Envisioning the world of 2100

Discussion in 'Science and Technology' started by RAMA, Aug 9, 2012.

  1. gturner

    gturner Admiral

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    Its cost is going to kill it, not its enemies. The budget axes are going to start falling all over government, and NASA is going to have trouble maintaining a drawn-out development program for something that doesn't even have a payload when other branches are cutting essential services. It's going to face the same gauntlet as Ares and Constellation.

    The Block 0 SLS can lift 70 tonnes and throws away both the solids and 3 RS-25D engines. The estimated cost of the Block 0 is $1.4 billion, which is $44,000 a pound to LEO, and its first launch is in 2018. Under the plan with the highest flight rate, it will then fly once a year till the launch of SLS #5 (which is upgraded to 100 or 130 tons), in 2021, and under the curent Senate authorization will fly once a year till 2026. That's nine flights for the next 14 years. Under the President's current budget we get 4 flights over the next 14 years. That's 930 metric tons delivered to LEO by 2026.

    http://www.spacepolicyonline.com/pages/images/stories/SLS_budget_Integration_2011-08.pdf

    In the 1990's the Shuttle was making about 7 flights a year, and just counting the roughly 55,000 lbs in the cargo bay, that comes to 175 metric tons delivered to orbit, per year, which would've been 2450 metric tons delivered between now and 2026, instead of the SLS's 930 tons under the Senate plan, or the 280 tons under the President's budget.

    According to the plans the SLS isn't even as good at putting mass into orbit as the Shuttle was over the course of the next decade and a half, by a factor of about 3 to 10.

    If that's the plan the execution certainly won't exceed it.

    That's just one reason why the SLS program gives me cause for concern.
     
  2. publiusr

    publiusr Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    It's what we have. My concern is this habit of starting something--then someone killing it--then starting something else, and its enemies killing that. SLS won't have that pesky orbiter to contend with. The SLS up mass will be all payload. This means that ISS would actually have been done more quickly with fewer large modules than with a lot of smaller 20 ton modules. That puts it ahead of an STS that wasted a lot of power on placing an orbiter in LEO.

    I just don't like the idea of a lot of liquid sloshing around up there in a depot with boil-off problems. Now newtype wants a return to hypergolics--and a hypergolic depot would be fine--but we aren't going down that path. That decision has been made. The plus that comes from larger LVs for exploration is that you do all your fueling on ground level--put a heck of an upper stage up there with a big rocket--and get rid of those liquids as fast as you can. Things do wear in space--we saw that with LDEF and ISS solar panels, micrometeoroids, etc.

    The plan is political, but there is nothing to say that if STS can fly 7 times of year with an orbiter--that SLS couldn't match that without one. That's a budgetary question--but that affects everything. We might get a president that destoys NASA--and then we get only what Musk can fund privately--and his LV was 80-90% gov't, so is that really private spaceflight if he is just another contactor?

    Having 70 tons in space (orbiter free) allows for simpler missions, no Rube Goldberg assembly --at least for awhile--until we can afford a Mars ship that is more responsible than Musk's laughable one-way missions. I've been a big fan of Cassini's Ms. Porco, and she and others see easier sample return missions, icy moon landers and the like coming from SLS. It is capability--not frequency of launch--that is most important.

    STS was an HLLV with only a Titan IV payload--and thus redundant. Free it of the orbiter, and you open up BEO in a responsible and engineering friendly fashion without depots that could easily make space debris worse by being a prolonged target to expansion, debris hits, etc. I don't want one of those things blowing up and making LEO a minefield.

    Let's put that off--or at least have the depot a more sturdy SLS launched design with some meteor bumpers, and not an EELV launched balloon tank eggshell of a Centaur. That spooks the crap out of me. We had a small Briz failure a few years ago and it put more debris up there than the China ASAT test and the US sat-shootdown combined.

    We have a space race exactly because R-7 was more than an ICBM needed to be. Where we shrank the payload, the Soviet response was--make the rocket bigger.

