42 thoughts on “Getting Off The Rock”

  1. Cool. I wasn’t aware of Jeff’s other ventures. My lazy Google of Electric Sky didn’t turn up anything, but I’d love to learn more.

  2. Anti-matter and solar sailing. And traveling to stars.

    The problem with solar sails to Mars is time. It seems you get going fast and then use solar sails.
    But it seems you get more thrust from ion engine.
    Say you had a solar sail with solar cells with solar cells powering Ion engine, it seems ion engine would accelerate spacecraft faster the solar sail could accelerate just the solar sail. But if solar sail can accelerate just the sail faster than rest of spacecraft, then ion engine doesn’t need to accelerate the the mass of the solar panels. Then got mass power wires, so put ion near solar sail and ion drags the spacecraft.
    Or just have “flying wing”- big solar panel disk which also solar sails. Has small donut hole in middle where spacecraft docks.
    Solar sail is just about accelerating the solar panels and ion engine accelerates the payload.

    1. I would like to see work on plasma photon sails. These would use a low temperature plasma of a partially ionized gas and lasers tuned to some strong resonance line of the ions in the plasma. Properly done, the laser could cool or heat the plasma, as desired, in addition to transferring momentum.

    1. Wow. Part 2 really hit the mark. Frankly Jeff, I am in awe that you hit so many points so well. I’ve tried to make those same points, but you did it with such amazing effectiveness.

      We have a banquet waiting for us and the stupidity of delay will one day be recognized for the crime against humanity that it is. Poverty literally kills. Sarah says, “silly politics keep us from obtaining it.” The the way I’ve been expressing it is that the showstopper is not anything others have identified. The showstopper is mindset. We simply no longer believe in freedom the way we did during the amazing growth in individual wealth this country used to experience. I advocate colonizing mars ASAP because it is the quickest way to build average human wealth.

      My only hesitation of full support Jeff, is that you seem to have abandoned the island hopping strategy by focusing on interstellar travel? I think you went from too timid to too bold (although it’s never too early for studies.)

      You continue to inspire. Good show.

      1. Oh, don’t worry — Tau Zero is just one of the irons I have in the fire. I do think that we are at a moment when starting to think about the longer-range future is a worthwhile endeavor — but certainly, nearer term things occupy more of my attention; they just aren’t ready to talk about yet.

  3. Magsail ships featured in Michael F. Flynn’s “Firestar” quadrilogy and in “The Wreck of the River of Stars” set in the same universe so the idea has been around for a while. The River starts with the ship’s unfortunate history, always behind the 8 ball, for the first few pages which end with: “then her luck turned bad”.
    I also found out about Electrostatic Inertial Confinement from that novel, where the ship had “Farnsworth Cages”.
    As for “freedom”, I’m living in that large penal colony in the southern hemisphere. A few of my fellow citizens may have heard about the concept but have clearly dismissed the rumours of its possible existence.

  4. I disagree with Jeff, in that I think that we can perfectly increase the standard of living of the current population on Earth and even grow the population quite substantially without any space resources. We could easily satisfy all our energy requirements on terrestrial solar alone. If we had to. But of course, the space resources would be welcome. I also think it’s too much to expect space to bring substantial resources and improve the Earth economy in anything less than a century, if not more, after colonization actually starts. There’s literally nothing out there. Neither population nor technology. Everything has to be made, tested, proven, from scratch.

    I think it’s a good idea, now that rocket reusability is being proven, to pursue other concepts which can provide the next factors in cost reduction or shorter trips like you are doing. I’ve mentioned here more than once that I think beamed propulsion has merit and likely needs to be exploited to get us a true SSTO vehicle or, at least, to increase the payload of existing vehicles. It’s also possible that many small technological steps forward could lead to a quasi-SSTO vehicle such as improved engine nozzles and/or denser fuels.

    With regards to anti-matter, I think we will need it eventually, but it’s basically hypergolics on steroids. It’s really easy to start a reaction, it’s got great energy density, but the hazardous effects are so large that people will balk at using it once we do get the technology. I do believe we will get the technology for several reasons. But it makes nuclear pulse propulsion look clean. For interstellar perhaps something like anti-matter catalyzed nuclear pulse propulsion would be effective.

    In the near term nuclear fission, like with a pebble bed reactor, is a lot more practical for interplanetary travel. There are a lot of questions though. Like, for example, LH2 causes too much erosion to the fuel cladding, LOX fails for similar reasons, so perhaps LN2 or Ammonia will end up becoming the work fluid. For missions this side of the asteroid belt solar-electric also makes sense and is likely what will be used first once we go past chemical rocket engines.

