Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Space Economy Has Been Published!

The Space Economy has been compiled into a book. Get a fully revised and edited collection of the essays on The Space Economy blog on Amazon, in print or on Kindle.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Killer Asteroids from Asteroid Mining

Many great developments and goods will come from space industries such as asteroid mining. But with every new technology or capability comes the potential misuse and weaponization of those capabilities. It is imperative that such dangerous possibilities are addressed before errors occur.

In recent years there has been a great deal of hype about preparing for a possible collision with a stray killer space rock. People are scared that what happened to the dinosaurs may be repeated. The trouble is that while the world has been working to create ways to deflect these rocks which might hit us, others have been working to bring them right to us.

Asteroid mining is going to be a reality. Telescopes are already mapping potential candidates and companies and NASA are creating hardware to retrieve them. The reason space rocks will have to be returned to a close proximity to Earth (most plans intend to have the rocks delivered to Lunar orbit) is so they can be mined easily. Why drive a truck to a mine over and over when you can just bring the mine to the factory?

The meteorite which was supposed to have killed the dinosaurs was believed to be several miles in diameter. Now there are no plans by anyone to return a rock that big, now or in the near future, though it will undoubtedly occur someday. But a rock only 20 meters in diameter can have more strength than a nuclear bomb, as witnessed with the Chelyabinsk meteor.

All it takes to move an asteroid is a little bit of power and time. The intentions, when these
asteroids are being brought toward Earth is science and mining. However, what protections and countermeasures will be in place when the ship moving the asteroid is hacked and put on a collision course with Earth? What if the ship just loses control while carrying what is essentially a nuclear payload, if allowed to fall to Earth?

The key to stopping an asteroid impact is knowing that it is coming ahead of time. What will be the lead time when an asteroid, supposedly under control, breaks free of the leash? A pedestrian can jump only if they know the car won't hit the breaks, but we all know that a car is supposed to stop at a crosswalk so we don't look for it. We may be looking for the stray rock but it might be the one everyone knows about that gets us.

Preparations for defending Earth from space hazards must be pursued and considered. Natural events need to be prepared for, but so far humans haven't had to fear nature so much as other humans, when searching for a source of annihilation. Asteroid mining creates a plane with nuclear bombs which could be hijacked by terrorists.

Many solutions already exist to prepare for the event of a rock getting off the leash. Fortunately, large countermeasures are not something which have to be implemented for sometime. Conventional weapons are allowed in orbit, and these could destroy small asteroids coming toward Earth. Proper security protocols will inhibit most hacking, but cyber-security is a perpetual arms race. A very simple solution would be to have a certain location far away from the Earth where asteroids could be delivered and broken up into smaller pieces for Earth delivery. If a rock doesn't remain in that area it is immediately counted as a rogue and destroyed. The trouble is this solution creates a great inhibition to asteroid mining companies which need the asteroids as close to Earth as possible to allow proximity to mining technology.

Asteroid mining is going to happen. Asteroids will be brought to Lunar and even Earth orbit. Generally there will be no dangers with these practices. But the possibility will exist of having one of those rocks getting loose or being loosed and falling toward Earth. Countermeasures must be created for this event. It is far more likely than some killer asteroid appearing out of the darkness.

For methods of deflecting asteroids read this article.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Martian Society

Mars One Concept for Initial Mars Base
Mars will likely be the first planet, after Earth, which humans will have a permanent presence upon. But what will a Martian society be like? How will it develop and what will Martians be like to trade with. What will be the state of technology. And what will be the mindset of a Martian. In order to create a multiplanetary economy these are all questions that must be explored.

Here are the basic predictions we'll cover in this post. Mars will be agrarian. It will be technologically advanced initially. Martians will be highly independent. Mars will be an ecological experiment station. It will lead advances in agriculture and genetics. It will be a planetary country. Any commerce, at the beginning, on Mars will be basic bartering and trading.

To imagine Mars will be agrarian is a given. In order to survive initial colonist will be required to have a firm grasp of agriculture. This will continue for perhaps hundreds of years as farming is the only means to produce the food needed on Mars. It will remain the focus until Mars  is terraformed.

In the early days the farming will occupy the attention of many of the people in a colony. The limited space and inhospitable environment will require constant attention be given to farms to ensure they produce adequately. Automation and robotics will likely come to replace the amount of attention and labor given to day to day farming activities. However, the farm will remain the primary focus of the colonists. Therefore when they gain time for research and study it will be toward methods of improving the farming techniques to increase their standard of living

While Martian society will be based on agriculture the society will still be technologically advanced. In order to land and then live on Mars for any period of time requires technologies which are not commonplace on Earth. There will be a dependency of Martian society on that technology. And, in order to grow at an appreciable rate the best and newest technologies will have to be delivered. Not to mention the fact that genetics and material science will be important aspects of Martian survival based on the farming foundation. Both of those fields require highly advanced technology. But since exploitation of Martian resources to produce such products as silicon chips will be difficult, Earth will have to supply it. Technology will be the Earth's primary export to Mars.

In fact, as compared to Earth the technological infrastructure of Mars will be greater. This will be a side effect of establishing a colony on Mars. Anything that does not have to be landed will not be landed. For this reason communications will be wireless from the very beginning and computing will likely be in the form of orbital data centers. Such a system simplifies the delivery of such technological payloads from Earth.

Concerning power generation. Mars will begin using solar and nuclear powersources. Coal and other fossil fuels will not be an option. This will again leap ahead of Earth. Perhaps to such an extent that even orbital power plants will be in use early in the society due to the access to Earth delivery craft. Nuclear will be an option since fears of such technology will not exist on Mars.

