63 thoughts on “Space Settlement”

  1. 1) Space tourism. His best case shows $20b gross distributed over many companies for a drop in price by 20 millionths of the current price.

    2) Space solar power. Elon’s calculations say this goes nowhere.

    3) Planetary defense. After E.L.E. we’ll get serious about this. Oh wait, we’re extinct.

    All these paths lead nowhere.

    Give me $10b and I’ll give you mars in ten years and the entire solar system in a hundred then I’ll give you back the $10b with interest.

    Assume I earn 5% interest. That gives me $500m per year.

    Year one) I put a BA700 in orbit keeping the upper stage engine that put it there (a Raptor methane engine.) A BA700 is more than twice the size of a BA330 but still launchable on a Falcon Heavy.

    Year two and three) I fuel and supply the ship.

    Year four and five) I put Dragon 2 Red landers in mars orbit and supplies on the surface.

    Year six) About a dozen crew go to the ship waiting in EML1. They leave for mars and six month later join with landers waiting in an eccentric mars orbit. They land within rover distance of a prepared camp (about 50 to 100 km radius.)

    Year seven to ten) The next wave of colonists sign up as ion engines (starting with the raptor burning all unused methane) bring my general purpose ship back to EML1. Each has demonstrated the ability in cooperation to make a tractor our of dirt.

    Those on mars are independent and have the resources to pursue there dreams. Many are building homesteads for the next wave of colonists. I’m only transporting those that agree to my settlement charter.

    I have not touched the principle of my $10b and have claimed thousands of sq. km. of developing real estate on mars. Nobody on mars disputes my claims. Nobody on earth can effectively. Everybody on mars has possession of their claims (9 tenths ya know.)

    Once I have dozens living on mars I start to sell off some of my undeveloped land to speculators on earth making a considerable profit if I get just a few hundred dollars per hectare.

    Martians don’t give a hoot who wins the next hundred years of elections on earth.

    1. Give me $10b and I’ll give you mars in ten years and the entire solar system in a hundred then I’ll give you back the $10b with interest.

      Maybe you should present a paper at the next Mars Society conference. I’m sure it’ll go over well.

      1. We already have people living in northern Arctic areas that are an analogy to the south. Neither is an analogy to mars other than cold and isolated. That’s not the reason people aren’t settling Antarctica.

        Ken, I doubt that people can live on Mars — at least without many changes in humans and/or our technology. The gravity is much lower. The air is different. Temperatures are significantly lower. Radiation problems exist.

        Air and temp? That is rectified with enough energy. Without energy, I could not live here at 7000 ft… on earth. MSL is telling us radiation is not the boogy man either. Without radiation we would die (vitamin D and other reasons)… guess where, yeah, on earth.

        Gravity? We already live in a varying gravity field… right again, on earth. What would it take to adapt to 0.38g? I don’t know, but certainly it would be easier than zero. Back when trains took people around at unheard of speed (little more than fast runner) we thought our faces would fall off. Didn’t happen. Good imagination shouldn’t deter us from living.

        Undeveloped real estate has some value if we get to it. Developed real estate has greater value even without possession. It will finance everything because there is plenty of it.

        …present a paper at the next Mars Society conference.

        I lack the resources to go anywhere this year, but perhaps I could make that a goal for the next?

        1. I lack the resources to go anywhere this year, but perhaps I could make that a goal for the next?

          The next convention is in August 2013 so you should have plenty of time. And since it’s in Boulder it’s fairly close to you also.

          If you’re really impatient you can also submit a Space Review article.

          Surely someone with his hand out for $10 billion can swing this?

          1. Aw quit teasing Jim. I might be able to swing a million in a few years, but billions are not going to happen. The thing is, I’d be happy to let an actual billionaire get all the credit (and the trillions in return that just the meager 10k colonist Elon first talked about should happen.) Should anybody find my ideas agreeable, I give them freely. Take credit. But please act before I’m dead and gone. We landed on the moon when I was ten. 43 years later we haven’t done anything else to match. I am very disappointed to tell the truth.

          2. But please act before I’m dead and gone.

            Ken, you see the irony here, don’t you? You want someone else to colonize Mars but you can’t even be bothered to present your ideas to a knowledgeable and critical audience. If your own convictions about your scheme are so shallow how can you expect someone else to sink billions into them?

          3. Ken,

            If you don’t have the resources then maybe you should take a page from Rand’s book and do the paper as a kickstarter project.

