Mars One

Recently much attention has been paid to the Mars One initiative, a Dutch “space” organization devoted to bringing humans to Our Red Neighbour in 2023, by the blogosphere. As any regular visitor of our site will know, we of Republic of Lagrangia are very sceptical about any plan involving the colonization of the Moon or Mars. In this post I will discuss why we believe that Mars One is almost certainly deemed to be a failure. However, I will not touch the question whether Mars One is a hoax, which would imply that the people behind this group are deliberately pursuing a fraud, a sever accusation. Instead I believe it will be sufficient to deal with the relevant arguments only.

As I said Mars One aims to send four human beings to Mars by the year 2023, that is ten years from now. The idea is that those people will stay on the Fourth planet for the rest of their lives. Some people will be shocked by this idea, but it makes perfectly sense if you are really interested in colonizing outer space; in this case there is no real need to go back to Earth. This is a big difference between Mars One and projected manned missions to Mars of, for instance, NASA. After a successful first manned landing, they intend to launch four-men crews each two years. In fact the whole scheme as pursued by Mars One is not originally, it has essentially copied from Robert Zubrin’s Mars Direct proposal.

Unlike other space settlement initiatives, Mars One will be entirely funded though private means, e.g. no government involvement and no tax money for this project. This raises of course the question how to fund this program. Essentially Mars One intends to collect money from the public, however they realize this will not be enough, therefore they have thought about a source of revenue for funding their project. One of the “theorems” of space colonization is that the creation of a source revenue is essential for space colonization, because investors wants to make profits (see also this post).

How does Mars One plan to generate revenue? Well, their idea is to use the whole thing as the subject of one great reality TV show, and to sell the broadcasting rights in order to fund the entire project. You will not find another suggested source of revenue, other than just begging for donations. Actually this “business plan” is just silly. Why? Because the team of Mars One grossly overestimate the total revenue what can be collected this way. There are many reasons to be sceptical whether this finance strategy will generate enough money to fund the whole mission. First we have to ask how many people are actually going to watch this reality show, whether they will watch the entire series, at least whether they will watch regularly instead of just watching a few episodes. Since the trip to Mars will take some one or two years, during this time the astronauts will be locked up in their space craft and almost every day will be much the same, it is reasonably to assume that a lot of prospective TV viewers will become bored after just a few episodes. Also we have to consider that a lot of people will only watch the launch and landing of the crew, while ignoring the intermediate episodes.

Even if the first mission to Mars could be funded through this reality show, we have to ask whether the subsequent missions can be funded in the same way. Normally TV series, including reality TV, are cancelled after a few seasons (if not earlier because of declining rates) and only a very few shows manage to survives more than five seasons. And if manned Mars missions are becoming more common, more people will lose their interest to follow the whole mission, with the exception of a few die hard fanatics. While series like Deadliest catch can survive with a relatively small base of hard core viewers, Mars mission cannot.

Not only Mars One does not have a sound business plan, their very schedule is in our opinion quite optimistic: a manned landing on Mars in 2023. That’s in ten years from now. This may seem as no big problem, a closer look at their entire schedule, however, reveals another story. They plan to launch a supply mission in 2016, just in three years from now. Such supply mission is necessary (and is again derived from Zubrin’s plan), and any delay will also delay all other dates. Due to the orbital periods of the Earth and Mars, there is every two years, a so-called launch window for mission to Mars (whether they are manned or not), so if you miss the first you have to two wait at least two years. Of course you can launch a spacecraft to Mars at any time, but then you have to take into account a much longer travel time, and additional fuel costs and so.

According to their own schedule, Mars One has to start in 2014 with the preparations of the supply mission. If there will be a delay in this phase, then they will miss their 2016 launch window and subsequently miss their “2023” target. Whether they will get their preparations finished on time, is partially depended on whether they will be able to get sufficient funding for their enterprise. Our conclusion is therefore that the schedule of Mars One is too ambitious and too optimistic. Its rigidity will ultimately be the downfall of Mars One.

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Smartphones in space

A few days ago I read in my newspaper an article about the use of smart phones in satellites. According to the article, engineers of NASA during a brainstorm session were contemplating that an on board computer of the new generation of small satellites, the smart spheres, should be small, efficient with energy, should have integrated sensors and a usual operating system. The story goes that at a certain moment someone, while the engineers were checking their email on their cell phones, came with the suggestion that modern mobile phones just fit the requirements of said on board computer.

