 2008.  They won this year, but only the House.

NASA video shows dramatic Deep Impact flyby of comet Hartley 2

Beam me up, Scotty

This is the 100th post of BNO.  A milestone.  Who would a thunk it?  Ok, let's get on with it.

Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer, SETI Institute, asks if we are a biological miracle.  I want to comment upon the following quote.  By the way, the story is on Huffington Post.  Here's the quote:
In Europe, some academics have recently weighed in on the side of the skeptics, claiming to find biological roadblocks that would stall the easy evolution of thinking beings.

The thing I want to comment upon is evolution.  Why assume that we evolved by accident?  Could our existence be only explained by a mere accident also known as the theory of evolution?  I only want to posit a different possibility.  After all, scientists claimed to have created life itself in a laboratory.  But that would not be any accident if it were to happen.  An intelligent life form would have created another life form itself.  But how would you reconcile the two?  If humans create life, then who created humans?  Does evolution happen all by itself?

This isn't a religious argument being put forward as a way to discredit the theory of evolution.  I don't consider creationism a science.  This isn't about creationism.  Nor of intelligent design.  It is only to suggest that evolution may not be asking the right questions and therefore you cannot get answers unless you ask the right questions.

Is the right question the one that Shostak asks?  It may be a miracle, but not the one he may be suggesting.  On the other hand, for an intelligent being, to create life routinely isn't any miracle.  Besides that, not all life is intelligent.  Intelligence itself has to be defined.

Kicking around some ideas

What would be the obstacles to colonizing the moon?  First, you get life support set up.  This requires assistance from Earth of course.  But over time, you want to minimize this because it is very expensive.  Therefore, the initial goal should be to get the moon base set up for life support on a long term basis. You need permanent shelter, water, oxygen and food.

Shelter will need to be built.  The initial shelter can come from Earth, but eventually you will want to build things from lunar materials.   How would you build shelters on the moon?  It may be possible to make them from yeast that can make plastics.  I read about plastic making yeasts recently on the web.  (see link)  These yeasts take the carbon dioxide the colonists will exhale and convert this into a useful building product.  Therefore, you want to collect the carbon dioxide as opposed to discarding it as waste.  It turns out that carbon dioxide is a very useful raw material in its own right.  In a very real sense, we are made of the stuff.

We may not be able to breathe carbon dioxide and live, but plants use it to make food that we can eat.  No reason to throw away carbon dioxide.  But what you are really doing is finding useful things to do with matter which is very expensive to launch from Earth.  The less matter that has to be launched, the more valuable the moon becomes.  This is because it is becoming more and more capable of sustaining itself without being resupplied from the Earth.  As food is imported, eventually it becomes plastics which can be used to make shelter.  That means fewer launches from Earth to support the colony.

But how do you grow things on the moon without water?  As with food, the initial supplies will come from the Earth, but ways must be found to extract water from the moon.  It turns out that this is possible.  There are small ( very small ) amounts of water in the lunar regolith. ( fancy way of saying soil )  By extracting this water,  it will become possible to sustain a lunar agriculture based upon lunar water supply.  Inasmuch as the water is hard to come by, it will be necessary to be very careful about how it is used.  As with carbon dioxide, it cannot be wasted.  Carbon dioxide from exhalation will be a supply for the plants.  Human waste can get recycled back into carbon dioxide or other organics which in turn can keep the cycle closed so that nothing is wasted.

Once you are able to solve the problems of shelter, food, and water, you can move on to becoming more productive.  At first you only be able to do limited number of things because of a lack of energy.  How to obtain energy?  As with basic life support, a starter energy system has to be imported from Earth.  But you want to be able to construct your own energy making systems with lunar materials.  How to do this?  Could you make solar panels with lunar materials?  This is possible.  Could you make a Stirling engine with lunar materials?  Stirling engines aren't new.  They were invented before steam engines.  One would suppose that a Stirling engine could be constructed with lunar materials on the moon itself.  It could be the first lunar power plant fully constructed on the moon to serve the lunar colonists.  Now the colonists can do things to increase their productivity even more.  The colony is becoming more self sufficient.

Perhaps the lunar colony can export something back to Earth in order to support itself even better.  What does the moon have that the Earth could want?  One thing that it has is energy from the Sun.  If you can make lots of solar panels which can produce far more than what the colonists need, you then have an exportable product.  But maybe that is getting ahead of oneself.  For the moment, perhaps it will suffice to be able to launch from the moon.  This will save the Earth from having to supply the moon with launching fuel ( and launchers).  You may want to learn how to do that next.  One thing the Earth could want is to stop having to subsidize the lunar colony.  If it can launch things on its own, it will be able to exchange with the Earth on a more equal footing.

