Moments ago SpaceX successfully recovered a first stage at Cape Canaveral. Historic day. More to come.
Moments ago SpaceX successfully recovered a first stage at Cape Canaveral. Historic day. More to come.
A previous post asked if a not-for-profit organization might accelerate space development. The government sector’s work in space has been, at best, glacial. And while the commercial sector talks a big game, it is constrained by the need to return a profit to investors within a reasonable timeframe. Also, no billionaire has yet come forward to commit massive amounts of funding to space settlement like the way Elon Musk seems to be doing with his dream to colonize Mars (i.e. with few strings attached). So, the government can’t do it, the private sector can’t do it, and we have no sugar daddy benefactor. Maybe it’s time we did it ourselves?
The government can’t do it, the private sector can’t do it, and we have no sugar daddy benefactor. Maybe it’s time we did it ourselves?
What follows is a thought experiment to incrementally build a funding stream to settle space. Specifically, a not-for-profit organization will raise money to construct a permanent, crewed, sustainable, multipurpose space station. It might look like the NGSS, eventually. It might look something like PISCES. It might just be Refinery. Whatever it is, it’s permanent and it will lay the groundwork for full-fledged space settlement. Let’s get started!
Step One: Set up a goal. Let’s boil it down to a business school style vision statement:
The vision of our organization is to build a sustainable and self-replicating space station to advance full-fledged space settlement.
Step Two: Make a plan. Let’s get some volunteers to write a roadmap to that specific goal. The NSS has a “roadmap” but it’s vague on the details and jumps all over the place. Our roadmap will identify specific technologies that must be developed and challenges that must be met in order to achieve our vision. We here at Marotta Space Research have already started composing such a roadmap (stay tuned for more info on that!) but, eventually a wider group of experts will have to weigh in on it. At this step the organization has few if any financial resources. So, it is hoped that some ‘early pioneers’ might be persuaded to edit and improve the roadmap. Perhaps some visionary graduate and doctoral students could be involved as well?
Step Three: Get the word out. Once the roadmap is refined as much as possible with the meager resources available, it’s time to take the show on the road. Formally create a not-for-profit (with all the necessary forms and tax authorities etc). Ask to speak at conferences. Post on Facebook. Let the world know that a space station is being built and anyone can be involved.
Step Four: Kickstarter. The X Prize and NASA’s Centennial Challenges prove that monetary prizes are an effective way to solve technical challenges. The same solution should be applied to space settlement. The roadmap will reveal areas in which prizes may be an appropriate means to advance towards our goal. However, before cash prizes can be offered, funding must be raised. A Kickstarter campaign, as well as a general call for donations, will help to fund the initial pot of money for these prizes. Before donations are solicited, the group will have to be formalized into a non-profit (see step three above) or some other corporate body with sufficient oversight to accept and manage thousands, and possibly tens of thousands of dollars. Once the prize account is funded, prizes will be announced at another conference or similarly public event.
Step Five: Retain intellectual property as a future funding stream. Up to now, everything proposed has been pretty feasible. But now we start getting into some hardcore speculation. We propose that the Kickstarter prizewinners agree to pay royalties to the not for profit as a condition of accepting the prize money. The royalties (once the underlying technology is commercialized) should be structured so that their existence in no way hinders the development of the technology (and thus the funding stream). It is unclear if this is even possible. Would anyone compete for funding, which is surely going to be a modest anyway (tens of thousands of dollars at most) if they know they’d have to give some of it up, even 1%, if they win? Is this even legal? Does a not for profit cease being not for profit if it starts receiving streams of regular revenue from profitable sources? Let’s be optimistic (naive?) and assume that this works. The not for profit successfully starts receiving regular royalties in the range of tens of thousands of dollars per year.
We propose that the Kickstarter prizewinners agree to pay royalties to the not for profit as a condition of accepting the prize money. It is unclear if this is even possible.
Step Six: Directly fund research projects. The organization should use the modest funding stream described in step five above to directly fund research projects that will further progress toward the goal. These projects will almost certainly not fly in space, due to the limited monies available. However, that doesn’t mean that they cannot be eye-catching, effective and lucrative.
They can be eye-catching by being branded as “firsts:” e.g. the first autonomous mass driver, the first demonstration of power beamed from orbit to orbit or from the orbit to ground, the first autonomous separation of ores, the first production of asteroid simulant, the first autonomous closed greenhouse for waste recycling and air filtration for use in a home or apartment, etc. They can be effective because all of these examples (and many more) will advance progress towards the goal described at the beginning of this post. And they might be ‘commercializable’ because they might have commercial applications in other industries i.e. aerospace, mining, agriculture, etc.