To explain why such technologies as nuclear reactors will not be feared on Mars we should discuss the people. To be blunt Martians will be the best people alive. Mars is to far away and too expensive to send herds of people to. Even if a launch from Earth becomes inexpensive the cost and risk of landing large groups of people on the planet are too great. So with fewer people being delivered they will be sifted.

Unlike the Americas Mars has few initial resources to draw from. The people that are sent to Mars will have to be geneticists, botanists, and farmers who are able to adapt Earth ecology to the Martian environment quickly and without hesitation. When we say "farmers" that is exactly what we mean. Not some professor of agriculture but a farmer who has been able to make horrible ground yield a crop. Practical experience will be essential to all Martian settlers. When creating a colony intellectual pursuits will have to be focused toward practical decisions and action.

Now, since all of the people that are chosen to become Martian colonists will be practical and scientific individuals they will not have a mindset obscured by propaganda. Fears of meltdowns and the like, which inhibit nuclear power on Earth, will be ignored by Martians who have no such luxury as fear when there are only a few options that will work for them.

This practicality and intellectual aptitude, which will grow in Martians, will make them highly independent. Perhaps even more independent than the Americas were. The continual need for survival, little chance of return, and a far greater lack of resources than in the Americas will force Martians to depend on no one but each other.

Martians will have to be very tolerant as well. To be cooped up together for long periods of time will require it. Even as colonies grow into enclosed cities all Martians will be in close proximity to each other.

The colonies will also likely be only one single colony. It makes no sense to attempt to colonize a planet with multiple small settlements. The foundational work and infrastructure is too great. Earth's international affairs will likely move far enough along that only a single colony will ever be attempted, supported by all parties involved. This raises the diversity line again. The colony will have to adopt a single language and societal structure which will span all the cultures that will arrive. This commonality will be helped along by the practicality inherent in early Martians.

From this single colony Martian society will grow. Since multiple colonies will not be pursued multiple Martian cultures will not arise early on. This will create a single Martian society. Unlike Earth, Mars will not be a planet filled with countries, it will be a planet-country. Certainly, if Mars is ever terraformed then cultures and customs may come to vary just as they do when you move from a farm to a city on Earth. But the governmental, economic, and societal structure will be unified over the entire planet.

The economic structure of Mars will be long based on trading and bartering. Trade some carrots for some cabbage, or a potatoe for some water. The need to survive again working. As a Martian city arrives and not everyone is working to survive then currency will arrive. It will be digital from the very beginning. Mars will never adopt any kind of paper money. The technological aspect of Martian society will never require hard physical money.

Now, the biggest question is how Mars will trade and interact with Earth. Earth will be holding the leash of Mars for some time. Earth will provide the capital, technology, and transportation from the get-go.

As far as how much control Earth will exercise over Mars, it will be nominal. The only organizations to send colonies to Mars initially will be governments and non-profits. Even today much of the Mars movement is coming from foundations, and even Mars One will likely not turn a large profit. There is little commercial value in Mars.

But since those Earth organizations working to establish human presences on Mars are doing it for the sake of doing it they will not have any interest in the colony once it is established. While Britain wished to control the American colonies due to the value of it natural resources and taxes from residents, Mars will have no such resources since its population won't be able to grow as quickly as America did and it has no significant resources.

Once Martian society is established it will have one principle export. Its knowledge and technologies developed for agriculture. Mars will be a hotbed of agricultural and ecological innovation. Experiments and advances will be made due to lack of regulation and danger of negative affects to the barren environment. These advances will be needed on Earth as its population continues to grow. The need for more efficient food production and possibilities of climate control are all problems that will be tackled on Mars.

The great aspect of all of these technologies is that they are not material. They will not be hard goods but information. Information and knowledge can be transported very cheaply from Mars. It requires no rocket fuel just a little electricity. Martian exports will be the genetic designs and agricultural technology which allows that society to flourish on a planet ill-suited for it.

So to sum up. Mars will be a technologically advanced agrarian society which will be fiercely independent of Earth. Its citizens will have a myriad of backgrounds but will all be extremely talented and practical. Mars will form a planetary country and will trade agricultural advances with Earth for technological supplies.

This discussion and theorizing could turn into a book very easily. We have only done a poor job of scraping the surface of what a potential Martian society would be and much of it may never come to pass. But as the reality of a Martian society comes into view these topics will be important.

To read more about Martian trade possibilities read The Economic Viability of Mars Colonization by Robert Zubrin

Monday, July 13, 2015

Orbital Data Centers

Cloud computing is the idea of storing data on a server or having that server perform tasks so there is less load on your computer. But these servers are located in warehouses on Earth. They require large amounts of energy, they have a large footprint, and they have to transmit data over a distance to your computer.  What if server farms were placed into orbit? What if cloud computing occurred above the clouds?

Orbital server farms would have several benefits to their terrestrial counterparts. The first is power. In orbit there is an abundant supply of solar energy, twice as much as what enters our atmosphere and hits the ground. It is also possible to be in continuous sunlight. This provides a clean and inexhaustible power supply for the farm.

Next, there is an abundant amount of space in space. A server farm may grow as large or larger than any building on Earth with.

Last, concerning transmission time, space really is halfway to anywhere. Today and in the future satellite transmission will be common. The trip up and then back down takes only millionths of a second but that is very slow for a computer which works with billions of operations per second. Halving the distance of transmission by just sending information down, instead of up then down, would increase internet speeds.