Rather than thinking of the moon as a cost center, it can eventually be turned into a profit center.  If you want energy imports from the moon,  maybe you still want to subsidize it so that it can develop a real industry on the moon that can build and launch solar power stations into Earth orbit.   This may require the export from Earth of more sophisticated technology such as a complete launching infrastructure and manufacturing facility.
The manufacturing facility will produce the power station from lunar materials.  The launch facility will get it off the moon and into Earth orbit where it can produce energy for the Earthlings.  The moon is now supporting itself economically.

Besides energy, the moon can used to launching things.  It costs much less to launch from the moon than from the Earth.  But you have to have something that's on the moon that you want to get back from the moon.  Once you have that on a money making basis, the launch facility on the moon can move on to new projects.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

They got these on the Moon too

Rare Earths that is.

Yeah, that will work /sarc off

Viva la Revolucion!

Is Gold in a bubble?

According to Charles Wallace who believes what he was told:
1. Gold.The price of gold bullion has risen from $294 an ounce in 1998 to $1,404 today, an increase of 377%. "It's the biggest, baddest bubble of them all," says Robert Wiedemer, author ofAftershock: Protect Yourself and Profit in the Next Global Financial Meltdown.Gold has no intrinsic value. A telltale indicator that gold is a bubble: incessant cocktail party chatter about buying gold and endless TV commercials offering to buy gold jewelry.

He also believes that the dollar is in a bubble.  Which is what I said.   When the Fed has to start fighting inflation, bond yields will rise.  If they don't tighten monetary policy, then the dollar goes to zero.  On the other hand, while they continue pumping funny money into the economy, this happens.  Inflation is what happens when governments can't pay their bills.  It has a long history behind it.  The dollar and gold can't be in a bubble at the same time.  Which is what he said.  Read the entire article.

This is disinformation to get people to believe in deflation.  That gives the Fed cover to keep printing funny money.

Mystery Missle Launch

An ominous story broadcast on San Diego tv is raising adrenaline levels across the US. Footage shows a contrail described as coming from a missle launch approximately 35 miles west of Los Angeles Ca. US Military spokesmen say it was not a US military launch. Either they are misinformed, lying, or a foreign military has fired a missle off our coast. All three of these choices are bad, I can't pick any one of them that doesn't worry the crap out of me. Some have claimed it was an accidental launch, again very scary. With the president out of the country, some have said it was a show of force to the Asians Obama is visiting. Hell, maybe it's a demo for a possible arms deal. I think somebody needs to be held accountable for scaring the Hell out of everybody.

The Art of Listening

In an earlier post, slippery little word called truth,  I wrote:

One's bias misdirects one's own capacity to perceive what is and what isn't.

I think this bias can misdirect own capacity to listen.   In a stressful situation, one can simply spin out of control over a simple misunderstanding which could have been avoided if the parties involved would have just listened.  The truth can be as simple as listening to what someone actually said as compared to what one wants to believe what was said.Listen, Buddy

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fed Officials Raises Doubts Over New $600B Program

Key quote:"The Federal Reserve is not a repair shop for broken fiscal, trade or regulatory policies," Warsh said. "Given what ails us, additional monetary policy measures are, at best, poor substitutes for more powerful pro-growth policies."

I would agree that pro growth policies need to be enacted.  This is a band aid over a deep wound.

Not everyone is in agreement with Warsh's doubts about this new QE2.
Taking a different stance, James Bullard, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, argued in a speech Monday in New York that the "benefits outweigh the risks." He also voted for the $600 billion program last week.

Bullard is afraid of deflation.  I suppose inflation will have to bite him on the rear end before he changes his stance.

The Fed may be losing its ability to use monetary policy to stimulate the economy.  The Fed is caught between a rock ( double dip recession) and a hard place ( igniting inflation).
The Fed last week said it will monitor the effect of the bond-buying program on the economy. It left the door open to scaling back the purchases if the economy grows more than expected or if high inflation becomes too much of a threat. On the other hand, the Fed indicated it would boost its purchases if economic conditions weakened.
Evidently, there is disagreement over growth or inflation as being a cause of a possible change in course.


