Thursday, December 23, 2010

Transport Nexus III: I Brought My Heart to San Francisco

San Francisco as seen from the ISS
Truth to be told, in all but the narrowest technical sense (driving the car) she brought me; it was my wife Paula's inspiration and effort that got us here. In any case the move and settling-in process account for the lack of posts here in the last couple of weeks, but now RM is up and running again.

In itself all this has nothing at all to do with space travel, but it does inspire some further thoughts about space stations. Recent discussion threads have included noteworthy heresies on this point.

In the traditional understanding that we all grew up on, an orbital station had two primary functions. One was to serve as a center for orbital operations such as communications, weather observation, and so forth; the other was to serve as a transport nexus, the meeting point between shuttles coming up from the surface and deep space craft arriving from other worlds.

Time and technology spoiled the first of these. All the observation and communications relay functions that Clarke and Heinlein expected space stations to perform are instead done by a host of satellites, and no crews are needed to change burned-out vacuum tubes.

The comment thread heretics challenged the second function as well. For a long time to come, spacecraft (or the modules that make them up) will be built and serviced on the ground, where the industrial infrastructure is. Work on orbit will be limited to final assembly, requiring no large staff of orbital workers. Deep space ships may well arrive and depart from individual parking orbits, with no need and no advantage to matching orbits with a big fixed orbital facility.

Space stations, in short, may have become obsolete before any had been built. The ISS, so far as I can tell, serves exactly none of the traditional functions of a space station. For practical purposes it is not a space station at all but a sort of training ship for future deep space missions.


Being obsolete is, in a surprising number of cases, no bar to success. San Francisco was technologically obsolescent from the very beginning of its history as a major city.

From a pre-industrial perspective it is the logical location for a seaport, a transhipment point between oceangoing ships and craft serving the vast inland waterway formed by San Francisco Bay and its outliers, which in turn provides access to rich agricultural regions: the wine country, Santa Clara (now Silicon) Valley, above all the Central Valley.

The railroad era - already well established by 1849 - changed all that, at any rate in principle. San Francisco, at the end of a rugged peninsula some 60 km long, is not a convenient rail terminus (except from the south). The original transcontinental railroad had its western terminus far inland at Sacramento, accessible to water transport; the line was later extended to Oakland, accessible to seagoing ships. And indeed Oakland eventually did supplant San Francisco as a seaport, though it took more than a hundred years, and the physical transformation of port facilities by the container revolution, to accomplish it.

What Oakland has not yet managed to supplant is Gertrude Stein, whose quip, "there's no there there," is practically her sole claim to fame. (Along with Alice B. Toklas brownies.)

San Francisco did not become a suburb of Oakland because of a combination of local circumstances and sheer inertia. Steamboats long remained more economical for regional transport around the Bay Area, and railroads were expensive to build so far from existing industrial centers. By the time these factors changed, San Francisco was already a major port, and network effects took over. It had infrastructure and port services, and the availability of these more than made up for the potential freight charge differential for east-west rail traffic.

Even when the port finally declined a broader network effect continued. In the current era San Francisco is, functionally, the downtown core of the Bay Area metropolitan region, accounting for about a tenth of the regional population but a much larger proportion of metropolitan services. These services to and beyond the region have only an incidental connection its original function as a seaport.


Unfortunately for space stations, the particular circumstances that allowed San Francisco to grow as a port even in the railroad era do not seem to apply in space. On the other hand, cities have always been defined less by their initial primary functions than by the secondary and tertiary services that they are uniquely suited to provide. If - for whatever reason - there are a large number of people in Earth's orbital space, they will probably aggregate in ways that allow them to have lunch together without having to undertake space missions just to get to a restaurant.

Where people go, cities will probably follow.



The image of San Francisco and environs was taken from the ISS.

237 comments:

1 – 200 of 237   Newer›   Newest»
Geoffrey S H said...

...or we might have a number of "engineless training craft" in orbit.

Or both- why build a new station-restaurent when you can attach some modules to a nearby training facility and leech off its life support and power? Thus a commercial astral-urban settlemen begins to grow...

Thucydides said...

It will be interesting to re read Jane Jacobs and see how her insights might be applied to the growth of settlements, cities and colonies in space.

Her key insight is economic growth in an urban environment (and the driver of the complexity and diversity that delights most urban dwellers) is "import substitution", which Geoffry is alluding to in his post. Enough import substitution and the network effects dominate, since we now have enough nodes to create a self sustaining, complex and ever evolving network. (Side note; when governments try to intrude in greater areas of life, they are effectively reducing the number of nodes [their ideal would be to whatever number of departments exist in City Hall], and hence reduce the diversity and complexity urban dwellers come to expect. Even then, there will always be an underground economy and Samisdat to supply the things the dwellers really want and need).

Enjoy San Francisco. I expect the social and economic networks are so large and diverse it will take decades for idiot city councilors to unravel them all.

Anonymous said...

I've thought that Singapore would make a location for a "nexus station"/space elevator. It's near the equator, so you have higher angular velocity. It already is one of the world's busiest seaports, so getting cargo to the launch site is easy.

I haven't been here long enough to read the space station threads I and II, but I imagine that there would be a role for a space station as a hub for trips to the aforementioned parking orbits, the moon, and possibly Mars.

Tony said...

Anon:

"I haven't been here long enough to read the space station threads I and II, but I imagine that there would be a role for a space station as a hub for trips to the aforementioned parking orbits, the moon, and possibly Mars."

Quick and dirty summary:

For almost any opportunity to or from almost any solar system body, the plane of the transfer orbit is unique, WRT the Earth. For any pax or cargo coming up from the Earth, it's easier in energy terms to achieve the optimum parking orbit from the ground than it is to go from the ground, to an intermediate orbit (where your transfer station would be), then to the parking orbit that coincides with your planned transfer orbit.

Re: Rick

You missed the most important reasons why San Francisco had to exist:

Joe DiMaggio
"Dirty" Harry Callahan
Fleet Week

Anonymous said...

Re: Tony

Does the situation change when the space station is the counterweight on a space elevator?

Tony said...

Anon:

"es the situation change when the space station is the counterweight on a space elevator?"

Well, a space elevator (at least in theory) radically alters your ground-to-orbit economics. This makes plane changes less of an economic and operational issue. The problem is that you have to build the elevator and keep orbital junk from hitting it or attached elevator cars.

Jim Baerg said...

"For almost any opportunity to or from almost any solar system body, the plane of the transfer orbit is unique, WRT the Earth"

But that is not true.

Since the orbits of all the planets in the solar system are within a few degrees of the plane of earth's orbit (the ecliptic), the low earth orbit to start from for a trip to any planet should be in the plane of the ecliptic.

If there is some reason for surface to orbit shuttles to meet interplanetary craft at a space station, then one station in LEO *in the plane of the ecliptic* will be equally good for all destinations.

Even for the moon which is 5° off the ecliptic is fairly easily reached from such a station.

Note: the ISS is in the wrong orbit for that purpose because an ecliptic plane orbit is not reachable from the Soviet/Russian launch sites.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure that there are uses for space stations that require humans to be aboard them; things like research, deep space mission training, maybe even satillite retreval, refurbishment, and redeployment. Who knows, perhaps someone will figure out an entirely new purpose for space stations.

I think that the reason we keep wanting to hang on to the concept of orbital stations is because they seem to be too cool a notion to abandon them without a fight.

Ferrell

Dex said...

"If there is some reason for surface to orbit shuttles to meet interplanetary craft at a space station, then one station in LEO *in the plane of the ecliptic* will be equally good for all destinations."

In a word: Fuel

Even for relatively simple sustained CisLunar operations, LEO Fueling Depots have a large economic impact.

"Note: the ISS is in the wrong orbit for that purpose because an ecliptic plane orbit is not reachable from the Soviet/Russian launch sites."

It may prove beneficial to have multiple LEO Fuel Depots in different orbits (optimal inclination for major space ports) that have shuttles to the Ecliptic Station.

Most of the time, fuel shuttles move fuel & cargo from the LEO Stations to Ecliptic Station, on occasion they move people as well (cargo w/ life support).

---

Depots, Tugs, etc can all be robotic. Once an outbound vehicle is prepared and fueled at Ecliptic Station, the passengers depart any spaceport, make a brief change to a waiting shuttle at their space ports LEO station and head to Ecliptic Station and their outbound vehicle.

The LEO Fuel stations and Ecliptic Station can be barren, automated outpost that human payload briefly passes through when transitioning between vehicles.

All the above is reasonable for modern freight, air travel, or cargo transport. But we still have train engineers, pilots and airport staff, and harbor workers and ship crews.

If there is a role for humans in the fueling and intermediate preparation/maintenance of these facilities/depots, then you will have the growth of stations that interest you as an author.

Corey said...

You're forgetting one huge thing that help keep San Francisco a major center of commerce and culture: World War II. There was a massive influx of soldiers (and the ancillary populations that always follow large migrations) enforced by the government.

I live in Santa Clara, CA (basically a suburb an hour away) and between the 1940 and 1950 census the city's population basically doubled. The entire region of what is now known as the South Bay Area had a 66% population increase over the same period. A lot of the people that got moved out there had to live somewhere...

And then once you go beyond the actual soldiers and into the dock workers for all this activity (because you're shipping materiel also), you can see how one general's choice of using San Francisco caused a massive internal emigration in the Pacific West.

Similarly, if for some reason various terrestial powers decide that there needs to be a sizable permanent presence in space, well then it just builds on its own inertia. What starts as supply runs of new colonists and replacement stuff for things that break eventually become trade routes as the colonies become self-sufficient.

Hugh said...

I'd suggest a third role for space stations, tied in with being a transport nexus, as the place where you get spare parts and maintenance for your deep space craft.

Something I've noticed in DVD documentaries about "daily life" on ships and submarines is how much maintenance is required. Even on modern, well-run Australian subs moderately important bits seem to break every few weeks. Airliners get a thorough going-over by technical staff at regular intervals.

And the shuttle, so far our only data point for reusable space ships, needs the equivalent of a major dockyard overhaul after each trip.

Space being the hostile environment it is, I suspect maintenance and replacement is going to be very important in the plausible midfuture. (ie no ships built out of smart nanotech or structural integrity fields.) Every ship that comes in will undergo a thorough "flight readiness" check and the engineers will want to replace anything showing symptoms of future trouble.

If this is the case, there's probably a good economic argument for keeping the skilled techs (and not so skilled cleaners - another aspect of submarines revealed by the documentary is how important it is to keep crud from accumulating) and stocks of parts in orbit. Instead of a glamorous VIP airport passenger lounge, think giant auto body shop in orbit.

f said...

You could also have a space station working as an intermediate form of space elevator: instead of having a space elevator going from Earth surface to geostationary orbit plus counterweight, you could have an elevator going from geostationary orbit to low orbit (say, about 100 Km, the quote fixed for the X-prize). This elevator would be quite cheaper and easyer to build, and would require much easier to build and maintain shuttles, so easy that even small private companies have proved able to build them.

Some experiments with tethered satellites were conducted some time ago... there were troubles, but nothing show-stopping, if I remember well...

Anita said...

Medical research, both earth based and manned missions, and intensive care (burns, cancer, degenative conditions come to mind) could be a compelling reason for an orbital station.

Further, a play ground from sex to sports.

If there's a need or a desire, the money will follow.

Tony said...

Jim Baerg:

"But that is not true.

Since the orbits of all the planets in the solar system are within a few degrees of the plane of earth's orbit (the ecliptic), the low earth orbit to start from for a trip to any planet should be in the plane of the ecliptic."


Incorrect. The orbit to start in is one coplanar with your optimum transfer orbit. That orbit will only by the wildest coincidence be coplanar with the ecliptic. (The orbit of Mars, for example, is inclined 1.85 degrees WRT the ecliptic.) And, if you're sending spacecraft componenets, consumables, pax, and cargo up from the ground, that orbit is always easier to reach from the ground, in terms of overall energy budget. That's because plane change energy requirements are a function of your velocity when you make a plane change. It's simply less costly to make that change when you're moving a fraction of a kilometer per second (on the ground) than it is to do so when you're moving several kps (in orbit).

KraKon said...

Why do we always limit our thinking on orbital manoeuvres to keeping it relative to the ground? In my universe, you could spend your whole life never touching a bit of dust, travelling between orbital installations. And as you yourselves have pointed out, an extraterrestrial colony is most likely an orbital installation with a ground-based extension . Having people live their whole lives ion space would also be a boon for station development, much the same way keeping people in trucks in the US lead to the development of Drive-ins.

If anyone read the mange Battle Angel Alita (crappy name in english version), you'd notice that the space elevator has stations on both ends, one in the atmosphere and another out of it.

"Space being the hostile environment it is, I suspect maintenance and replacement is going to be very important in the plausible midfuture. (ie no ships built out of smart nanotech or structural integrity fields.) Every ship that comes in will undergo a thorough "flight readiness" check and the engineers will want to replace anything showing symptoms of future trouble."

I thought cargo and civilian ships would be based around a modular train-like design, with it being reconstituted at the end of each trip. Instead of intervening on the ship itself, repair workers would replace used modules with new ones, and work upon the repairs without hurry. That way you got easy spacecraft repair, zero repair time and replacement parts all in one package.

The problem with refugee displacements in a space setting is that refugees can return to their homeland the moment the war ends. It's less changing country than picking up your tent and setting up 10 miles away. Space is the same everywhere after all...

Following...everything.

Thucydides said...

I think the argument of energy conservation in plane change manouevres is a bit out of place in the plausible midfuture(tm). If ships have anything like demi-torch performance (VASMIR drive pushing a ship to Mars in 39 days) then the energy needed to make the plane change becomes reduced to "noise" inside of the larger energies used for the voyage.

This is not to say that transfer terminals will be needed, for the most part it will make more sense for the ship to insert itself into the best orbit to meet shuttles from the surface (if Russia were ever to be reconstituted as a great power, then a VASMIR or other demi torch ship could insert itself into a high inclination orbit to meet Russian shuttles).

Repair and refitting is probably the best reason to have some sort of orbital facility; shuttle resources bring up modules while ships are in transit, and robot arms and astronaut tech staff remove old modules from the ship and replace them with new or refurbished modules already waiting in the dock when the ship arrives.

This is where import substitution will take place, especially if there are enough benefit to doing inspection and repair in the dock to outweigh the benefits of taking the entire module back to the factory on the ground for refurbishing.

Anonymous said...

A space station in orbit around Earth would mave different uses than one orbiting Jupiter (or one of its moons), for example.
So, instead of Big Ed's Orbital Garage and Body Shop, you'd have the Interplanetary University Jupiter Station Extention Campus.

Ferrell

Anonymous said...

As far as space elevators, they MUST go to geostationary orbit as I understand it, because they have their CoG at geostationary orbit altitude. Effectively a space elevator a satellite in geostationary orbit that reaches the ground.

I'm curious about how far "downrange" a surface-to-orbit craft would go to a space station. If your space station is in geostationary orbit above a certain city, (assuming the city is on the equator for simplicity) does the best surface to orbit flight path start at that city? 1,000 miles upspin? The other side of the planet?

Rick said...

Welcome to a couple of new commenters!

I suspect that when humans go up in substantial numbers it will be for 'tertiary' functions rather than pumping gas or equivalent, but these tertiary functions will probably still cluster around refueling points, etc., simply because that is where the spacecraft are going in any case.