But that is a far rosier picture than reality. While endless solar power is available in orbit it would still require huge arrays to power a server farm. The ISS solar array is the size of a football field and provides 110 kilowatts of energy, enough to power 55 houses. But a 55,000 square foot server farm on Earth uses 5 megawatts or enough to power 5000 homes. Clearly a development in space power systems will need to be built. But computing is becoming more efficient all the time so such power requirements may not remain standard.

Next, indeed a server farm may grow as large as it wishes in orbit. But with increased size comes increased weight and therefore higher launch costs. The cost of space launches would have to become a thousand times cheaper than the cheapest SpaceX launcher existing today in order to compete with terrestrial installment. However initial launch costs may be offset if lifetime power costs were lower due to orbital solar plants.

Last, while internet and communication speeds may be twice as fast by placing the servers in orbit this may not be a significant enough trade-off for the risks of creating such a facility. But Google and others are working on using satellites to provide internet connectivity to the world, adding a few servers to the satellites is not a great leap.

But perhaps the biggest problem of all to such facilities may be cooling. Servers become very hot and require constant removal of heat. But in space there are few options for heat removal. Heat can only leave by radiation. But a satellite using solar power is also constantly absorbing heat as thermal radiation. If a satellite also has a hot server farm at its center then a substantial thermal management problem arises.

Despite those challenges here is why such data centers will exist. Just as Google and Facebook are trying to provide internet connectivity to places where there is none, so to do they need to provide data storage and computation. Second, having large power hogging facilities in orbit will reduce the load on Earth power plants and not be in danger of blackouts while using the Sun's energy. Last, if humans go to Mars they will need computing power. But it makes no sense to attempt to land servers on Mars when they can perform just as well in orbit and perhaps provide services to multiple settlements. The same goes for the Moon. The effort of landing a sever farm on another body is to great when it can just be parked in orbit.

The latter scenarios may be where orbital computing systems begin. Providing computing resources to future Mars missions. Small server farms requiring nothing on the scale of terrestrial data centers could be created and then launched to support space missions. This is something that already has many engineering precedents in places like the ISS. It a project which is well within current technologies to achieve and could actually be built by a small firm or just a few people in a garage. From there such orbital data centers could follow a modular growth plan where new, self-contained modules are continuously combined to create ever large server farms which are able to finally provide meaningful quantities of computation to the world or other colonies.

Data centers in space are something which have potential and are currently feasible. However in order to scale them to compete with existing data centers in a substantial way requires growth and construction of other space resources. However, small scale orbital server farms can be created to support missions to other planets which will be coming in the next decades. Whether they will ever replace their cousins on the ground on Earth is unknowable until the industry develops more.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Lunar Space Elevator

A space elevator will likely never be implemented in our lifetime on Earth. Space junk, material sciences, and general liability will all prohibit it from being a feasible system using any of the methods proposed thus far.

However, the space elevator is still incredibly viable in other locations. Small moons and large asteroids which have gravity but no atmosphere or space trash are ideal for space elevators. Since a space elevator can run off of electricity and is not limited by refueling or controlling explosions, it is far more reliable as a method of shipping items to and from orbit around a body.

The body most ideal for the first true space elevator will likely be the Moon. The Moon is a clean, fresh, low gravity environment which will undoubtedly be the base of most commercial mining and transport, due to its proximity to Earth and content of materials like Helium-3 and even water ice. The Moon will also possibly act as a spaceport to asteroid mining operations and even Mars colonization.

While rockets can be launched from the Moon easily they are still using consumable fuels. The need to use materials and weight to get something from the surface to orbit or vice versa is a waste. Rockets also break down easily, and are limited to a frequency of travel based on refueling operations and repairs. A space elevator has the potential to run off a clear view of the sun, is a simple machine compared to a rocket and is able to work 24-7 going up and down. Not to mention the fact that it is a fixed point of operations. It will always be in the same place ensuring there is no danger of missing a landing pad and hitting a habitat.

The construction of a space elevator is not as simple as just landing rockets however. The basic idea is to anchor a cable to the surface of the moon. That cable is then strung, from the surface, several thousand miles to a weight. This weight keeps the cable tight. It is similar to if you held a string with a ball on the end and then spun around. An elevator car can then run along the cable to and from orbit. All of this is possible with the materials available today. And while the set-up is risky and stringing several thousand miles of cable straight up from the Moon will be expensive, once established the elevator has little potential for problems afterward. And the cost to operate such a structure would be fixed over its lifetime just as the railroads are.

The economic benefits of a space elevator, once built on the Moon are enormous. Landing of scientific payloads would be faster and more reliable, since organizations would not have to develop landers, unless exploring other areas of the Moon. The elevator would allow for the creation of a space dock. This would be an area were spaceships would stop to unload and refuel while passengers and materials are moved to and from the Moon by the elevator.

Essentially the group that owns the elevator would own the only bridge to the Moon. It would be in the same situation as the early railroads. A colony would grow around it and all commerce would move through it. An important consideration when finding a location for such a structure.

As a business it could begin by simply offering transport to the surface at a reduced cost and increased reliability to building a lander. But as time goes on it could just be a toll elevator. A fixed cost transport one direction or the other, though seasonal costs will likely be a factor.

The business danger to this system is similar to the railroads. If it doesn't run there is still the fixed costs of  maintaining the system. Though we would hazard a guess that those costs would be minimal. Since the elevator comes into contact with nothing other than the vacuum of space environmental wear will be low. If used heavily enough it will require component maintenance but when that occurs the business will still be cash flow positive.

