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.

Trinitramid Molecule - N(NO2)3

Trinitramid Molecule – N(NO2)3

From Next Big Future:

Researchers in Sweden have created a new rocket fuel molecule called Trinitramid that could increase payload capacities 4-8 times and be totally earth friendly.

What this enables is a Single Stage to Orbit Fully Reusable Launch Vehical.   The follow factors each reduce launch cost to orbit:

1) The power of Trinitramid (4-8 times cheaper)

2) Single Stage Fully Reusable Launch Vehicle (50-100 times at least)

Multiply these two factors together and you get a reduction between 200 and 800 times cheaper than current launch costs.  That comes out somewhere between $2500 to 10,000 per person for access to space.  When space travel becomes that cheap, a LOT more people and enterprises can afford to go, which means a lot more demand and a lot more launches, which brings in a third cost reducing factor:

3) Economies of Scale

Since fuel prices for Liquid Oxygen and Hydrogen are cheap (less than a $1/pound), then the only costs remaining are operational and upkeep costs.  What this means are prices not much higher than intercontinental airline flights.

The bad news is  trinitramid may not be stable enough to be used as a fuel.  Even in that event, and taking out the factor of 4-8x, prices to space would still be under $5000 after a commercial space industry matures.  This means anyone who is motivated enough could go to space.


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.