    The point you made about the magnetic solar sails is interesting, since last time I read about about it, I had heard that it was basically a waste of time because the energy expenditure wasn’t worth the extra propulsion with the sail. So I basically assumed a plain solar sail for something like a deep robotic interplanetary mission. Say into the Kuiper belt.

    There’s not nearly any thought being put into either Moon or Mars colonies made with local materials, or ISRU techniques to be used there. I think the best proposal I heard was to build a colony inside a lava tube. People also need to think up which products should we actually produce for either the local economy or for export. In the case of the Moon and Mars missions the economy would be different although many of the products produced could be similar. The Moon is close enough to the Earth you might not need to grow food in it, it can all be shipped, but you’ll still need LOX extraction, power generation, water extraction, base construction, advanced resource recycling, etc.

    Also, while a generation ship, in the classic sense, might not be a good idea… I believe it’s to be considered if we couldn’t in the near future just freeze human embryos and grow them at the destination. Artificial womb technology has taken substantial steps recently for example. While it is still in early stages and does not allow growing an embryo from the egg until adult yet, by the time we have the technology and resources to actually pull through something like a manned interstellar mission, it might well be available.

    1. I also think it’s too much to expect space to bring substantial resources and improve the Earth economy in anything less than a century

      By most standards that would make you a huge optimist, but since we are talking financially the truth is it could happen overnight with just a mindset adjustment. Consider the way a great deal of money is made via common financial instruments? The electronic spectrum is a huge market that only exists because of mindset. Stocks and real estate and other investments are essentially a futures market (of course it could be argued that all markets are futures markets.)

      Consider covered calls. It’s an almost risk free bet on the future, but the return is immediate… not 100 years in the future or whenever the strike date occurs. It’s all real, tangible and completely mind made.

        1. To emphasize my point, asteroid mining can produce wealth today, before any mining ship is sent out by resolving an ownership protocol. Speculators could make money right now, trading on the future potential. Real. Hard. Cash. Today.

          I advocate possession as part of that protocol, but others could move faster by ignoring me (we are all perfectly aware they can move slower.)

          Mars is still a better choice because live people will out perform top down robotic endeavors.

          1. You are certainly right about possession. The right to own property is essential. I think any long term presence off of Earth will depend on a web of interconnected and unrelated endeavors.

            For example, a BFR will get more reuses out of doing other than Mars missions. Amortization means the the cost of going to Mars could be a little lower.

            Mars is your preferred choice. Other people want to do other things. But the more people doing stuff feeds into innovation, investment, and development that will be good for those who go to Mars. There will be more speculators after prospecting identifies opportunities.

            Would it be beneficial to buy ore from an asteroid miner at Earth prices?

            The current advancement we have seen in the space industry are due to a confluence of technological advancements, available funding, people with the right skills, desire, knowledge, and economic opportunity. Many of these conditions did not exist in the past and only exist now because of activities outside of the space industry.

            My bet is the same will be true for Mars. It will require a confluence of conditions that will be met by activities other than going to Mars and also some outside the space industry. One of those things could be a ship created to carry more than 100 people but that was created to serve a different destination. That would allow for crew/cargo BFR’s to dramatically increase their number of reuses.

        1. Because the ROI is exceedingly low, the energy density so pathetic that producing enough to make a significant dent in our energy appetite requires Brobdingnagian amounts of materials beyond our ability to manufacture for 100’s of years, and producing such vast quantities and carpeting the land with them has negative externalities that dwarf those of even fossil fuels, and tower over those of nuclear power.

          1. The EROI of silicon PV is 10 or higher (and higher still for thin films, although they use rarer materials, but see below.) You may have seen claims the EROI for PV is lower than that, but such claims are either borderline fraudulent (using 10 year old data when the cells used 3x as much silicon, for example), or counting the energy used by employees as part of the energy cost of PV (which leads to absurd results.)

            The materials requirements are large, but ANY energy system capable of delivering 10+ TW of power needs a lot of material. It would be affordable.

            Similarly, the land area is available. Remember, non-arable land can be used.

            If I recall correctly, the land area required by solar is only several times that needed by nuclear, if one considers the area of the electrical distribution network (which is the dominant land use w. nuclear.)

            The best argument you could make would be that solar will become so cheap that energy demand will explode, forcing us up against some limits. For example, suppose everyone finds it useful to own some AI servants that suck up 1 MW of power? Time to move off the planet if you want to avoid thermal limits.

            (Aside about thin film PV: space might actually help here, because tellurium, used in CdTe thin film cells, is 1000x more abundant in meteorites than it is in the Earth’s crust. Terrestrial sources would have a hard time scaling CdTe to supply any large fraction of global energy demand.)