So long as deep space missions are few in number (which could be for a long time), even minor inclination changes are not worth it. You probably have to hit some (undetermined) critical mass of traffic before refueling or other on-orbit servicing justifies diverting traffic to a station.

As a reference point, an inclination change burn of 1.85 deg corresponds (if I'm doing this right) to about 265 meters/second in LEO, a substantially costly burn. But the correction is much less for a departing interplanetary electric ship, since it spirals out to a high orbit before transitioning to interplanetary flight.

Markus said...

"I'm curious about how far "downrange" a surface-to-orbit craft would go to a space station."

I think that for reaching a point in Geostationary orbit the best way would be to start at the opposite side of the planet. First, you rise out of the atmosphere and get enough velocity not to fall back to Earth. Now, you fire your engines. Assume a very fast burn with enough delta-v to raise the apoapsis (highest point of orbit) to 36000 km. Then you wait till you get to the highest point and burn again to raise the periapsis (lowest point of orbit) to the same altitude. You've achieved circular orbit.

If this maneuver is done from orbit to orbit, it is called a Hohmann transfer. Hohmann usually pops up during interplanetary discussions, but is actually very useful in orbit changes around a planet. If you can't start on the opposite side, you'll have to fly there first. Low-acceleration craft do a spiral-like trajectory, where the starting point doesn't matter that much.
---
I reached the same conclusion for the inclination change delta-v as Rick, though I don't think it is substantially costly. Since we're indeed discussing plausible midfuture with nuclear engines et cetera, 260 m/s is minimal compared to, for example, the escape velocity from LEO at ~11000 m/s.

It is significant for low-tech engines. With chemicals you'll want to get the inclination right when getting to orbit. If you think in terms of costs...

- 100-ton craft, v_e = 4500 m/s (hydrogen-oxygen): 5800 kg, if H2-O2 is $1/kg, the cost is $5800. Let's say that craft carried 20 tons of cargo that sells at $10/kg = $200,000. The burn cost is 2.9% of the cargo price, which really cuts into your margins. Also, it limits the dv available for later maneuvers.

- 100-ton craft, v_e = 50 km/s (nuclear): 520 kg. If propellant is hydrogen at $1/kg, the cost is $520, which is ten times less than the chemical craft above. If there's some benefit for changing inclination, it's probably worth it for this craft.
---
To say something about the topic itself, I agree on previous comments about a space station acting as a center for repairs, spare parts and enjoyment. Greatly magnified if we imagine an universe like KraKon's.

Another perspective: if some of you have read Alastair Reynolds' books of the Revelation Space universe, there's a planet that has quite a big part of its population actually living in orbit, in thousands of habitat stations. Granted, that represents far future instead of midfuture, they have interstellar ships and stuff. But if we have the necessary tech for keeping people healthy for indefinite periods of time in space, I believe a growing space population will spontaneously form. If people who have spent most of their life in space have enough resources for self-sufficiency (metals and minerals from asteroid mining, junk gathering, growing your own food in your habitats...), they don't necessarily want to "return" to Earth.

Especially if your Earth is not in that good condition after overpopulation, pollution and so on.

- Markus

KraKon said...

My setting is the result of a century long seedship colonization effort. Not feeling the basic need for dirt we Terrans have is understandable.

Mentioning Revelation Space, I'm reading it right now :)

If you've got
"But if we have the necessary tech for keeping people healthy for indefinite periods of time in space, I believe a growing space population will spontaneously form."
Birth control and age-prolongation rendered illegal is envisionable if overcrowding happens in space. Overstepping your life support limits will kill everyone on the station, so the ends justify the means.

"they don't necessarily want to "return" to Earth."
Not forgetting that it's a huge dV deficit and once established in orbit, and self-sufficient, no-one will believe that getting resources from planet side is economically reasonable. Tell me, how far out can we go with the propellant used up in a two way SSTO? Quite far I believe.

Tony said...

KraKon:

"Why do we always limit our thinking on orbital manoeuvres to keeping it relative to the ground?"

Because for the next several centuries (at least), the industrial base for all of this is still going to be on the Earth, and access to orbits from the Earth is going to dominate operational considerations.

Thucydides:

"I think the argument of energy conservation in plane change manouevres is a bit out of place in the plausible midfuture(tm). If ships have anything like demi-torch performance (VASMIR drive pushing a ship to Mars in 39 days) then the energy needed to make the plane change becomes reduced to 'noise' inside of the larger energies used for the voyage."

I think I'd call VASIMR more of a micro-torch. But in any case, even a couple of degrees is a big deal for orbital plane change because, using low thrust drives, it can't be done with a near-instantaneous burn at the plane intersection, which is the most efficient way. One may wind up using a kilometer per second or more of delta-v to get the job done because each subsequent increment of plane change is done at a higher and higher velocities, as the spacecraft accelerates. Even a few percent of the delta-v budget is significant.

Milo said...

Markus:

"I think that for reaching a point in Geostationary orbit the best way would be to start at the opposite side of the planet."

Not quite. The planet is rotating, so while you do indeed want to start your Hohmann transfer on the exactly opposite side (180 degrees removed) from where the part of the planet you want to hover over will be when you get there, this is not the same location as where said area is when you start the transfer.


"If you can't start on the opposite side, you'll have to fly there first."

This is easy. As long as you're in the right orbital inclination and not already at geosynchronous altitude, it can be accomplished through the rather expedient process of doing nothing.

Markus said...

Milo:

Thanks for the correction. I didn't think of that.
---
Tony:

"One may wind up using a kilometer per second or more of delta-v to get the job done because each subsequent increment of plane change is done at a higher and higher velocities, as the spacecraft accelerates."

I would think that we don't need to increase the speed if we're changing the plane, even with low thrust. While burning at the plane intersection, you are burning directly normal to the orbit, and thus only changing the direction of the velocity. With low thrust, you just burn, then wait, burn again, wait... all the while, our speed stays at 7800 m/s or whatever, but the inclination changes a bit every burn.
---
KraKon:

"Birth control and age-prolongation rendered illegal is envisionable if overcrowding happens in space."

True. My original meaning by "indefinite periods of time" was "shielding yourself from the extra dangers of space, including radiation and effects of weightlessness, so that one won't prematurely die of these effects", instead of age-prolongation. But it is indeed as you said; population is limited by life-support capability. It then depends on your setting whether it is easy or hard to build more capability.

- Markus

Tony said...

Markus:

"I would think that we don't need to increase the speed if we're changing the plane, even with low thrust. While burning at the plane intersection, you are burning directly normal to the orbit, and thus only changing the direction of the velocity. With low thrust, you just burn, then wait, burn again, wait... all the while, our speed stays at 7800 m/s or whatever, but the inclination changes a bit every burn."

If you did it that way. I doubt you would want to play that game in the vicinity of a space station, so you would have to alter your orbit somewhat to begin with. But that's not what Thucydides was talking about, AFAIK. I think he meant that a plane change component would be added into the normal thrust vector. Which is fine...but it's not trivial after all of the vectors are added up.

There's something else that I didn't directly address that I should have. The optimum transfer orbit for any opportunity is not going to be in either the plane of the origin body or the destination body. That's because neither the departure or arrival point is likely to be at the intersection of the origin and destination orbital planes. It's going to be in a plane that intersects the origin body's orbit at the point of departure and the destination body's orbit at the point of arrival. That means that it's going to be tilted WRT both the origin's and destination's orbits, which means in turn that it's going to require even more energy than a simple plane change from the origin to the destination orbital plane.

Thucydides said...

Quite right. If you have a powerful semi or demi torch drive (or even micro-torch), then you can add in plane change adjustments as part of the burn, most likely as you are spiraling out of orbit.

With VASMIR you have an ISP from 3000 to 30,000, and Fusion drives can have ISP's up to 1,000,000; plane changes which are challenging with chemfuel or even NTR become small relative to the amount of delta V available.

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"With VASMIR you have an ISP from 3000 to 30,000, and Fusion drives can have ISP's up to 1,000,000; plane changes which are challenging with chemfuel or even NTR become small relative to the amount of delta V available."

With fusion, maybe. But even with VASIMR a plane change of more than a few minutes of angle is still going to be a significant part of your energy budget because you are going to do it running at the lower end of your Isp range. Also, you're no going to have all that much remass to play around with. Part of the advantage that is realized with high Isp drives is lowering the mass ratio. If you have to lift it all from Earth to begin with, you're not going to add mass to the package just to go to a space station you have no need of visiting before assembling the components and taking off for your final destination.

Aside from the orbital plane argument, as long as space travel is relatively rare and seasonal -- and VASIMR doesn't do a thing to change this, maybe not even early fusion drives -- spacecraft are not going to need on-orbit facilities of any kind. Even fuel depots are questionable, since they are only needed if you have to launch a large number of spacecraft components on relatively small launch vehicles.

Certainly maintenacne and repair are not going to be valid applications, since spacecraft will either be single use or mothballed in orbit between missions. The crew will manifest repair and maintenance requirements prior to mothballing. Prior to recommisioning for the next mission, reapir and maintenance supplies will be collected and the next flight crew will be trained in the necessary procedures for their use. Then the parts and crew will be sent up on the recomissioning flight, with enough time in the schedule to get all of the necessary work done prior to the arrival of cargo/pax. There's no need for a space station for any of this.

In short, a LEO space transit hub, in reality, is just an unjustified fiction trope.

Aaron Lee said...

Am I odd for reaching the clonclusion that space stations might be a bit like lunchero trucks? If the only use we have for stations is (perhaps) maintenence and entertainment, why not just have the entertainment come to you? If these ships don't want to shoulder the expenses, what about the station itself, then just factor the transit into costs.

This idea has sort of been floating around so I'm not sure if this is, in any way valid given the (still contested) points of agreement.

Geoffrey S H said...

@Tony:

"Certainly maintenacne and repair are not going to be valid applications, since spacecraft will either be single use or mothballed in orbit between missions. The crew will manifest repair and maintenance requirements prior to mothballing. Prior to recommisioning for the next mission, reapir and maintenance supplies will be collected and the next flight crew will be trained in the necessary procedures for their use. Then the parts and crew will be sent up on the recomissioning flight, with enough time in the schedule to get all of the necessary work done prior to the arrival of cargo/pax. There's no need for a space station for any of this.

In short, a LEO space transit hub, in reality, is just an unjustified fiction trope"



A rocket designed to exit the earth's athmosphere should be different to a rocket designed to explore the solar system. Like an SSTO, there are so many engineering tradeoffs in combining the two, that I'd someday rather have them assembled in orbit from smaller rocket flights, and then sent off.

Even if that doesn't happen, I do not want a rocket to just roar out of the athmosphere and go on its way without checking to make sure its not lost any components through faults. Don't treat the transfer orbit to the station as an unnessesary extention of the same journey, but a difficult shakedown cruise that exposes problems that can be corrected at the station, with all the spare parts that can't be carried on your interplanetary craft, due to mass-restrictions.

I know I'm flogging a dead horse here... but I don't want spacecraft to weather the difficult, unpleasant and dangerous transit to orbit without being checked over. I don't care how much its checked on the ground, there's always room for a mistaker or part-faliure on the way up at 5-6G acceleration. Just one check up before our expendable crewed missiles go on thir way to could save lives one day.

Which is why I feel that at some point in the future, no matter how far into the future, there will be some form of "check-up" station to just make sure nothing's come loose on the way up- even if its during an antimatter/unobtanium propellant era. To just shoot them off in any other manner feels reckless, and that recklessness should be eliminated as soon as it becomes possible to do so.

Tony said...

Geoffrey S H:

"Which is why I feel that at some point in the future, no matter how far into the future, there will be some form of "check-up" station to just make sure nothing's come loose on the way up- even if its during an antimatter/unobtanium propellant era. To just shoot them off in any other manner feels reckless, and that recklessness should be eliminated as soon as it becomes possible to do so."

I think you're misunderstanding what happens. Even today, when interplanetary probes are launced in one piece, they aren't sent straight to their destinations. They are put in a parking orbit that gives access to their planned interplanetary transfer orbit. There is then a delay between thirty minutes and an hour while the craft orbits around to the optimum transfer orbit insertion point. During that time, the spacecraft is monitored and it's function in the space environment is confirmed before the motor is fired for the transfer orbit insertion.

Bring that forward to manned operations with modular spacecraft. The spacecraft is assembled in orbit over the period of a few weeks, constantly being monitored throughout. Then the crew/pax is sent up several days before the interplanetary transfer is initiated, so that they can move in and thoroughly check out the systems. There is no direct launch into an interplanetary transfer.

Geoffrey S H said...

Aaaaaah, somehow I read you as saying that craft would be launched entirely in one peice with no construction, and certainly no maintainance in any way before departure. You also right that I misread you as to procedures before an interplantary transfer.

Its been a long month...

Tony said...

Re: Geoffrey S H

It's really a question of where your industrial base is. For a long time it's going to be on the Earth. So one has to think in terms of how best to move from that location to the desired destination.

In keeping with the theme of the "Transport Nexus" series of posts, the real problem is that there isn't a valid transport nexus in the system. Even the Earth launch facilities are really just a final assembly and checkout extension of factories all over the country that supply the rockets and spacecraft. Technically, the two largest ones (Cape Canaveral and Baikonur) are military missile ranges. Manned mission control and training for NASA are in Houston. Russian mission control is in Korolyov and cosmonaut training is in Star City, both suburbs of Moscow. Commercial unmanned mission control is in a wide variety of office building all over the world.

In the future, the rocket factories are still likely to be in several different places. Training is going to be wherever the entity running the mission (commercial or government) deems best. Mission control is going to be run out of whatever office building the mission can be run from. And large numbers of people and hardware are only going to come together at spaceports for a few weeks or months at a time. IOW, it's hard to see how things are going to change much.

That means that the usual human triumphs, failures, and intrigues associated with cow towns, seaports, or commercial center are going to happen in rather mundane suburban or industrial settings on the Earth. The movie version of The Right Stuff actually got pretty close to the truth. The human story was and is going to be mostly on the ground, because there isn't much room or time for it in space. In space you're limited too maybe some harsh words and a comically ineffective fist fight, a little illicit copulation, and maybe taking care of an in-flight emergency or two. Note that the last one has definitely happened several times, and the first two may in fact have already happened as well, if rumors are to be believed. Not much story-worthy material has come out of it.

Geoffrey S H said...

To go slightly off-track, any historical narritive about the Soviet Space program until 1970 usually has something story-worthy present. While he was purely Earth-bound, Sergei Korolev's life makes for an extreemly gripping read.

As regards stations, in my little future history, stations cluster round any locations where orbit is easily acheived, i.e.: mahitech lightcraft andf space elevator terminals. One or two orbital storm cellars for emergencies and aome deep space depots for the big freight-craft whose drives are powerful to make such a rendezvous and take advantage of the emergency supplies there. Other than that, non geostationary-orbit stations are usually scientific in nature, and a destination in themselves, rather than just a stopping off-point.
I hope its a fairly modest setting for the antimatter/magitch-propellant era, station-wise...

Rick said...

Welcome to new and returning commenters!

Historical time frame is important here. I think Tony made the proviso 'so long as space travel is relatively rare and seasonal.'

