Rapidly Bootstrapping Solar System Wide Civilization

April 20th, 2012 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Rapidly Bootstrapping Solar System Wide Civilization)

Imagine the possibility that within 50 years, a thousand human civilization equivalents of greater wonder, beauty and prosperity than we have now:


Via American Society of Civil Engineers:

Advances in robotics and additive manufacturing have become game‐changing for the prospects of space industry. It has become feasible to bootstrap a self‐sustaining, self‐expanding industry at reasonably low cost. Simple modeling was developed to identify the main parameters of successful bootstrapping. This indicates that bootstrapping can be achieved with as little as 12 metric tons (MT) landed on the Moon during a period of about 20 years. The equipment will be teleoperated and then transitioned to full autonomy so the industry can spread to the asteroid belt and beyond. The strategy begins with a sub‐replicating system and evolves it toward full self‐sustainability (full closure) via an in situ technology spiral. The industry grows exponentially due to the free real estate, energy, and material resources of space. The mass of industrial assets at the end of bootstrapping will be 156 MT with 60 humanoid robots, or as high as 40,000 MT with as many as 100,000 humanoid robots if faster manufacturing is supported by launching a total of 41 MT to the Moon. Within another few decades with no further investment, it can have millions of times the industrial capacity of the United States. Modeling over wide parameter ranges indicates this is reasonable, but further analysis is needed. This industry promises to revolutionize the human condition.

This becomes an ever more tangible possibility as SpaceX revolutionizes commercial spaceflight, and interplanetary propulsion methods reach specific impulses of 250,000 seconds. This is equal to 1 pound of fuel delivering 1 pound of thrust for 250,000 seconds (~3 days), or 250,000 pounds of thrust for one second. Either way it’s a lot! It means rapid (multi-week) flexible travel anywhere in the solar system.


Space Migration or Human Extinction?

March 18th, 2009 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Space Migration or Human Extinction?)

Like many people I believe the current crisis is a wake-up call for humanity.  However, unlike many of the voices dominating the discussion lately, I have come to some very different conclusions.

The dirty little secret behind many environmental movements and their followers is a deep wish to see large segments of the human population die off.  This way the the Earth can restore itself from the overpopulated human civilization that has drained it.  Ideally, these same loyal econauts see themselves as inheriting this New Earth paradise after all the unworthy people have died off.  If you think I’m making this up or exaggerating, just ask them. One prominent “visionary” (who shall go nameless) said if people don’t get with the program, they will be turned into mulch. Being an environmentalist myself, I’m not accusing all of them, just many of the louder voices currently dominating the conversation. You’ll hear all sorts of scenarios of doom, gloom, and even glee that when it’s all over, the Earth will have maybe at most a billion inhabitants left (if we’re lucky) by the end of the 21st Century.

They are right about one thing – given our current level of dirty technology, population growth and rates of resource extraction, the human game of continual growth and material abundance cannot continue much longer without a severe environmental backlash from simple resource constraints.  You can’t extract what’s no longer there.  In other words, unless we find a way to magically transform our society through advanced nanotechnology into one that is 100% regenerative, large segments of the population will die off from a lack of resources necessary to feed, house and clothe them.

The honest truth is advanced nano-enabled regenerative technology is still a distant dream, and until it’s realized, we can’t count on it.  Instead we must solve our problems now using tools already available or that can be built without requiring unforseen breakthroughs.

Clearly as long as we continue doing business within a fragile planetary ecosystem, pretty much everything we do needs to change, adapt, ephermalize, regenerate. I just hope that along with these changes, we don’t loose site of the bigger impetus which this all points – which is to continue onward, upward, outward off the planet and become a space faring species.

This is the first time in our planets evolution such a possibility is upon us. Given what’s at stake (massive ecological, economic and population collapse), it’s now or never that a strong push for space development must be made. Those talking about peak civilization and mandatory de-industrialization are a depressing, anti-evolutionary lot.

I think when real-world constraints start culling the population, radical evolutionary pressures upward will re-exert themselves. I’ve never known people to go quietly in the night, especially when bigger, better alternatives present themselves.