In order to make the smart spheres, of which three are now on board of the ISS, the engineers removed the GSM chip (there is no need that they should be able to make phone calls anyway). The smart ones selected by NASA are based on the android operating system of Google. Because this platform can easily be connected to external components, building a functional satellite is in reach of almost everyone. Another advantage of this approach is that there are tens of thousands people who are android app developers.

The question is whether this “break through” is beneficial for space colonization. The answer is simple: yes. Because smart phones are mass produced, they are relatively cheap. According to the article, the production of the phonestat 2 (a related project, also build around a smart phone computer), costed only 8,000 dollar. Further, this approach is fully in compliance of our policy of using off the shelve components as much as possible. The philosophy behind this policy, is that  by using off the shelve components space colonization will not be only cheaper, it will also be faster. This because we do not have to waste our time be developing every part we need, and why reinventing the wheel over and over again?

Modern smart phones, especially those with an open source  operating system (this also will help to lower costs), will help to make space colonization reality.

More information:

http://www.eetimes.com/electronics-news/4403998/NASA-to-launch-4-in-cube-comms-satellites

On the language of a space colony

This post was originally posted on blogspot.com on June 13, 2012

In this post I will discuss the very important question of which language a space colony should have? I will argue that a constructed language would be our best choice, but I will first explain why this question is as important as I claim. Sequentially I will sketch the problems of selecting a natural language for a space colony and finally I will explain how these problems are solved by selecting a constructed language.

The first point we have to consider is  why we should agree on a common language. There are a lot of countries which do well without an official language, for instance the USA and the Netherlands. But these countries have de facto a national language, in a traditional homogeneous society newcomers have to learn that society’s language in order to be fully functional. So countries with a historical common language don’t need to formalize this.

A common language in a society, which is widely understood by its members, enables useful communication within it, think for example about the law. People has to be able to know the law and as matter of fact, the law has to be written in some language. It’s true that some multilingual countries write their laws in multiple languages, but most of these countries are bilingual, so the costs of translating laws and other official documents are quite modest. If the number of recognized languages increases, then also the associated costs will increase. The most clear example of this is the European Union, which has no less than 23 official working languages and as a result a large part of the budget of the EU goes up to translating (for instance the instant interpreting in the European Parliament).

It’s clear that Space colonists would want to avoid this absurdity, we have better use for our money (lower taxes would be for example a nice idea for attracting new immigrants), so they should rationally choose for one single language (important to note is that this will not mean that other languages are not allowed). So the next question is which language to pick?

For the sake of the argument I will assume that the official language of a single Space colony will be decided by democratic procedures, like a referendum (a practical consequence of this will be, of course, that several colonies will each pick another language). It would be a nice exercise to see whether this could lead to a situation in which a Space colony should decide to become deliberately a multilingual society and if so under what circumstance, and therefore contradicting my “theorem of unilingualism“. My hunch will be that it depends on the specific decision procedure, but I don’t think it will be appropriate to discuss this question here, so for those who are interested I will place this discussion in a comment of this post.

This will bring me to my main argument. At this moment, there some 7000 natural languages in the world, most of them are rather small. Although mandarin Chinese has more speakers, English is more widely spread (this is the main reason why this entire blog is in English) and has also more non-native speakers. This combined with the fact that a large part of the Space advocacy movement is located in the English-speaking world, has led by some to assume that English would therefore the logical choice for Space colonies.

Well, I have to disagree. English, like all other natural languages, is associated with a specific culture, in this case the Anglo-Saxon culture of Britain, North America and Oceania. So by choosing for English as official language, a Space colony is willingly choosing for the Anglo-Saxon culture, at least in the eyes of outsiders. It is my personal conviction that Space colonies should develop their very own cultures, which are clear distinct from any terrestrial “culture”. And the most important tool to realize this is by selecting a language which is not related to any other culture. As a corollary of this, I also believe that different Space communities will distinguish of each other by choosing different languages.