          4. Thomas, before Rand did kickstarter he put in the required work that comes beforehand. I haven’t yet which is not to say I haven’t done some. It’s a lot of work. Rand deserves plenty of attaboys.

    2. “Space tourism. His best case shows $20b gross distributed over many companies for a drop in price by 20 millionths of the current price.”

      It will happen. In fact it is already happening.

      “Space solar power. Elon’s calculations say this goes nowhere.”

      It makes sense if you use the space solar power generators to power things in space where there isn’t an atmosphere to attenuate transmission in the first place.

      “Planetary defense”

      Planetary offense is cooler. Namely space battleships with mass drivers for orbital bombardment launching dozens of drones capable of quickly wiping out satellites. That kind of cool.

      If precious metal keep getting more expensive it may make space mining more feasible. Has anyone redone the math ever since SpaceX has driven costs down and gold prices went up?

  2. Ken, I doubt that people can live on Mars — at least without many changes in humans and/or our technology. The gravity is much lower. The air is different. Temperatures are significantly lower. Radiation problems exist.

    Let’s look at history. Antarctica was discovered in 1820. It was ignored for the rest of the 19th Century. The first serious exploration was done by Scott. The Amundsen – Scott race to the pole was something a bit like the race to the Moon back in the 1960s. The first long term research posts started after WW II. Today we have research bases. We have some adventurous tourists. This is with a place that is easy to reach compared to Mars. The air is the same. Radiation is the same. Gravity is the same. It’s much colder and the day-night cycle is certainly somewhat different. Still, though, humans can at least live there for a long time. All this — and no permanent settlements yet.

    People who think Martian settlements are near term possibilities are ignoring too much of reality.

    Myself, I can see Globus’ ideas as more realistic.

    1. Chuck,

      Actually you are looking at Antarctica from the narrow history of science.

      Antarctica was discovered in the 19th Century by sealers hunting seals along the edges of the sea ice and were followed by the whalers in the late 1800’s. The commercial interests simply ignored the mainland beyond the Antarctic Peninsula because there was no money to make there.

  3. Let me follow up with something a bit more optimistic. Send me up into orbit with some dancers. Equip me with proper photographic gear. I’ll get the attention of a whole lot of people. If the website URL gets through, you can see some of my images by looking around there.

  4. This is still a push model based on the old L-5 path that if you create settlements in space good things will happen, just believe in it 🙂

    Economic expansion is always based on pull. Find wealth to exploit and settlements will follow.

      1. Taxing income isn’t good enough anymore. Just heard on O’Reilly last night they are now looking to directly tax wealth. When are we going to do something?

    1. It was quickly realized that SPS production was needed as the pull you mention. It was widely acknowledged (from the top on down), that SPS production would precede large, Earthlike orbital habitats, and not the other way around.

        1. That’s pretty much how it’s been done in the past. Though I can change the wording as such:

          People will invest in obtaining resources from off-earth if and when getting them that way is cheaper than mining them on earth, or if there’s something off-earth that doesn’t exist on earth.

  5. The cost to LEO is the determining step. Assuming 500 pounds per passenger for consumables, a seat, a passenger, and a structure, his table 1 shows 400,000 passengers/year at $100,000 a ticket ($200/lb to LEO) but only 1,000 passengers per year at $250,000 a ticket ($500/lb to LEO) and 170 passengers per year at $500,000 a ticket ($1000/lb to LEO).

    To break into that price range will require a re-usable vehicle with low support requirements and a very high flight rate.

    1. Cost is only half the equation. Forget the other half of the equation and you’ve still got north of a million dollars per colonist. It’s not ever going to happen without a change in perspective. I’m offering that change to any willing to see it.

          1. I have speakers Ed. Something is fried on the board (or were you saying only a couple of hundred for a new computer?)

            I am looking for a laptop but not happy with the selection.

    2. Without vastly lower launch costs there won’t be specutors for Mars because the third or fourth tier customers won’t be able to afford to get there. If the billionaires go in the first wave and second waves, but the millionaires and regular folks can’t afford the trip, the billionaires are stuck holding land that has no market value. They’d have been better off buying land in the middle of the Sahara.

      With lower launch costs people can do all sorts of things because they wouldn’t be taking such a financial hit just to get into space.

