What-If 0030: "Interplanetary Cessna"

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What-If 0030: "Interplanetary Cessna"

Postby gingermrkettle » Tue Jan 29, 2013 10:57 am UTC

http://what-if.xkcd.com/30/

What would happen if you tried to fly a normal Earth airplane above different Solar System bodies?

—Glen Chiacchieri


Can't help thinking that propellor drive may not be the way to go other than on Earth (presumably thought of in terms of the Mars sim). But anyway, get Burt Rutan on it immediately.

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby ralight » Tue Jan 29, 2013 10:59 am UTC

In the text on Titan, it was claimed that the Huygens image is the only one that we have of the surface of a body besides Mars. The Soviets made a number of landings on Venus and there are images from these landings. A search for "venus landings" should set you right, but if you don't want to do that try here: http://www.mentallandscape.com/c_catalogvenus.htm, with this image being a good example: http://www.mentallandscape.com/C_Venera_Perspective.jpg.

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby Red Hal » Tue Jan 29, 2013 11:03 am UTC

For Mars, what is needed is an aircraft with a much lower wing-loading than the Cessna. The low Reynolds number compared to Earth's atmosphere would require big wings. Similar solutions abound for the other bodies with atmosphere. However, plugging a Cessna into the equation both illuminates the issues and makes for an interesting and entertaining read.

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby alvinhochun » Tue Jan 29, 2013 11:04 am UTC

You need the wetsuit, though, to protect you from the sulfuric acid. (I’m not selling this well, am I?)

Yes, you are speling this weII, according to Wikipidia.

(Still reading...)

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby pduthie » Tue Jan 29, 2013 11:12 am UTC

ralight wrote:In the text on Titan, it was claimed that the Huygens image is the only one that we have of the surface of a body besides Mars.


To be a pedant, it actually said "beyond Mars" which Venus isn't, but being unaware of the Venus landings I am most grateful for the info!
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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby ralight » Tue Jan 29, 2013 11:23 am UTC

pduthie wrote:
ralight wrote:In the text on Titan, it was claimed that the Huygens image is the only one that we have of the surface of a body besides Mars.


To be a pedant, it actually said "beyond Mars" which Venus isn't, but being unaware of the Venus landings I am most grateful for the info!


You're quite right. I was taking it as the "having progressed or achieved more than" meaning rather than distance. Reading it again, I'm sure that distance was the intention.

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby oliphaunt » Tue Jan 29, 2013 11:58 am UTC

It’s 72 degrees Kelvin on Titan

Someone has to say it: kelvin is a unit. You don't refer to temperatures on this scale with degrees, and you don't write the unit with a capital. So: "It's 72 kelvin on Titan" or "It's 72 K on Titan".
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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby Max™ » Tue Jan 29, 2013 12:07 pm UTC

Thought it was "kelvins", as unlike degree scales a kelvin is an actual unit in and of itself.
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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby bulltza » Tue Jan 29, 2013 1:24 pm UTC

Well, there is an error in this "What if". it states:

The Huygens probe, which descended with batteries nearly drained (taking fascinating pictures as it fell), succumbed to the cold after only 26 seconds on the surface. It had enough time to send back a single photo after landing—the only one we have from the surface of a body beyond Mars.


This is wrong I remember that the Huygens sent more than a hundred of pictures from the surface, the problem is that the camera was not steerable and it took allways the same picture. From the wikipedia we have the correct answer:

The main mission phase was a parachute descent through Titan's atmosphere. The batteries and all other resources were sized for a Huygens mission duration of 153 minutes, corresponding to a maximum descent time of 2.5 hours plus at least 3 additional minutes (and possibly a half hour or more) on Titan's surface. The probe's radio link was activated early in the descent phase, and the orbiter "listened" to the probe for the next 3 hours, including the descent phase, and the first thirty minutes after touchdown. Not long after the end of this three-hour communication window, Cassini's high-gain antenna (HGA) was turned away from Titan and towards Earth.
Very large radio telescopes on Earth were also listening to Huygens' 10-watt transmission using the technique of very long baseline interferometry and aperture synthesis mode. At 11:25 CET on January 14, the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia detected the carrier signal from Huygens. The GBT continued to detect the carrier signal well after Cassini stopped listening to the incoming data stream. In addition to the GBT, eight of the ten telescopes of the continent-wide VLBA in North America, located at Pie Town and Los Alamos, New Mexico; Fort Davis, Texas; North Liberty, Iowa; Kitt Peak, Arizona; Brewster, Washington; Owens Valley, California; and Mauna Kea, Hawaii, also listened for the Huygens signal.