Suppose you have two human interplanetary missions in the next year, a 'transport' run to Mars and an exploratory mission to Jupiter. Even if both missions involve weeks or months of prepping on Earth orbit, at this stage of development there's likely no advantage - and a modest but significant transfer delta v disadvantage - to putting them on the same orbit for this servicing.

You probably need some substantial traffic volume - on order of dozens of missions each year, spread out across multiple destination windows - before there are advantages to consolidating orbital operations that outweigh the advantages of prepping each ship on its own optimum parking orbit.

But in the sorts of future settings we typically imagine, with lots of space traffic - the situation becomes somewhat different.

And I do like the analogy to roach coaches!

Scott said...

I always thought that the definition of 'rocketpunk' included a pretty massive space presence, lots of missions going somewhere.

Even if we're 'only' doing final assembly in orbit, doesn't it make sense to have *extra* quantities of whatever on-hand to allow for replacement of components that flew the 'unfriendly skies' during launch?

This implies having a couple extra containers of spares *in that particular parking orbit*. If you're doing multiple missions from that parking orbit (math is above my paygrade to know if that assumption would hold true over time), then you *effectively* have a spacedock. It may be unmanned, but it's still *there*.

Additionally, once it is cheaper to lift a repair shop once than it is to lift multiple replacement modules, you will end up with a lot of smaller shipyards, each part of one mission series. Depending on the overall size of a shipyard, it may or may not be feasible to bulldoze them around into different parking orbits, like the spacegoing equivalents of floating drydocks.

I had always figured that the major spacehabs would be at the LaGrange points, though.

Tony said...

Re: Scott

To reiterate, LEO parking/assembly orbits for interplanetary transits are unique to each opportunity. In fact, any individual orbit is only good for a very small window within an opportunity, due to precession of perigee and progression of nodes. Even for an entity launching several missions through a closely related collection of windows, any prepositioned resources are going to be useful for exactly one mission. IOW, they would be effectively useless, because nobody is going to invest in prepackaged "what if..." stores for a single spacecraft.

Now, as previously discussed, as delta-v comes at less and less of a premium, orbital inclination and windows become less of an issue. But that day is certainly past any near-term propulsion technologies, up to and including nuclear electric, probably including early attempts at fusion rockets.

Another thing to consider is that we could have sevral thousand, or even several tens of thousands of people livingi n space, and only need to move maybe 20% of them a year. If you had 10,000 people on Mars, for example, and rotated 4,000 of them every two years, that would take 40 100-passenger ships, or 80 20-passenger ships, spread out over a couple of months. IOW, approximately one departure per day. At that rate, every single ship would start from a different Earth orbit, with no need or practical way of pooling resources.

Geoffrey S H said...

For all its innacuracies, the spacedock sequence of the first Star Trek film was certainly impressive!

Tony said...

My previous post ment to say: "8o 50-passenger ships:

tsz52 said...

[Quoted portions from Thucydides' first post in the thread]

If this worldview:-

"Her key insight is economic growth in an urban environment (and the driver of the complexity and diversity that delights most urban dwellers) is "import substitution", which Geoffry is alluding to in his post. Enough import substitution and the network effects dominate, since we now have enough nodes to create a self sustaining, complex and ever evolving network."

and:-

"Even then, there will always be an underground economy and Samisdat to supply the things the dwellers really want and need."

will create a transport nexus; and it's antithesis:-

"Side note; when governments try to intrude in greater areas of life, they are effectively reducing the number of nodes [their ideal would be to whatever number of departments exist in City Hall], and hence reduce the diversity and complexity urban dwellers come to expect."

will want a transport nexus (in order to facilitate 'efficient' top-down, centralised control, taxation and homogenisation); then we get a transport nexus, right?

Geoffrey S H said...

Oops! Just saw your comment Tony!

If you want space-docks and supply stations, you will need tens, or hundreds of departures per day (and arrivals, possibly extending into the thousands), with at least, say, 50 gathered at any one specific point. You need magitech propulsion capable of carrying millions of tons of payload for any one craft to allow the trade that would require such numbers- and it has to be conveniant enough to allow a consumer or industry on earth or mars to have a real choice between local, foreign or extra-planetary materials for processing or whatever (sometime ago someone on this blog leaned towards raw materials in MASSIVE quantities over the cliched "million dolar wine" as a source of interplanetary trade. I'm beginning to agree with them, impossible such a trade may be).
You need craft to be quick enough between planets to allow "commuting" and the carrying of mail, thus increasing the uses of the "transport market".

The thing is, in a magitech-propulsion era something tells me all this would still not be justification for supply stations. If it isn't required now, it won't ever be required. No amount of handwaving or imploring looks at economic tables will change that.


Oh, good grief, just had alittle brain wave as I am typing. Its late ovber here, and so I apologise for any really glaring error in this idea (though I hope this glaring error is possible solvable). Space statios will have to be fitted with some sort of small engine to prevent it deorbiting- not fit for constant manourvers and certainly not good enough for trans-planetary ventures... but possibly enough to move to the new departure site each day and just provide some sort of service like those prepackedged "what if stores"- but it can go and offer them to other missions later in the week if they are not needed (as should be expected).

A station might be defined as that which can hold a spacecraft and service it but cannot carry it across vast distances, unlike a spacecraft or mothership- as opposed to the can move/ can't move distinction that usually occurs in fiction. The line between sub orbital carrier craft and "stations" would blur immensley.

There are some terrific flaws with this line of argument, but I'll leave pointing them out to commentators that could be more thorough.

Geoffrey S H said...

Blogger ate my post- drat,!

I'll narrow it down to one thought and might repost properly tomorrow. Basically I posited that stations might be able to move, with a small engine to prevent deorbiting, thus going to different dparture areas each day with their "spare parts".

Probably massively flawed. Reasons why they are stations rather than space craft I will repost tomorrow if I have time.

Thucydides said...

For Tsa52, remember a "bottom up" community (the type championed by Jane Jacobs, or represented by small business and organized crime) is an organic entity, capable of reacting to changes in the environment and ensuring its long term survival.

A "top down" community, such as a government scientific station, space dock or orbital garrison (before Tony comes by to shoot this down, this is a Rocketpunk setting, not "Plausible Midfuture(tm)) exists to support the State or achieve some sort of goal. Unless this is sustained long enough to build its own self sustaining community (such as the towns which spring up around garrisons and bases), once the purpose is served or overtaken by events, then the community cannot outlive its purpose and everyone goes home.

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"For Tsa52, remember a "bottom up" community (the type championed by Jane Jacobs, or represented by small business and organized crime) is an organic entity, capable of reacting to changes in the environment and ensuring its long term survival."

Well...not necessarily. Out here in the US Southwest we have a lot of experience with communities that grow up in the middle of nowhere and had to import all of their necessities. (Does this remind you of anything?) Some, like Las Vegas and the ski resorts, wind up importing their clientele as well. When the mine plays out, you get a ghost town. When the economy takes a dump, the playground communities feel it first, and for the longest.

Heinlein gave this a very weak nod when, in The Rolling Stones", he implied that "City Hall" (the commercial center of an ateroid mining community) would have to move along with the community whenever it's current lode dried up. Of course, the book being a juvenile, he left out the real reasons for commercial activity around mining activities: drink, women, and gambling.

Tony said...

Re: Jane Jacobs

One of the greatest confusers of necessity with desirability to ever have lived.

Anonymous said...

Geoffrey S H:
Your moble space station sounds like a giant OTV...it makes sense to have a moble platform to prep missions, do final assymbly and fueling, etc before launching or receiving interplanetary missions. Granted, it might take several decades before the number of missions justifies it, but it does sound like it could work.

Ferrell

tsz52 said...

@Thucydides: Re: Top-down vs Bottom-up: Yup - for sure, but I was assuming a space future a bit more mature than an Apollo style Grand project every half century, then pack everything up and go home.

Somewhere between Tony's point about it being more efficient to establish your trajectory at lift-off and Rick's about the critical mass necessary for economic efficiency... but somewhere much before the critical point, in view of the top-down desire to easily meddle always trumping cost-efficiency.

Again, I also assume far less laissez-faire than most, in orbit: multi-trillion-dollar (equivalent) platforms up there, some of vital strategic significance, and anything up there occupying the military high ground over everyone's cities: "No, you stop your freighter in *that* orbit, over there, thank you... yes that will cost you d-V - fortunately we can sell you some F&P at 'competitive rates'."

Not to mention quarantine, Customs & Excise and so on, at a certain stage of development.

Rick said...

Only slightly meta, but I think that the idea that 'government initiative' and 'free markets' are in inherent opposition is very time-bound. Alexander Hamilton had no such notion, and people in 2200 may well regard it as mere quaint historical color.

Thucydides said...

Government initiatives are useful insofar as they serve the legitimate purposes of government (protection of people and property, neutral arbitration of disputes being the absolute minimum). Roman roads,The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways or "Route Summit" in Kandahar province all were built for military purposes, but supported and encouraged expanded trade and economic activity.

The problem is as governments move into other areas, "rent seekers", favoritism and corruption have more and more room to grow. Even uncorrupted State agencies tend to be far less efficient than private sector entities (and the argument that private sector entities are not doing "x" usually means the market for "x" is vanishingly small).

State infrastructure that the private sector can piggyback on? By all means.

tsz52 said...

I think that far wiser people than we are today understood that the best social systems need a dynamic equilibrium between powers, with clearly defined roles and limits (with, ideally, a strong external Other in addition), as they wrote their beautiful Constitutions [the US one being particularly admirable].

With a strong Other in opposition (say Napoleon or the Soviet Union), Government, business, Church, intelligentsia and regular folks can all function harmoniously and symbiotically/synergistically: take away the Other and you need a very robust system that keeps the above players in opposition to some (significant!) extent.

Dunno: I can easily see this all being Great Game in Spaaace... yeah there'll be an 'East India Company' but national navies will call the shots: market forces will not be relied upon to keep space assets and ConUS safe, nor will the contract for the US Orbit Guard be put out to deregulated international tender, and awarded to the Iranian corporation who submited the lowest bid... nor will it be acceptable to have cheaply (ie poorly, if at all) maintained craft packed to the gills with pressurised Hydrogen (or worse) cruise in whatever orbit they like; orbits are really not as big as everyone seems to think when you factor in such things....

Tony said...

I give tsz52 a +10 for pointing out that which nobody wants to come to terms with: space isn't the place for libertarianism or even rampant commercialism. Go as rocket punk as you want, in terms of numbers of people, rockets, and frontier settings. The margins are still so slim that the even truckers IN SPAAACE! are going to be relatively well educated and under close military or corporate control. The average community is going to be a temporary company town working on a project (like Kemano, BC in the late 40s and early 50s, while the dam and power houses were being built) or a military/science outpost. And commercial activity is going to be limited to company/military exchanges or black market activities, like the cute computer programmer making a little bit extra on the side selling her favors to the miners.

And, in case I didn't make myself clear here, I'm not talking about the plausible midfuture. I'm talking about almost any wholly non-magitech space economy, one with dozens of places to go, hundreds of ships, and tens or hundreds of thousands of peoplle.

But there won't be much room for intrigue or adventure, because the people putting up the money won't stand for it.

Rick said...

I think that far wiser people than we are today understood that the best social systems need a dynamic equilibrium between powers

A point first made by my favorite disreputable political philosopher, Nick Machiavelli. And subsequently developed by (the far more reputable) James Madison.

Rick said...

And, in case I didn't make myself clear here, I'm not talking about the plausible midfuture. I'm talking about almost any wholly non-magitech space economy, one with dozens of places to go, hundreds of ships, and tens or hundreds of thousands of people.

Maaaan, talk about starting out the new year with some party pooping! Alas, I think this is pretty much true, just by the scale and structure of the thing.

Tony said...

Rick:

"Maaaan, talk about starting out the new year with some party pooping! Alas, I think this is pretty much true, just by the scale and structure of the thing."

Not trying to harsh anybody's mellow. You don't know how much I wish it were different. Sorry for the buzz kill.

Geoffrey S H said...

@Tony:

"I give tsz52 a +10 for pointing out that which nobody wants to come to terms with: space isn't the place for libertarianism or even rampant commercialism. Go as rocket punk as you want, in terms of numbers of people, rockets, and frontier settings. The margins are still so slim that the even truckers IN SPAAACE! are going to be relatively well educated and under close military or corporate control...

...Not trying to harsh anybody's mellow. You don't know how much I wish it were different. Sorry for the buzz kill."

Um... well saying that "nobody wants to accept it" is abit extreme IMHO. I certainly did long ago. Maybe it was because I hated the ntion of pirates and found tramp-freigtors boring (the clash and cooperation of governments in naval fiction ala Hornblower et al I usually preferred). Maybe because my initial fascination with history concerned the age of sail AFTER most independant operators without major government backing were extirminated (1720+).

Most stories seem to be about the African Queen [insert alternate tramp freightor of your choice here] in spaaaaace!!!, when what is more plausible is the history of Cunard and P&O in spaaaaace!!!. I would like to tackle the latter at some point. Maybe the attempts of a young lad to become a pilot-specialist for a respected major freight line (major rocket-punk magitech influiencing here). Maybe the attempts to combat war-trauma from a former US/Chinese killsat operator (more realpunk influence here). Maybe the trials of a dynasty of commsat designers (ditto).

Do 2001 + 2010 have independant libertarians and capitalists? Does Rendezvous with Rama? Does Pandora's Star? (Come to think of it, despite its reputation as a western in space, the prequal trilogy of star wars doesn't...)
Not everything has freeholders in space...

Tony said...

Geoffrey S H:

"Not everything has freeholders in space..."

Of course not. But where you don't have a significant libertarian component, you tend to have a high seedy underbelly factor. Let's face it, Romance is in love with entropy. Realism can be as well, as in The Bicycle Thieves. But realistic space adventure? Not so much. The "adventure" factor, as in most Clarke novels, is in things that are supposed to go right going wrong, and people figuring out how to overcome them. THink of it as Apollo-13punk.

Geoffrey S H said...

@Tony:

"Of course not. But where you don't have a significant libertarian component, you tend to have a high seedy underbelly factor. Let's face it, Romance is in love with entropy. Realism can be as well, as in The Bicycle Thieves. But realistic space adventure? Not so much. The "adventure" factor, as in most Clarke novels, is in things that are supposed to go right going wrong, and people figuring out how to overcome them. Think of it as Apollo-13punk."

Exactly. Governments can be exiting to write about too! *cute imploring look to sci-fi fandom*

What sort of *-Punk might this be. Not real punk, and maybe a sub-trope of rocketpunk. Beleievabledangerpunk? Believable dramapunk? {beldrapunk]

Literature by Douglas Reeman (or his other name Alexander Kent) provides very good non-pirate stories (or mostly non pirate) for the age of sail and WW2, specifically "Battlecruiser", "Signal, Close Action!" and ""The Glory Boys" amongst others. If anyone wanted to do "History in spaaace!!!" as often happens in hollywoods, I'd point them to those before they start screenwriting.

Now I wouldn't completely scrub underbellies cleen, or independant operators, but they must out of nessecity be VERY few in numnber, usually with ties to friendly great powers and (specifically for underbelly gangs and whatnot) only around in the first place due to human stupidity, greed (on the part of a small group) and ultimately very short-lived.
Have them in a short story on the futility of crime, fine, but don't have them trying to dominate some orbital crime network or make them overthrow the Galactic Empire.