An other problem of choosing English, the same applies for every other natural language, is that it will discriminate against non-native speakers. Those who are native speakers are in an advantageous position in comparison of those who are not. Since I believe that Space colonies will not be established by cultural homogeneous groups, I consider this as unnecessarily unfair. In order to avoid the creation of unjust advantages for native speakers, we should choose for an artificial or constructed language. Since no colonist will be a native speaker of this language, all colonist will be equal in this respect.

Over the course of history, there have been many proposals for so-called auxiliary languages, with Esperanto as its most famous example. Because of its popularity, I will strongly advice against the selection of Esperanto as an official language of a Space colony, since in the last 120 years the Esperanto culture has developed its own distinct culture. I believe that the association of the Space colonization movement with the Esperanto movement, will be bad for both movements. But nevertheless those who are in charge of designing languages for Space colonies, can learn much from Esperanto and related projects like Ido or Interlingua.

Although it is not the purpose of this essay to provide guidelines for creating a language,  it would advisable that Spacer languages should be based on the principles of international auxiliary languages. This because the type of constructed languages is aimed at easiness to learn, and since the population of (early) Space colonies is likely to be multicultural.

Note

As I have promised, I will discuss here the question of multilingual Space colonies. First I have to note, that since most early space colonies will be multicultural, their citizens will speak many different languages in private relations, that is not where I am talking about, instead I will concentrate only on official languages.

Although it would be the rational choice to select one and only one official language, I believe there will be Space colonies which will be multilingual. Mostly as part of a comprise between different groups. Suppose that the citizens of the colony Bernal Alpha have to vote on an official language and have three choices: Esperanto, Interlingua and Novial. Let the result of this vote be as follows: 45% for Esperanto, 45% for Interlingua and 10% for Novial. Then there are two possible solutions: 1. a second vote between Esperanto and Interlingua, or 2. making both Esperanto and Interlingua official languages.

It will depend on the specific circumstances whether which option will be selected. How strongly are the voters “attached” to “their own” language?

Manifesto part 7

Funding

The important question is how are we going to fund our plans. The cornerstones of our funding plan are crowd funding and incrementalism. The introduction of internet and online banking, has made crowd funding possible. The idea is that the members of the public will make a small donation to fund projects they like. Several artistic projects, games and even companies are successfully financed through crowd funding. There are actually two kinds of crowd funding, donation and loans. In the latter case the money has to be repaid with interest, in both cases a large sum of money can be raised by a large crowd willing to donate/invest a small amount of money.

Incrementalism is that we start small. First we want to collect around €100,000 in donations from the public, with this money we want to buy/lease a piece of land in Northern Chile. Subsequently we want to lend up to a million Euros for building our spaceport. In the next phase we will offer our launch facilities to customers in order to generate revenue for both paying interest and reinvesting. When we can run our launch base profitably or at least almost profitably, we can ask for a second and larger loan (through crowdsourcing) for our first NEO mission. Once we can return a sample containing some precious metals, the age of Space Colonies is finally arrived.

The third principle of our funding policy is that we do not accept government funding or large private donations. Since we want to create a new independent republic in Outer Space, we prefer ten thousand donations of €100 to one donation of €1,000,000. Once we allow government sponsoring, we are at risk of becoming a colony of an existing state. Also we do not want to allow that wealthy people or corporations can buy into our movement, with the result that our “republic” only serves the purposes of our “donors”. This, however, does not mean that we will never cooperate with governments or corporations, but only if we believe such an action would be beneficial for our cause.

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 5

Launch facilities

We should not forget to discuss this very important issue. In order to get anywhere in space we need to launch spacecrafts in the first place. So we need a launch platform. Theoretically those platforms can be everywhere on the planet, even at sea, but is preferable to launch rockets somewhere near the equator. From a practical perspective we should locate our launch site should be at some distance away from populated areas. For these reason we believe that Northern Chile (Norte Grande) is an ideal location, save for the benefits of its location it also takes into account that Chile is politically a stable country.

In line with the previous section, we prefer traditional rockets over all proposed but speculative launch systems. Although we recognize the drawbacks of rockets, the fact remains that chemical rockets at least work. While all other proposed alternative launch systems are never tested at full-scale. We can invest many millions of dollars in investigating, for instance, the use of rail gun, but if in the end this system does not work as expected we will lose all our credibility as an organization. In is already difficult to promote space colonization, the only way to convince the mass public is by building an actual space habitat. But wasting our money with speculative launch systems, we are doing the space movement more harm than good.