If the elevator were built tomorrow the real business challenge would be paying off the upfront construction cost in a timely manner while the industry catches up. Lunar mining will likely be the best solution since it can be performed autonomously and continuously. LiftPort is going this direction.

LiftPort is moving to build a lunar space elevator by 2020. The organization raised $100,000 on Kickstarter in 2014 to continue development of their design. They are intending to use a kevlar ribbon as the main cable of the elevator, which is the most vital and difficult component of the system. The elevator is meant cart lunar samples into orbit.

At this point LiftPort hasn't stated what the cost of construction would be. Though with possible launch costs and material cost it will undoubtedly be in the fractions of billions of dollars. If they succeed they will set a valuable precedent about the feasibility of the technology.

The space elevator continually appears in media as a technology to replace rockets on Earth. Unfortunately, there are just to many practical problems with such devices on our planet at this time. But space elevators are a very good idea in the correct areas. They are easy to operate, once built, and do replace rocket technologies with something more reliable. And while we have said many technologies will be valuable as businesses in the private space industry, lunar space elevators will likely be the most likely to succeed. Their superiority to conventional space transport is unrivaled from a technological and business standpoint. If a space elevator is built on the Moon those who own it will control much of the industry in that area. No one will swim a river when they can cross a bridge.

For more detailed information of space elevators see this NASA report on the technology:
The Space Elevator by Bradley Edwards Ph.D.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Seasteading as a Foundation for Space Law

There are several examples in history which can be used to avoid stumbling blocks in the current and coming space economy. Antarctica, America, etc. However, anything that has happened in history is now set in stone and cannot be experimented with only theorized upon. But space is an expensive place to go, experimentation, with technologies, and particularly law, in cheaper settings would be highly useful. Fortunately, there is a place that serves as a viable testing ground of space communities and how they will interact with Earth communities.

Over the last few years there has been a small movement for what is called seasteading. It it all predicated on the idea of creating what amounts to artificial floating cities or countries, on the earth's oceans. This movement is now lead, primarily, by the Seasteading Institute.

At the introduction of seasteading a book was written to outline challenges to seasteading, some technical others legal. Not surprisingly, many issues discussed in the book will be faced by space communities.

The seas are a legal fuzzy area. While after a certain distance there is technically no jurisdiction countries can still exercise authority for a number of reasons. There are dangers of pirates. Questions exist of whether a floating city can truly define its own laws and standards of conduct. How would an isolated community support itself financially or justify its construction? How does an artificial structure support the biological needs of its inhabitants. All of these issues, which apply to a community in the unclaimed, empty, shifting, blue void, also apply to a community in the unclaimed, empty, shifting black void.

While seasteading is an expensive and risky undertaking it is far less so than the creation of a space station. Movers in the space industry should consider this movement very seriously. Any world decisions made about free, privately-funded entities in international waters would likely be applied to free privately-funded entities in international space.

If such floating cities were created the space industry would be able to explore and even shape the political, social, and financial ramifications of space flight in as close a simulation as is possible. If technologies must be tested and proven so to should the sociological designs. Seasteading can provide this opportunity.

The creation of islands on earth can define how the islands in the sky will interact with the world they are leaving but still interacting with.

To read the book on seasteading visit The Seasteading Book

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Space Bioengineering

Space is a new environment. A clean slate. As far as we know devoid of even simple life. A new environment where living creatures have never prospered requires new creatures that have never existed. While machines are being developed to take people and other machines into space, organisms need to be developed to allow us to stay there and build an economy and society.

DARPA has already begun exploring the possibilities of genetically modified  or synthetically created organisms with which to terraform Mars. However the creation of of genetically modified animals has any number of other applications. Plants with increased oxygen producing ability. Bacteria for breaking down asteroids. Modified food producing organisms for colonies. Organisms that can convert human waste into bioluminescent light instead of using electricity. And even bacteria which could solve health hazards to humans caused by radiation or low gravity.

The reason genetic engineering has not been widely accepted and experiences great resistance on Earth is the fact that genetic engineering is considered unnatural. To introduce a man-made plant or organism into the Earth ecosystem is generally considered dangerous due to the side-effects that may arise. An example could be that weeds can adopt a genetically engineered resistance to common herbicides. Or that genetically modified food has detrimental health affects.

These potential problems with genetically engineered organisms is due to their foreignness to the normal ecosystem. Something which evolves 200 years in one or two affects its competition and consumers in ways not anticipated. It is the reaction of the environment which causes opposition to genetic modification not the modified species themselves.

Another argument to genetic modification has been the ethical question of if humans should exercise such powers. This is a question that cannot be answered in this essay. Though, as a guess, this question is still based on the protection of the natural environment.

In space there is no natural environment. It is a microwaved wasteland with no biology. For this reason many of the arguments for using biologically or synthetically engineered organisms fall apart. There is not an ecosystem to ruin with the introduction of a designed-for-space organism.

However, there will still be resistance to the use of such organisms. This something which space bio-engineering firms will have to be prepared for. Just as deserts and forests are preserved from irrigation or clearing to preserve their natural beauty, so to may barren planets be defended from terraformation. This is a legal question which will have to be addressed in future as such applications as terraformation go from theory to fact.

Also, while at the moment introduction of genetically modified organisms may be acceptable in space the industry must be careful in future to ensure that created ecosystems are kept clear of dangerous or invasive species.

From a business perspective bioengineering could be comparable to any other human space product in market size, perhaps even larger as terraformation becomes a possibility. But on the smaller scale humans, being natural creatures, require natural solutions to space survival. A typical technological carbon scrubber on a space station in not as effective or efficient as a common plant. But rare is the plant that collects high volumes of CO2 and can flourish in the low temperatures of Mars.