Some of the research projects could be non-technical as well. For instance, obtaining the first wireless power transmission license from orbit to ground. Or assisting with the creation of a legal regime for property rights in space. Or creating financial models and governance regimes for future space businesses and space communities.
Step Seven: Leverage the intellectual property. It is hoped that some of these projects will result in intellectual property that is 100% owned by the not for profit (as opposed to being partially owned like those described in step five). This ‘in-house’ intellectual property could be leveraged (i.e. sold or licensed) to raise additional revenue.
Step Eight: Combine, and repeat. By combining donations, prizes, in-house research and intellectual property leveraging, and repeating that combination, the not-for-profit can eventually raise significant streams of revenue. It will probably take many years (decades?) of consistent revenue and demonstrated expertise to persuade an investor to lend an amount of money sufficient to commence on-orbit operations i.e. tens of millions of dollars. And there will be setbacks. But at least progress will be made.
Building a not-for-profit space station is a very ambitious idea. Some might even say it’s crazy? Relax, suspend disbelief, and just enjoy the post. As always, your constructive input is welcomed.
In closing, it is important to remember that this has already been done. A not for profit has already raised millions of dollars for space exploration. In 2005 the Planetary Society raised $4 million to build and launch an experimental spacecraft. It failed, so they went ahead and raised another $1.8 million to try again. Perhaps, with the right people and the right message, using a not-for-profit to fund space development is not so farfetched after all?
In the winter 2013 edition, Ad Astra has an article asking, “What comes after ISS?” Doris Hamill, the author, states, “[a] city in space would begin where ISS has brought us.” In short, her PISCES idea is very similar to the NGSS and the philosophical underpinnings are identical. It’s nice to know Marotta Space Research is on the right track. More to come on this after the holidays. Merry Christmas everyone!
Refinery will demonstrate that useful products can be manufactured on an industrial scale from asteroidal and lunar raw materials. Manufacturing using ‘in-situ’ raw materials is necessary in order to expand the human-centric LEO economy and eventually construct full-fledged space settlements. It is infeasible to launch from Earth the millions of tons necessary to build a large space settlement – this material must be obtained from sources already above Earth’s gravity well e.g. the Moon and asteroids.
To start, some basic statistics are described. See below for a more detailed discussion.
Estimated Cost and Mass of Refinery
|Unit||Mass (kg) per unit||Cost ($millions) per unit||# of units||total mass (kg)||total cost of materials ($millions)|
|“Raw material bunker”||20000||50||1||20,000||50|
|“3D printer assembly bay”||10000||200||1||10,000||200|
However, industrial scale manufacturing has never been done in space. Therefore planning for Refinery requires a myriad of compromises and assumptions.
– In order to keep things simple, only water and iron will be produced at this first facility. The iron will be printed into structural components using 3D printers. These structural components will be used to repair and upgrade Uptown. The water will be transported to Uptown as well, for drinking, cooking and washing and for conversion into oxygen and hydrogen using electrolysis machines.
– To reduce complexity and save money, Refinery will be ‘lightly’ crewed without a permanent human presence aboard: manufacturing operations will be teleoperated from Earth and Uptown. Refinery will have a single BA330 habitat module for occasional visits from maintenance crews.
– For ease of design and construction, much of the chassis is composed of ‘off-the-shelf’ components like BA330s, Suncatcher CSPs, ISS-like solar panels and radiators. On the other hand, much of the station will be custom-designed and built: the solar ovens, the connecting nodes, the raw material bunker and the 3D printer assembly bay. Additionally, all of the equipment inside will be custom-designed and -built. Solar electric panels are included for back up power since maintenance crews will not be on-call 24/7 to maintain the Suncatchers, which are expected to need a lot of upkeep.