Palin Lashes Out At Bernanke, Urging Him To 'Cease And Desist' Purchase Of Treasuries

Something I want to comment upon is this quote: "Palin then will argue that "the worse part" of this is that the White House "refuses to open up our offshore and onshore oil reserves for exploration." It's unclear how drilling for oil relates to monetary policy."
But it does relate to a pro growth policy.  You don't get out of this problem by the printing press.   That's all they've got now after the spending spree this last 2 years.

What Americans Want

It reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw many years ago.  It said something like this:  "All I want is more pay, less work and higher benefits."  Well, for what it is worth, here is what we say we want.  (hat tip Instapundit)

The voter has been getting what they wanted all along.  What is needed is not to play up to polls, but to articulate what is needed, get the support, enact it into law, and wait for the results. That's what the Democrats did.  But it hasn't worked like they would have hoped.  Now it is time to try something new.

Heavy lift comparisons

I pulled two graphics out the pdf files for comparison purposes and put them together for comparison.

The left chart is from Parkin's The Microwave Thermal Thruster pdf.  The right chart is from the Augustine Commission Final Report pdf.  I underlined the configuration on the left chart and for comparison, look at the Ares V payload mass.  For one, the underlined configuration is not the biggest one in the chart.  Number two, the Saturn V that took astronauts to the Moon weighs almost 3 times as much while lifting comparable payload.  Number three, the one with the wet mass of 1000 tons will lift as much as the Ares V launcher.  That means it can give the same capability in terms of payload capacity with a much lighter launcher.

Hopefully, this concept of using a Microwave for rocket propulsion will work.

Update:  A couple of questions occurred to me:  1) Could this launch concept
be used on the Moon? and 2) Could this launch system be extended to a landing
system as well?  (especially on the Moon,since it has no atmosphere which
prevents a glider like landing system that the Shuttle used.)

Humility has its rewards

Well, I don't know.  This may be a bit snarky, but Instapundit's observation tempts me enough to make a comparison.  You see, I don't believe much of what Obama says.  So when he promises something that he doesn't deliver on, it doesn't surprise me at all.  In fact, I think Obama believes he's the Sun King, but he looks to me like he's Bonnie Prince Barry.

Mating ritual

Do you ever watch those animal shows?  Today's politics reminds me a bit of what I remember seeing once on one of these shows.  It was about two rams head butting each other for mating rights.  It was a struggle over dominance.  Now, I couldn't get a good example of this to show on YouTube on short notice, but this video may give you the idea of the point I am trying to make here.

Both sides in this most recent election seem to be claiming some kind of victory.  To me, it is just more of the same kind of noise that you hear from a couple of rams butting heads.  Someone has to be the winner, but while they are butting heads, a car could come along and kill them all.  They are so engrossed in one another that they lose track of events going on around them.  Animals are said to be "dumb", but people are supposed to be better than that.

Which brings me to Paul Krugman's most recent post.  I've written about him before on this blog.  But when he writes stuff like this, it just makes me see visions of these rams butting heads.  This latest head butting is amongst the left who are trying to puzzle out why they lost the latest head butting contest.  There was actually one quote that I agreed with here:

Mr. Obama’s problem wasn’t lack of focus; it was lack of audacity.

If you get past the head butting of what faction of the Democrats who should be in charge, you get a little nugget of truth there.   I agree there was a lack of audacity.  But it was still pretty audacious what Obama did.  

The amount of spending is not what is at fault.  The thing that is missing here is a vision of how to pull the country out of the mess that it's in.  Indiscriminate spending won't solve anything.  This spending plan of Obama's was plenty audacious enough in the amount.  What it lacked was a clear direction based upon where we are now and where we need to go.  Where are we now?  Too much debt and not enough wealth creation.  You need to create wealth before you can spread it around.  Do the former.  Then you earn the right to the latter.

My idea of a spending plan is to conquer space and reap the rewards of tapping its wealth.    But the Democrats and the Republicans and the factions therein are too busy butting heads with each other to come up with a vision like that.  Hence, what we end up with is a lot of noise.  A lot of grunting and posturing.  But not much results.  But at least the winner gets the spoils afterward.  This gives the term "we're screwed" a whole new perspective.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

US senator sees 'confrontation' with China, war with Iran

Via Memeorandum, this little bit of unsettling news is a reminder that big trouble could be around the corner.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham sounds a bit warlike here.  He seems to be saying that the victorious conservatives could be in a warlike mood regarding Iran.  The feeling toward China doesn't seem encouraging either.