Not only are new organisms needed for space, they are required. The new environments are so foreign to anything that exists on Earth that finding an existing species to perform some task may be nearly impossible. (excluding bacteria that can survive in space while in hibernation) Selective breeding and cross breeding would be far to slow. Just as one has to leap a hundred miles straight up to reach space so must organic life "leap" in survival skills and production to survive in space. Genetic engineering is the only method available to make that leap.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Asteroid Mining Infographic

Here is an infographic on asteroid mining from

Planetary Resources' announcement of their intention to mine the asteroids rekindles dreams of the early Space Age.
Source: All about our solar system, outer space and exploration

Space to Earth Delivery

Currently most of the effort in the space industry is toward getting things into space. However, there will come a time when we will be trying to bring more stuff down from space. Materials mined from asteroids, completed manufactured goods, finished experiments, and other products that were mined, grown, or made in space will require a means to bring them back down.

Intuitive Machines' TRV (Terrestrial Return Vehicle)
NASA has already begun addressing this problem. Intuitive Machines' Terrestrial Return Vehicle is being created and is intended to begin testing on the ISS in 2016. The purpose of the vehicle will be to provide a quick means to deliver time sensitive experiments safely back to Earth where further analysis can take place which can't occur on the space station. The design is expected to be launched from the station and then maneuver to and land at the nearest spaceport.

Delivery from space is a very viable business opportunity. Especially since commercial space stations, primarily from Bigelow Aerospace, are only a maximum of 5-10 years away. While NASA is taking the approach of creating a special vehicle for the task that is not the only method or business model.

A delivery company from space could begin as simply an organizer. Buying space on returning capsules for materials from other space stations. This would actually change the business dynamic of commercial launches, who's operation generally relies on only one ticket, round-trip or one way, to one customer. As traffic increases one organization can purchase the trip up but then someone else can reserve the trip down.

The reason NASA and Intuitive Machines are creating a single miniature craft for the task of delivery from orbit is schedule flexibility. Renting space on a capsule is fettered with the schedule of the capsule launch. But cargo, particularly experiments, may have expiration dates. The TRV ensures rapid delivery whenever needed. Just like Amazon, same-day delivery is the holy grail.

So what is required for a technology that drops things from orbit on command and lands them safely? This is dependent on the cargo. The TRV is a smal craft for deliverying small experiments. The small size allows for multiple craft to be delivered to the ISS in a single launch. The TRV is also outfitted with a maneuvering system. It is basically a complete small spaceship.

TRV being launched from the ISS
The complete spaceship design for the TRV is acceptable for the current state of the art and the amount of cargo transported. But as time passes completely disposable spaceships may be too expensive. An alternate method could be something along the lines of a space gun which launches small capsules of goods which are delivered from locations in orbit. This would eliminate the need for internal propulsion of the capsules and may simplify capsule design from lifting body to the more common tear-drop shape. Though such a system would not be required for several decades. Until inter-orbit transportation and exchange is common. Basically the "space gun" would be the post office and there would be mailmen going around orbit picking up "packages" and delivering them to the "space gun."

Concept for blanket used in asteroid retrieval in space
Going even a step further and considering asteroid mining. At some point the materials within those rocks will have to be delivered to Earth if they are to have any value. The trouble is that most asteroids burn up as they enter our atmosphere. A method will have to be devised for delivering these rocks safely to the surface so their contents can be collected and sold. Something along the lines of an ablative blanket could be created which protects the asteroids from the heat of reentry. (similar to how asteroid miners plan to protect water rocks from the sun's heat) Or perhaps large skeletal landers could be created which have a heat shield and a parachute. These landers could be filled with mined material or raw asteroids and landed, then, perhaps, even reused.

While all the focus as been on getting into space the need to send stuff back is growing everyday. The ISS needs to return experiments. Planetary Resources may need to land rocks. Private space stations may need to return manufactured goods. There may even be a need to send parts down to earth to be repaired and returned at the next launch of a capsule.

In order to develop an economy in space a two-way exchange between Earth and space must be set-up. Getting up there is great, but it matters little to the world unless something comes back.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Invasive Species in Space

Tardigrades or "water bears" can survive the extremes of space
From time to time one will hear of something called “invasive species.” Invasive species are organisms which are introduced to an area where they have no competition and thus begin to roust the native species and wreak havoc with the ecosystem. Such species include numerous noxious weeds, fish such as carp, and animals like pet pythons.

Nearly all of these invasive species were introduced by human interaction. A seed stuck to a boat, a pet released into a swamp, etc. All of these species which began as only one or two loose seeds have become major problems on our planet and within many countries as they can destroy what makes a river, lake, land desirable in a particular area.

It is too late now to point this out as all the harm has been and is being done now. However there is no reason to allow it to continue, at least for some time.

It has been said many times that humans are on the cusp of an exodus to space. The price of launches is expected to decrease dramatically in the coming decades so that a trip into the void could be within the range of vacation expenses. There are also plans to begin colonizing Mars. But will the mistakes of old be overlooked? Will we carry invasive or undesirable species with us as we move into space?