– Refinery will be small, located in geosynchronous orbit and will not rotate to produce artificial gravity. Because space manufacturing is unprecedented, it is prudent to start with a smaller, simpler facility that does not include the added complexity of generating artificial gravity. However, operating in zero-gee presents other challenges: it will require specialized, custom-built equipment inside the facility to move materials without the aid of gravity. It is believed that rotating Refinery will introduce engineering challenges that will distract from the primary purpose of the facility: to convert in-situ raw materials into useful goods. Additionally, it is thought that expanding Refinery to a size that will justify the expense and complexity of artificial gravity will leave it too large and with too much excess capacity. It is unclear today how much raw material can be delivered to the station within a given period of time. Furthermore, simply incorporating Refinery back into the rotating structure of Uptown will force Uptown to move from its prime location in LEO up to GEO, far from the customers and markets of Earth. Finally, there may be value in and of itself to exploring and perfecting zero-gee manufacturing. In short, Refinery’s size, location and lack of gravity represent a series of trade-offs, all of which result in a facility that will best fulfill the goal of perfecting industrial scale space manufacturing using in-situ resources.
– As mentioned above, Refinery will be located in geosynchronous orbit, separate from Uptown (which is located in low earth orbit). In addition to the reason mentioned above, Refinery must be in GEO for its solar ovens to perform more efficiently in the constant sunlight of GEO vs. the intermittent sunlight of LEO.
– Refinery assumes a raw material mix high in ice, nickel, iron and aluminum (e.g. dead comets and near earth asteroids) will be commercially available. By the time Refinery is built, it will hopefully be possible to ‘order’ and have delivered to geosynchronous orbit intact asteroids up to 20 meters in diameter. Planetary Resources and NASA are already working on the technology to do something like this.
– Additional assumptions used to calculate the performance of Refinery:
|Launch cost per kg to Uptown||$2542||*|
|Cost of raw material per kg delivered to Uptown||$2000|
|% of 1 kg of raw material that is water (ice)||20%|
|% of 1 kg raw material that is iron||10%|
|density of raw material||2710 kg/m3||**|
|number of hours operating per day||22|
|percent of raw material lost to inefficiencies||10%|
|*using Falcon Heavy|
At this point it is important to remember that the entire Bridging the Gap series of posts is a thought experiment – a speculative exercise intended to get one thinking about how to bridge the gap between the current generation of space stations and full fledged space settlements. Refinery is not intended to be a final design. A large number of assumptions are inherent in any thought exercise. That being said, the assumptions made here are grounded in the best available facts and are reasonably conservative, considering the knowledge available to the author at the time of writing. Your constructive feedback is welcomed.
Working hard on the specs for Refinery and making some interesting discoveries. Happily, the design will be simplified and certain manufacturing processes – namely liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen production – will be moved to Uptown. Here is a sneak preview of Refinery 2.0:
The following post describes the basic specifications of the “Uptown” component of the next generation of space stations.
|Unit||Mass (kg) per unit||Cost ($millions) per unit||# of units||total mass (kg)||total cost of materials ($millions)|
|Note: All figures are estimates. Materials cost is more than doubled to $60B to account for R&D and operations costs.|
Get the model on Sketchup and check it out for yourself. Specs on Refinery are coming soon!
As described in previous posts, Marotta Space Research has created a conceptual design for the next generation of space stations. This conceptual design achieves the strategic goals necessary to bridge the gap between the current crop of space stations and what is needed to build full-fledged space settlements.
Refinery requires the constant sunlight of geosynchronous orbit in order to most efficiently convert in-situ materials into finished products. However, Uptown must be located in a lower orbit close to the customer base and markets of Earth in order to maximize its economic output. Therefore, separating Refinery from Uptown in different orbits achieves the strategic goals of maximizing both economic output and manufacturing productivity.
A final note: this is a concept. This is not a final design. Much of the work here is speculative and represents an extremely ambitious proposal. In fact, the entire purpose of this series of blog posts is not to create a final space station design. Clearly an engineering project of the scale proposed here cannot be completed with only a few paragraphs and some rudimentary graphics. Rather, the purpose of this blog is to spur discussion and advance the cause of space settlement. It is hoped that these plans will get people thinking about what comes after the Bigelow stations and how we can move humanity closer to full-fledged space settlements. With that in mind, your constructive comments are welcomed.
This is a concept, not a final design. It is intended to spur discussion and further the development of more advanced space stations.
The previous post described how difficult it will be to power the next generation of space stations exclusively with solar electric panels. Other options were investigated including nuclear power, hydrogen fuel cells (like those used on the Space Shuttles), electrodynamic tethers and, finally, concentrating solar power or ‘CSP.’
In short, a space station proposal being drawn up right now will use 88 concentrating solar power plants of a type similar to the Suncatcher CSP designed by Stirling Energy Systems in the last decade.