The Pirates of the Caribbean movies may be just fun... but when I heard in the 3rd film what were essentually murderers and criminals talking about preserving freedom and fighting economic tyranny I reached for the remote.

Any industrial espange or squabbling in space will also have to avoid damaging infrastructure, or investors will pull out by the truckload (excepting war of course).

P.S: Bicycle Theives. Great Film.

Geoffrey S H said...

*sp Clean

Geoffrey S H said...

Urgh, triple post. Sorry.

tsz52 said...

Nations seems not only more likely but far more fun too.

The corporate tale is one of aluminium tubes sailing back and forth... any drama happens due to cost-cutting caused disasters, or within cunning phrases dropped into ten-thousand page long contracts... will the corporate lawyer 'hero' spot it?.. gasp!

Bring nations in as the major players and you have the likes of the combined might of the EU being necessary to build this stuff... then the profits are important... then the members of the 'EU' start to look at each other and go 'hang on... what are we doing... that whole 'EU' thing was nice but... we're ancient *enemies!*'

Lots of tension as the Ark Royal, Richelieu, and Bismark, up in Europe's Orbit Guard, get itchy and wish that they enjoyed the vast exclusion zones from each other that Nimitz has over to the west... low intensity commerce raiding/espionage with an HMS Speedy captained by a Thomas Cochrane, whilst the capital ships glower at each other and rattle their sabres.... :)

And privateers are way more fun (and interesting) than pirates.

Sorry Tony... got a bit carried away with myself there... (but the core point is sound). :)

Anonymous said...

I have two things to say:
1) Government builds and maintains streets while merchants and homeowners use and pay for them. project that into rocketpunk and you get your balance.
2) Adventure and intrigue; exploring a new world can be an awsome adventure and if you've ever worked in a highly compeditive enviornment, then you know that 'intrigue' isn't just the royal court type.
C) Being the only cop for several AU's should be fodder enough for any writer...

Ferrell

tsz52 said...

Oh yeah, I think the point is that nations are both most 'plausible' and most interesting in that they have the right blend of histories, ideologies and industrial and commercial might (even conglomerations of the aerospace giants combined are feeble in comparison).

(Later) Sling autonomous space habs (for the rich eccentrics) into the mix, and you still have competing ideologies - and the Monorailists (with their silver clothes and pink hair) are getting fed up with everybody laughing at them, and itchy trigger fingers....

What's a universal neoliberal mono-ideology got worth writing about?

Thucydides said...

What's a universal neoliberal mono-ideology got worth writing about?

Everything.

Even Libertarians can disagree with what the goals are to be, and dispute what course of action needs to be taken to reach any particular goal. Time and resources are not limitless, so there is always a sense of urgency about getting to the goal before time and resources run out (Imagine a story where the backers of SpaceX get cold feet and pull out just before the launch...)

Notice that armed force is not a factor in any of these settings, as the one rule of Libertarian philosophy is no party may initiate the use of force against another. Libertarians are free to defend themselves, and organize police, militaries and courts of law to protect themselves against the use of force and settle disputes (the other rule of Libertarian philosophy is the role of government is to protect, disagreements on how this is construed is what mainly divides Libertarians).

WRT early settings, they are constrained by the high entry costs, and also limited. Unless a manned outpost can remain active long enough to grow and develop its own internal economy, it will always remain a ward of the State or company. You might have interesting stories set inside these settings, but the setting closes with the end of State or company interest in the outpost. BTW, the main reason the underbelly of the space colony (or anywhere in any time) becomes seedy is there is no restriction on violence and no recourse to the courts or other neutral arbitrators in the black market economy.

IF there is some almost magitech revolution in the ability to extract and exploit space resources by individuals or small groups, then we can start getting into "Sackett in Space" type sagas, and have large scale freeholding, rampant capitalism etc. Not Rocketpunk and not the plausible midfuture(tm) either.

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"Notice that armed force is not a factor in any of these settings, as the one rule of Libertarian philosophy is no party may initiate the use of force against another."

Confusing values for the natural order all the way -- one cannot guarantee that nobody will initiate force without being willing and able to initiate force against anybody that breaks the contract. The result is an armed camp that will degenerate into internecine warfare at the first significant disagreement or crisis. Eventually somebody with enough power to prevail over all others emerges and declares an end to this libertarian nonsense.

AFAICT, libertarianism is just philosophically justified anarchism. I suppose it's a blessing that such inanity will never actually be tried at large scale, because the mass of people are too sensible.

tsz52 said...

@ Thucydides: Cheers - interesting.

I've used the development of my setting as a way to test all of the ideologies and tech that I can think of (over decades), and true neoliberalism always fails on every level: once it is forced to internalise *every single one* of its costs; and is in competition with other ideologies (especially national/military neocolonialism)... I'll have a ponder [there's no FTL, by the way, which makes a big difference to the intensity of the tests].

@ Geoffrey S H: Since we seem to like the same things: How do Douglas Reeman's AoS books compare to Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin? (which I love more than words can say... didn't really like Hornblower after the first few novels).

Thucydides said...

Libertarianism recognizes a sovereign State to provide a safe area for people to persue their goals, they simply don't want the State to interfere with consensual interactions.

Libertarianism in todays world seems to be more of a social movement than a political movement; think of the people who oppose government interference in "topic x" or choose to forgo government services (like home schoolers).

Some discussion on the idea http://pajamasmedia.com/rogerkimball/2009/05/06/push-back-or-the-real-culture-war-21st-century-style/

Geoffrey S H said...

Ummmm...... if I assume that O'Brian lots of social commentary and literary allusions, whereas action is relatively sparse but intense, then...

Hornblower is fairly simple, and plenty of boy's own stuff.

Thus:

Kent's books are an attempt to be sophisticated with more action, basically a compromise between the two.
I can't really speak for O'Brian ultimately though, my grandad, who has all the Kent novels, hates O'Brian, so I have't been able to raid his library for examples. I do want to see the Master and Commander film though.

tsz52 said...

Sorry for the 'off-topic', everyone.

Geoffrey S H: Cheers! :) I'm a sucker for all things AoS, so I'll end up getting them anyway.

By the way, your summary of O'Brian's is pretty spot on but I'd add 'human depth': very alive characters, humour and about the best tale of True Friendship I've ever come across... takes a few novels to find his feet properly though (and some of the stuff that he spends ages building, early, takes a while to 'pay off', but it does, handsomely).

The film's dire, I'd say... kind of boring and pointless.

Geoffrey S H said...

Oh, sad to hear that. All the reviews said it was brilliant.
Would have been nice to have seen a film where the redcoats aren't the bad guys, heh. ;)

I'd recommend getting books with the 70's era covers on, very well done paintings on them.

Geoffrey S H said...

I suppose I should get the convo back on topic, but thanks for that- will have a look at O'Brian when I can.

Just had a look on the web, and found this:

"A vehicle used to maneuver between orbits, usually around the Earth. However, interplanetary vehicles that move from Earth orbit to another planet can be called Orbital Transfer Vehicles."

and this:

http://www.astronautix.com/craft/otv.htm

Taking some ideas from these, some possibilities for future settings occur to me:

1. The concept of all spacecraft being OTV's, though (in an unrelated developement) I called any low-orbit military craft an "Orvec [quick-reaction-earth-to-lOw-oRbit-VEChicle]", I will posit the term "Orvec" or "Orv" to replace the term [space]ship. We ain't in kansa in space, and are certainly not on the sea.

2. The station as OTV- all infrastructure (or most) is mobile, and the dock services a craft, no matter how large, takes it to the correct point in high orbit and releases it, conserving the other craft's propellant.

3. Stationary station, with removable OTV. Exactly what it says on the tin. No idea right now whether this (with the station never moving) or trhe previous point would be more effiecient with propellant....

jollyreaper said...

The point my brain keeps breaking on is when I try to imagine a mixed tech future. It's a bit further out than rocketpunk, obviously.

The assumption I'm making here is that we've had space access for thousands of years. What comes of it? I've gathered sets of assumptions from many different fictional universes.

1. The tech level won't be universal. Just consider Earth where we have skyscraper cities like New York on the same planet as African dirt villages but even the farmer walking behind his ox has a cell phone.

2. Structures like space stations can't really survive collapse of civilization or massive tech reversions but planets could -- assuming they have self-sustaining ecosystems. So it's possible to have a planet regress to 19th century agrarian tech, assuming there's not a lot of trade with the outside.

3. Some societies may choose to live at an arbitrary tech level, i.e. the Space Amish. It's a religious or philosophical thing.

4. As an elaboration on tech levels not being universal, you could have some cultures going through singularities or creating weakly god-like AI's or whatever and it still might not have much of an impact upon everyone else.

5. Each world can be unique. While there are certain necessities of human existence that argue for commonalities, how they're implemented can be very different.

6. Cultures will become different for different reasons. Some may engage in genetic engineering, others might become visibly different from the rest of humanity simply on account of genetic drift and little interbreeding with other human populations.

Since the existence of naturally-occurring earth-like planets ready for homesteading is extremely, hopelessly improbable, I'm really tempted to include the handwave of the now-absent Precursors who went about seeding Earth-like planets across this part of the galaxy. Those planets weren't adapted for us, we adapted to them. The existence of such planets would spur the drive to go out and explore them and then the tertiary developments would see humans develop communities out there.

7. Space is big, really really really big. We're spoiled by the idea of instantaneous communication and the world being a small place. If we put our minds back to the BC era, the known world as far as the Greeks and Romans were concerned wasn't all that large. They may have heard rumors of the Chinese and some may have even visited but it was still mostly an unknown. India was traveled to but still very exotic. Nobody knew anything about the Americas. Now blow that scale up by a million and imagine how even knowledgeable observers could be in the dark concerning huge events hundreds of lightyears away. You could have an apocalyptic civilization-ending war on some planet that sees 20 billion killed and there could be some scrap of rumor concerning it or even nothing at all.

I think the key to keeping things interesting is providing just enough space travel to keep the action going while making interstellar empires impractical. Maybe regional empires could be held together but "conquering the univere!!! RAR!!" just isn't possible.

Scott said...

@Tony: I had missed the point that parking orbits were unique to each individual ship/mission.

To be honest, I assume that any fictional space presence will not be using nuke-electrics *because* they're too wimpy. In order to have a fictional concept that the reader can wrap their brain around, you need beefy drives (be they nuke-thermal, near-fusion, or utterly magitech).

Too bad that stations require such a massive space presence...

Tony said...

Scott:

"To be honest, I assume that any fictional space presence will not be using nuke-electrics *because* they're too wimpy. In order to have a fictional concept that the reader can wrap their brain around, you need beefy drives (be they nuke-thermal, near-fusion, or utterly magitech)."

No more wimpy, in terms of getting from here to there, than nuclear thermal. And SF writers for decades lived with the limitations of NTR.

Geoffrey S H said...

Its a pity that all those accidents durng testing rendered NERVA impractical.

The same fate awaits most NTR and NE systems, probably.

Tony said...

Nuclear electric is not in the same category as nuclear thermal, because it just uses the reactor for nuclear power. It's fundamentally no more dangerous than the hundreds of nuclear power reactors running every day all over the world.

Geoffrey S H said...

... which makes it equally dubious given the current suspicion about such plants- even in countries that currently have many nuclear power facilities.

Geoffrey S H said...

Its also probably only a matter of time before eco-groups begin protesting against nuclear powered crat like subs, in addition to the usualy resitance to the nuclear warhead stationed on them.

Me, I think nuclear energy should be used more, but I doubt we'll get any more mileage out of it in the future than we currently do.

Tony said...

I wouldn't be anywhere near that pessimistic about nuclear power.

Geoffrey S H said...

It would be a short step from the warheads to the craft that carries them. A few more [small] leaks of toxic waste as happened at a Scottish naval base some years ago and people might be more inclined o protest, in Britain anyway. I'm fully aware of how pessemistic that statement is, but given the examples of human stupidity I've seen first-hand, I wouldn't rule it out unforetunetly. When it comes to 20th and 21st century technological advances, Britain has a bad habit of "uninventing the car", so to speak.

As concerns reactors in space, all it needs is a scientist or congressman to respond ineptly to an interviewer's question over how it has to be boosted into orbit on top of a rocket (and thus "might" come crashing down to earth in the event of a faliure) and the project thus gets cancelled due to political pressure. No matter how good the science or engineering, an angry/frightened public will always win such a contest.

Tony said...

Geoffrey S H:

"No matter how good the science or engineering, an angry/frightened public will always win such a contest."

If that were true, we would no longer make nuclear submarines, several of which have in fact been lost, along with their reactors. But we seem to keep making the things...

Geoffrey S H said...

That is true. I hope I'm unduly pessemistic, but being prepared for such a dismal outcome doesn't hurt!

Anyways...

jollyreaper said...

I'm pro-rational when it comes to nuclear power. I've seen the debates going back and forth as to whether or not nukes are necessary. There was a TED talk where one of the Greenpeace founders said that nuclear is the least bad option and there was a solar guy who said that the nukes would be more expensive than the modern alternatives.

I'm not sure which of the two is correct but I'd throw my full support over the one demonstrated as being right. I'm pragmatic, not ideological.

At the same time, I am also very cynical regarding the inexcusable negligence of the business-criminals running the power companies. I trust engineers running non-profit public utilities. I don't trust for-profit capitalists like Enron who will court disaster to suck out every last cent of profit. The engineers weren't in charge of Deepwater Horizon, that's for goddamn sure.

While I believe nuclear power can be safe and useful, I'm leery of trusting the profiteers with not cutting corners and screwing the whole thing up. I think we need a major, major overhaul of our financial and regulatory systems before we move on to power generation.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"...the business-criminals running the power companies."

Gratuitous abuse of things you don't understand is not the most efficient way to get through life, young jedi.

Geoffrey S H said...

Oh, one thing I wanted to ask, but blogger ate the post:

Assuming OTVs are the dominant orbital structure, might there be any advantage to adding a space station as a base for the otv's (if payloads come up to the same orbit having come from the same launch site)? Multiple sites mean multiple stations and OTV bases. If a luanch site is reused, then there might be a particular orbit over the earth that uses the least propellant to reach, and thus becomes a place for the OTV's to congregate.

Or... the station is the OTV...

Or... just OTV's- nothing else is economic enough.

Of course it depends on what sort of propellant you are using, fission, fusion or magitech/antimatter.

Hope that's all not too astrodynamically "illiterate", I have a proper text on that sort of thing on the way, so I won't make too many science-howlers after some months of reading and note-taking...

Thucydides said...

To my knowledge, there were no accidents during the NERVA program. There were issues with internal erosion of the fuel bundles and graphite moderator, and one reactor was tested to destruction (out in the open desert. Imagine trying that today!)

NERVA had produced a flight ready article by the time the program wound down (obviously no one ever took it up for that flight test), and based on open source information, it seems there would be no show stoppers for a successful test, or even routine use in space operations.

The point about capitalists running things for profit ignores the roles of the regulatory regime and incentives. California did deregulate the energy market, but did so in such a fashion that new players were discouraged from entering the market. Old players did not seem to have incentives to upgrade or expand their networks, so supply did not meet demand.