    And you know something? It worked.
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2012
  3. sojourner

    sojourner Admiral Admiral

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    SLS costs more per kg of payload than a smaller launcher. End of argument.
     
  4. gturner

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    I'm not sure SLS ever gets below $20,000 a pound to LEO. SpaceX is already selling Falcon 9 launches at $2,400 per pound to LEO. And that's their expensive, early system. He thinks $500 a pound is doable with expendables, and hopefully get down to $100 a pound if his grasshopper goes well.

    If the government can launch 200 times the payload for the same dollar, they would be fiscally insane to retain the SLS.

    Of the $1.2 billion in SpaceX (now valued at about $2.4 billion), NASA has contributed about $500 million, which is 20 to 40 percent, not 80 or 90%, and their private Iridium launch contract is $492 million.
     
  5. Mars

    Mars Commander Red Shirt

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    Thank you for your expertise in this matter. I am not wedded to any particular reactor design, I just assumed the fuel would be uranium because that is what powers commercial reactors.
     
  6. gturner

    gturner Admiral

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    ^ Ironically, LFTR (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors) were a dead relic of the 1950's and 60's until Kirk Sorensen of NASA was looking into reactor designs more suited to space travel. He started http://energyfromthorium.com/ and then founded Flibe energy to build reactors, inititally focusing on the military market because they have their own seperate certifications (If military reactors had all the red-tape and roadblocks as commercial nuclear powerplants, it would take decades to launch a new submarine).

    [yt]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-uxvSVIGtU[/yt]
     
  7. Robert Maxwell

    Robert Maxwell Comfortably Numb Premium Member

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    How do you propose handling the corrosion problems of thorium-cycle molten salt reactors? Isn't that the main thing that makes them impractical for long-term use?
     
  8. Mars

    Mars Commander Red Shirt

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    Like I said, whatever works, whatever off the shelf commercially available nuclear reactor at the end of the 21st century, I admit I am not a nuclear engineer, but I know about nuclear power plants, and the Fusion program just seems to be soaking up money and their progress is so slow with them talking multiple decades just to build an experimental reactor the ITER, and multiple decades more to build a commercial power plant with what was learned. I think if we are to do a starship by the end of this century, it could only reliably count on atomic fission as its main power source, I've calculated by the way it would take 1000 metric tons of fissionables to light and heat a 500 meter diameter Island One Bernal Sphere habitat for every 1000 years of the journey, and at 300 km/sec, that journey to Alpha Centauri would take 4100 years, because Alpha Centauri is approaching us, so figure 4100 metric tons of fusion fuel for lighting and heating the habitat.
     
  9. gturner

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    It's not a horribly difficult problem, and one that has some pretty good solutions.

    Here's a 2010 report from Idaho National Labs on the issue, which is covered on pages 5 to 10. (Highly recommended, easy to read with lots of graphs)

    http://www.inl.gov/technicalpublications/Documents/4502649.pdf

    It looks like chromium content in a molten salt with graphite causes most problem with favored alloys, with a chromium carbide intermediary and chromium plating out on the graphite. Nickel is largely unaffected, and cobalt and molybdenum should likewise vastly improve things.

    Some of the higher chromium alloys had a corrosion rate rangine up to 1 mm/year with graphite, but Hastelloy N was 0.045 mm/year. Incoloy 800H without graphite only had a corrosion rate of 0.0033 mm/year (300 years/mm).

    The report also says at a nickel coating stops the corrosion. They tried spray on moly and diamond coatings but they spalled, which should be a simple surface bonding/structural issue that could be fixed (getting Teflon to stick to a frying pan wasn't easy, either). Silicon carbide coatings also seem to eliminate the issue.

    On approach I'd at least take a look at is using sacrificial anodes, perhaps aluminum or even zinc, depending on which element offers protection and is easily removed and reprocessed from the fluid. And of course since molten salts are so conductive, they could try putting an electric charge between the vessel walls and the graphite.