      1. Thank you. That’s a good criticism George. But it misunderstands my plan. The idea is that transportation to mars is always free so that everyone that is willing to risk there lives can go just like the American frontier.

        The transportation companies are not going to make their profits immediately. They definitely will over time. Cost will come down as flights go up. They aren’t going to make profit sending only four or six at a time. They would be stupid to send four for $6b. Instead, they send four dozen for $10b. That gives them claim to 48000 sq. km. or about 21 million plots for resale. On earth those undeveloped plots might cost $10,000 to $50,000 as they do in the little town in the middle of nowhere where I live. On mars, and this is after people have shown they can live there, they need less than $500 to profit. Talk about a kickstarter project, I’d pay $500 today and again every few months for another plot, if I knew someone was serious about doing this. I’m not alone.

        The rate is tricky. The S.S.I. handles that by making Alaska sized claims. They are looking at today’s value which is near worthless. It will take a decade or more for the land value to go up beyond worthless but it will go up and faster as more colonists arrive or are born there. I known people to say, “I wish I’d bought land in Palm Springs back when it was worthless desert.” In the future, they may say the same thing about mars. But the transportation companies, which could be making their money in other ways will also have millions of acres in land that is appreciating as the colony grows.

      2. Ok, so the companies have land that will appreciate in value over time. What about the colonists in the mean time?

        Each will likely develop at least one plot for resale but that is not all they’re doing. Many will be farmers growing things for resale to other colonists. Like farmers everywhere they will have to decide what crops represent the best profit. The invisible hand works on mars too.

        Some will produce excess energy and sell it to those needing it for industry. Some will concentrate on producing other things the colony needs. This goes up at an exponential rate as more colonists arrive. Someone is going to make plastic for everyone’s 3D printers.

        The point is the air and regolith provide the raw materials they need for survival and industry. They will be able to survive while waiting for the economy to take off. If lower cost transportation happens that only accelerates that growth.

        1. Why are you assuming the real estate will appreciate?

          Sorry, but your plan doesn’t work. At best it will raise a bunch of money up front in a speculative investment bubble, but there’s no sustainable case here.

          Real estate is only valuable if people want it. Location, Location, Location. If there’s no reason to be on Mars, then the real estate would have a value of Zero.

          Real property (property rights) are a necessary condition to development; but real estate PRICES are an effect of development, not a cause. There has to be a real value there in the first place before the price can go anywhere.

          1. Real estate is only valuable if people want it.

            Absolutely and totally correct.

            There has to be a real value there in the first place before the price can go anywhere.

            This is your error and contradicts your other statement. This is an invalid intrinsic value argument. Getting back to your first valid statement…

            People establish value. Mars unimproved property already has some non zero value because people already want some. Once people are living on mars that value goes up significantly… on undeveloped property. Developed property has more value and with people in possession they can develop property.

            Location, location, location still impacts value (and always will) so property close to developed and inhabited property will rise in value first. This is true everywhere in the universe.

            there’s no sustainable case here

            That argument is that there is none anywhere off the earth. It may only be a matter of faith today, but I find that to be ridiculous. Looking back it will be absurd.

      3. Another way to say it is that the risk up front is the greatest. Assume the cost of transportation doesn’t come down much so that those that follow have to pay nearly the same cost. Even at the same cost, there risk is coming down as more colonists arrive or are born.

        If we assume that the costs will come down over time at some point we reach a tipping point where the first risk taker will take the chance.

        The only question is rate and it is a valid question.

        The plan is valid regardless.

  6. On a related note, it looks like SpaceX has dropped out of Stratoluanch.


    Stratolaunch and SpaceX part ways
    By: Zach Rosenberg Washington DC

    [[[According to a source familiar with the matter, the design changes necessary would have forced SpaceX to make substantial modifications of their manufacturing process, which would effectively negate crucial commonalities with the company’s signature Falcon 9 launch vehicle. ]]]

    So it appears that the Falcon 5 needed for Stratolaunch is now too expensive to develop based on the Falcon 9 developed under the COTS/Commercial funding from NASA.

    So instead they are going with Orbital Sciences which will probably decide on a new start launch vehicle…

  7. Still no love for Venus. Why does everyone ignore Venus? Anyway …

    Chuck’s point about Antarctica is fair, to a point. Antarctica isn’t the only example of a marginal region that people aren’t exactly flocking to. Who’s moving to Greenland? Heck even most of Canada and Australia is unpopulated. If you wanted to be free from “the Man” there are New Jersey-sized chunks of Outback you could spend the rest of your life in without see a soul (or soulless taxman).

