Tag Archives: Asteroid and Space mining

Autarky

Autarky or self-sufficiency [not to be confused with autocracy] is in economics the situation in which a country is independent of the importation of foreign goods. In the past several groups have aimed to achieve autarky. The primary reason for doing so is to reinforce national sovereignty. The less one depends on the supply of others, the less vulnerable one is for outside pressure. Continue reading Autarky

3D-printing, a key technology for humanizing space

As a regular reader of our site might know, Republic of Langrangia are strongly in favour of 3D printers (see here and here). Recently, this idea has become mainstream. On space.com you can read the following article: 3D Printing Could Aid Deep-Space Exploration, NASA Chief Says.

The basic argument for 3D-printing in Space are simple: our Solar system is rich in all kinds of resources. Through in situ resource utilization the input for 3D printers can be made from asteroidal material (or if necessary from Lunar or Martian material). The blue prints of the needed objects can be stored electronically on board of a Space colony or can be transmitted from Earth. This would significantly reduce the launch of all kind of supplies.

3D printing will also reduce the number of people needed for Space industries, because a 3D printer can print a whole variety of things. And in principle, we have to launch only one 3D printer, since this machines should be able to reproduce themselves.

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.

Bernal Spheres, Stanford tori and the return of the polis.

This post was originally published on blogspot.com on April 23, 2012; updated June 13, 2014.

In this post I want to share some thoughts I have had for many years, concerning the ancient Greek city-state, or polis (plural poleis) and what we can learn from them.

Both O’Neill’s Island I and its main competitor the so-called Stanford torus are designed for some ten thousands of inhabitants, roughly the population of many small cities. And since space habitants of this kind can easily moved to any place within our (inner) Solar system, they can enjoy a great amount of isolation just by keeping distance from other space colonies. Furthermore the abundance of space resources makes economic self-sufficiency not only feasible but also very likely.

Here on Earth no country can turn to a policy of full autarky without paying a huge price. Effectively only very primitive societies can be autarkic without giving up current wealth. One reason of modern globalization is that highly technological industries require large amounts of various resources, of which many are both rare and spread over different parts of the world. Some resources are as good as exclusively found at one place on Earth. Some argue that this interdependence promotes world peace, while on the other hand  we see that competition of scarce resources actually lead to many international conflicts.

In space there is a different situation, since there are a lot of recourse rich asteroids. Actually some “small” asteroids contains a few times more resources than anything ever dug up by Mankind, not only these asteroids have a huge abundance of resources but they also contain virtually all chemical elements needed by highly industrialized societies. A second difference is that competition among space colonies for resources will be low, due to great amount of asteroids, reducing tension among Spacer societies.

We can easily imagine that a small space colony, type Bernal sphere or Stanford torus is located near a small asteroid (dimension less than 1km). Such space society will be economically and politically independent from any other state (whether Spacer or terrestrial). This comes very close to the ancient Greek ideal of the polis: a political independent community of a few thousand people and economically self-sufficient.

Since the time of the ancient Greeks the ideal of small independent communities have repeatedly promoted by political activists. But these ideas and initiatives are repeatedly defeated in favour of the nation-state. A modern incarnation of this attitude is Communalism as conceived by Murray Bookchin. Bookchin, who stood in the anarchist tradition, opposed the nation-state, because it is undemocratic and a tool for corporate interest. Instead he argued that people should organize direct democracy at municipal level. And in a next stage, such municipalities should organize themselves into confederations, these confederations should compete with the Nation State for power. Confederations of municipalities differ from nations in an important way: the municipality is the primary political unit and the municipal citizens’ assembly is the Sovereign; the confederation is just an organization for cooperation and joint action by municipalities, and the representatives of the municipalities in the confederal council are purely coordinating and administrative.

Personally I believe that Communalism and its aims are not realistic, on Earth, because nation states are too well-organized and most terrestrial people don’t care about politics in general, and specially they don’t care about the Nation State. I suppose that most readers of this blog have never heard about Communalism before. On Earth I see no future for Communalism and related ideologies, but in Space Communalism and its idea may play a major role. Although I am not a Communalist myself (mainly because I disagree with its anti-capitalist nature), I believe that Communalism can provide valuable insights on how to organize Space colonies.

Some Space colonies may opt for Communalism, while other colonies will try other forms of government. But I believe there is a future for small polis based political communities in Space.

Inside view of a Bernal sphere

Interior including human powered airplane

 

 

Outside view of a Bernal sphere

Bernal Spheres - exterior

 

Why colonising the Sun-Earth Lagrange points?

This post was originally published on blogspot.com on June 6, 2012

In this post I will provide more clarity about our position that man should colonize the Lagrange points of the Earth-Sun system (in this post I simply use the term Lagrange point in order to refer to these).

In two earlier posts I discussed the arguments the colonization of the moon and Mars. Contrary to what most people tend to believe, many space colonization advocates do not support the colonization of these two particular objects. Why? First concern is gravity, in order to stay healthy people need gravity. And since we know that the Moon’s gravity is far too low, and that of Mars is also likely too low, it would be a better idea to use man-made structures, known as space habitats, which provide artificial gravity through rotation.

But gravity is not the only objection for the colonization of objects, one of the most important issues is natural resources. The Moon lacks many resources essential for life, especially hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen. The Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs), however, are expected to posses nearly all elements we need to maintain a high-tech civilization and also easier to reach in terms of energy consumption (for a more detailed discussion see here).

Energy consumption and energy efficiency are very important issues. Since the Lagrange points require less energy to reach than the Moon, it also mean that it would require less fuel to launch a space craft. Less fuel, means less costs. This also implies that returning valuable resources to Earth, will out compete lunar mining activities. Therefore an asteroidal colony has a greater economic viability than a lunar colony in the long run.

Another concern is less technical, but probably more important, is politics. Since the Moon is generally considered to belong to all humans, setting up a lunar colony and mining operations is very likely to become subject of much controversy. Although it’s technically true that this whole common heritage of mankind bullshit, also applies to asteroids, but I expect that most people will not get any strong feelings about a bunch of mere rocks.

Although most NEAs are not located at the Lagrange points, they can easily be reached from there. Further some planetary scientists that so-called Earth trojans might exist, until now the existence of only one such object has been confirmed, see here for more. Some space advocates propose bring NEAs into earth orbit. I don’t believe this will be a good idea, due to the increased risks an asteroid impact, but it could be a nice idea to bring some valuable asteroids to the Lagrange points, if there are no usable Earth trojans.

Although the Lagrange points are easier to reach in terms of energy consumption, the distance between them and the earth is still huge and as a result travel time is in the order of months instead of days in case of the Moon. This both an advantage as a disadvantage, the latter no need an explanation, but the former does. In case of a conflict with one of the major terrestrial powers, a sovereign moon colony will be an easy prey for a military intervention, while Lagrange point colonies are able to detect such mission months in advance and thus they will be able to act accordingly. Particle beam weapons will made it possible to destroy a hostile space craft within hours after detection, without the need of launching an interception missile. So we can conclude that colonies based at the Lagrange points can more easily obtain and maintain their political independence than any lunar colony.

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?