    I've also read that some of the reaction products (like gold), plate out, making recovery for reprocessing difficult. But that could also be an advantage, if the reactor is coating its plumbing instead of corroding it (like hard water protecting copper pipes with a thin layer of scale).

    So, as is true in most applications, you can pick the wrong alloy and run into corrosion trouble, or switch to an alloy that largely avoids the problem, while developing better alloys and coatings based on further experience and experiments.

    If we just gave up on simple metallurgy and coatings problems, jet engine turbine temperatures would still be stuck at early 1940's levels.
     
  10. gturner

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    I think most people take a wait-and-see approach to fusion. If they get a reactor working for a year or two we'll have an idea what it would take, power-to-weight ratios, thermal efficiencies, neutron damage problems, and maintenance issues. Till then, it might as well be a warp drive.

    But I also wouldn't design for a 4,500 year journey to the nearest star, for the simple reason that someone else could just devote a little more fuel to acceleration and get there in 500 years. That means that when your slow ship arrives, people will have already been living there for 4,000 years.

    Even with a population increase of just 0.5% per year, it means that your ship's passengers will be greeted by 400 million descendants for every person who departed on the 500 year ship. But of course 50 years after the launch of the 500 years ship, somebody will launch a 100 year ship, and 50 years after it launches, someone will launch a 20 year ship.

    Ironically, for a while ships from Earth will probably arrive at the nearest star in the reverse order that they launched.
     
  11. sojourner

    sojourner Admiral Admiral

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    I actually think this will be the biggest deterrent to launching slow boats to other stars.
     
  12. Mars

    Mars Commander Red Shirt

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    ^ But that's just the point, a 300 km/sec starship could be built by the end of this century using off the shelf technology.

    A 3000 km/sec starship would require at least a fusion power source, that is 1% of the speed of light the rule here is take the distance to the star in light years and multiply it by 100 years, so a 3000 km/sec could reach Alpha Centauri in 440 years, I don't know if we'll have the technology to build it by the end of this century, possibly if we have reliable fusion by the end of this century. Its likely the fusion fuel would be deuterium and tritium same stuff to make hydrogen bombs out of, another possibility is helium-3 and deuterium, but that is harder to fuse and would require the mining of a gas giant to obtain enough Helium-3, the most likely gas giant probably would be Saturn due to its lower gravity, though I think it might be a stretch to expect mining operations in the vicinity of Saturn by 2100.

    A 30,000 km/sec starship would require a staged fusion rocket or antimatter, it would be a hideously expensive thing to have throw-away rocket parts, probably only a massive government program could attempt this, another wild possibility is a giant laser to push a starship up to 10% of the speed of light, to calculate travel time, simply multiply the distance of the star in light years by 10 years, for a trip to Alpha Centauri it would take 44 years.

    I think in all cases, we need a 500 meter habitat sphere even for starships that reach 10% of the speed of light, as 44 years is half a human lifetime they'll need somewhere comfortable to live for 44 years. I think acceleration should be limited to 1% of Earth gravity max, as where talking about a rotating sphere.

    1% of Earth's gravity is 10 cm per second squared, and at that rate it would take 9.51 years to reach 10% of the speed of light or 30,000 km/sec.

    At 0.1% of Earth gravity or 1 cm per second squared it would take 9.51 years to reach 1% of the speed of light or 3000 km/sec.

    At 0.01% of Earth gravity or 1 mm per second squared it would take 9.51 years to reach 0.1% of the speed of light or 300 km/sec.

    If we wait for these more advanced technologies, we are allowing ourselves more time to destroy ourselves. If the goal is to preserve the human race, there really is no hurry to get there, but there is a hurry to launch a starship, the sooner we launch this ship the sooner we would have "bought" the insurance policy against the extinction of the human race. I think it would be easier to develop artificial intelligence than fusion reactors or antimatter reactors and a way of mass producing antimatter in a large enough scale to power a starship, and if we could do that, how much easier would it be to destroy ourselves with control over energies like that? I would feel safer if we launched as starship sooner rather than waiting for the technologies to arrive to send a human crew over there within their own lifetimes.
     