Companies like ENRON exploited these perverse incentives, and I recall that it was very difficult to see where exactly they had broken any laws at all (they also had a very able team of lawyers able to examine and exploit every regulatory loophole available). In the end, what brought ENRON down wasn't energy trading, but crooked bookkeeping, since incentives like stock bonus payments impelled executives to post positive growth every quarter.

Human nature is the key, and as a wise philosopher said:

"Against Stupidity, the Gods themselves contend in vain"

jollyreaper said...

Gratuitous abuse of things you don't understand is not the most efficient way to get through life, young jedi.

I notice that you are condescending to me but not exactly refuting my point.

Geoffrey S H said...

Please guys, try not to get too heated...

Rick said...

Excellent advice!

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"I notice that you are condescending to me but not exactly refuting my point."

Yes, I was condescending. I ask Rick's foregiveness and forbearance.

The fact is that some businesspeople are highly unethical, some are highly ethical, and most try to be as ethical as they can be. Classing them all as "criminals" is simply wrong. You may be right that more regulation of the power industry is needed -- but not because they are all criminals.

jollyreaper said...

Enough of them are criminals to the point that the ones who are not really don't count for much.

One of the most important national myths in America is the idea of social mobility, that someone with nothing but pluck and a dream can make something of himself. Own his own business, have a good job, a house, a family, and provide for everyone.

The American dream is in tatters. The people no longer have a voice in the political process. The jobs are being sent overseas. Our economy is being hollowed out and the nation's wealth looted by banksters who answer to no one. Our politicians are bought and paid for by them and are doing their level best to undo every social advancement made in the 20th century, returning labor to the desperate conditions of the 19th century.

Lip service is provided to small business but the modern economic landscape is national chains from sea to shining sea. Every possible economic niche has a national chain seeking to fill it, sucking profits out of communities and leaving nothing but minimum wage jobs and thin tax revenue behind. They are wealth extraction engines.

So yeah, I'm kind of bitter.

Tony said...

Re: jollyreaper

America has changed. It always has been changing. So what? You can still make it if you aren't wedded to the past. Labor is dying because labor overplayed its hand. Also, labor doesn't have the value it used to. America wants educated, skilled craftsmen and professionals more than it wants nail drivers and wrench turners. If a person can't measure up to that, he doesn't deserve to succeed, by the only rule that counts -- he's unfit for the world he inhabits.

As for the supposed death of small business, all it is is the death of inefficiency. We don't need small businesses to provide everyday needs through inefficient, segmented, hierarchically organized distribution systems. We need small business to be franchisees and to address local needs that large chains can't.

Except for the big box stores, every chain outlet where I live is owned by a local franchisee who spends his profits in the community. Their franchise fees may be counted as corporate profits somewhere, but they are just a cost of doing business at the local level.

Likewise, the small businesses who meet local needs well are in absolutely no trouble. The local independent tire store just expended its facilities, in this economy. The Big O and Goodyear outlets? Moribund.

See, what you're doing is engagning in mad confirmation bias. I bet if you looked around wherever it is that you live, you'll find that the people who have skills for today's jobs are doing alright, and your local small businesses, including the chain franchisees, are doing just as well, and keeping plenty of money in the community.

That is, of course, unless you live somewhere that relied on big labor until it was too late. But that's a local problem, not a national one.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"Enough of them are criminals to the point that the ones who are not really don't count for much."

I wanted to engage this one in isolation.

Some are unethical, and a proportion of those engage in illegal activity. But that's true of any endeavor, at any level. Big labor and public sector officials exhibit at least as much unethical, corrupt, and criminal behavior. Try to do struck work? You're lucky if all they do is slash your tires and smash you windows. NCAA rules violations? Much more likely to happen at a state university than a private one. And it wasn't that long ago that Americans were accusing their own armed forces of war crimes.

jollyreaper said...

Efficiency, huh? How efficient is it to allow a lot of little industries to get consolidated into one giant company that's too big to fail? The economics I was taught as a lad told me the genius of capitalism is that bad businesses are allowed to fail and good businesses sustain themselves. Communism props up bad businesses because the state cannot allow state-owned organizations to fail.

But you talk of efficiency. Ok. You have a hundred regional banks all doing their thing. Inefficient! Let's consolidate. But whose efficiency is this working towards? Less money is getting spent on running the business but where do the savings go? To the owners. And those savings will be reinvested elsewhere, not in the communities served by the banks. It's economic strip-mining. It's the same myopic efficiency that says "Look, drift nets are really efficient at catching lots of fish" without considering that unsustainable depletion will lead to the collapse of the fishery.

You must live in a wonderful town. The usual pattern in the rest of the country is for a walmart to move in and the downtown area dies like a bleached reef.

Confirmation bias, hmm? If I'm standing inside a store and can't see outside and everyone coming is soaking wet, either it must be raining or I'm somehow deliberately overlooking the dry ones who must be hiding in the crowd somewhere.

Geoffrey S H said...

Please- let's move on. I've provided a little escape windoow in the form of my question as per above.

Rick said...

Yes, I'd prefer a move on from this debate. Go to A Plain Blog About Politics and follow the links if you want a range of views I broadly tend to agree with.

But I am not much inclined to beat these topics to death here, especially given so many other available places to do so.


The whole orbital stations question does deserve further discussion here, and will get it, once I come up with something (relatively) new and clever to say.

Geoffrey S H said...

I'll commit a cardinal sin and repost my last thoughts, just to make finding them easier (apologies Rick, this won't happen again).

"Oh, one thing I wanted to ask, but blogger ate the post:

Assuming OTVs are the dominant orbital structure, might there be any advantage to adding a space station as a base for the otv's (if payloads come up to the same orbit having come from the same launch site)? Multiple sites mean multiple stations and OTV bases. If a luanch site is reused, then there might be a particular orbit over the earth that uses the least propellant to reach, and thus becomes a place for the OTV's to congregate.

Or... the station is the OTV...

Or... just OTV's- nothing else is economic enough.

Of course it depends on what sort of propellant you are using, fission, fusion or magitech/antimatter.

Hope that's all not too astrodynamically "illiterate", I have a proper text on that sort of thing on the way, so I won't make too many science-howlers after some months of reading and note-taking..."

Jim Baerg said...

Regarding the expense of & need for orbital plane changes for interplanetary travel:

Lets do some numbers to find out how difficult it is to do an orbital plane change & when it is easy/cheap, & when it is difficult/expensive.

Here are the exhaust speeds (Ve) for a few chemical rocket fuels
Oxygen-Hydrogen 4462
Oxygen-Methane 3615
Oxygen-Kerosene 3510
Oxygen-Aluminum 2790 (This has been suggested as a propellant that can be made entirely from moon rock)
Note that the Mass Ratio (MR the ratio between the mass at the start & end of the rocket burn) is related to the deltaV of the mission & the Ve by:
MR = e^(deltaV/Ve)
so if deltaV = Ve the mass ratio is 2.718.
If deltaV is much less than Ve the mass ratio is near 1 & the expense is small.
If deltaV is much more than Ve the mass ratio is very large & the expense rapidly becomes impractical.

Pick a circular Low Earth Orbit (LEO) eg: radius 6700 km or 329 km altitude (above average earth radius), slightly below the altitude of the ISS.
The corresponding orbital speed is 7717 m/s.
If you want to change to a circular orbit at the same altitude in another plane such as the 23.5° difference between equator & ecliptic, you need a delta V of 3143 m/s. This is large fraction of your orbital speed & would take a LOT of propellant if you use chemical rockets. So if you're on the earth's surface & your destination is a LEO you launch directly into the desired orbital plane & don't try to change the plane later because it's just too expensive.

Now suppose you are going from LEO given above to a higher circular orbit eg: Geosynchronous (GEO) 421778 km radius 3075 m/s speed. The Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) has a speed of 10138 m/s at the low end & 1610 m/s at the high end, so if the start & destination orbits are in the same plane the deltaV for the whole trip is:
(10138-7717)+(3076-1610)= 2421 + 1466 =3887 m/s
If the start & destination orbits are in planes 23.5° from each other we can do the plane change at the low end of the transfer orbit for a deltaV of 4340 + 1466 = 5806 m/s
or we can be smarter & do the plane change at the high end of the transfer orbit for a deltaV of
2421 + 1724 =4125 m/s : only 238 m/s greater than without the plane change
So although the plane change adds to the expense of getting to synchronous orbit if you launch from eg: Canaveral rather than the Guiana Space Centre, it's not too extreme & still doable.

Jim Baerg said...

Now suppose you are going to the moon or something in one of the earth-moon L4 or L5 points. If we approximate that as a circular orbit the radius is 384748 km & the speed is 1018 m/s. The transfer orbit (call it LTO) has v= 10819 m/s at r=6700 km & v=188 m/s at r=384748 km. So if the LEO is in the same plane as the moons orbit total deltaV is (10819-7717)+(1018-188)=3102+830=3932 m/s
What if the starting LEO is at an angle the orbit of the moon. I will ignore the dumb option of changing the plane at the low end of the LTO.
If the planes of the starting & ending orbits are 23.5° different the deltaV at the high end becomes 849 m/s so the total deltaV for the mission becomes 3951 m/s, only 19 m/s greater than the deltaV if the starting & ending orbits are in the same plane.
If the plane change is 5° the total deltaV for the mission is 3933 m/s, 1 m/s greater that with no plane change.

I picked those 2 angles because the orbit of the moon is about 5° from the plane of the ecliptic & averages 23.5° from the plane of the equator. See this for the details.

Note: my calculations assume that the rocket burns occur on the line where the planes of the start & end orbits cross, which for the LEO to moon case gives 2 launch windows per month, in order to arrive at lunar orbit when the moon is crossing that line. Starting from LEO at another time requires 3 rocket burns, start, plane change where the LTO crosses the plane intersection, end. The closer to the high end of the LTO the plane change occurs the smaller the deltaV for the plane change.

SUMMARY: The point of this is that for orbits around the earth in different planes, if at least one of the orbits is high (GEO or higher), the extra deltaV is not excessive & can be done with chemical rockets. IF there is some reason to have a space station in LEO it need not be in the plane of the moon's orbit to serve well for trips to the moon.

I may soon get around to a similar analysis for interplanetary trips.

Jim Baerg said...

Sorry about the double post

Tony said...

jollyreaper

"But you talk of efficiency. Ok. You have a hundred regional banks all doing their thing. Inefficient! Let's consolidate. But whose efficiency is this working towards? Less money is getting spent on running the business but where do the savings go? To the owners. And those savings will be reinvested elsewhere, not in the communities served by the banks. It's economic strip-mining."

Like I said, you don't know what you're talking about. My mother was an assistant vice president at Security Pacific National Bank, and later at Bank of America. Even with the economies of scale inherrent in a large bank, they had one heck of a hard time realizing more than one or two cents on the dollar, per year. Everything in the commercial banking industry is done on a slim margin. Just one set of bad loans by Sec Pac to South America in the Eighties devalued the company so much that B of A (not that much bigger a bank, at the time) could swallow Sec Pac up and rebrand all of its assets like it never existed.

And just because a bank branch represents a national bank rather than a regional one, it doesn't mean that that bank won't make any fewer local loans to businesses or issue any fewer credit cards. Also, because a national bank is larger, it has the facilities to issue or help guarantee larger loans to borrowers in all of its service areas, including communities whose regional banks got acquired.

So don't tell us about "economic strip-mining", please.

Tony said...

Re: Rick

I was editing my last post when you posted the injunction to cease. I will henceforward abide.

Tony said...

Re: Jim Baerg

The problem you run into is that your transfer orbit has to have correct nodal alignment with your target orbit. Otherwise, you may place yourself in GEO cheaply, but at the wrong place. Guess what, you either have to launch into the correct LEO orbit from the ground, or do a plane change to get into the orbit with the right nodes. Similar concerns affect interplanetary transfers.

This, by the way, is why OTVs don't work. They would burn most of their fuel making orbital inclination changes.

Geoffrey S H said...

Um... surely that's their whole point, to make the changes, so the space craft they are carrying don't have to (unless you mean that OTVs can't do more than that even without a payload)...

Also: what kind of engine propellant are we using for them? If chem, then ok... but other forms of propulsion?

Tony said...

Geoffrey S H:

"Um... surely that's their whole point, to make the changes, so the space craft they are carrying don't have to (unless you mean that OTVs can't do more than that even without a payload)..."

If the payload is a spacecraft with its own propulsion, and assuming the reaction mass comes up from the ground, do you want to bring up enough reaction mass to move the OTV and spacecraft, or just the spacecraft?

If the payload is cargo/pax, it either originates from or is destined for the ground. Surely you want to take it up or bring it down directly?

If you're talking OTVs working the middle ground between LEO and higher orbits, you still have the problem of plane changing for orbital alignment.

"Also: what kind of engine propellant are we using for them? If chem, then ok... but other forms of propulsion?"

Well, If you're moving people and sensitive cargo, you'll want high thrust, in order to provide a quick enough transfer to minimize Van Allen belt exposure. That means chemical rockets for the foreseeable future. If you have something magitech, that moots the whole discussion.

Geoffrey S H said...

Meh, forget what I just said. Its obviously totally impossible. I'm tempting fate by saying what I said.

Rick said...

Blogger was up to its tricks in a big way, duplicating Jim B's delta v post about half a dozen times.

So far as I can see, while getting the nodes right is crucial to actual navigation, it doesn't affect the general problem being discussed here.

For chemfuel - or, really, any drive that benefits from Oberth boot - the problem is serious, because to get maximum Oberth boot you want to make burns as close to Earth (or whatever planet you're departing/arriving at) as possible, where a plane change burn is most expensive.

But an electric drive (or any milligee range drive) gets no significant Oberth boot anyway. For those drives, Earth departure is a spiral, which eventually transitions to the interplanetary transfer burn a good long ways out - on the general order of lunar distance.

For ships with such a drive, plane change burns are cheap absolutely and even cheaper relatively, amounting to a few m/s out of some 30 km/s or more of mission delta v.

Cheap plane change maneuvers are a necessary - but not sufficient - condition for stations. So long as interplanetary missions are few in number they will be planned as unique events from launch site to landing point.

Only if/when missions are common enough to be somewhat standardized will there be reason to make even small adjustment burns to match with some other orbital facility. (Or for the 'other facility' to make such a burn as an OTV.)

One conclusion I draw is that OTVs with station-like features are potentially viable only in high orbits. But that could be consistent with mission profiles where crews and passengers are ferried up/down, rather than twiddling thumbs for another couple of weeks as the ships spiral in or out.

But there probably has to be some substantial traffic volume, and spread out among multiple windows, before there is any actual reason for missions to interact while in space.

Jim Baerg said...

Tony: The nodal alignment issue just means that for getting to GEO there are 2 launch windows per day & if you launch outside those windows you end up in the wrong place. Waiting 12 hours for the next opportunity isn't a big deal.

Similarly for going to the moon from a LEO space station that isn't in the plane of the moon's orbit, you get 2 launch windows per month. Waiting 14 days if you miss your window is a bit of pain, but I think people could live with it.

Geoffrey S H said...

The whole notion of a spacestation was that it was meant to be conveniant. Without that, then it is useless.