My fellow Lifeboat adviser Brian Wang is actively working on some very radical space propulsion designs which could reduce orbital launch costs to less than $1/Kg without the need for any new technological advances.

When billions of lives are at stake from a lack of biosphere support capacity, space migration is by far the saner choice, especially when many if not most industrial processes can be taken off world.

This way everyone wins.  The more radical elements in the environmental movement can celebrate as all the industrialized processes they hate so much move wholesale offworld.  The Earth, through tender stewardship by those choosing to stay behind, can be ushered back into a veritable garden of Eden without it requiring any devolution or death of the human species.


$87 Billion Space Program

January 18th, 2004 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)


As you may know, $87 billion is how much the Bush Administration has allocated for the continuing ocupation of Iraq. Recently, a study was done about how much energy $87 billion could generate if it was for windmills. The answer is about 25% of all US power consumption. And then last week Bush announced a return to the moon. But I’m afraid this new space effort will probably be the same costly, bureaucratic and unimaginative boondoggle we’ve come to expect from NASA. I seriously doubt, if this new expensive space program will actually do much to create a sustainable space enterprise. But what if we spent the $87 billion on a rational and sound space program whose purpose was to create an economically sustainable and wealth generating space program? Could it be done? I think the answer is yes, and here is my step by step plan on how to do it without requiring any major advance in technology, nanotechnology or otherwise.

1. Scrap NASA and create an entirely new agency whose only purpose is to manage the flow of $87 billion towards generating a private and commercial space enterprise.

2. The first objective of this agency would be to create the cheapest and safest space transportation system possible with the stated goal of reducing the dollar per pound as much as possible. All finalists would have to have a system that approaches or surpasses the safety of current air travel. The most likely candidate would be the space elevator. The basic technology is already available, and if the money was available a space elevator could be built with minimal R&D. Total cost for a working space elevator – about $20 billion. This would immediately bring the price per pound to less than $100, and after awhile below $10 per pound. So how does a trip to space for $2000 sound? Obviously with these price points it changes EVERYTHING, most specifically each dollar goes a lot further. So what was once a potential $10 billion project, now becomes only a billion dollar project using the space elevator. Imagine current space budgets giving us 10 times as much progress per dollar as it does now.

3. Once the space elevator was working reliably, I would spend the next $20 billion on kickstarting private enterprise to take up shop in GEO for a variety of industries – tourism, manufacturing, metallurgy, materials and energy. GEO is the perfect place to release super-advance communications satellites and better still Solar Power Satellites beaming gigawatts of pollution-free energy back to earth. With the necessary assembly plants up there, and $10 per pound transportation costs, a whole new era of economic growth would be started with space offering a nearly unlimited amount of energy and resources compared to Earth’s current limts. Already over 10,000 industrial, material and metullurgical processes have been indentified that could be done more efficienty, effecitively and cheaply in space than on earth. The first technology to benefit from zero-gravity manufacturing could be microprocessor development and carbon nanotube technology. Companies with sound business and technology plans developing such technologies could very quickly turn their space enterprises into large profit ventures. This in turn would generate more investment dollars into space development – meaning more space-based factories, more R&D zero-g laboratories, more mining of space-based resources and furher reducing dependence on Earth for its sustainability. Remember that each dollar goes a lot further because launch cost have been subtantially reduced.

3. I would take the next $20 billion and invest the money along with the existing space enterprise in establishing a permanent asteroid capturing infrastructure. The amount of materials from just a single 1km asteroid would supply the earth and its space colonies with enough material in excess of 50 years of current rate of global consumption. Bringing a near earth approaching asteroid into a stable orbit around the earth or into the L4 or L5 points would quickly pay for itself and turn a very tidy profit for everyone involved. These heft profits would further even more investment dollars into solar system space vehicals , space-based mining, and genuinely workable and stable biospherics (CELSS – Closed Ecological Life Support Systems). Eventually, we’d see a rather sizable population taking up residence in the Asteroid belt. Mostl likely real hardy pioneer types, a new wild west or great frontier – and for many… freedom.