          2. Bart, you are talking nonsense. This is what happens when a person firmly believes something that is actually false. Go back and purge the bullshit from your belief set.

            You will discover that “solar had bad EROI” is a propaganda talking point from people who don’t want solar to work. You should have realized this, since if the EROI really was bad then solar could not possibly have been as cost competitive as it currently is (since energy input is a small part of its total cost.)

    2. “I disagree with Jeff, in that I think that we can perfectly increase the standard of living of the current population on Earth and even grow the population quite substantially without any space resources.”

      I agree, if politicians weren’t stupid/evil. And using space resources is unlikely to change politicians, but it buys time.

      ” We could easily satisfy all our energy requirements on terrestrial solar alone. If we had to. But of course, the space resources would be welcome.”

      No, terrestrial solar doesn’t work. LEO solar might work, but that work quickly evolve to using Solar from GEO.
      Lunar solar is better than LEO solar, and also evolve to using Solar from GEO for earthlings. So lunar solar works for the Moon, and is distribution for energy in space. Starting with chemical energy- rocket fuel.
      I see one great benefits of Mars settlement is to help get earthlings quicker to getting solar from GEO.

        1. –Why doesn’t terrestrial solar work?–

          Simple answer the high price of energy storage.
          Or if electrical storage was cheap, why do we have
          things like higher price during peak electrical power
          Or a grid will have say double the amount electrical generation
          capacity to handle base load, because during different times one
          different electrical power usage.
          Having abundant capacity has a necessary added cost, if you don’t want blackouts or brown outs- which are very costly to user of electrical power.
          Or if you offered 12 hours of electrical power at say 1/2 price, but all you get is 12 hours, you would pay full price for 24 hours of electrical power, allowing you opportunity to use electrical power anytime you wanted it.
          If one could only get electrical every other day- full day of having all electrical power wanted and full day not having electrical power, it would be worst the lacking electrical power for only 12 hours.
          So having available electrical power any time you need it, is valuable. And having any quantity you need at any given time is valuable. This service is basically why you paid retail prices for electrical power rather than wholesale prices, which may be 1/10th of retail.
          So if your average use is 1 kw hour, and all you get at any time is 1 kw, that would not worth as much as having a 100 amp power supply- which is typical of new home. Or 10 amp is 1.2 Kw. Or 50 amp is fairly common and people use them, but probably no one want 10 amp power supply which would mean it might enough for a refrigerator but having nothing else using electrical power while refrigerator needs power. So people buy power supply which gives them more then enough electrical rather having breakers switch off, if using vacuum clearing at “wrong time”. Or people don’t want to manage their power needs- “Ok the refrigerator not running, we can now use the lights”. Or have switch for the refrigerator so you can control when it’s on or off.
          Oops hundred dollar of food has rotted because forgot to turn the fridge on, yesterday.
          Anyways what valuable to consumers and provider of electrical power is have more than enough power, whenever is needed.
          Terrestrial Solar energy can’t provide this service.
          If you say power storage can get cheaper, one doesn’t need solar power to provide market for it- cheaper power storage has always been needed in regards to conventional power generation.

          Solar power from space is almost the opposite as terrestrial solar,
          with solar power from space, you have global network. It’s essentially electrical power storage because it can deliver electrical power anywhere on the surface of earth [and anywhere in space].

          The problem with solar power in space is electrical power in space is expensive. And that it’s expensive now, is also points to solution.
          To make rocket fuel from lunar water, requires a lot of energy.
          If lunar water is mined, one has a lot demand for electrical power at say 500 times the price of electrical power on Earth.
          And with competition, the price of electrical could lower to say only 50 times the price of electrical on Earth.
          After decades of having a market for electrical power on the Moon, one might have electrical power on the moon only 5 times earth prices. At this point or before it, one have solar panels mostly made on the Moon. and cost to transport from lunar surface to GEO could be less than $100 per kg.
          At such point in time, the electrical market on the moon could be a few tens of billions per year. And you have Earth market of tens of trillion dollar per year. If you make enough and make cheap enough you could capture a large chunk of the Earth market.
          Or need to invest +100 billion in the infrastructure needed to get into this trillion dollar market.
          Though at such point in time, one could be mining asteroids and one might make solar panel in high earth orbit. But you would be mining asteroids because because a rocket fuel market was first started on the Moon. And Moon is gateway to rest of solar system. Or you can start somewhere else- mars settlements, and the Moon then become gateway, or start at gateway and go from there- either way Moon is gateway.
          The Moon itself is quite different than terrestrial solar, particularly the lunar polar region. One location at lunar pole could get sunlight more than 80% of the time. And terrestrial solar is getting usable sunlight about 25% of the time [see solar peak hours].
          If tie in say more than 3 other location within 100 km of each other, one can get 100% of time with sunlight. You can’t do that with terrestrial solar.
          So, in lunar polar region one can have grid that provide constant electrical power from sunlight.
          And generally anywhere on the moon, half of time one can get 1367 watts of sunlight and polar region one can at least 75% of the time of sunlight and because small region you encircle polar region and always have electrical power. Plus the business in making chemical energy- so you have the infrastructure to store electrical power as chemical energy. And could have electrical vehicle which use fuel cell or other batteries. Or one could use 99% of electrical power generated. very little is wasted like it is on Earth.
          And once Earth is getting solar energy from space, it will reduce the need extra electrical power capacity [you still going to generate power on Earth [why outlaw it]] and reduce not using electrical being made. Which opposite of terrestrial solar.