  13. gturner

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    Well, the crux of the launch issue is time and economic expansion. You say staging would be prohibitively expensive, but that's only true at the time that you're building your single-stage mission. If we're building a rocket to another star we'd obviously be mining the solar system and expanding out into its vast supply of resources, creating a huge boom. Let's give that period a very conservative 5% economic growth rate. In 40 years, when the economy has expanded four-fold, launching a staged rocket with a mass ratio of four and the same payload will be the same relative cost as launching your original rocket, and be guaranteed to arrive much, much earlier. That earlier arrival time translates into economic and population growth at the other star, because there aren't any resources to exploit in-transit.

    That leap-frogging of the missions just through economic expansion can be counted on to occur, even assuming no technological advances in propulsion. It's the same effect we see with Earth launches using chemical propulsion, which hasn't really advanced since the 1950's or 1960's. Even with the massive drawdown of launch funding after Apollo, the expansion of the economy means that we can keep putting mass into space at a higher and higher rate, even without concentrating on it, as long as there is a justification to expand into space. These same forces will be at work once we're living and working in space, at least by the time we can even contemplate an interstellar mission.

    The implication of that is that the early, slow, single-stage ships will arrive at their destination so long after the ships launched later that their existence will be entirely irrelevant (10,000 new people will arrive at a star whose population is already in the tens of millions or billions), at least aside from the practical example their flight provides (we can do this! And oh, don't use terbillium coatings and remember to bring avacado seeds, because we just ate the last of a guacamole).

    It may be that you're chosing the wrong destination. The nearest stars are guaranteed to get populated by later missions. Perhaps you need to switch destination stars to someplace obscure, or treat your mission as an ark whose destination doesn't so much matter as the fact of its existence, or design your mission to accomodate technological upgrades in-flight by including an ability to bootstrap new manufacturing abilities on board, so the latest Earth-tech propulsion innovations can be re-created with materials and equipment on hand.
     
  14. Crazy Eddie

    Crazy Eddie Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I didn't forget that at all. It's immaterial, because whether you store them or eject them, radioactive waste can't be used as a fuel source and the reactor must be completely overhauled at regular intervals to replace those fuel elements.

    Spoken like someone who knows anything at all about how much it would cost to build a starship.:shrug:

    Not in the next 50 years they won't. Though, admittedly, automation will probably begin to raise the quality of life for the third world long before it empowers humanity to build utterly impractical traveling space colonies.;)

    Humans are not in peril from obsolescence. Humans are imperiled by the greedy machinations of other humans. AIs, on the other hand, are no more threatened by obsolescence than a fork is threatened by a spork.

    On the Islamic calendar, sure. But not any time in the next 80 years; we don't have anywhere near the spaceflight infrastructure needed to even dream about that sort of thing, and we'll be lucky to even be DEVELOPING it by the end of the century.

    More to the point: the advent of AIs might make that entire concept moot, since by then we'd have developed computerized spacecraft that can explore the solar system by proxy and will avoid the expense of maturing manned spaceflight altogether. Your generation ship would simply be a probe the size of a winnebago containing three thousand frozen embryos and a set of really beefy landing thrusters.

    I am not sufficiently concerned with the rest of humanity to make a substantial financial investment to ensure the continuation of the species against a threat that may or may not never materialize in a plan whose outcome will probably never be known. That is simply not a smart thing to EVER invest money on. Because I am probably not in the minority in this opinion, a generation starship of the type you describe will remain another "cool but impractical" concept in science fiction.

    It is. So freeze the embryos and hide them in an ultra-secret bunker a thousand feet underground. We could do that with TODAY'S technology... IF we had any reason to believe humanity was threatened with extinction at any point in the near future.