Source: Wikipedia: Huygens_(spacecraft)#Detailed_Huygens_activity_timeline

So this means (in bold) that the Huygens continued transmitting data from the surface of Titan for more than 30 minutes, actually I remember that it was something like over 2 hours but I did not find information about it now.

There is however an interplaneray spacecraft that succumbed 14 seconds after landing, but it was in Mars, The Mars 3 from the Soviet Union...

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby ShadedKnight » Tue Jan 29, 2013 1:24 pm UTC

alvinhochun wrote:
You need the wetsuit, though, to protect you from the sulfuric acid. (I’m not selling this well, am I?)

Yes, you are speling this weII, according to Wikipidia.

(Still reading...)


"Selling", not "spelling". Selling as in if he was doing a good job you'd want to pack your bags and move to Venus to get a new job as a pilot there (which I wouldn't). I would definitely say that acid is a pretty big deterrent for prospective pilots on Venus.

Max™ wrote:Thought it was "kelvins", as unlike degree scales a kelvin is an actual unit in and of itself.


Yes, I though so too, and it looks like Wikipedia agrees.

EDIT: Well, at least so far that it's a unit. Don't know kelvin vs kelvins, but I would think it should be kelvins.

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby Jofur » Tue Jan 29, 2013 2:06 pm UTC

Pilots! Join me on Titan!
Everybody is doing it and nobody knows why.

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby Klear » Tue Jan 29, 2013 2:20 pm UTC

Jofur wrote:Pilots! Join me on Titan!


Well, the article forgot the mention the downsides of Titan, such as nonexistent airport infrastructure or astronomical fuel costs.

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby mathmannix » Tue Jan 29, 2013 2:33 pm UTC

Klear wrote:
Jofur wrote:Pilots! Join me on Titan!


Well, the article forgot the mention the downsides of Titan, such as nonexistent airport infrastructure or astronomical fuel costs.


There may not be any airports yet, but if you don't mind switching to conventional fuel after your LI-ion batteries run out, there are hydrocarbons in the atmosphere. Wikipedia claims:

Wikipedia wrote:The atmospheric composition in the stratosphere is 98.4% nitrogen ... with the remaining 1.6% composed of mostly of methane (1.4%) and hydrogen (0.1–0.2%). Because methane condenses out of Titan's atmosphere at high altitudes, its abundance increases as one descends below the tropopause at an altitude of 32 km, leveling off at a value of 4.9% between 8 km and the surface. There are trace amounts of other hydrocarbons, such ethane, diacetylene, methylacetylene, acetylene and propane, and of other gases...


It shouldn't be that hard to make a plane that scoops in methane and uses it to power its engine. Ethane or Propane could work too, depending on how plentiful they are (and if you don't mind using them up.)
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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby TrueNarnian » Tue Jan 29, 2013 3:03 pm UTC

I can't believe he didn't include a link to comic #620.

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby code65536 » Tue Jan 29, 2013 3:27 pm UTC

Klear wrote:or astronomical fuel costs.

Quite literally, too.

I have to say, I really loved
But I've never seen the Icarus story as a lesson about the limitations of humans. I see it as a lesson about the limitations of wax as an adhesive. The cold of Titan is just [sic] engineering problem.

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby BeagleFury » Tue Jan 29, 2013 3:31 pm UTC

It shouldn't be that hard to make a plane that scoops in methane and uses it to power its engine. Ethane or Propane could work too, depending on how plentiful they are (and if you don't mind using them up.)


Unfortunately, hydrocarbons don't produce energy (burn) without oxygen (or some other highly reactive compound). I suspect creating an airplane to automatically collect methane, ethane, and propane with the intention of powering it on your flight through the atmosphere of Titan would be challenging and ultimately fail. You'd have to fuel up with some oxygen beforehand, and I doubt there are any significant LOX reserves or unrefined H2O2 to drive this proposed energy economy on Titan.

Of interest -- oxygen as "fuel" (carried / consumed) and free hydrocarbon "air" is much less efficient (per unit mass) than hydrocarbon "fuel" and free oxygen "air".

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby RobFreundlich » Tue Jan 29, 2013 3:54 pm UTC

I've never seen the Icarus story as a lesson about the limitations of humans. I see it as a lesson about the limitations of wax as an adhesive.