          1. “Which opposite of terrestrial solar.”

            Oh, also if have solar energy from space which balances power needs, the imbalance caused by terrestrial solar could less of problem. Or at that point, terrestrial solar could be closer to being a viable energy source

          2. “Simple answer the high price of energy storage.
            Or if electrical storage was cheap, why do we have
            things like higher price during peak electrical power

            It’s bizarre you think making batteries cheaper in an intractable problem (even as battery prices have been falling rapidly), while moving an entire civilization out into space is not. You need to sit back and reconsider your selective credulity.

          3. “I would add, the only place solar power has been and is viable is in space.”

            This is obviously blatantly wrong. I mean, if solar isn’t viable, why are so many gigawatts of it being sold?

            I’m astounded you could actually write a statement like that in apparent seriousness.

          4. Paul D.
            November 2, 2017 at 5:17 PM

            –“I would add, the only place solar power has been and is viable is in space.”

            This is obviously blatantly wrong. I mean, if solar isn’t viable, why are so many gigawatts of it being sold?

            I’m astounded you could actually write a statement like that in apparent seriousness.–

            ““Five years from now, without the investment tax credit… it will be less expensive and more economical than it is today because we have great visibility into the reduction of costs both on the parts side, on the supply side, as well as the investment and installation side.”
            By Matthew Wisner Published August 11, 2016

            No one argues it’s currently viable.
            “There is something big happening in solar. This fact is becoming more evident every day. Regardless of one’s view on renewable energy overall and whether mankind will ever truly be able to stop using fossil fuels, it’s indisputable that solar power has made enormous strides in every important aspect as a viable source of power in the last decade.”

            Do you have any clue why they are promising it will be viable, when you imagine it already is?
            They promising because there no downsize to them to lying to you.
            The “We are almost there” is so government keeps on paying billions of dollars because it’s “green”. That’s what been said for decades- about 4 decades.
            With fusion energy research it’s been bit longer and they have been saying it will viable in the next 20 years.
            “Fusion has been 20 years away for about 50 years now. Think about that for a second. ”
            Yes think about.
            Fusion has better chance and has costs us far less money than solar energy has.

          5. Another thing is China makes the most amount of solar panels in
            the world.
            China is desperate for energy- not to mention Japan who were were leaders in solar panels a long time ago.

            No nation can get 10% of their energy needs from solar power- China knows it, so does Japan. The con game doesn’t work,
            China is exporting it’s solar panels.
            Perhaps China wants to “domestically” use solar panel in space, as that actually makes some sense

        2. “It’s bizarre you think making batteries cheaper in an intractable problem (even as battery prices have been falling rapidly), while moving an entire civilization out into space is not. You need to sit back and reconsider your selective credulity.”

          I am talking about moving entire civilization into space.
          I think the lunar polar regions should explored to determine if and where there is minable mine.
          Largely robotic exploration and few crew missions to the Moon, then exploring Mars- again largely robotic, but start with the manned missions and will finished exploring the Moon- a continuation manned exploration program which going to Mars rather than the Moon.
          After lunar exploration, end funding for ISS or reduce it to less the 1/2 billion per year. Add maybe add as much as 1 billion per year to NASA budget. Lunar program finished in 10 year, and total program cost of less 40 billion, and Mars exploration program cost about 50 billion per decade and could take +2 decades.
          After NASA finished exploring lunar polar region, private investment in lunar water mining could happen- depending on results of exploration Europe and other players could interested in having bases on the Moon- again depending on the results of exploration.
          As or after NASA mars exploration, there could interests which will invest in things related to Mars settlements- again depending on result of exploration.