The Curiosity Rover being assembled in a clean room
NASA and other space agencies have long worked to ensure that biocontamination does not occur between its craft and the heavenly bodies they explore. And yet even with all the scrubbing, baking and sanitizing that is performed on craft such as rovers, they have  been found to still harbor microbes which could colonize the Red Planet before humans. If highly polished equipment is still carrying bacteria what is expected to occur when people are throwing suitcases into the cargo hold of a spaceship for a vacation? Mosquitoes might be released into what could have been an Eden.
The private space industry is moving quickly to develop technologies for transportation. But as the transit becomes more viable the industry must remember to perform the annoying housecleaning tasks and consider them before history is simply repeated. Invasive species are a large problem on Earth where they have little competition, but they could be devastating to a space mission if resilient bacteria  were introduced to a colony’s single water supply where there is no competition. Not to mention the potential extraterrestrial conservation issues such an outbreak might incur.

While a cleaning bureaucracy does not need to be created to hinder the industry it is something that should be developed before it is needed. Because when a biological invasion occurs it will appear as gross negligence on the part of the industry. From that will spawn a truly hindering organization.
The industry must work on problems such as invasive species and others which are all preventable. This will show responsibility and due diligence which will give the industry leeway when other unforeseeable problems occur.

As always, this potential cleaning problem opens an opportunity for space entrepreneurs. Currently space rovers are not being cleaned completely. But they are being cleaned as well as they can be. This means that new methods of scrubbing spacecraft need to be developed as well as means of containing microbes and large potential invasive species during manned flights.

Such a business could begin life performing basic cleaning on spacecraft going into orbit. Basically a prepper for low risk launches. Then as more rovers are deployed and more people move into space launch companies could solicit the services of such a company to screen passengers and cargo for potential biohazards and invasive species. Some launch companies may elect to do this themselves but until launch reliability is the same as an airplane launch companies will likely not wish to hold the liability for a potential infestation of a space station. A company dedicated to the screening and cleaning of cargo and people could develop the methods and the technologies to keep invasive and dangerous species out of pure areas.

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Weeds, reptiles, germs, fish and many other kinds of creatures have repeatedly been carried into areas where they can wreak havoc and destroy something that was devoid of such organisms. In space, humans have a completely clean slate. We can have any kind of flora or fauna we want. But there must be means of keeping what shouldn’t go to space from going to space. A few mosquitoes would completely ruin a trip to a space station.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Space Robots as Heroes

The space programs of the past and the space industry of the future is subject to public opinion and support. This was true of the moon shots and it is true of each of Apple’s unveilings. If people don’t care then success is substantially more difficult.

Space Robot Justin
Robots are a great way to explore space. They are cheaper, safer, and faster than humans.  And, as artificial intelligence increases they are becoming as capable as a person. So why risk a life if the job can be done by a machine?

Public relations. A machine does not elicit a response from people that makes them stand and root for it. Curiosity landed and continues to provide amazing images and great information but no one outside of the space community cares. Voyager is now in interstellar space, no one cares. Opportunity  has survived on the red planet for 11 years , no one cares. Sending people to Mars? Great press, though potentially a fraud.

Now certainly humans do need to be in space. Space is there for us, not the machines. But machines are able to blaze trails and provide information in far more effective ways than an astronaut with a wind gauge can. But as entrepreneurs in the space robot business get started how do they work to gain the public support for a Mars rover that is remotely similar to an astronaut?
Star Wars R-Series Robots
For this to occur engineers must become showmen. Think of R2-D2, this space robot is loved by millions even over its anthropomorphic partner because R2 is lovable and has a personality. He is just a can that beeps but everyone connects with him. Space robots must become “hims” instead of “its.”

So when conducting a scientific or exploratory mission how does one make a “him?” Let’s look at another automated space machine that has broken the mold and won the hearts of even average folk, the Hubble Space Telescope. Hubble has gained value as much more than a scientific instrument. This is because it acts as an eye to the universe. It has given the world images of the universe in amazing color. It has a name that people can remember. And it has a story which people relate to. It started broken, was fixed, was almost scrapped, but is still going. Hubble is the little engine that could, and it has survived partially through public support.

Robots and probes must become celebrities in order to have a level of public praise similar to an astronaut. The robot needs to have life on display. It needs to have a story that people can tell. The hurtles that that little circuit board overcame. The more that the machine can be personified the better.

Companies in the space robot industry which are just starting out and need to get through a crowdfunding campaign or have investors hear about them before they walk in the door, need to make their robot a person. Give it a twitter account, and Instagram Maybe spend some weight on a couple of eyeballs. Have the people building take a personable selfie with it.

A Space robots shouldn’t be scientific instruments but a friend or adventurer. The humans around the robot can give the robot the life and personality that it needs, but that has to be something that is considered when building it and sending it on its way.

For More information about the reaction of humans to some robots see below:
An Ethological and Emotional Basis for Human-Robot Interaction

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Necessity for Modularity

The cost to enter the space economy is high. It it is time, capital, and labor intensive. And yet large corporations and billionaires will not be able to develop the space industry to a point where it is a part of our culture.

With only a few large players in the game there's a limit to how many goals can be scored until everyone is crippled. Even innovative companies like SpaceX will reach a critical mass where they perform only particular duties in the industry. The industry will stagnate unless smaller players can become a part of it.

So what is a strategy that smaller companies and individuals could take in order to make a mark in the space economy.

Let's use a theoretical example, Space-Based Solar Power. This concept for powering the world has been around for decades. The concept of using an unobstructed view of the largest fusion reactor in existence (the sun) is very enticing. If space solar power could be implemented then it would solve many of the world's energy problems.

Here is the problem. Space based solar power requires huge initial investment. Basically the lifetime cost of a nuclear power plant is what it would take to build a comparable orbital solar array. This is not a feasible business plan. No matter how great the design or promising the impact 16-20 billion dollars up front is not something people rush to.

