Category Archives: space mining

Manifesto part 6

No involvement with Lunar or Mars colonies

There are a lot of organizations devoted at the colonization of the Moon and/or Mars, we will not participate in their efforts. We do not see any benefit of the establishment of human settlements on the Moon and our red neighbour. Both celestial bodies have the disadvantage of their low gravity, which is bad of human health. But on the other hand the gravity of these bodies great enough, to give them a high escape velocity. Mars has an escape velocity which is about half Earth’s (which is 11 km/s) and the Moon’s is about a fifth, where the escape velocity of asteroids is close to zero.

Escape velocity is of great concern for space colonists, because in order to reach this velocity energy is needed. Reducing energy requirements is saving money, which improves the economical credibility of space settlement programs. When we realize that there are no resources on the Moon or Mars we cannot find on near earth asteroid or comets, we see that it makes no sense to establish colonies on the Moon and Mars.

In fact all resources we can find on Mars and the Moon, are delivered there by asteroids. Some people will cite the (presumed) lunar reserves of helium 3 (a proposed fusion fuel) as a reason for Lunar colonies. We, however, believe that there is no need for helium 3 as an energy source in the Inner Solar System. If the Outer Solar System will be colonized helium 3 extraction from Uranus makes more sense.

Manifesto part 3

Resources from Near Earth Objects

Near Earth Objects (NEOs) are a collection of comets, asteroids and some other objects within the orbit of Mars. Most of these objects regularly come within close range from the Earth, some of those objects are actually easier to reach than the Moon. This seems strange, but in space travel access is not measured in distance but in velocity increments (delta V), which is a measure of the required energy. Because of the Moon’s mass it takes more energy to get to the Moon. And if we want to leave, we have to overcome the Lunar escape velocity.

In order to reach the Near Earth Objects, we have only to overcome a relatively small change in our position relative to the Sun. (Delta V is related to the local escape velocity from the Sun, which is a function of the distance from the Sun.) Therefore we need a rather small delta V to get to the Near Earth Objects. Of course the actual required velocity increment depends on the exact position of a particular object, but since there are several thousands of them we will simply pick one which is relatively close.

The major advantage of NEOs as a mining site, is that they contain a broad variety of resources. Unlike the Moon NEOs contain all chemical elements needed for a modern industrial society. And since NEOs have a negligible gravity, only a modest amount of fuel is required to return resources to Earth or anywhere else in space.

In situ resource utilization (ISRU) is the use of extraterrestrial resources at or near the location where they are mined. ISRU is opposed to importing resources from our planet. One example: the American space company Bigelow Aerospace has designed and built inflatable space stations. Suppose we buy one and we launch it to, say, L4. There we inflate the structure with air, which we have extracted from a Near Earth Asteroid. This example show the benefits of ISRU, by using air from NEO resources we can reduce the payload we need to launch from Earth. Basically we should restrict ourselves to launch only those items which cannot (already) produced in space, in order to reduce launch costs.

The extraction of resources from NEOs, is also important in funding space colonization. Especially the (limited) export of the precious platinum group metals will an important source of revenue for Space communities. The prospect of for-profit asteroid mining also makes it possible to do space colonization without government funding.

After some time, when space based industries are more developed we need to import less from Earth, since more products are manufactured locally. One development which is of interest of space colonization is 3D printing. This technology is also called rapid prototype technology or desktop manufacturing. 3D printing makes it possible to produce complicated structures in short time without a large workforce. Once a structure is stored in a computer file it can be printed on demand. Of course this technology has its limitations, but the prospects are quite promising.

Manifesto part 2

Why Lagrange point colonization

When most people think about space colonization, they think about colonies on the Moon or Mars. Some people conflate the concept of space colonization with faster-than-light travel (which is impossible), and think about conquering other stellar systems. This is NOT what Republic of Lagrangia is about. We are aimed at colonizing free space by using space habitats. A space habitat is simply a large space station able to house a large number of people, most designs rely on centrifugation for generating artificial gravity.

The great advantage of space habitats is that we can locate them anywhere we wish. They can be relocated if necessary, if for example we live in the close neighbourhood of a hostile space colony (or a hostile Earth), we can move away from them. Another possibility is avoiding collision with meteorites. This is impossible if you are living on the Moon or Mars, technically speaking it is possible to move these objects, but it take you an immense amount of energy to make even a slight displacement and due to their masses almost any significant displacement will have unintended consequences for other bodies in the Solar System (Earth in particular).