How can you assess the probability of war in the near future?  My own opinion is that there is little mood for new military adventures with two conflicts already brewing in the Mideast.  Also, this President got elected because the people were already tired of the war in Iraq.  This could be a type of good-cop bad-cop scenario taking place.  The Congress can get bellicose, but the President can be more dovish.  It will tend to cancel out.  The wildcard is these two countries.  If things go too far, a divided government can quickly become united.  If the situation is seen as an opportunity to exploit, there may be a possibility of miscalculation.  In that case, there could be a big problem indeed.  But I prefer to be optimistic.


How do you stay alive for two years in outer space?  NASA will have to learn how if they are going to send a crew of astronauts to Mars.   The study of Aquaponics may show a way to do this.
Aquaponics is the simultaneous cultivation of plants and aquatic animals in a symbiotic environment where the animal effluents that accumulate in the water are used and filtered out by the plants as nutrients, after which the water is recirculated back to the animals.

Nothing can get wasted in outer space.  There is no room for pollution either.  It must be kept clean.  Water and carbon dioxide must get recycled continuously.  Food must be produced that includes a balanced diet of meat and vegetables.  This system looks like it can do this.  What can go wrong?

Aquaponics systems can have multiple 'single points of failure' where problems such as an electrical failure or pipe blockage can lead to a complete loss of fish stock

In practice, that's how it can happen.  Clearly, there needs to be backup systems in order to recover from times when things go wrong.  But this is true in all space flight systems.   Perhaps the system can be productive enough so that, in case of failure, reserves of food can be produced that will be enough to sustain a crew until a new crop can be grown.  Perhaps this is not the most critical of worries for NASA.

Update:  Not only can you grow food, you can cultivate yeasts which can produce plastics.  Hat tip: Instapundit.

Parkin's Microthermal Rocket revisited

Having finished with the Augustine Commission posts, let's move on to Parkin's device.

This post is based upon the pdf file referenced in the previous post above.  Who is Kevin Parkin?  Nextbigfuture blog has a post which says a bit about who he is and his device.
One of the major advantages of a beamed microwave external propulsion system, said Kevin Parkin, the deputy director of the Mission Design Center at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., is that it can bypass some of the typical constraints of a traditional propulsion engine.
There is a Cnet story from the post above which tells more ... 
But NASA is already looking into the technology, Parkin said, pointing to a research project under way at the U.S. space agency's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.
 It appears that the Microwave Thermal Propulsion concept evolved out of work on Laser Propulsion.
From Parkin's thesis:
The use of lasers for propulsion was first suggested by Kantrowitz (1972) and independently by Minovich (1972) a short time later. Kantrowitz focused on lasers in his seminal paper because high power microwave sources at wavelengths practical for beamed- energy launch did not exist at that time (Kantrowitz, 2004).
...Most of the attention thus far has focused on ablative laser propulsion (Pakhomov and Gregory, 2000). 
The laser lightcraft (Wang et al., 2002) has a diameter of 12.2 cm and weighs roughly 50 grams. It is powered by a 10 kW CO2 laser. A parabolic mirror on the underside of the craft, shown in Fig. 1-14, focuses the beam into the engine air or propellant. The pulsed laser heats the air, causing it to break down into a plasma. The plasma strongly absorbs the incoming pulse, heating to roughly 18,000 K before exploding from the annular  underside region, generating thrust.
The ablative microwave lightcraft concept of Myrabo and Benford (1994) shown in Fig.1-15 uses microwaves rather than lasers. The concept is airbreathing but switches to an on-board hydrogen supply for the later stages of ascent (in vacuum).  

It was a short step from there by building on the work of the nuclear thermal concept which was almost brought to prototype during the Apollo era. 

Why use Microwave Thermal Propulsion?  From the thesis:
This thesis sets forth the new approach of microwave thermal propulsion, which belongs to the wider class of heat exchanger-based propulsion techniques that includes nuclear thermal and laser thermal propulsion. 

The past 40 years of launch prices (Fig. 1-1) suggest that the elasticity of demand is locally flat at the present launch price of $10,000 per kilogram of payload, in essence a metastable level, and that an evolutionary path to a lower launch price does not exist.

This thesis offers a technological solution to the problem above: The Launch Problem.  ...
The combined effect of lower structural cost, greater payload fraction and higher flight rate can profoundly alter the economics of launch, minimizing the need to boost launch demand in order to solve the launch problem.
According to the Nextbigfuture blog post above, the device may go to prototype by 2018.