So how does one take something hugely expensive and reduce the cost. Break it up into little pieces. Small companies and individuals need to lay out strategies where what they invest in today will still be useful 10 years from now. In this way the cost of something huge can be spread over years and incrementally built. For orbital solar a specific direction might be to develop something similar to the orbital power plant where te company creates smaller modules to be attached to ships and stations to serve as a temporary power source. When a significant number of cells have been placed in orbit, years from the first, then the modules could be combined with transmitter to beam the power to earth instead.

Modularity has to be the foundation of any small company wishing to build big things. The giant one hit wonder is not feasible. They must find a way to break it down. A mars colony into single identical modules. A telescope mirror into hundreds of smaller mirrors.

Modularity, building small identical things that can become larger individual things is very scalable and adaptable. If a small company is making habitats for Mars and has simply created a small-tent-like module that connects to others, then the product is as available to a single fanatic as it is to a giant corporation. And the producing company is able to make money from selling one as easily as selling a hundred.

Breaking larger structures down into multiple pieces also decreases the complexity of the design and increases its adaptability. Imagine the difference between having to redo the plumbing of an entire space station or just of the new modules.

Every new private space company is adopting this idea of breaking down the grand dream into individual components that can pay for themselves on a small scale while remaining relevant on the large scale. Bigelow Aerospace is creating, not space stations, but space station modules. Planetary resources is not creating a single advanced asteroid hunting satellite but a swarm of small satellites.

Modularity reduces cost and ensures that a viable product is created more quickly. If anyone is considering creating a space company and they are not a billionaire, they must design the product to be modular and relevant for years. This ensures scalability, adaptability, redundancy, and early returns.

The dreams of launching an entire space station or colony in few shots can't be done by the entrepreneur in a garage. But sneaking into orbit bit by bit is very feasible. And as launches become ever more common the left over space will be more available and inexpensive. Space start-up have to do more with less until it can all be combined into a single system.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Space Movie

How often have great designers, engineers, and scientists been interviewed, and when asked about their original inspiration they reference some movie or show.

Star Wars, Star Trek,  2001: A Space Odyssey, Buck Rogers, The Jetsons. These movies and TV shows have literally inspired thousands of people to make the fiction fact.

Now, within the last ten years, point to a movie or TV show which could be the definitive media trigger to inspire new technologists. Many will respond with Interstellar, Avatar, Star Wars, and Star Trek. But the trouble is, of those answers, only Interstellar and Avatar were really new concepts. But across the board, none of these movies had at their core the wonder of discovery or space travel itself. Interstellar was not about exploration but about a man separated from his family. Avatar was not about exploration but the dangers and warnings to consider in it.

In the last decade there has been no single movie which has defined the glory and wonder of space exploration and expansion. In the movies where this has been a possibility, Space has simply been a backdrop, not the focus.

How can an industry which requires a level of public opinion and knowledge to survive, by driving tourism ambitions and potentially tax dollars, survive without becoming a part of  culture.

Movies and media really define the state of American society at any given time. Space exploration used to be lived and breathed by everyone, when the moon landings were happening. Today, the attempt to land a rocket on a barge to reduce spaceflight costs by factors of 10, barely makes it onto Google News.

A movie needs to be made about space travel and exploration. A movie which actually captures the imagination and hope of the world. A movie which makes people "starry-eyed" about space travel again.

The date of the launch of the Jupiter II of "Lost in Space"
While we at "The Space Economy" are not fictional writers, what story could be more endearing than one set ten years from now when the space industry is fully active. Every space movie in recent years, or ever, has begun 50-100 years in the future. People will be amazed and excited by a date at the beginning of a movie of just 5-10 years in the future.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Space Burial

One of the more interesting space businesses, which is really as old as spaceflight itself, is the idea of space burials.

As a means of disposing of the deceased space burials are actually quite practical and even more emotional. Leaving someone in a place where they will perpetually drift and travel and perhaps even seed life into arid worlds, is a very romantic way to send them on to the next life.

Space burials have been going on since the very first moon landers. Ashes of people have been sent up ever since. Celestis, Inc is a company that has formed around the idea of space burial. Celestis purchases empty space on launches and fills them with samples of cremated remains. The people that have been buried in space include Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, as well as several hundred other people.

However, at this point a typical space burial includes less than an ounce of ashes in a sample tube which take the ride, but then typically come back down as the orbit decays or the mission ends. Very few people have had remains placed permanently into space. And certainly, there have been no full bodies sent, only cremated remains.

Space burials as a business, are actually very simple. A basic set of vials are made and ashes inserted. Then they are placed in an empty corner of the next possible launch. Low weight, low effort, but a very moving way to be buried.

In future space burials will no doubt become much more commonplace. While they are currently reserved for rich and famous, as launches become ever more frequent so will the space to place the small caskets. Someday entire bodies may be buried in space. Though there will no doubt be restrictions on this practice to ensure that tourists in orbit are not surprised by a cadaver outside of the station.

Space burials will also grow to be much more than a typical burial. They may come to epitomize the ideals of space travel. Imagine an astronaut or scientist dedicating their entire life to space but dying before their dream was realized. Perhaps they wanted to reach an asteroid or set foot on Mars. Placing to sending their remains to those places fulfills and legitimizes their life's work and can inspire others to follow.

Space burials are likely one of the oldest commercial space businesses and will likely remain after many others die.  While at this moment they may seem a bit sterile compared to a casket and flowers, they are far more meaningful and beautiful. Space is an eternity, why not place a person's remains in eternity after they have entered it.

Space Toys

A company for the creation of toys uniquely suited for the environment of space.