A ground launch from different locations allows for contstant departures- therefore ground launches are more conveniant and and the only way to travel.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but conveniance is relative: If you live in North Amarica do you want to fly to Kashistan or Guyanna to catch a direct flight to Mars that will, in turn, take 3 months, for a 2-4 year assignment; or, do you want to drive to a launch site in New Mexico, stay a week or two on a space station, then leave on your multi-year trip? This all presupposses that volume of traffic is high and that passengers don't have to have years of astronuat training. Besides, by the time that scenario plays out, spacecraft should be specialized to the point where transfering from one type of spacecraft to another type would only make economic sense. How long this may take to come about might be as soon as mid-century, or as late as the end of the 22nd century. I guess that we'll just have to wait and see...or our greatgrandkids will have to wait and see.

Ferrell

Geoffrey S H said...

Efficient conservation of propellant comes above any and all other considerations.

Scott said...

Tony said:
Nuclear electric is not in the same category as nuclear thermal, because it just uses the reactor for nuclear power. It's fundamentally no more dangerous than the hundreds of nuclear power reactors running every day all over the world.
You mean like Chernobyl? Remember, we are talking about reactors designed for light weight and very high operating temperatures. Those conditions together could make for some spectacular failure modes.

Liquid-metal reactors require an external heat source to keep the coolant circulating, else they freeze solid after shutdown and you go find a nice star to push them into. Once a LM-reactor freezes up, there is nothing you can do to get it working again.

This leaves us with helium as a cooling medium. Helium seems to be the best candidate for brayton-cycle nuke-electric plants.

NTRs can get useful power densities, and it's possible (but not probable) that we could get an engineering breakthrough to keep the fission products trapped in the reactor while only dumping Xrays, some neutrons, and a lot of very hot gas out the back at levels that are safe for ground launch.

I'm not holding my breath for that, I'm expecting any nuclear rocket (whether NT or NE) to start it's trip with about 8-12 SRBs strapped to the sides, and only lighting off the reactor once it's safely in orbit.

Ferrell said:Yes, but conveniance is relative: If you live in North Amarica do you want to fly to Kashistan or Guyanna to catch a direct flight to Mars that will, in turn, take 3 months, for a 2-4 year assignment; or, do you want to drive to a launch site in New Mexico, stay a week or two on a space station, then leave on your multi-year trip?
If it's a difference of merely several thousand dollars in total package, I'd probably hang out on the station. Since any difference in cost is likely to be on the order of several million dollars (at least for the forseeable future), time to learn how to speak (ie, pick up girls in) Kashistan...

Jim Baerg said...

"You mean like Chernobyl? Remember, we are talking about reactors designed for light weight and very high operating temperatures. Those conditions together could make for some spectacular failure modes."

One failure that actually killed some people vs. zillions of deaths from the routine operations of other energy sources. Do you seriously consider safety an argument against nuclear fission power?

As for a failure of the reactor on a nuke-electric interplanetary spaceship: That will probably be lethal for the crew of the because they've lost power for life-support, but it won't harm anyone not on the ship.

Thucydides said...

NERVA had some issues with erosion of the fuel elements and graphite moderator, but the program had a flight ready article at the end. One reactor was tested to failure (in the open desert; try that today!). I would think that with today's technology most of these issues would be easily overcome.

Fission reactors used for electrical generation might use Nitrogen rather than Helium as a coolant medium (and driving fluid if it is being used to directly drive a turbine) since Helium (like Hydrogen) can leak out through the pores in metal tubing. Since high power to weight ratios are called for, some sort of MHD system will probably be the order of the day.

High efficiency solar sails might require some sort of platform for assembly and payload integration, and given the potential size of a sail, these platforms will be quite vast, and capable of supporting other activities when sails are not being built or serviced.

Geoffrey S H said...

"NERVA had some issues with erosion of the fuel elements and graphite moderator, but the program had a flight ready article at the end. One reactor was tested to failure (in the open desert; try that today!). I would think that with today's technology most of these issues would be easily overcome."

NERVA was in all likelihood a prime peice of vapourware with all the impossibility of humungous mecha and ORION drives taken to the farest edge of developement of well-meaning but wishfulthinking dreamers.

2 things stand it out as impossible.

1. Semi-demi-hemi-demi- torch drive performance. Something that peromising could simply not be feasable.
2. If it was uyseful, we would have had it by now.

Even if we did, what would it be used for? Space stations are useless, colonies are not technologically or lgistically possible (leaving out all of the sociological complications here too), and if we even just manage a scientific community on the moon or mars, what woud they do to pay for all the cost of getting there? There are no resources we really need or want as has been established before, and ultimately having humans exploring instead of expednable robots is just a poor use of many more resources (like supplies) than we would have to use with robots.

All the faults in the deserts lead to it being cancelled. NERVA will never work.
I remain in downright denial about VASIMR (half the scientific community remains paralysed on that issue, and it will prove almost foir certain to not be the wonder engines its designrs think it will be) and any chemfuel rocket with more than 100 tons potential payload.

I'm really sorry to have to keep syaing this, but but looking for real world engines for a rocketpunk future will never work. That said, I'm perfectly happy to imagine "what if" senarios. Hence my desperation (rapidly fading) to keep stations in the rocketpunk future, along with other infrastructure.

Geoffrey S H said...

sp* led

Geoffrey S H said...

and I also meant more than 150 tons payload.

Anonymous said...

Geoffrey S H said:"NERVA was in all likelihood a prime peice of vapourware with all the impossibility of humungous mecha and ORION drives taken to the farest edge of developement of well-meaning but wishfulthinking dreamers.

2 things stand it out as impossible.

1. Semi-demi-hemi-demi- torch drive performance. Something that peromising could simply not be feasable.
2. If it was uyseful, we would have had it by now."

Actually, NERVA was canceiled due to a political decision backed by the anti-nuc ecological lobby, not that it didn't work. It was never touted as anything more than being several times better than a chemical rocket, not as anything close to torch or semi-torch capability.
Also:"Even if we did, what would it be used for? Space stations are useless, colonies are not technologically or lgistically possible (leaving out all of the sociological complications here too), and if we even just manage a scientific community on the moon or mars, what woud they do to pay for all the cost of getting there? There are no resources we really need or want as has been established before, and ultimately having humans exploring instead of expednable robots is just a poor use of many more resources (like supplies) than we would have to use with robots."
By that logic, we wouldn't have anybody in Antarctica and only robotic probes on the Frozen Continent controlled from Boulder, Colorado.

"I'm really sorry to have to keep syaing this, but but looking for real world engines for a rocketpunk future will never work. That said, I'm perfectly happy to imagine "what if" senarios. Hence my desperation (rapidly fading) to keep stations in the rocketpunk future, along with other infrastructure."

Then stop saying it :) Seriously, you need to ratchet up your imagination! If the 'traditional' uses for space stations and "real world" rocket engines falls short, then come up with new, innovative uses for them...coming up with creative solutions to difficult problems should be a challange...not an excuse to give up! You have a great imagination; it would be a shame for you to be defeated by pessimism instead of rising to the challange of solving these problems. Have a little faith in yourself and your abilities!

Ferrell

Thucydides said...

Geoffrey S H;

NERVA was tested extensively, and the parameters were known with enough certainty to have extensive plans for such things as OTV's, Lunar "tugs" and even manned Mars missions using various versions of the NERVA drive. As mentioned, the political climate spelled the end of NERVA (if the flight article had been tested in space, it would be much more difficult to cancel plans for a Mars mission in the mid 1970's, for example).

VASMIR has completed enough testing that its parameters are pretty well known, as well as where the true development bottlenecks are (providing enough energy to power the beast at an acceptable power/weight ratio).

ORION was far more vapourware than NERVA or VASMIR, but it too was based on some pretty clear concepts and empirical evidence (Stanisław Ulam apparently started doing calculations on harnessing nuclear power for propulsion in the late 1940's, and the 1954 "Castle" nuclear test series included experiments that proved a physical object could survive being close to a nuclear explosion).

Much of the reason we are NOT living in the Rocketpunk Universe today really has much more to do with economics and politics than anything else. RoBo seemed to be a pretty compelling idea in the 1950's, but by the time DynaSoar was ready for flight testing computers had already made it possible for unmanned ICBM's to put warheads down with a high degree of accuracy (and of course unmanned recon sats could fulfill the role of MOL and Almaz space stations at a far lower cost). The location of various NASA sites has more to do with congressional "log rolling" than getting into space.

An interesting exercise is to try and spin this plausible midfuture(tm) starting point into an actual Rocketpunk Universe. Remember, there are lots of informed critics on this site to stamp out the use of handwavium, McGuffinite and other common SF tropes; now we have to think of very uncommon ones...

jollyreaper said...

If you want rocketpunk 2011 with alternative history, the best idea I have is a political reason. We did the moonshot because of the Russians and it would stand to reason that engaging in big projects of mutual interest and benefit would build goodwill. So us russian space station, moonbase, mars mission. Everything is done on a big scale with handwaves of promised spinoff tech but here in the states it's mainly a gravytrain for defense contractors. But it's all tolerated with the expectation that tighter economic ties will prevent a world war. Grow the pie bigger so everyone gets as much as they want. 

Thucydides said...

Closer economic integration does not mean wars, even world wars, will be prevented. The global economy was more tightly integrated in 1913 than at anytime thereafter until the late 1980's or early 1990's. There was even a book published in 1910 or thereabouts which made that very argument; but we all know what happened in 1914....

Perhaps a plausible starting point is a series of scenarios posted on NextBigFuture. The summary of the series is:

1. Create an industrial village on the moon
http://nextbigfuture.com/2010/12/setting-up-industrial-village-on-moon.html
2. Use this village to build high efficiency Dexler lightsails to harvest small NEO's http://nextbigfuture.com/2010/12/after-lunar-industrial-village.html
3. Use these industrial products and services to create linkages to Earth
http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/01/two-world-industrial-bootup-enabling.html

Now there is quite a bit of handwavium in the form of “Jules Verne” nuclear cannon to provide the seed elements for the industrial village, high performance light sails and seasteads to harvest the goods coming from space. I think we can ignore the nuclear cannon for many good reasons, light sails are a bit of a stretch but still near term technologies (Dexler made high performance films in the lab back in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s) and independent seasteads can only exist in a political vacuum.

The political rational for going down this road (for moving from “plausible midfuture(tm) to the Rocketpunk Universe) would be to gain new sources of wealth and productivity to deal with massive debts and deficits and bail out the failing States and economic systems we are in today. With European nations in danger of defaulting on Sovereign debt and taking out the Euro Zone, multi trillion dollar combined Federal, State and Municipal debt in the United States (not to mention trillions in unfunded pension liabilities) and economic stress in Asia, there are few other safe options.

This can lend itself to lots of story arcs (some of which have already been explored here) such as finding the right balance of size and capability to create a self sustaining colony on the Moon, economic repercussions of advanced technologies coming to the mainstream, the growth and urbanization of the Lunar colony, establishment of spin-off colonies on the Moon or NEO’s, economic tensions between the colony and the Earth, since Earth supplies the capital and finished goods (sub tropes might include corporate or national seasteads which receive incoming lunar goods and services attempting to change the conditions they work under), and military actions to protect/disrupt the flow of wealth from space (the massive surface warfare thread will provide tons of background for the ground action, and there are lots of threads about space war in LEO and Cis lunar space)

jollyreaper said...

Closer economic integration does not mean wars, even world wars, will be prevented. The global economy was more tightly integrated in 1913 than at anytime thereafter until the late 1980's or early 1990's. There was even a book published in 1910 or thereabouts which made that very argument; but we all know what happened in 1914....


Right. And I've mentioned that several times in previous discussions talking about how conventional wisdom can fail spectacularly. The saying from the time was "Another large war? The bankers wouldn't allow it." Whoops. Guess they didn't have as much control as we'd imagined.

I didn't say that such thinking was correct, just that it was plausible. In fact, you could use that very kind of setting to get a lot of space hardware up there and functional before things deteriorate into a general war. In fact a very nice scenario would be all the orbital hardware getting up there, things turning to crap on the ground, the US and USSR order their orbital assets to engage in the fight and all of the spacenoids declare independence from Earth. (oh, I think I've seen too much gundam now.) Plausible scenario.

The trick in fiction is that people in real life do stupid things so you can have your characters do stupid things, too; you just have to make clear how sensible it seems to them at the time.

Tony said...

Ferrell:

"Then stop saying it :) Seriously, you need to ratchet up your imagination! If the 'traditional' uses for space stations and "real world" rocket engines falls short, then come up with new, innovative uses for them...coming up with creative solutions to difficult problems should be a challange...not an excuse to give up! You have a great imagination; it would be a shame for you to be defeated by pessimism instead of rising to the challange of solving these problems. Have a little faith in yourself and your abilities!"

That still leaves the question: why presume the necessity of a space station a priori? Yes, I understand that it provides a setting for certain character interactions and plot developments, but it isn't a necessary one. YMMV, but I prefer stories where the writer thinks through (as well as he can) all of the implications of a set of initial conditions, and works out interesting characters and plots with as few handwaves as absolutely possible.

Geoffrey S H said...

@ Tony:

The problem being that even the slightest increase in human presence requires so many handwaves (such as massively expanding the pool of astronaughts while still ensuring they are the best and the brightest for whatever prupose) that holes the size of the moon can be picked in the setting.
A handwavium free setting is impossible, sure, but a handwavium deficient setting is also so hard as to be indistiguishable from the former.

Gotta go back to uni now, but I wish you all a good new year!

Tony said...

Re: Geoffrey S H:

The difference between the people who are astronuats and those who aren't, but have indicated their willingness by applying, is so small as to be meaningless. We will find willing, competent people to man as many spacecraft as we can put in space, and as many outposts as we can establish.

What will be hard is finding people who want to go and stay. People who are as highly competent and well educated as necessary for spaceflight tend to have Earth-centered lives and goals, even if they want to fly in space at some point in their lives, even if they're willing to spend several years on a mission. Who is going to go there and not come back is a good place to start looking for plotsthese days, IMO. Justifying space stations is small beer and, I think, less and less likely to pass the smell test with the generation that has been disillusioned by the Shuttle and ISS.

Geoffrey S H said...

That was just an example. There are so many things we haven't covered that will turn out to be hand wavium. I know you want authenticity (being a history nerd, I completely understand), but it becomes a reductionist argument, with very little up there. Without handwaves, we get 1 or two missions a year or whatever, and little else. With some handwavium, we get the same but with slightly more fequency. There ARE stories there, but not an infinite supply, and certainly not of different subgenres.

Disaster stories, and some killsat fiction.

Rick said...

NERVA fell victim to budget concerns several years before environmentalism and nuclear power had their falling-out in the 1970s.

More broadly, practically all the Cool Stuff has fallen victim to budget issues, onto which other concerns may be piggybacked, but the underlying issue is pretty much invariably money.

Thucydides said...

I didn't say that such thinking was correct, just that it was plausible. In fact, you could use that very kind of setting to get a lot of space hardware up there and functional before things deteriorate into a general war. In fact a very nice scenario would be all the orbital hardware getting up there, things turning to crap on the ground, the US and USSR order their orbital assets to engage in the fight and all of the spacenoids declare independence from Earth.

MILLENIUM by Ben Bova (1976)

Good read, BTW. Some Rocketpunkery in a somewhat plausible midfuture(tm) setting (particularly space combat in LEO, as Astronauts attempt to neutralize ABM sats in space). Of course, with wiffs of SDI already in the air (Bova was involved or in the know about laser research into high power chemical lasers), the theme seemed pretty "plausible midfutre(tm) at the time...