I want this on a T-shirt. With the graphic of Icarus spiralling out of the Titan sky.

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby SilverSkorpious » Tue Jan 29, 2013 4:00 pm UTC

This may be idiotic. I assume the answer is the same as the Sun or Venus; but what about Mercury? :oops:

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby cellocgw » Tue Jan 29, 2013 5:05 pm UTC

ShadedKnight wrote:
EDIT: Well, at least so far that it's a unit. Don't know kelvin vs kelvins, but I would think it should be kelvins.


The temperature of some item is referred to, usually, as " the test chamber temperature is now 34.5 Kelvin." A change in temperature is referred to in the plural, as "upon viewing the cover of Maxim, his core temperature increased by about 3 Kelvins."
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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby cellocgw » Tue Jan 29, 2013 5:06 pm UTC

Klear wrote:
Jofur wrote:Pilots! Join me on Titan!


Well, the article forgot the mention the downsides of Titan, such as nonexistent airport infrastructure or astronomical fuel costs.


So? This is astronomy, so astronomical fuel costs are right in line with what's expected.
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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby Mike Rore » Tue Jan 29, 2013 5:20 pm UTC

+31 ways to die... assuming you can land a Cessna (on earth) in 5 - 10 minutes.

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby orthogon » Tue Jan 29, 2013 5:48 pm UTC

you need to approach Mach 1 just to get off the ground

Does this take into account that Mach 1 on Mars is significantly slower than Mach 1 on Earth?
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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby jgh » Tue Jan 29, 2013 6:46 pm UTC

There's a John Varley story set on the moon where lunites can "fly" in a pressurised underground chamber with earth-pressure air and moon gravity and large attachable batwings. "The Menace From Earth" if I remember.
Edit: Heinlein, not Varley.

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby o11c » Tue Jan 29, 2013 7:32 pm UTC

Wouldn't landing on Mars be as easy as choosing a runway that begins at the bottom of a 4.3 km tall hill?

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby mfc » Tue Jan 29, 2013 7:43 pm UTC

Unusual for XKCD to waffle .. but the bit about X-Plane being a good simulator is a bit 'over the top'. It does not even attempt to provide the physics for weightshift aircraft, paragliders, etc.

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby mathmannix » Tue Jan 29, 2013 9:28 pm UTC

SilverSkorpious wrote:This may be idiotic. I assume the answer is the same as the Sun or Venus; but what about Mercury? :oops:


Mercury has no* atmosphere (too hot and small), so it would be the same as on the moon or on any non-Titan moon in our solar system. To quote Wikipedia:

Wikipedia wrote:Due to its small size (and thus its small gravity), Mercury has no substantial atmosphere. Its extremely thin atmosphere mostly consists of a small amount of helium and traces of sodium, potassium, and oxygen. These gases derive from the solar wind, radioactive decay, meteor impacts, and breakdown of Mercury's crust. Mercury's atmosphere is not stable and is constantly being refreshed because of its atoms escaping into space as a result of the planet's heat.


* - Actually, seven moons in our solar system have atmospheres of some sort - in addition to the seven planets that do. But six of these moons - Europa, Io, Callisto, Enceladus, Ganymede, and Triton - have atmospheres way too thin to do anything with. However, Ganymede is larger than Titan, and Callisto only a bit smaller than Titan. I'm not certain why they don't have atmospheres and Titan does, but it is probably related to Titan's volcanic activity.
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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby keithl » Tue Jan 29, 2013 10:14 pm UTC

Titan: "The batteries would help to keep themselves warm for a little while, but eventually the craft would run out of heat and crash."

Boeing has some really cheap surplus batteries that get pretty warm ...

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby dudiobugtron » Tue Jan 29, 2013 11:04 pm UTC

What I learned from this 'What-if' is that pluto is smaller than Earth's moon. No wonder they unplaneted it.
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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby armandoalvarez » Tue Jan 29, 2013 11:17 pm UTC

I wonder why he chose a Cessna rather than a commercial airliner. That's what I think of when I think of "normal aircraft"

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby One128 » Tue Jan 29, 2013 11:46 pm UTC

Years of toying around with Orbiter Space Flight Simulator confirm that Mars is pretty much the most frustrating Solar System body to attempt atmospheric flight on; the atmosphere is just plain annoying and spiteful - too thin for aerodynamic control surfaces to work decently, but still dense enough to badly interfere with RCS attitude control. As soon as you try it, you'll understand exactly why everyone hates it.