The next question is of course, where should we locate our space habitat? There are a lot of possible location, each of them has their benefits and disadvantages. Most people would think about placing space habitats in an orbit around the Earth. Main advantage is that they are close to Earth, therefore travel time is short (from a few hours to a few days). This location is historically defended by most space advocacy groups. The foremost problem with cislunar space colonies is that they suffer from regular eclipses. This problem can be reduced by placing space habitats farther away from Earth, but this also increase travel time. Another problem is the lack of resources in the Earth system.

An obvious, but misleading, objection is that there are resources on Earth and on the Moon. Why should you go to live in outer space if you need to import everything you need from Earth? True, during the first days of space colonization a lot of stuff need to be imported, but after some time space colonies will become more and more self-sufficient. And the Moon is rich in some resources, especially titanium, but is also poor in others (most importantly hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen are hard to find on the Moon). Secondly the Moon is massive enough to require a relative high escape velocity (compared with Near Earth Objects) and it cost more energy to reach the Moon than the Near Earth Objects.

An attractive location for positioning space colonies are the fifth and fourth Sun-Earth Lagrange points, which are in co-orbit with the Earth. Bodies placed in or around these points have a stable orbit. Further these points do not suffer from eclipses caused by the Earth, therefore we can rely on continuous operational Solar power. One problem is that it takes several months to reach them, but we have to realize that a few centuries ago it would take several months to cross the Atlantic. But this did not stop European countries from colonizing the Americas. Yes, the long travel time causes several challenges, but we believe that man can overcome this. Proper planning and design are a key to success.

Another advantage of the fourth and fifth Earth-Sun Lagrange points is the presence of so-called Trojan asteroids. Currently the existence one such an object is confirmed, it is reasonable to assume other Earth Trojans exists. As I will explain in the next section, asteroids are the treasures of the Solar System. Even if there no other Earth Trojans, or those which exists are of poor composition, then L4 and L5 can be used as a destination for relocated Near Earth Asteroids. Some space advocates argue in favor of capturing asteroids and to relocate them into an orbit around our planet. I do not believe this is a good idea, we can easily see the danger of this mission. Many people on this planet would consider this as an unacceptable risk.

The long travel time from Earth to the fourth and fifth Lagrange points has also benefits. If for some reason the communities of the Lagrange points got in conflict with terrestrial nations, they effectively protected from military aggression from the Earth. Any hostile missile has to transverse for months through space and can be detected remotely by proper equipment.

Manifesto part 1

Reasons for Space colonization

In this section we will explain why we are in favour of space colonization, and the next section we will also explain why we want to colonize the so-called fourth and fifth Lagrange points of the Earth-Sun system rather than colonizing the Moon or Mars. Although many of our arguments are not original, actually most of our main arguments exist since at least the late 1960s, we will present our reasoning from a point of view which is based on classical republicanism and classical liberalism.

Traditional arguments for space colonization are overpopulation and the survival of humanity. Since the world population continues to grow, some people fear that at one time in the (near) future there are too many people. Overpopulation is the situation that there are more people on Earth than our planet can sustain (this is the idea behind the ecological footprint). Believing that birth control programs will not work or will be insufficient, some people believe that therefore a part of our species should be relocated to other planets or to artificial space habitats. The fear for uncontrollable population growth was especially great in the 1970s (see for instance the establishment of the club of Rome). Since then the growth rate of the world population has declined, and many experts now believe that the number of humans will stabilize at nine to ten billion by the year 2100. Of course we cannot predict whether there will be a baby boom somewhere in this century, but it is unlikely that the world population will triple during the next 100 years.

There are several so-called existential risks for humanity, varying from natural to man-made catastrophes. The idea is that in order to guarantee the continued existence of the human race, a part (or even all) of humanity should be relocated into outer space, in the event of a global catastrophe. However some of those potential catastrophes, especially those created by man, can either be averted or their consequences can be reduced. Other potential risks are only a problem in billions of years, which raises the question why we should take action right now, while there are more urgent problems (like the HIV/aids pandemic). Some people, like for instance the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, would argue that humans shouldn’t reproduce in the first place, and therefore such far-into-the-future problems, such like the Sun entering into the red giant stage, are irrelevant. Given that the chance for a global catastrophe which is able to wipe out the human species, to happen within the lifespans of all currently alive people is rather small, we can ask whether we have a moral responsibility to ensure the continued existence of mankind. Different people will answer this question differently.