From both technical and environmental reasons, we believe that hydrogen fueled rockets are the best choice. Technical advantage is that hydrogen rockets has the best efficiency and performance (this why the Space Shuttle used hydrogen fueled engines), and the environmental benefit is that hydrogen rocket only produce water as exhaust. Many other rockets are powered by hydrazine which as fuel is very poisonous and it exhaust gasses are also not very friendly for our already vulnerable atmosphere.

How do want to get the needed hydrogen and oxygen? Very simple, electrolysis of water. Our plan is to install a large number of solar arrays in the Atacama desert, the electricity they generate will be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gas. We realize that the Atacama desert is the driest in the world, but through the use of solar desalination it is possible to produce rocket fuel from sea water.

It is important to note that we can already in this phase generate revenue. By offering some of our launch capacity to third parties. This is central to our ideas of incremental funding, which we will explain in a later section.

See also: Launch facility location options

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.

A Proposed Calender for Space Settlers

NB. My proposed calendar is not intended to replace any calendar in use here on Earth.

Introduction

The Gregorian calendar which is the mostly used in contemporary society is not quite suitable for Space Settlements. Therefore we will propose a new calendar to be used in space colonies. Why is our current calendar unsuitable for space colonies? There are several arguments against the Gregorian calendar, one of them is that it is not a perpetual calendar, which means that each year starts on a different year. Further it is a very strange idea to base the calendar of a space colony on the earth’s seasonal cycle, while space settlers are in full control of the length of their days and thus of their seasonal cycle. Therefore there is no need for adjusting the calendar of a space based society to the solstice.

Proposal

Our proposal is based on Irv Bromberg’s Symmetry454 calendar, with a few modifications. According to this plan each year is divided into four quarters, which are divided into three months. The first and third have each four weeks, the second has five. Like our current calendar the symmetry454 calendar preserves the seven-day-week, which in my opinion an important feature. However as I have said, I have a few amendments.

Bromberg has proposed to start his calendar on Monday January 1, 2005 in order to ensure that each year starts at a Monday. Our suggestion is to start our calendar on Thursday January 1, 1801. Why this date? On this date Giuseppe Piazza discovered Ceres, the first asteroid known by humanity. Since asteroid mining is the key to space colonization, this particular event of immense significance of every space based civilization. This will have as a side effect, that each year will start on Thursday and end on a Wednesday, however we do not consider this as a big issue. We could simple make Wednesday as the civil rest-day, of course anyone who wants to keep Sabbath on Sunday (or on Saturday or Friday) will be free to do so.

By changing the start of the calendar we can also use this opportunity to implement a fully secular year counting, which is important given our commitment to Secular RepublicanismIn our proposal the year 1801 AD will be year 0 Anno Cereris, all years before will be referred to as minus <year> Anno Cereris.

Another amendment we want to suggest, is to get rid of leap years. As I have explain above, space settlements have no reason to adjust the calendar to earth’s seasonal cycle. Therefore we do not have any need for leap years. This is quite a difference for Bromberg’s proposal, in which once in the five or six years there would be a leap week (to be calculated according to a rather complicated formula).

Of course having a year with just 364 days and no leap years, will have as a consequence that our years will run faster than “terrestrial” years. This is however no real problem, the proposed calendar for Mars colonies runs significantly slower than Earth’s, but until know I have not the impression that this a big issue among Mars enthusiasts.

Days of the week

Our proposal for the days of the week is to name them after the colours of the rainbow. Thus: Thursday will be “Red day”, Friday “Orange day”, Saturday “Yellow day”, Sunday “Green day”, Monday “Blue day” (no irony intended), Tuesday “Indigo day” and Wednesday “Violet day”.

Names of the months

In order to prevent confusing, we should give the months of our calendar different names as those of the Gregorian calendar. However we have no particular proposal for these, but our suggestion is to begin their names with A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K, L and M respectively. This in order to make it easy to distinguish them when abbreviated.

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.

For the establishment of secular, liberal, humanist and republican space settlements