    But what about North Dakota? It’s only marginally more habitable than Mars, and people move there. Fact is, people are moving to North Dakota for one reason only – jobs. No would live there on purpose otherwise. But North Dakota is proof that people will move damn near anywhere if there’s money to be made.

    I’m not sure what future commercial activity in space will create a job rush, but I think that’s what it’s going to take. Maybe Lunar mines for basic ores will be the only legal ones once the Greens get all the mines here on Earth shut down.

    1. Once a colony is established on mars there will be a critical shortage of workers for the foreseeable future. Jobs and the promise of assets when boots hit the ground will drive colonization until there are millions on mars.

    2. But what about North Dakota? It’s only marginally more habitable than Mars…

      Statements like this are why space advocates have about as much credibility with the general public as UFO enthusiasts.

        1. The thing about humor is it often holds truths we don’t want to tell ourselves. The fact is humans would die most places on this planet if not for the same environmental controls needed on mars.

          To me, talking about terraforming mars makes very little more sense than talking about terraforming the earth. Mars will be terraformed the exact same way the earth is, one habitat at a time.

  8. You want someone else to colonize Mars but you can’t even be bothered to present your ideas to a knowledgeable and critical audience.

    Jim, who said I can’t be bothered? I’d love to present my ideas to a critical audience. Actually, I’d love for this audience to be more critical and really challenge my ideas. The only problem I see with presenting a paper is the idea needs to be presented in more detail than I have thus far. This isn’t something to do half-assed.

    Funding is a problem. Mars One projects they will need $6b. I think not only are they in the right ballpark but they have a very pragmatic plan. It just happens to be a suicide plan. Elon wants to put millions of people on mars. Except his cost goal is always going to be future tense. Even if it were free, he doesn’t address the issue of million dollar space suits for each colonist. The Space Settlement Initiative has presented the only plan that positively shows a profit. But they require the blessing of government and create a company town. Government or company control of colonists is the last thing you want.

    Planetary Resources will eventually bring down costs, but does not provide a driver.

    My plan provides a profit motive for the transportation companies. My plan provides free transportation to anyone willing to risk their lives and assets to finance the rest of their lives once they arrive. My plan, once they arrive, gives them the skills and freedom they need to survive and thrive.

    But I don’t happen to have $10b to do it, so I guess that makes me an asshole. If you do happen to have $10b feel free to make it your plan. You can take all the credit. Better still, there are trillions of dollars of profit in it if that’s of any interest.

    As far as can we survive on mars? Of course we can. The real mystery is how we continue to survive on earth without any real wisdom.

    1. I’d love to present my ideas to a critical audience.

      I’m delighted to hear it. What are your plans in this regard?

      The only problem I see with presenting a paper is the idea needs to be presented in more detail than I have thus far.


      This isn’t something to do half-assed.

      Then why are you doing it that way?

        1. This is a blog Jim. Are you having trouble with the concept?

          Oh, no. Blogs are a natural home for half-assed schemes of all sorts. But I got the impression you wanted to be taken seriously. My mistake.

    2. Ken,

      You know your idea is already far more developed then most of the paper/presentations you see at those conferences. In fact its more practical and thought out then Dr. O’Neill’s megacities in space as you are looking a realistic models to fund it versus simply arguing for government to build it and the economics will follow that was the basis of his work.

      I think if you take your idea to a conference you will find folks to work with you on it and it does make a good kickstarter project.

      1. Thanks for the encouragement Thomas. I have ideas I haven’t presented yet and one of the things that holds me back (believe it or not) is I tend to be a perfectionist. Since I was a kid I’ve wondered how any self respecting person could put out some of the crap they make money on (tons of money in some cases.)

        Would you like to join forces? I don’t mind being the fool that takes the arrows. You’d keep me honest.

  9. Most colonies (historically) were about importing commodity resources back to where they could be put to better use (or were luxury goods). Gold, pelts, tobacco, etc. I expect that space settlement will take off when we have similar demand for space products. No one would be paid squat for building up local resources if there was no reason for locals to live there in the first place.

    What can be built in space that cannot be built more cheaply on Earth? Or what can be operated in space more cheaply than on Earth?

