Manifesto part 4

Off-the-shelf components

In the last section we saw that in situ resource utilization is key to reducing the costs of a space colonization. Space settlement programs are expensive, so any method to reduce the startup costs is welcome. (I say startup costs, because once asteroid mining becomes profitable space colonies will be economically self-sustaining, but that will probably be at least after two decades.) One other way of reducing costs is by making use of off-the-shelf components as much as possible.

According to Eric Drexler extensive use of off-shelf-components can reduce costs with a factor six. Further Drexler argues that space stations do not have to be made of “special” space materials, many ordinary materials can do the job. Mass production has made this components cheap. One frequently made assertion for special designed components for space stations, is that is important to reduce launch mass. Drexler challenges this “wisdom” by stating that the required research and development costs more money than is save by the reduced mass.

By relying on off-the-shelf components as much as possible we will save a lot on research and development. Are we against R&D? No, but wasting money on reinventing the wheel over and over again, is what has caused the effective collapse of the US space program. But in fact a lot of research has already be done in the last fifty years on this subject. Much more research will not make space colonization to happen any sooner, on the contrary. Of course some research has to be done, but only when necessary to solve practical issues.