And yes, flying on Titan is indeed a piece of cake.

(Of course, with Orbiter, the real satisfaction comes from launching your trusty old DG-III from Cape Canaveral on Earth, pulling off a VVEJGA to fly all the way to Saturn with minimum fuel consumption, performing an aerocapture at Titan without burning up, and then using your leftover fuel to do some aerobatics in the moon's atmosphere. 8-))

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby Max™ » Wed Jan 30, 2013 3:04 am UTC

cellocgw wrote:
ShadedKnight wrote:
EDIT: Well, at least so far that it's a unit. Don't know kelvin vs kelvins, but I would think it should be kelvins.


The temperature of some item is referred to, usually, as " the test chamber temperature is now 34.5 Kelvin." A change in temperature is referred to in the plural, as "upon viewing the cover of Maxim, his core temperature increased by about 3 Kelvins."

Isn't that like saying "the object masses 34.5 Gram", or "3 grams were added to the chamber", grams is correct, so kelvins is correct as well.

I'm sure you can just say K as (kay) though.
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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby alvinhochun » Wed Jan 30, 2013 4:32 am UTC

ShadedKnight wrote:
alvinhochun wrote:
You need the wetsuit, though, to protect you from the sulfuric acid. (I’m not selling this well, am I?)

Yes, you are speling this weII, according to Wikipidia.

(Still reading...)


"Selling", not "spelling".

That's what came up in my head when I was reading. Because Randall had spelt words wrong in some past comics (if I remember correctly) and I was taught "sulphuric acid" (I assume that may be British English...) so wrong spelling is the first thought.

Of course I know what's selling. Just trying to make things (not) funny.

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby Patteroast » Wed Jan 30, 2013 6:54 am UTC

Another small error... the one that 'doesn't even have a name' is 2002 TC302, with no R. Interestingly, on the Wikipedia article 'List of Solar System objects by size', there is a R after the name referring to a footnote about how the radius was determined. I'm thinking that was his source for his list of bodies.

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby oliphaunt » Wed Jan 30, 2013 9:35 am UTC

ShadedKnight wrote:
Max™ wrote:Thought it was "kelvins", as unlike degree scales a kelvin is an actual unit in and of itself.


Yes, I though so too, and it looks like Wikipedia agrees.

EDIT: Well, at least so far that it's a unit. Don't know kelvin vs kelvins, but I would think it should be kelvins.


Wikipedia agrees about "kelvins" too:
When spelled out or spoken, the unit is pluralised using the same grammatical rules as for other SI units such as the volt or ohm (e.g., "the triple point of water is exactly 273.16 kelvins" [8]).

Sorry, my bad. In Dutch, we don't pluralise units.
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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby Patteroast » Wed Jan 30, 2013 7:11 pm UTC

... I just realized that he also forgot one of the dwarf planets, Makemake. :(

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby AtG » Thu Jan 31, 2013 9:52 am UTC

No joke pulled from Uranus. I am disappoint!

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby Red Hal » Thu Jan 31, 2013 12:42 pm UTC

Calling occupants,
of interplanetary, most extraordinary ... umm ....Cessna?

Not quite the same.

--\|/--

I lost my heart to a Cessna Pilot?

Nope. Doesn't have the same Galactic thrill.

--\|/--

Cessnas
Weren't meant to fly-y-y
Io, don't have a sky..
On Mars, we won't get high
Let’s do this one more time
(Oh oh, oh oh)
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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby mishka » Thu Jan 31, 2013 1:01 pm UTC

http://www.x-plane.com/x-world/lawsuit/

And it turns out that the flight simulator that was used is being sued.

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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby Rotherian » Thu Jan 31, 2013 1:33 pm UTC

mishka wrote:http://www.x-plane.com/x-world/lawsuit/

And it turns out that the flight simulator that was used is being sued.


By patent trolls, as I understand it.
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Re: What-If 0030: Interplanetary Cessna

Postby Red Hal » Thu Jan 31, 2013 2:12 pm UTC

Patent trolls are some of the most odious, hateful, almost infandous human beings on the planet. In my opinion their actions - in stifling innovation, curtailing development and creaming off money from forward-looking organisations and people - are responsible for as much heartache, and indirectly illness and death as perpetrators of violent crime.

Patent-holders who commercialise products or services have a right to protect their intellectual property; freeloaders do not.
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