Traditionally there is also a third reason for space colonization. Although this one is not as popular as the first two, but we believe this third argument is possibly more important. We could call this one the economic argument (we could call the first and second argument the demographic respectively the survivalist argument). As more people are the joining the global middle classes, more people will buy cars, washing machines and other consumer goods. In order to meet this increasing demand, more and more resources are needed. If for example every person on Earth would be able to buy a car, we should switch to, for example, hydrogen cars. But the required fuel cells need a lot of platinum, and everyone knows that platinum is a very rare resource, at least here on Earth. Asteroid mining could easily provide enough platinum for a full-scale hydrogen economy (I will ignore all criticism of the hydrogen economy here, because that is outside the scope of this manifesto). Beside solving issues of resource depletion, asteroid mining can also reduce or eliminate environmental damage caused by terrestrial mining. The reader may point out that asteroid mining is not the same as space colonization. This is true, but asteroid mining without space colonization is practically impossible. Even if we have a nearly completely automated space mining industry, we still need a (small) space based crew in case of some unexpected problems.

However, we believe that the most important reason for space colonization is what we would call the political or utopian argument. Here on Earth civil liberties are under pressure almost everywhere, and since many resources (e.g. food and oil) are increasingly becoming scarce we expect that political freedoms will be even further restrained. Except for a piece of Antarctica known as Marie Byrd Land, almost all land on Earth is claimed by governments. Therefore it is almost impossible to create a new country on Earth without war. Secondly it is hard to impossible to implement large reforms in existing societies, see for example the massive demonstration currently held in many European countries.

Republic of Lagrangia believes that every society, whether on Earth or in Outer Space, should have the right to organize themselves as they see fit. We also believe that every person should have the right to choose in which society he or she wants to live. Therefore we do not believe in forcing existing terrestrial societies to implement the reforms we wish to implement, our only option is to move to Outer Space.

We realise that different people want to live in different kinds of societies, but the beautiful aspect of Space Colonization is that it provide both the space and the resources for a wide variety of societies. Suppose that one group disagrees how some Space community is run, they can simply take their stuff and go to somewhere else to create their own community. No need for violent separation movements and related civil wars.

Peaceful coexistence will be the cornerstone of the relation between Space Nations, people will move to those societies they like most or they will try to create their very own. This kind of freedom does not exist on Earth nowadays.

Colonization of Mars

This post was originally published on blogspot.com on February 3, 2012

In this post I will discuss the pros and cons of the colonization of Mars.

The colonization of Mars is considered by some as the holy grail of human space exploration. Since the end of the second World War many plan for manned missions to Mars are proposed and also the possibility to establish permanent human settlements on the Red Planet is regularly discussed by Space enthusiasts.

Until the 1970s the Moon and Mars were the logical locations for the first human colonies in our Solar System. Because both celestial bodies are relatively easy to reach (a manned mission to other solar systems would take several thousands years with current technology). But at the end of the 1960s scientists like Gerard O’Neill started to explore the possibilities of free space habitats and their designs gave way to a new approach to Space colonization.

The main problem with the colonization of both the Moon as Mars, is the small gravitation of these bodies. Especially in case of the Moon, this would give serious problems for human health, however it is currently unknown of Mars’ gravity would be sufficient for humans. In space habitats the problem of low gravity is solved by centrifugation.

O’Neill e.a. proposed to use lunar and asteroidal resources to build space habitats. The advantage of this is that both the Moon as asteroids have a low escape velocity compared to Earth, while Mars’ escape velocity is roughly half Earth’s. This is one, among many others, reason why we of Republic of Lagrangia are in favor building space habitats in the Lagrange points of the Sun-Earth system.

Although manned Mars missions are a recurrent theme, no such mission has been undertaken. Main reason for this is (shortsighted) politics, not science and technology. Actually it is estimated that the US government has wasted a few times more money in Iraq and Afghanistan, than the price of a manned mission to our Red Neighbor.

But we have to ask ourselves if despite the abundant, and therefore cheap, recourses of the Near Earth Asteroids, there is potential for colonizing Mars. First I would say that regardless of any advantage of space habitats over Mars, there will be people who want to settle on the Red planet, simply because of planetary chauvinism. But there is a good reason for colonizing Mars, I will discuss them later in this post.

From a technical point of view colonization of Mars, is not that difficult (the biggest problem with any manned mission is the trip itself). Actually, one can argue that Mars is easier to settle than the Moon. As Zubrin argues in this article Mars possesses all the elements necessary for human civilization. Therefore Martian colonists will not dependent on importation from Earth as much as Lunar colonists.