4. I would take the last $27 billion to use this existing and stable space infrastructure to launch several new ambitious exploratory scientific and manned missions into the solar system and beyond. Promising contenders would be space and moon-based large-scale telescopes. A moon based telescope could be built on the far side that would have enough power to descern actual photographic images of earth sized planets around other star systems. If you are impressed with the Hubble, imagine images thousands of times more crisp and detailed! And for those planets that are the most promising and close by, develop new light unmanned probes capable of at at least a sizable fraction of c (speed of light) to those stars for closer investigation.

So imagine the $87 billion that we are about to spend on the Iraq occupation transforming the entire economy of the world into a space faring civilization. WOW. Now only if Bush’s new space program had even remotely similar goals and we’d be getting somewhere. Since the details have not been ironed out, I can only hope.


Why I Remain Optimistic About Space

March 18th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Why I Remain Optimistic About Space)

Almost everything that has transpired with the advancement of launch technology has been done with government bureaucracy. Nothing even remotely close to competitive market forces have played a part in the advancement of  and in turn the reduction of launch costs. With this in mind projecting future progress based on past progress is probably not a good idea, as the Law of Accelerating Returns has not played any significant role yet. That is about to change.

Approximately every 18-24 months, the power of both the computer and the network doubles. Sometime in the 2010’s, we can anticipate a desktop computers operating at teraflop speeds. Wireless devices will be ubiquitous. The marketplace of ideas will be enhanced by things like smart mobs and online reputation systems, which will further accelerate the already rapid pace of “expert networking” and knowledge collaboration. The pace of technological growth will continue to accelerate and take all other fields of endeavor with it – including space enabling technologies like nanoengineered materials.

The economic payoff of mass produced nanomaterials like carbon nanotubes is so great,  that we can expect significant investments to pour into this field as much if not more as it poured into silicon. Not only can we expect more rapid increases in processors made of such materials but massive quantities of the strongest materials ever made.

Carbon nanotubes have the necessary strength to manufacture space elevators. A new company, High Life Systems, probably the first of many to come, has been established with this direct goal in mind. If they are successful, launch cost could plummet from their $20,000/lb to less than a $100/lb, and probably much less than that as the systems mature.

Reduced launch costs change everything.

It could radically democratize the space race, making it affordable for a lot more people and enterprises to take up shop. This in turn will create more economic incentives to reduce launch costs even further and advance basic space technology, including CELSS (Closed Environment Life Support Systems). As launch costs are reduced, and long-term habitation of space become easier, the drive to utilize space-based materials (near-earth approaching asteroids) will begin in earnest. Creating a permanent human presence on the moon would be easy as pie at this point. Not to mention that by this point, the state of nanotechnological development will be way past the mass-production of carbon based nanotubes.

As for timelines its hard to say. My guess is we could see this first attempts at building a space elevator as early as next decade. If so we could see dozens, then hundreds of people taking up some kind of permanent or semi-permanent residence in space shortly thereafter. By the second decade of space elevator operations it’s  the number of people permanently residing in space could be in the thousands.

Of course, all number of catastrophes could happen between now and then, but if the underling economic drivers are allowed to continue, such a timeline could even be conservative.

I think it was Arthur C. Clarke who said most predictions tend to hype and exaggerate short-term gains while completely underestimate long-term ones.

Time will tell.


To The Biosphere and Back Again

February 14th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on To The Biosphere and Back Again)

I went to visit my old stomping grounds in Tucson last week and had a chance to visit the Biosphere 2 project again. My first trip there was back in 1987 before they broke ground on the actual biosphere. For the first time they are starting to letting people go inside to take a peek. My wife and I went into both the savannah and desert regions. Here are a couple of photos we took while in the ocean and rain forest sections.


biosphere01As a physics student at the University of Arizona, I had friends who were directly involved with the Biosphere 2 project back in its infancy. The magic and excitement around the project at that time was intense. I went there several times in 1987, years before they began actual construction of the biosphere complex itself. During that time there were the opulently designed and furnished administrative “ranch” houses, some hyper-modern research labs with some smaller closed-biosphere experiments, as well as a very large greenhouse, where they were accumulating plant/tree species from around the world. In 1987 it was like stepping into the future. As a space settlement advocate and L5 Society member the chance to see this project take shape up and close and personal was exhilarating.