    People buy life insurance because they know they're going to die. We don't know this is true of humanity yet, so there's no reason to ensure against it.

    And before them, Pakistan and India, none of which were signatories to the non-proliferation treaty at the time (North Korea is sufficiently isolated and sufficiently broke to render this a non-issue).

    And Iran is not interested in a nuclear weapon (if they were, no one would care). They're after nuclear POWER, which is economically and politically destabilizing in ways that a nuclear weapon can never be. With the capacity to build warheads, Iran can only make empty threats and rattle their nuclear sabers to make their voters feel better. With nuclear ENERGY, they can apply leverage to oil production and commercial transit through the Persian Gulf, hiking global energy prices to impose political change to their own advantage. It is this reason, also, why nobody cares that North Korea has nukes: with a nuclear warhead you can only destroy one really really big target and then duck your head down and suffer the consequences, which otherwise still leaves you politically powerless on the world's stage.

    Keeping AIs out of the hands of pariah states becomes a far greater imperative because that sort of technology would have the effect of economically and politically empowering anyone who masters it. The treaty would doubtless be written to reflect this, allowing powerful first world countries to continue to use and develop AIs while everyone else gets carpet bombed if they get caught researching the subject without a U.N. permit.

    Really? You don't seem to have any trouble throwing around suspiciously accurate predictions as if they were certainties.

    You don't need nukes for something like that. Just ask the Iraqis.

    No they won't. ALOT of them will die instantly, and a lot of them will die days and weeks later to medical complications due to radiation poisoning. Even then, a nuclear detonation in a metropolitan area can be expected to produce casualty rates between 40 and 70%.

    So even if half of the human race is clustered together in a densely urbanized society, then of the 4 billion people endangered by the attacks, at least 1 billion will survive, and humanity's overall population would drop by about 30% at most.

    A nuclear war or even a really bad conventional war will not threaten the survival of the human species unless a targeted campaign of genocide goes from town to town specifically targeting individual communities that otherwise have no strategic value except that people live there. This sort of campaign would require a MASSIVE military force, easily larger than the combined armed forces of all the nations on Earth, which is only to say that even if every soldier everywhere decided to kill every non-soldier on Earth, it would STILL take decades to accomplish this. It would take twice as long if this was being attempted by an outside force independent of those military forces (e.g. an AI rebellion). And if somehow this happens at a time when the AIs control all the military assets of the world, then it wouldn't NEED to happen because humans would no longer be in control of their own defense anyway.

    Absolutely. Just not in danger of EXTINCTION, not on anything less than a geologic timescale. Simply put, there are too many of us and our resources too well developed, and a huge number of things would have to go south before we get anywhere near that point.
     
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2012
  15. Crazy Eddie

    Crazy Eddie Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Flawed logic. The first thing they tell you in systems analysis is that bad money is bad money and throwing good money after it won't change that fact. If the system you're developing isn't feasible in the first place, terminating future development is a savings, not a waste.

    STS was thinking "let's build five space stations and use them as construction docks to build the Battlestar Galactica and then cruise around the solar system in style!" As such, the space shuttle was the first in a SERIES of big things NASA was dreaming about but never bothered to secure funding for.

    Yes we are. We never got past the starting stages because our various big projects never develop into anything sustainable. We essentially have to start over from scratch every single time, because we can't afford the kind of incremental development timescales enjoyed by the rest of the aerospace industry.

    Of course, the EELVS could, and for the most part they have. Mainly because they operate on a smaller scale, spreading experience and technical knowledge over a higher flight rate allows them to make developmental improvements a few at a time and evolve their capabilities into new technologies. Thus the EELV program has made technical and capability improvements in the past two decades, during which NASA has made no technical progress whatsoever and wound up REDUCING the shuttle's capabilities due to safety concerns.