          If one has commercial lunar mining, and other things, lunar water mining may have investment somewhere around 5 to 10 billion, and one could other activity somewhere around 50 billion dollars invested. Government may have various lunar projects in terms billions of dollars a year budget cost.
          This isn’t moving entire civilization- unless ISS program involved “moving entire civilization.
          But lunar activity [government and private] could within decade or two have an “industry” as large or larger than the global satellite market, which is 200 billion dollar “industry”. Or more double our current involvement related to the space activities.
          And I would count Mars settlements as additional factor.
          I don’t believe in Musk idea sending a lot people to Mars in near term, but rather start small somewhere around total investment dollar spend of 10 billion and maybe more than 100 people living there within a decade of first establishing a settlement. It could more explosive growth- but wouldn’t count on it.
          But I wouldn’t count on lunar water mining or Mars settlement, it depends upon what is discovered from exploration.
          Anyhow, generally I think the fastest we could get to point of Earth solar energy from space is about 50 years, and includes that there is commercial lunar water mining and there is Mars settlements.
          But even if we get Earth SPS, we are still not talking about moving entire civilization into space, though we definitely talking about a significant addition to global GDP.
          But after that, in decades after that, maybe something like moving entire civilization into space, or maybe before 2100 AD. But before 2200 seems more likely- or it always takes longer than one could expect and still waiting for flying cars to be in common use. I would put flying cars as coming before “moving entire civilization into space”.

      1. if politicians weren’t stupid/evil.

        So the solution is to take them out of the equation by moving faster than they can respond and being cognizant of the danger to implement it so they can’t get in after the fact.

        That’s the mistake the first frontier people made in America. At first they didn’t go far enough and the easterners stole their land politically which the frontiersman made viable with their own sweat and blood. Mars is still hard enough to get to that we can get colonies established before the lawyers make it ‘a protected land owned by everybody (which means nobody but the lawyer/regulators.)

  5. and even to, for example, make extra biomass that you could turn in to alcohol and use it for heat in the winter.

    Relying on heat released from the human body might not be enough during those long winters. =p

  6. There are many reasons which are true, but I find secondary, though others find them compelling.

    The more reasons the better, each one strengthens the case for off world activity. Holding up any single reason can be a trap. Obviously everyone has something they want to do but some people say there’s is The Only Reason to go to space and that isn’t good persuasion.

    This is especially true when The Only Reason is to protect the species if something happens to Earth because then immediately people say all the money should be directed toward saving Earth. But there is an argument like this against all space activity, that we can’t leave Earth until we fix humans being human. That’s an argument that the very nature of humanity will be disastrous for the solar system if we ever get off this rock.

    I think there will always be people who feel this way and I am not sure what would persuade them otherwise but I hope they never have the numbers or control to stop people pursuing their desires.

  7. “I also think it’s too much to expect space to bring substantial resources and improve the Earth economy in anything less than a century”
    It is already improving the Earth economy. Geo imaging, communications, meteorology, and GNSS. I’m sure there are others.

  8. Terrrestrial Solar doe not work because the EROI is less than 3.
    (Grid scale solar in Spain fully accounted for http://www.springer.com/us/book/9781441994363).
    If you add in storage and its inefficiency then the EROI is likely less than 1.

    Meaning Stored terrestrial solar is an energy sink not a source.

    Ant EROI less than 10 means that we not longer have an industrial society, we spend all of our resources making more energy….

    1. Last time I read about it most of the energy involved in solar PV manufacturing was due to the energy required to manufacture crystalline silicon wafers. But CIGS systems, for example, don’t require these processes.

    2. That EROI calculation used the energy consumed by workers via their wages as part of the energy cost of PV. This is a very dubious methodology. If energy prices go up, those workers consume less; has PV somehow become easier to produce? And if you follow the energy to that consumed by those paid by those works, and so on, out into the economy, eventually you have to include all energy used everywhere. All other things done in the economy are energy-free, apparently.

        1. If a worker buys a flight to Hawaii, the energy cost of that isn’t the cost of making PV modules, it’s the energy cost of going to Hawaii. Assigning the costs to PV only is to pretend everything else doesn’t have its own energy cost.

          Consider what happens if you follow this kind of accounting to its extreme. All energy costs in the economy are ultimately assigned to the PV and (if we assume the economy is entirely solar and in steady state) the EROI is exactly 1. Yet this could be a perfectly acceptable situation.

          1. It’s still a real cost. As long as all sources are subject to the same criterion, it’s not a bias. The fact is that it takes far more workers to generate the same power using PV as it does for conventional sources.

            This is like claiming that since hand tooling and production line manufacture both require people, the number of people required shouldn’t figure in the cost. On that basis, you can conclude the entire industrial revolution was worthless.

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