While the beauty of space is awe inspiring, when you live there for long periods of time it starts to lose its charm. Diversions for space travelers will have to become an industry. Toys and games will need to be created which tourists and explorers can enjoy while locked inside of a can or bubble.

So what would a space toy look like? Well, the simplest is a ball. Astronauts in the ISS have used balls as entertainment in the zero-g environment for years. While entertaining space-ball will lose its novelty, especially to people who are watching it. And in an industry where pubic opinion will have huge sway, it is important to create a "Space Experience" that can't be replicated. Catch in space is still just catch.

So any kind of space toy must be able to exist only in space, otherwise the romance and desire is gone from those who are not a part of it.

So, what can occur in a weightless environment that can't anywhere else. The first thing is structures. Gossamer creations can exist in space that would collapse on earth. A building set made of straws could be an option. Or perhaps a strategy game, such at dominoes, where players attempt to limit the movies of other players. Perhaps a dynamic game where players set certain pieces in motion without disrupting others. Or maybe instead of using a board, each space is a separate piece that floats in midair. Anything that utilizes the 3-D, floating experience of space.

Astronauts insert a GoPro into a bubble of water for fun
Now, in the current space environment of high launch costs and no-frills design, a toy may not be high on the shopping list. This is founded. Given the choice between a toy or a tool many will choose the tool when going to space. The weight of even a few pounds of toys or games costs thousands of dollars to launch.

Fortunately, it is no longer necessary to launch toys. They can be beamed to orbit. Made-In-Space recently sent a 3-D printer to the ISS that has been making plastic tools and spare parts for several months. It would be so simple to just e-mail a set of space Legos.

3-D printing will allow crews of space missions to not only create necessary parts and tools but also a little entertainment with no launch cost. And when the toy becomes boring it can be melted down and turned into something else.

Because of technologies like 3-D printing space toys are something that can be created today. A high school kid with Google Sketch-up could create something that could be sold to the astronauts on the ISS tomorrow.

Space toys will be a low-cost-of-entry business. And, at this point, there is no competition because no one has really considered it. But it will be an industry as tourism heats up in coming years. Plus explorers on long missions to Mars will love to have an inventory of "made for space" entertainment that they can download when they want it, play with it, and then turn into a spare part.

Anyone with some time and creativity can create a business that would never have to have inventory, but would help to support the psychological wellness of many space missions in the future. Maybe by just creating a 3-D printable space chess set.

Below Astronaut Chris Hadfield demonstrates a dart game the astronauts created, and tries a game designed by the Mythbusters, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Transporting Nothing

At "The Space Economy" we try to focus on technologies that are either currently feasible or
possible in the near future. But, we decided to break it up a little bit and reach a little further out.

What is the fundamental problem facing nearly every space company today, or even in the future. Cost to move or make stuff to and in space. At this moment it costs just under $1000 a pound to transport something into orbit. Cheap enough that private sector companies have greater access, but it is not something that would become really widespread. And even with further reduced launch costs, traditional transport will always be expensive, it is an historical fact.

The industry expects to be able to mine asteroids to provide fuel for ships, and even make the ships out of asteroid concrete. But, construction is expensive, has always been, and as long as its being built from natural materials, will always be.

Physical "stuff" is the enemy of spaceflight. Now, and even in 50-100 years.

What if it were possible to just get rid of all of it? Just not have mass or materials in spacecraft or habitats or anything else. Space would become something that would be able to grow exponentially since it would cost little to nothing to put stuff in it.

Star Trek had it all right. The ships don't have windows, they have force-fields, no weight. They don't have grapples they have tractor beams, no weight. When people move they use transporters, no transfer of weight, just information. The only thing utilized is controlled energy from the power source that was needed anyway. Imagine how the industry would change if these technologies were available.

Instead of expending millions of dollars to send a person or even materials to the moon or a to a ship in orbit one just calls Scotty and pays a slightly higher electric bill.

Now certainly, not all of this is possible in the near future, but the economic advantages are clear. Transportation and construction of physical things are the bane of the creation of a space organization. Think of a space station. Normally it would he made out of a material, aluminum, kevlar, etc. If you build a large station in orbit you would likely have a frame and then attach panels to seal it. Instead of building the space station with metal panels what if one used force field generators embedded in the frame. Less labor, less weight to transport, fewer parts to replace, just more power.

Note: Power generation is the bane of any force field. The ISS uses less power than an american home it won't be using a tractor beam. But for this post we'll assume that power technologies have progressed far enough to power energy based mechanics or the systems are made more efficient.

Luckily, some of these ideas are not far quite as Sci-Fi as one would expect. Development of a tractorbeam has been underway at NASA for several years. And force-field like technologies are used in particle accelerators to help hold the vacuum. These are all technologies that basically create material things form immaterial things. This is what is needed in space since materials are the primary limiting factor in the industry.

A "Hard Light" company could get started today creating devices such as the tractor beam being researched at NASA. They could fund the research by providing mico-versions for private and public asteroid sampling missions where a mechanical system may not be feasible. (Compare a laser pointer to a drill). From there they could work on systems that collect space junk and then push small satellites into higher orbits. There a lot of basic space operations that exist where energy-based manipulation is useful.

Eventually, such a company would be be poised to create force fields for habitats and energy based manipulation equipment of all kinds that would be lighter and more durable than any mechanical system. (So what if a micro-meteorite punches a hole in an energy shield. And the tractor beam will probably not get bent.)

While some of the most useful space technologies are still far from feasibility. But, there are places where, in the not too distant future, energy can replace matter, thus replacing the primary expense of space.