    In more familiar terms: when you move to a new area and start a new town, you start with houses, not skyscrapers.

    Suspend any further launches, pending two years of handwringing, technical reviews, theatre and apologia in front of congress, committees, consultations, more committees, studies, and a billion dollars worth of safety upgrades that reduce the rocket's capabilities by 30%.

    Significantly, that means NASA's entire manned spaceflight program will come to a screeching halt until their Next Big Thing comes out of its mourning cycle and is cleared to fly again 25 months later at severely increased cost and severely reduced capacity.

    When you fail to provide the name of the person you're quoting or the context of that quote, yes, that means the quote is unsourced.

    A man on Augustine who supported HLVs is still beating his wife.

    See, I can do that too.

    Delta-IVs, or IV heavies, probably.
     
  16. sojourner

    sojourner Admiral Admiral

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  17. gturner

    gturner Admiral

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    But the Delta-IV is a dead-end because they can't make a Delta-V without confusing the f**k out of everybody. ;)
     
  18. gturner

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    They're not necessarily a bad idea, even though they'll have no impact at the destination. It's the journey that matters.

    With a warp drive, people from Earth could routinely venture to the millenia ship and take tours of it, staring at the spooky frozen embryos or aging crew, still stuck in the world of 2100 like cavemen stuck on a raft going in circles in an eddy in the Pacific.

    In inflation adjusted constant 2010 dollars, I'm thinking $350 for the flight out to the millenia ship and $50 for admission. The souvernier shop would make a killing and could easily be restocked from the warp ships. Of course the actual crew would quickly abandon the effort, so you'd have to pay college kids to dress up in crazy year-2100 costumes and speechify in the old way, but they work cheap. Since the journey is going to take thousands of years, the return on investment should be astronomical.

    After the first thousand years of profitable business you'd even hire people to play tourists from earlier centuries, so new visitors could see what it was like to gawk at the "Twenty-One Hundreders" back in 2350.
     
  19. Mars

    Mars Commander Red Shirt

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    You have to take into consideration that this slow starship will take 4100 years to reach Alpha Centauri, if what you say happens and it is bypassed by more advanced ships, the slow ship would still arrive 4100 years in the future around the years 6200 AD, by this time after 4100 years of technological advancement, I would be surprised to find flesh and blood humans populating the system, not that humans couldn't have got there, but if they got there 4000 years before the slow humans arrived then 4000 years of technological advancement may have advanced them beyond their physical flesh and blood human bodies, in other words they'd likely be no longer human, they might have uploaded their minds to machines or computers and become a society of AI, and as such they wouldn't need oxygen, wouldn't need an earth like environment, they could live anywhere that would allow their machines to operate, the humans arriving in the slow ship might find an already terraformed planet that was discarded by humans who had uploaded themselves into machines thousands of years ago, but these just arrived throwback humans could still use the planet.

    Think of it not so much as a starship but as a one way time machine. The humans raised in the ship would be in a miniature world surrounded by 21st century technology, although they themselves have never lived in the 21st century, that would be the world they grew up in until they reached planet-fall.
     
  20. Mars

    Mars Commander Red Shirt

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    Think of it this way, if you buy a ten year life insurance policy on your self, and within that ten years you don't die, would you feel that was wasted money?

    If we launched that slow starship and humanity destroyed itself before building a faster ship, that would be a good investment as it would have saved the human race, humans would get to start all over again on a new planet.

    If the starship was launched and humanity did not destroy itself and faster ships bypassed it on their way to the destination, then it is just like the life insurance policy you bought but never needed because you didn't die, that life insurance policy still cost you money however, would you feel cheated if you bought a life insurance policy on yourself and you didn't die, or are you paying just to ease your mind that your heirs and dependents will be taken care of in the event you did actually die?

    A slow starship that eventually gets there is like paying money for life insurance it turned out was never needed, its purpose is to save humanity should the worst happen, and at least its development would be a step on the path to even faster starships.