Each of these power plants will generate 25kW for a total of 2,200 kW. Each power plant will weigh around 200 kilograms, not counting the reflective mirrors and support structure. While the power plants will be launched up from Earth, the reflective mirrors and support structure will manufactured in space from in-situ resources. This is because they will be made of iron and/or aluminum, contain no moving parts and thus should be relatively simple to make on orbit.
This technology is an ideal solution. While it will require research to perfect (unlike solar electric panels), and probably lots of maintenance once installed, it offers high power output while having relatively low mass, low volume and low complexity. While not as powerful as nuclear energy, it is not nearly as controversial and thus easier to get approval to launch into orbit. It is tailor-made for the next generation of space stations.
We here at Marotta Space Research are working on a design for the next generation space station for the Bridging the Gap series. A problem cropped up regarding power generation i.e. it will take an unreasonable amount of solar panels to generate sufficient electricity for our station. As such, we’re not sure how to keep the lights on! Read on for an explanation…
The International Space Station generates approximately 18.3 kW per person aboard the craft using 3,072 square meters of solar panels. As it is the latest, most advanced real-world example, we will use that as our baseline when designing our power generation system. That is, we will design a power system for our station that generates at least 18.3 kW per person.
Thus, a space station designed to accommodate 100 people must generate at least 1,830 KW. Ideally a buffer of 20% should be included to account for emergencies and ‘unknowns’ so our system must generate at least 2,196 KW. To generate this amount of power using only solar electric panels of the type used on the ISS will require an astounding 54,404 square meters (or almost 14 acres!) of panel. The logistics and cost of launching, installing and managing such a large solar panel array exceed the benefits that such an array will provide to the station.
Powering our station exclusively with solar electric energy will require up to 14 acres of solar panels. This is infeasible.
One should be hesitant to assume great increases in efficiency (leading to higher power output with fewer solar panels) because the panels used on this new station will need to be repaired using in-situ (e.g. asteroidal or lunar) resources and methods. Thus, they may not be as efficient as the best Earth-made panels. They may not be as efficient as the older ISS panels!
So, the problem is clear: how to power a large station with dozens or even hundreds of people? Luckily, other power options are available. A solution involving a combination of solar electric, hydrogen fuel cells and nuclear energy is being examined right now. Stay tuned.
The previous post introduced the idea that the next generation of space stations should be thought of not as ships or craft but more like settlements or small towns in space. Towns have to fulfill an economic need in order to survive and ultimately grow and be successful. Our new ‘towns in space’ are no different.
Our ‘towns in space‘ must provide economic benefits in order to be successful, just like any town on Earth.
Here are ten different goods and services that the next generation of space stations could provide:
*These items may violate our new cardinal rule that life on a space station be pleasant and comfortable for the residents. On the other hand, they could be extremely lucrative.
This list is by no means exhaustive. There is no shortage of ideas as to how a next generation space station can provide economic value to its citizens and thus be sustainable over the long term. Ideally, the ideas presented above (and in the associated links) will ALL be present in LEO in multiple stations. They will create their own niches and specialties thereby ‘fleshing out’ the human-centric LEO economy.
In previous posts the rationale for space settlement was discussed, as well as how the next generation of space stations can attract people in order to be successful. This post will discuss the characteristics the next generation of space stations must have in order to advance the causes of space settlement and developing a human-centric LEO economy.
The next generation of space stations must:
Let’s take these one by one:
1. Be truly permanent – the next generation of space stations, or next gen, must be designed to be repaired and upgraded in space. Components should be modular and subsystems should be able to be swapped out and upgraded as needs require. Structural members should be composed of materials that can be repaired using in-space resources. In short, the next gen should be thought of less as a vessel with a finite life but more like a settlement or a building that can be repaired, upgraded and changed over time.
2. Rotate to provide artificial gravity – the next gen of space stations must have gravity in order to provide a comfortable quality of life and thus persuade the average person to live in space. While artificial gravity has been a mainstay of science fiction for decades, and is assumed to be possible using centripedal acceleration via rotating structures in space, it has never been attempted in real life. The next gen must incorporate some level of artificial gravity in order to prove the concept so it can be refined for later, full-scale space settlements like Kalpana One.
3. Support a larger population – in keeping with the idea that the next gen of space stations are settlements, and not vessels, we ought to call the people living, visiting and working there a ‘population’ as opposed to a ‘crew.’ Furthermore, the next gen must be able to support a larger population in order to prove that a large number of people can live and thrive in space. The challenges and opportunities of having dozens of people in space are far greater than having less than ten people in ISS. Thus, the next generation of space stations should be designed to support a population of at least 100 people.