Rick said...

There was even a book published in 1910 or thereabouts which made that very argument; but we all know what happened in 1914....

On the flip side, I'd argue that the prediction was merely a bit premature. There have only been two wars between high-industrial powers, arguably only one with a long midway truce. And it has now been 65 years without any significant combat between industrial powers.

On the third hand, you could argue that although there has only been one space race so far, space races may be a natural mode of muscle flexing for post industrial powers. And you can buy a lot of space hardware if military scale budgeting comes into play.

Tony said...

Rick:

"On the flip side, I'd argue that the prediction was merely a bit premature. There have only been two wars between high-industrial powers, arguably only one with a long midway truce. And it has now been 65 years without any significant combat between industrial powers."

Possession of nukes by the major powers made it too expensive, not any amount of economic integration. And that certainly didn't slow down proxy or semi-proxy wars. Vietnam combat deaths, for example, were only 6,000 less than US WWI combat deaths and a little less than 1/6 WWII combat fatalities. Korean War US KIA were about 70% of that. Pretty robust for a couple of strategic sideshows. Imagine what those wars might have been like without nuclear deterrence to keep them from getting bigger -- not to mention what might have happened in Europe had nukes not been an issue in strategic decision making.

"On the third hand, you could argue that although there has only been one space race so far, space races may be a natural mode of muscle flexing for post industrial powers. And you can buy a lot of space hardware if military scale budgeting comes into play."

Who is going to race against who? The Russians are out for at least a couple more generations. The Europeans have no obvious interest in that kind of strategic competition. The Chinese and Japanese are comitted to such slow paces that racing with them isn't exactly possible.

Stevo Darkly said...

Some thoughts:

A technical and economic analysis tends toward a pragmatic and conservative forecast of the future. However, I don't think that's a plausible-feeling vision of the future. Looking back, "the world of 2000" was not merely "the world of 1900 with a few foreseeable refinements in technique." There were some breakthroughs and drastic changes. Looking back at history, you can assume breakthrhoughs will happen from time to time.

However, breakthroughs by their very nature are unpredictable in their specifics. Therefore, conservative and pragmatic "engineering feasibility study" analyses of a "plausible" future must disregard them. Nevertheless, those breakthroughs will occur, somewhere, somehow.

Since the ultimate concern of his site is stories (right?), if you must posit some breakthroughs, you might as well posit whatever breakthroughs allow you to tell the kind of stories you want to tell -- in this case,stories where you can employ some classic rocketpunk-type adventure tropes. You'll have to do a little handwaving, and you'll want want to keep the number of world-changing breakthroughs to a minimum, both to minimize the amount of handwaving and to keep your fictional future world from being so weird and different that your current-day readers can't understand or relate to it.

You build this fictional future knowing that you are bound to be wrong in the specifics -- and that, if anything, you are probably being too conservative. But you are writing a story, not a prospectus. Your task is to do your best to make it seem plausible.

In addition, political, legal and social changes could shove the future into more of a rocketpunk direction than technological advances alone could -- and they can alter the economic considerations as well. Those factors can introduce more wildcards. More on this in a bit.

Stevo Darkly said...

Some legal/social concerns that might push the future into more of a rocketpunk direction:

1) So far the rules for acquiring property among the planets and moons of the Solar System are a bit vague. Suppose this gets nailed down a bit in the near future? Suppose a key aspect of the law that gets hammered out by the UN (or some other transnational body) is that in order to be owned, extraterrestrial real estate "must be occupied and used productively." Plus there would be some limit as to how much territory you can claim around your landing site. With no one having any specific plans yet for exploiting extraterrestrial resources, this rule enjoys wide support. Developing nations don't want First World robber barons grabbing up the whole sky without some kind of restrictions. And would-be extraterrestrial industrialists don't want some little punk nation claiming ownership of whole planets and moons just because they can launch a simple robot probe that plants a flag there.

2) Technically, maybe it's easier to extract resources from Earth than from bodies in space. But industrial activities on Earth have a unique disadvantage: an adjacent biosphere into which waste products may leak. I'm hardly a tree-hugging radical, but even a wannabe laissez-faire robber baron like myself doesn't want soot wafting into his single-malt scotch. Imagine the reaction of eco-activists when they see video footage of strip-mines in the pristine Antarctic, or an oil spill that wipes out the entire breeding grounds of a species of penguin during nesting season.

Even relatively clean extraction and industrial process could kick a lot of rock dust into the air, or release a lot of waste heat into the immediate surroundings.

This could create greater pressure (political, legal, social, P.R.) to move industrial and resource-extraction processes off Earth, even if it costs more.

But how could this lead to a larger human presence off-Earth, when we could just automate everything? I'm getting to that next.

Stevo Darkly said...

3) Originally space stations were envisioned as being, in part, platforms for communications, weather observation, military reconnaissance, etc. But miniaturization and automation led to us using lots of small satelliies instead of large multifunction manned platforms.

But now orbital space is getting crowded, I hear. There are increasing concerns about "space junk" and collisions. And certain orbits (like geosynchronous orbits above certain regions of Earth) are at a premium.

Suppose the UN Orbital Traffic Control Agency (or whatever body) tries to address this. Maybe it imposes a fee for every object you loft into Earth orbit (including whatever jettisioned orbital junk can be traced back to you). Maybe it even charges a fee per orbiting object per revolution around the Earth, to discourage people from leaving dead junk up there after the batteries wear out, to become useless clutter. This would encourage people to either maintain satellites in orbit (so that the object they are paying for remains useful) or perhaps return them to Earth for refurbishment. Or at least take them down out of sky when they wear out so the per-orbit fees will stop.

Reuse! Recycle!

Under this fee-per-orbiting-object regime, it may be less economical to launch an independent weather satellite than to launch a weather-monitor module and pay to plug it into a large orbiting platform, where you share the per-orbit fee with hundreds of other "tenants." Maybe you share other bits of infrastructure too, like share power-generation facilities.

And the UNOTCA (or whatever) would probably encourage this arrangement. From a traffic-control and collision-avoidance standpoint, I think everyone would prefer to keep track of, say, 10 thousand-ton orbital platforms than 10,000 one-ton independent satellites.

So now we are back to large, multipurpose platforms instead of small independent satellites. But why would they be manned instead of automated? I beg your indulgence to address that next.

Stevo Darkly said...

5) Assuming we do expand industry and resource-extraction into space, a lot of us have been assuming that the goods will be send back to Earth (or whatever) in leisurely minimum-energy orbits, aboard automated barges or some such.

Now suppose the next advance in propulsion technology occurs, allowing faster travel within the Solar System and facilitating more manned travel.

But slow minimum-energy orbits are still fine for those unmanned ice and platimum barges coming in from the asteroid, right?

But what keeps someone unscrupulous from sending ships to steal the cargo from your slow unmanned barges?

When this happens, of course you protest and call for justice. But the pirates play lawyer on you. Remember, the old extraterrestrial property laws say that in order for you to "claim ownership" of "a celestial body" you must "occupy" and "productively use" it. But your unmanned barges are not unoccupied!

You protest, "But of course the law was referring to natural (and previously unowned) celestial bodies!"

The pirates shoot back: "But the law doesn't say that!"

OR

The law does say "natural celestial bodies" but the pirates say, "We didn't take your barges -- only the unoccupied natural celestial bodies (chunks of asteroidal ice and platinum ore) they contained!"

The laws are soon changed, but it's clear that unmanned and undefended cargo carriers are now vulnerable to thievery. Shippers consider installing booby-traps to deter this, but sticking hair-trigger explosives aboard the unmanned vessels that you send cruising through the Solar System poses problems of its own. In the end, the shippers decide to (1) use the newest propulsion technology to shorten the travel times for their cargo craft, and (2) either start using manned and armed cargo vessels ("galleons"), or continue using convoys of unmanned cargo craft, but hire a manned, armed cruiser to accompany and protect them during their trip.

So now you have some justification for large, manned orbital stations, an increased human presence in space, and even armed patrols (or at least armed extended voyages).

I realize these ideas are kinda half-baked. You may now ridicule them freely, or pop them into your own mental ovens to render them more palatable.

Stevo Darkly said...

OK -- DAMMIT.

I apologize:

1) For the string of posts.

2) The fact that they are out of order, because

3) The post containing point # 4, in which I posit a scenario for space platforms that are not only large and multifunctional (because they consolidate the functions formerly performed by multiple independent satellites) but are manned -- in other words, IN WHICH I ACTUALLY ADDRESS THE SPECIFIC TOPIC OF THIS THREAD -- keeps goddammn disappearing! It posted once -- I saw it! -- but it has disappeared at least twice.

I'm too tired now to recreate it again. Maybe it's stuck in a spam filter and Rick can retrieve it. Otherwise, I'll have to come back tomorrow.

KraKon said...

Don't worry. I have it all on e-mail, in multiple copies.
Nice scenario actually, no, excellent! Everything works together plausibly without requiring magitech or any of the such. There's just one thing to point out. I REALLY don't think that any company would send its factories up into space for ecological reasons. So far, it's still easier to dig a hole in the ground then to launch a refinery into space. You can connect the underground facility with a pipeline and a breathing circuit directly to the Earth's air and water, while in space everything has to come aloft with jets of expensive flame.

Oh and fitting booby traps onto unmanned barges makes it a Q-ship of sort...redirect in into your large unmanned station and
a) can't be shot down (too massive)
b) can't be redirected quickly (again, too big)
c) will create massive damage even with low relative collision speeds. Not forgetting of course the tons of shrapnel.
And all of this can be attributed to a programming error or some garage hacker who somehow happened to have a key to the company's firewall.

Oh and for the orbital scoop facilities seem a good setting (see Planetes, manga) but it seems that you CAN select what you want to scoop and what you don't. Depending on what tech you use for the scoop, if it is some kind of tunnel-cone, we can open the constriction hole, or like in a vacuum cleaner, get it out from the bag. And, now that I remember, space can easily be used for illegal activities. Drop a box of illegal cargo into the mouth of an orbital scoop, scoop cargo ruffle through the junk in the bag until they get the box, and 'claim' it.

Contact me if you want the message.

KraKon said...

Or actually, now that it's still hot...

Oh, crap. The post in which I actually address a rationale for large manned orbital space station (point #4) got lost! I'll try to recreate it:

4) So now you have a large multipurpose space platform offering (a) shared orbital fees, (b) shared power-generation facilies and other infrastructure, and (c) a keel that a lot of different users can plug their modules into (for weather monitoring, communication, orbital resources surveys, crystal growing or other vacuum/microgravity industrial manufacturing or research).

Most of these modules will be automated, but there may be some manned habs as well. Perhaps for medical research. And if we want to study the long-term effects of different gravities on the human body, we'll need a spinning manned hab that we might want to attach to the station.

In addition, the plaform owners may offer the tenants the services of a small onboard repair crew, to monitor the modules, perform small repairs, unstick jammed solar panels, assist with module installation, etc. The crew may expand into more general on-orbit spacecraft repair ("garage services").

As the human population of the platform expands, or stays for longer periods, it may increase demand for other shared facilities (medical, dining, entertainment) that may themselves be manned.

In addition, I remember something Jerry Pournelle once proposed foir SDI as a way of deterring attacks on orbiting military assets: The Russians and Chinese could use space-based lasers to blind US military satellites with relative impunity. However, stick a US military officer aboard a manned battlesat, and any attack upon or attempt to damage that manned vehicle would be an act of war, and could expect a commensurate response.

Similarly, suppose the outcry over overcrowded orbits filled with old space junk led the UN (or whatever) to commission national or private "orbital salvage craft." These could be big Kevlar funnels with modest propulsion systems attached. Moving in gradually ever-changing orbits, they'd scoop up dead satellites and space garbage like whales scooping up plankton. The salvagers would have the right to claim the junk, refurbish it, sell it, reuse it, cannibalize it, etc.

But perhaps the salvagers would sometimes get careless (on accident or on purpose) and scoop up still-functional satellites. Or maybe the UN would authorize them to grab a functional satellite that was in arrears in its orbital fees (only it really wasn't; this turns out to be clerical error).

Your space assets would be safer from such "oops" incidents (or "accidental piracy") if they were plugged into a large, manned space platform than as a small indepenent satellite.

(Some specialized satellites would have to remain independent and floating free. For example, you wouldn't want a Hubble space telescope attached to a space platform that was always vibrating, or pointed the wrong way, or frequently had visiting spacecraft blowing their hot exhaust across the sky. But I suspect a lot of other space operations could use a shared facility.)

Stevo Darkly said...

KraKon -- Thanks! I don't know how you glommed onto my missing post, but you must have it -- it's the one that talks about the big orbital salvage "scoop" craft. (I think perhaps I originally got this idea from Gerard K. O'Neill, actually.)

I don't see an e-mail address for you (perhaps I'm a dummy), but could you please send me the message at stevodarklyATSPAMMERSMUSTDIE.com (except replace "ATSPAMMERSMUSTDIE" with "@yahoo" please.

Thank you.

Oh: Companies may not decided to move operations off-Earth entirely of their own accord. I would expect they'd come under considerable outside pressure -- polluters might be subject to boycotts, new regulations, and/or even eco-terrorism. Also, voters/governments might apply incentives -- perhaps tax breaks for industries that move off planet. (I've already seen a proposal -- by Larry Niven, I believe -- that corporations be exempt from any taxes on profits from space-related industries for the first 10 years.)

Also: Very interesting points about specific problems with booby-trapped barges.

Geoffrey S H said...

Stevo Darkly:

Your ideas is probably flawed.
It is also probably brilliant.

Would you mind (assuming the flaws don't completely bring it down- I SINCERELY hope not) suggesting this to Winchull Chung at atomic rockets? He explains why stations weren't used... and you could provide a reason why they might in future.

Tony: Given your careful skeptecism on various space developements, may I be curious and ask you about the nature of your future setting (and crucially for me, what kind of stories, anrritives and sub-settings you have in it)?

jollyreaper said...

As far as deorbiting old junk, I'm thinking international law will eventually require satellites to carry with them the ability to self-terminate, either boost themselves out of their useful orbit to a graveyard orbit or, if low enough, intentionally reenter the atmosphere. NASA played around with a tether that extends out into the earth's magnetic field. Pump energy into it and the sat will boost orbit, draw from it and it will descend. A length of tether for deorbiting might prove cheaper than deorbiting fuel.

As for debris smaller than that, we'd had a previous discussion where it was determined that debris-clearing lasers make a whole lot of sense.

I'm not entirely convinced by the consolidated station argument. Given our current technology, a space station can serve as a prestige project but is not of serious commercial use.

Frankly, the only scheme that seemed practical and gave me any hope was the whole O'Neill solar power orbital infrastructure idea. But even if we did put something like that together, I have a feeling that improved robotics and telepresence would reduce the need for human operators to a bare minimum.

Once that kind of orbital manufacturing and infrastructure was in place, then the additional cost of building robotic explorers for the rest of the solar system would be cheaper. There's work here on Earth for developing persistent, autonomous sensor platforms for exploring the ocean. The current model of a manned ship for an expedition is expensive and only catches the deep sea in glimpses. The new idea is to deploy fixed sensors across the sea floor, moored on buoys, and supplement with unmanned drone aircraft and submersibles. The goal is year-round observation and recording to gain a true understanding of the oceanic environs.