    One of my favorite ideas is the Server Sky. Putting computing resources up in space makes a lot of sense. The solar power is free and the heat sink is really big. We obviously consume huge amounts of computing resources down here on Earth. Demand is essentially infinite. Eventually our server farms will become cost prohibitive down here on Earth. (Especially if we start taxing carbon)

    The best part about the Server Sky is that import/export of the valued commodidy (bits) is virtually costless. No launch costs, anyway.

    What sort of physical products can only be built in space? Do metals cast differently in microgravity? Do crystals take commercially useful shapes in microgravity that cannot be duplicated on Earth? It would be sort of awesome if it turned out that superconductors were easy to build in space; there’d be demand for that.

    Say we captured an asteroid inside Earth’s orbit and used solar mirrors to refine its constituent elements. Given infinite solar energy and easy vacuum, what level of elemental purity could we reach? Would that purity be useful back on Earth?

    I’m just throwing out ideas here. There needs to be a real draw though for settlement to take off. Ken’s real estate speculation idea would (at best) create a one-time flurry of investment speculation that raise some funds up front, but it’s not a sustainable business case for being on Mars. There needs to be a reason to be there.

    1. Most colonies (historically) were about importing commodity resources back to where they could be put to better use (or were luxury goods). Gold, pelts, tobacco, etc. I expect that space settlement will take off when we have similar demand for space products.

      Water once flowed on Mars, so…terraforming -> Mars beavers -> pelts!

      The Server Sky cries out for implementation, cutting bandwidth requirements to support the same volume of traffic, and a potential customer base that boggles the mind.

    2. Server sky may be a great idea but doesn’t really get us BEO.

      Most colonies (historically) were about importing commodity resources

      No most colonies were about liberty from tyranny. Economics is an essential by product.

      1. I know that’s the popular belief. And some colonists were driven by the search for freedom (the Puritans, famously). But I wouldn’t say “most” colonies were established that way. There’s a reason that California didn’t really take off until the “Gold Rush”, and that no one flocked to North Dakota until they struck oil there. Driver #1 will always be commerce.

        1. Don’t get me wrong, economics is a huge factor after the first colonists arrive. But those first colonist often had no idea what the economic potential was… so that could not be the driver.

          I think we are seeing the same thing in space right now. If people had any clue of the riches waiting for them the rush would already be on. It will first take people going for other reasons to discover, “hey, there’s money to be made?!”

          1. The Puritans may have gone to the New World for liberty, but the Merchant Adventure Company which bankrolled them expected money, which is why they paid to have the Captain of the Mayflower to take them to New England instead of their planned destination of Virginia. The investors wanted them to harvest Cod to pay the investors off and to have a claim to land beyond the Virginia Company’s holdings.

          2. That is a good example Thomas. They went for liberty. Financing it comes second. They only look for the financing after they make the decision for liberty.

            People lack vision. Only when somebody starts shoving profits in their faces does the herd follow. Moooo…

        2. Brock,

          The only successful one I am able to think of was the Mormon’s settlement of Utah and that was a venture that didn’t need a high level of investment, just wagons and oxen, or for many just a hand cart. And having crazy folks attacking you with pitchforks and torches because of your religion provided a strong incentive to leave.

          I guess you might also consider the Confederate colonies in Brazil and Mexico or the various utopia colonies in the U.S. as colonies found for reasons of liberty, but they were colonies in name only as the economic infrastructure was mostly in place along with establish business models based on agriculture or light manufacturing, nothing close to the level needed for Mars or even the Moon.

  10. The most likely path to space settlement is the economic one outlined by Ben Bova in his Grand Tour series.

    Basically when a critical mass of economic activities on the Moon requires humans, then humans will go there to live. And when the population reaches a point that makes it practical for some individuals to stay there permanently they will. Self-Sufficiency for lunar settlements follows as economies of scale are archived and then you move out into the Solar System.

    BTW here is some info on an important development in lunar economics – 3D Printing using simulated lunar material.


    Need a Tool on the Moon? 3D Print One Made Out of Moon Rocks

  11. The paper ignores the value of telerobotic mining of lunar ice. That telerobotic mining force can be expanded dramatically by producing their bulky metalic parts from in-situ materials thereby only requiring launching the low-mass, complex parts from the Earth. With a cis-lunar transportation system, this plan’s orbiting colonies and SPSs would have the materials they need, sourced from the Moon.

    The path to permanently opening the solar system needs to include the Moon.

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