Main problem with populating the Red planet, is establishing habitats in which people can function in a normal way. Well one can make domed cities by using Martian made glass or plastic. Another solution is building subsurface structures. In both cases the habitats will be filled with breathable air.

If we have livable habitats on Mars, than the next big problem is power supply. For the colonization of Mars there are essentially two sources of energy: nuclear and solar power. Since Mars is farther away from the sun, it reserves only 42 percent of the amount of solar as Earth.

Deposits with relatively high concentration of thorium and uranium should exist on Mars. These elements can be used for Martian fission reactors, further Zubrin states that the percentage of deuterium is five times higher than on Earth (mainly because deuterium is heavier than normal hydrogen, and therefore possesses a higher boiling point). This can be used as fuel for nuclear fusion reactors. Both fission and fusion power not only produce electricity, but also provide colonists with heath for their habitats.

Although Mars only receives half as much solar power than Earth, solar power is the most promising candidate for powering Martian colonies. Since our planet receives every hour more energy, than the annual global energy consumption, we can safely assume that solar power is able to provide enough energy for Mars.

By solar power most people will think of large parts of Mars covered with solar arrays, however it will be more efficient to build solar power satellites in orbit around Mars. In orbit SPSs will receive sun light nearly continuously and the can be made arbitrarily large. Further, by beaming the harvested energy through high intensity microwaves, less Martian surface is needed for power generation.

Since the escape velocity of Mars is roughly half Earth’s, it doesn’t make sense to build SPSs from Martian resources. In the 1970s it was proposed to construct SPSs for use in near earth space from lunar material, in order to circumvent high launching costs from Earth. Happily there several small bodies in near Mars space: first have the two moons of Mars, which are believed to be captured asteroids. And there are also Mars trojans, a family of asteroids orbiting the L4 and L5 points of Sun-Mars system.

The moons and trojans can not only provide resources for SPSs, but can also deliver huge amounts of volatiles for Martian and other Space colonists.

Despite the technical feasibility of the colonization of Mars, he have to ask why we should do it. In this article, Eric Drexler provide several arguments against the colonization of Mars. In essence the main contra argument is that Mars has a too high escape velocity to be competitive with asteroidal mining schemes. And since mining would be the prime motive for Martian settlement, this seems to be the end the Martian Dream. Due the relatively large travel time between Earth and Mars, tourism is unlikely to become a big drive settling the red planet. For the space tourist industry Lunar colonies are more attractive, since the Moon can be reached in just a few days.

However there is one reason for colonizing Mars worth to be considered, Zubrin argues that Mars could produce food for colonies in the Asteroid belt. Crops can easily be grown on the red planet. We have only the build greenhouses and launch sites. Question is whether this should be necessary. Assuming that the first settlers in the Asteroid belt are mainly involved in mining, they have to import their food. In order to launch food from Earth to the asteroid belt we need to overcome Earth’s gravity (escape velocity) and we need energy to change from the orbit of the Earth around the Sun to the Belt (delta V). For Mars both the escape velocity as the delta V are lower, so transporting food from Mars to the Belt consumes less energy and is therefore cheaper. However if we assume that before the Belt man will first colonize Near Earth asteroids, we have to consider the possibility of transporting food from them to the Belt. Well, free space habitats have zero escape velocity, while delta V is roughly the same as for transport from Earth.

Despite its technical feasibility, we of Republic of Lagrangia believe that colonizing our Red Neighbor should only happen, if ever, after the colonization of the Lagrange points of the Earth-Sun system.

Further reading:

http://www.nss.org/settlement/mars/zubrin-colonize.html

http://www.nss.org/settlement/L5news/1984-case.htm

On the economy of Space Colonies

This post was originally pubished on blogspot.com on January 19, 2012

In this article, I’ll restrict myself to space colonies in Near Earth space.

Since space colonization cost a huge amount of money, it is necessary that the first space colonies are making profits. For the purpose of this article I’ll assume that space colonies will be financed primarily be issuing corporate bonds at international stock markets. Continue reading On the economy of Space Colonies

Is Helium 3 really the future?

This post was originally posted on blogspot.com on February 22, 2012

In another post I have presented arguments against returning to the Moon. Although more and more people are discovering that the prospect of mining Near Earth Asteroids is superior to Lunar mining activities, there are still people, like Newt Gingrich, who believe that humans should establish a base on the Moon. As Eric Drexler argues, returning to the moon is a waste of money. Continue reading Is Helium 3 really the future?