The next generation space station will support a
crewpopulation of at least 100 people.
4. Produce – the next gen of space stations must demonstrate, on a commercial-scale, the ability to extract useful products from raw materials obtained in space, refine those products into salable goods or services and then assemble them into other, more complex items. For instance, extracting water from captured comets (perhaps delivered to the station by Planetary Resources) and manufacturing liquid oxygen to refuel a government mission to Mars. Or, later on, extracting silicon from lunar regolith (perhaps delivered by Liftport via a lunar space elevator) to produce solar panels to install into a satellite that is docked with the station. Whatever the method, it will be necessary to show that space manufacturing is feasible to advance the cause of space settlement. It will be necessary to use local materials to construct full-scale space settlements because the tonnage required is too high to boost everything up from Earth. The nextgen must prove that local materials can be refined into usable goods, and it must do so at a profit in order to be sustainable.
5. Be flexible – finally, the next gen of space stations must be able to accommodate a variety of different users and uses within the same facility (as much as is feasible). Again, in keeping with the idea that this is settlement, and not a single-use vessel, it must be able to accommodate recreation, manufacturing, military, R&D, etc. And, it must be flexible enough to be rearranged internally to accommodate as-yet-unforeseen users and needs.
The “Bridging the Gap” section of marottaspaceresearch.com will explore how to develop the first truly permanent space station. Currently, humanity has an outpost in space in the form of the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS will eventually be decommissioned and deorbited. The outpost most likely to follow the ISS will be based on the Bigelow stations and, to a lesser extent, the tiny Chinese space station. All of these follow-on stations are designed to eventually be decommissioned, just like the ISS. It is time for humanity to start thinking about a truly permanent space settlement, starting with a new generation of space stations.
But why build a new generation of space stations? Why pursue space settlement at all? While the rationale for space settlement is well-established amongst those in the space advocacy community, the majority of people are, at best, confused or ambivalent about why human beings should have a robust presence in space. After all, life on Earth is slowly improving and where it’s not, significant resources are still needed. If Earth-bound civilization is on the right track and more help is needed to accelerate current progress, why divert resources and try something new by extending human civilization into space?
There are several arguments in favor of space settlement, or, more specifically, why we should establish a human-centric economy in low-earth-orbit.:
a human-centric economy in low-earth-orbit (LEO) is a space-based network of settlements, outposts and manufacturing centers that provides goods and services produced in LEO by humans, and machines tended by humans based in LEO, to populations and consumers based on Earth, LEO and beyond.
A human-centric economy in low earth orbit:
This is a general overview of why humanity should settle space. But before we can settle space, and before a human-centric LEO economy is established, we must first consider what comes after the ISS and the Bigelow stations. The next post will discuss how we should design the next generation of space stations to further the development of the human-centric LEO economy and the overall goal of space settlement.
The previous post in the “Bridging the Gap” series on Marottaspaceresearch.com discussed the rationale for settling space and establishing a human-centric LEO economy to support space settlement. In that post, we learned that there is a “gap” in space development plans. We have the ISS, we will soon have the Bigelow stations, but that won’t get us to a full-scale space colony that will enable wide-spread space settlement. We need to start thinking about what will come after the Bigelow stations in order to ‘set the stage’ for the eventual development of the big space colonies.
But this post will discuss a more immediate question: what would persuade the average person to move to a space station in the first place? Space cannot be settled without people. And space settlements will be communities of people in space. Communities are established for a reason, and our orbital settlement will be no different. Resources are expended to establish a settlement and people move into that settlement to escape where they came from, to follow orders or, most likely, to make money and find a better life. The last reason is the best reason and should guide us when we design our next generation of space stations. That is, settlements founded by people who want to be there are the most successful and enduring places. Therefore, the primary purpose of the next major outpost in space must be to demonstrate that humans can live and thrive in space – as opposed to fulfilling strictly governmental or commercial purposes.
Therefore, the primary purpose of the next major outpost in space must be to demonstrate that humans can live comfortably in space.
While it is not yet feasible to build something like Kalpana One or a Bernal Sphere, the next generation of space stations can “bridge the gap” between the ISS/Bigelow stations and these “full-scale” space settlements by demonstrating that life in space can be both financially lucrative as well as pleasantly comfortable.
In short, the next generation of space stations must offer a high quality of life in order to prove that large-scale space settlement is feasible.