Many people say the project was a total failure – but I could not disagree more strongly. Sure mistakes were made, but isn’t that the whole purpose of an experiment, to see what happens, and adjust accordingly? An enormous amount of knowledge was gained in the so-called “failures” of the first Biosphere project, and our knowledge of both small-scale closed biospherics and the large one that surrounds the earth has increased considerably as a direct result of this project. Columbia University is currently running the project.


Space Tragedy: Why We Must Push Forward

February 1st, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Space Tragedy: Why We Must Push Forward)

Today is a very sad day and my heart goes out to the astronauts families. It is at times like this, just as the Challenger explosion of 1986, that we cannot let the deaths of the astronauts go in vain. We must continue our exploration of space. Despite these tragic circumstances, space migration is critically important to our future. Below is the current best working theory I’ve read on what may have caused this tragedy:

A sad day indeed….I and one of my co-owners, Jeff Bertsch, work at the Space Center and are both former flight controllers (Ascent/Entry Guidance & Procedures Officers). I worked with Wille McCool on the Shuttle Cockpit Upgrade, which is supposed to fly in 2006. The deorbit burn is targeted with excess energy, so the Shuttle flies about a 45 deg bank during Entry and does a couple of roll reversals (S-Turns) to manage the energy. The video shows a large object separating, then a flash and puff in the contrail and then the breakup. I believe the large object was the left wing and it was probably during a roll reversal. The left wing was struck by External Tank debris during Ascent. The wing leading edge temperature is ~3000 deg during Entry. Dennis Bentley

For those who think that space travel is not worth the risk, here is a copy of my post to slashdot this morning:

Manned Space Travel is worth every risk! Sure the science they are doing might seem trivial, but just having people in space is absolutely necessary for our survival. As Konstantin Tsiolkovsky said:

We cannot remain in the cradle forever.”

We must continue to explore space, to push the envelop. Sure space travel is still dangerous, but every astronaut took those risks gladly and with with dignity and honor. Don’t let them die in vain. If they were alive today they would urge us to continue this noblest of pursuits.

Manned space travel is the greatest adventure we can possibly make and it is worth every risk. In the scheme of things, the current survival statistics of space travel is an order of magnitude safer than it was a short 30 years ago.

With nanotech materials on their way, space travel is only going to get cheaper, safer and more profound in everyday.

My hear goes out to the families, and with them I say we keep moving forward.


The Necessity of Space Migration

November 12th, 2002 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on The Necessity of Space Migration)

So many headlines of the past few years have a common background theme: the dependence of modern economies on a steady, dependable supply of energy, and the consequences of our current fossil fuel dependency for global stability and climate. Clearly this cannot continue forever. Worse still, most of the people of the world do not even live under modern economic conditions as yet, and as China, India, and other similar nations continue to progress, world energy needs will almost inevitably double or triple from their current levels. So where is all that energy going to come from?

In the November 1, 2002 issue of Science, Marty Hoffert of NYU and 17 co-authors have published an analysis of the energy options that will be available to meet world demand a few decades from now, under the constraint of constant or reduced carbon dioxide emissions. While there are many short-term measures that could make a difference, the only long-term viable alternatives seem to be fusion and space-based solar power.

Fusion is still a gambit, and could take decades before it energizes. Space-based solar power relies on mostly existing technology. Nanotechnology will of course improve the efficiency of such power systems, but it and the economic drive to build solar power satellites will reduce the cost of escaping gravity. With the economic drive to increase our energy output and the feasible and affordable means to do it – we will go into space. This economic drive will encourage large investments of cash into long-term sustainable space technologies.

For me the greatest prospect of migrating into space is freedom. Not only political and sociological freedom, but also means freedom from living on a contrained flat gravity-fixed surface. Combine all of this and you gain the ability,to create and inhabit any environment your imagination can conceive with freedom that only utopian anarchists imagined. Of course, virtual realities will be extremely sophisticated offering compelling cyber-spaces t rich in knowledge and interactivity.

What this all means is that as space access becomes increasingly affordable, more people are likely to become highly motivated to go there – perhaps to escape the repressive regimes of earth that may inevitably form to “keep the world safe” Like the new world, space will offer a release valve, of an over-populated and stangled earth, for a species that has outgrown the womb.