Project this forward a hundred years and it's easy to imagine swarms of robotic explorers on all the major bodies of the solar system. Sadly, no romantic notions of a spacesuited geologist with rock hammer. And that's a letdown from the even more romantic notion of bare-chested he-man from Earth with sword of martian bronze slaying the beast men and bedding the green-skinned maidens.

Geoffrey S H said...

Sorry the 8th word from the end was meant to say "narratives".

jollyreaper said...

So now you have some justification for large, manned orbital stations, an increased human presence in space, and even armed patrols (or at least armed extended voyages).

I realize these ideas are kinda half-baked. You may now ridicule them freely, or pop them into your own mental ovens to render them more palatable.


I do sympathize with your efforts to get humans out there with nice, hard vacuum beneath their feat. I have a lot of trouble keeping hard science spaceflight interesting and exciting. In previous threads I went into my idea of hypersailing. With only one handwaved technology, you can then have a lot of other stuff logically and rigorously flow down from it and keep space travel adventuresome and interesting.

I should do a writeup of it including the excellent suggestions made in the other thread, refinements large and small.

jollyreaper said...

On a lark I did a quick google. Wow, there's really nothing new under the sun. Lots of hits for hypersail and who knows how similar the implementation is to my idea. Will have to consolidate my ideas, then see how they stack up to the others.

I can outline how I came up with my idea for hypersails. I like the feel of mixing high scifi with archaic technology. I like the idea of supplementing the cold science of space adventure with the unnamed and unknowable terrors of the age of sail where monsters and edges of the world all seemed plausible. Adding self-propulsion to ships took a lot of the uncertainty out of sea travel. Good for business, good for sailors, not so good for sea yarns. What if you could throw some real danger out there, unknowable and hostile alien life that could well be mistaken for gods, lovecraftian beasties? Quite the thing to drive mad someone who insists he lives in a world of hard science that holds no room for such as that.

So I wondered what it would take for a starship to get that kind of uncertainty again. Babylon 5's hyperspace had currents and I wondered if a ship could possibly ride those currents instead of using the main engines. Then I thought back to the one slightly interesting DS9 episode with the inaccurate depiction of a solar sailing ship that could travel FTL and thought "Well, that's rubbish science for a solar sail but what could it really be?" And all of that came together.

And oddly enough, the Warhammer 40k fluff must have drawn from the same ideas as me because the Warp is quite similar. I hadn't read the fluff until after I'd had my initial ideas. Funny how that works.

Geoffrey S H said...

Ahh, for all my hard science interests, 40k will always have a little place in my imagination.

Personally I blame Dan Abnett for this (and the table-top spinoff game set in space rather than on planets).

Bank's Culture+ Imperium of Man = Matter + Antimatter

Tony said...

Geoffrey S H:

"Tony: Given your careful skeptecism on various space developements, may I be curious and ask you about the nature of your future setting (and crucially for me, what kind of stories, anrritives and sub-settings you have in it)?"

I don't have a future setting. I'm not a writer. I'm just kibbitzing those whose ambitions lie in that direction to think a little bit more realistically about the future. What I'm finding is that people are wed to their old, comfortable tropes, forgetting that those tropes were once new and not so sure of their reception. I'd like to see a little bit more adventurism in the direction realism, rather than finding ways to justify what clearly has been proven impractical.

Having said that, I agree that not offering some concrete ideal of what I'm talking about just ain't fair. So...

As previously stated, I think, barring some magitech innovation, human population in space will increase at about one order of magnitude per century. Therefore, by 2100 there will be some 100 persons off Earth at any one time, mostly on Mars; by 2200, 1,000; by 2300, 10,000; etc.

Tony said...

continued...



By 2300 I figure that there might be 50-60 interplanetary ships of 25-50 passenger capacity. These ships would have service lives of 20 years, so figure somewhere between 2 and 4 new ships being assembled in LEO every year. Because the industrial base is exclusively on Earth, interplanetary voyages are still almost exlcusively Earth to some destination and back. Only on rare ocassions do the destinations align in such a way that multiple stops before return to Earth are possible or even desirable.

All persons in space are professionals of some type. Spacecraft crew are a small corps of engineering specialists who lead the "passengers" in housekeeping and maintenance duties on the sips while in transit. The average crewmember participates in four or five voyages before he is removed from the flight crew list for medical reasons (radiation exposure limit, usually). He then becomes a member of the crew training team on the Earth, or accepts some other management job in the front office. (The similarity to professional sports organizations should not be overlooked.) The "Captain" is just a senior crew member with 2 or 3 previous voyages and legal authority conferred upon him by the operator of his ship. There are no old space dogs.

The ships themselves are owned and operated by either governments or very large corporations. They are far from standardized, being built in small numbers and representative of national technical excellence (for those sponsorec by governments) and proprietary knowledge (for those sponsored by corporations). So there aren't enough commonalities in design or equipment to motivate pooling of resources or third party commercial services.

Earth-to-orbit services in 2300 are provided by evolved chemical rocket launchers with recoverable first stages and expendable upper stages. All cargo is going up, only passengers come back down. Due to the compression of schedules around the Mars Rush every two years, there are more launch vehicles and launch pads than absolutely necessary, but operational methods have evolved to compensate.

As should be obvious by now, most of the action and intrigue still happens on Earth. If space populations become involved in Earthly disputes, they do so only on Mars, and only with light arms possessed by realtively small guard detachments. A big battle might be a firefight between twenty or thirty US Marines on Mars and an equal number of Chinese or Brazilian troops. You would have platoon-sized detachments commanded by colonels, squads commanded by captains, and squad members would all be sergeants.

I don't believe in Lunar resource utilization, asteroid resource utilization before several hundred thousand people live in space, orbital weapons directly engaging troops on Earth (for astrodynamic reasons), or more than one or two dedicated manned military spacecraft per interplanetary power.

Stevo Darkly said...

Geoffrey S H:

Thank you very much for your kind comments. Actually, I expected you (along with Tony) to be the most relentless critics of my speculations. I suspect Tony will have a lot to say! That's OK. He has a very different outlook from me, and that's related to his profession and experience.

I remember a debate on SF writer Charlie Stross's blog, in which Stross basically said we will never have large scale space settlement or commerce, let alone interstellar travel -- "Sorry about that, space cadets!"

That immediately sparked a huge debate between two camps with radically different philosophies toward imagining the future -- I will call them the "Feasibility Study Engineers" and the "Optimistically Extrapolating Faithful Visionaries." The FSEs thought the OEFVs were airy-fairy handwaving wishful thinkers, and the OEFVs thought the FSEs were shockingly myopic, unimaginative and blind to the general trends of history. (I might elaborate on this further at some other time and place.)

Would you mind (assuming the flaws don't completely bring it down- I SINCERELY hope not) suggesting this to Winchull Chung at atomic rockets? He explains why stations weren't used... and you could provide a reason why they might in future.

That's a very kind suggestion. I may do this -- once I regain the post of mine that actually "explains" why/how a large consolidated space platform might be manned. That post went missing, but KraKon says he somehow grabbed it before it disappeared, and will send it to me at some point.

Anyway, part of the reason I threw my ideas out there was to let people poke holes at them and reveal the more obvious flaws, which I may or may not be able to patch up afterward.

Geoffrey S H said...

The planetaruy warfare comments totally destroyed any notion of off-world conflict on another planet. Murder mysteries in the close confines of a colony and any other intrigue were nixt somewhere else. Which basically means we are reduced to Gattacca style stories on Earth (or whatever). Oh Well.

MIGHT get away with handwaving intrigue on Mars...

Anyways, thankyou for your comment. That was most helpful. If nothing else, it is a good starting point.

Tony said...

Geoffrey S H:

"The planetaruy warfare comments totally destroyed any notion of off-world conflict on another planet. Murder mysteries in the close confines of a colony and any other intrigue were nixt somewhere else. Which basically means we are reduced to Gattacca style stories on Earth (or whatever). Oh Well."

I wouldn't go that far. But it couldn't be much more than very limited outpost warfare between very small forces with long and fragile supply lines. And the objectives wouldn't be much more than establishing that one part or the other won't stand to be fooled with by local populations and/or officialis who take conflicts tens of millions of miles away too seriously. I think there's plenty of room in there for plot -- just not before the middle of the 22nd Century, when there might be several hundred people on Mars.

As for intrigue and skulduggery, taht can happen within any human population of more than a dozen or so. Any research outpost or spaceship makes a good setting for that kind of thing. Figuring out plausible motivations, and the impact of the space environment on both motivations and procedures, is the trick.

Geoffrey S H said...

In an environment in which cameras are everywhere, biosigns are monitered constantly and , (thanks to triple + redunduncy systems), every step possible is taken to prevent an loss of population or crew? Outposts for quite some time won't be the hillariously spaciious examples on tyv, more like 2- 5 room "tents". I just feel I'm still clinging on to those "comfortable tropes" you referred to and am vigerously handwaving.

Nevertheless... in my little future history, I actually had room for that sort of setting in the 2300-2500 timeframe. Magitech fusion was beginning to creep in around 2700... probably should nix that idea.

Tony said...

Geoffrey S H:

" Magitech fusion was beginning to creep in around 2700... probably should nix that idea."

Why? There's nothing wrong with magitech. The problem is with overjustification. If you want to say that by 2700 people can zip from one end of the solar system to the other in a few months or even weeks, why not? Just don't go into details that make the educated reader say to himself, "Now I know that fusion can't do that." All he needs to know is that you're using a reaction drive of some definite power level.

And you really have some pretty strong literary conventions on your side. When Philip Marlowe jumped in a car to go somewhere, Chandler didn't spill a drop of ink about how a car operated. It was just assumed that a car could take one so far in a given amount of time. Now, you do have to establish the performance parameters of your magitech torch drive, because, unlike a car, the reader doesn't know what it can do until you tell him. But you only have to reference to output. Inputs can be left vague. You say that it accelerates constantly at 1/100 or 1/10 of a gee and leave it at that. Just be sure to do your sums and get the time of flight from Saturn to Mars right.

If you want to have uber-magitech like high acceleration space drives and special compensation or artificial gravity fields to protect the crew, pleaseohpleaseohplease, if it's the last thing you ever do, avoid the "inertial compensator" buzzword. If you do something to somehow lessen a physical object's inertia, you destroy one of the bases of nuclear physics, and the object disintegrates.

Tony said...

Geoffrey S H:

My advice would not be to worry too much about the use of magitech. Just don't use it in the very near future or overjustify it. If in the year 2300 or later you want a torch drive, have it. But treat it like a technological commonplace and only go into performance enough to assure your reader that it's some kind of reaction drive that accelerates at some given acceleration. Leave the details out of the picture. Just make sure you get your sums right on travel times, given the stated performance of your drive.

If you want uber-magitech space drives, that's fine, just don't talk about "inertial compensators". An inertial compensator won't just lower the intertia of the crew, it would lower the intertia of the subatomic particles that make up the crew, causing them to disintegrate.

Geoffrey S H said...

@Tony:
What about artificial gravity? This I've seen for sometime to be a hard-science concept if one approaches it from the veiwpoint that it is a way of providing gravity without moving parts ("Electronic gravity").
I origionally used inertial, but my space craft then had ridiculously short transit time to Mars (i.e: 2-3 DAYS). If people are pulled down, then the deck plates would be pulled "up" due to the laws of force... thus meaning that they would have to be reinforced in some way. By intersteller law all craft are also designed to detatch their front sections and rotate bolus-style for bolus gravity.

The trick is to get a kind og AG that dooes NOT lead to hover-cars, or whatever.

As for inertial dampeners, breathable fluid is pretty much the only possible one out there (if one ignores the problems of breathing in fluid contaminated with sweat and the like).

Thucydides said...

A semi plausible means of getting more spacecraft into orbit is to "privatize" the retrieval or deorbiting of defunct satellites.

Since many sats were launched long before any rules for deorbiting were in place, they have no fuel, tethers or fittings to leave their orbit at the end of the usable lifetime. Plenty of space debris is also inert "stuff" like paint chips, bolts and metallic scrap.

Rather than try to charge some international "tax" on satellite debris (what will you do if China stiffs you?), we can suggest insurance companies will pay to have dead satellites and debris removed to protect their huge investments in live satellites. Satellite operators are wiling to support this as thier premiums will go down and the useful lifetime of their sats will go up.

A breed of "Kepler cowboys" rise to take the challenge; accepting payment from insurance companies to clean up orbital space. Some of the job is routine teleoperated robot spacecraft (big aerogel disks that move on intersecting orbits with debris), but the interesting stuff happens with large satellites which need robust spacecraft to deal with potential difficulties. Some may be manned (for our purposes anyway), and of course we can have intrigue between competing "Kepler cowboys" competing for contracts, and the occasional government or corporate entity which might decide their satellite should not be disturbed or retrieved.

Tony said...

Personally, I'd just do without gravity control and just deal with the energies (and their side effects) necessary to do what you want to do in classical mechanics. If you want SSTO plasma drive shuttles, well, you have to have magitech energy sources like jet engine sized fusion power plants.

And remember, if you don't have gravity control, nobody else needs to have it either. So just live with the limitations of not being able to maneuver at more than a few gees.

If you do have gravity control, don't even handwave how it works -- just be consistent about its effects.

Jim Baerg said...

Why would you want gravity control in your stories? If you have a ridiculously power drive that can maintain 1 g for the entire trip, that would get you to the Kuiper belt in a few weeks & anywhere in the inner solar systen in days. There is no reason to exceed 1g except for takeoff from a planet.

jollyreaper said...

Well, the big question is whether gravity control represents schizotech, i.e. the death star problem. The tech level represented by the death star is completely out of scale with the rest of what we've seen in the Star Wars universe, akin to giving the Romans nuclear weapons. You could also call it the Star Trek transporter problem where you have the most revolutionary technology in the history of everything and those dunces are using it as nothing more than a fancy people mover. Only later did they expand it to replicators but even at that it was just for foodstuffs!

So, if I blithely toss gravitics into a story, what sort of obvious, galaxy-changing, incredibly important implications would I likely be overlooking?

Tony said...

Jim Baerg:

"Why would you want gravity control in your stories?"

Artificial gravity allows one to avoid the problems of living in microgravity. A spaceship then becomes a steamship without weather decks, for story purposes. Also, it's easier to get on and off terrestrial sized planets if you have antigravity. Finally, with artificial gravity, fusion power is a given, since we know for a fact gravitational compression can do the job.

Rick said...

Oh, yikes! You all have been very busy, and so has Blogger, duplicating posts, throwing non-spam into the spam filter, and generally confusing things.

I just pulled a couple of items out of the spam filter - that may have been dupes - and deleted the rest, which may have included a couple of non-spam comments.

Y'all just comment too much!

Milo said...

Post 1 of 5:

Stevo Darkly:

"You'll have to do a little handwaving, and you'll want want to keep the number of world-changing breakthroughs to a minimum, both to minimize the amount of handwaving and to keep your fictional future world from being so weird and different that your current-day readers can't understand or relate to it."

Actually, I would postulate that weird settings are harder on the writer than on the reader. As a reader I'm quite happy reading about exotic settings unusual enough that I'm actually drawn into wanting to learn more about how they're put together, and you'd be surprised what people can relate to as long as it's presented well. But that's a lot to come up with from scratch. And also tricky to work into a "show, don't tell" doctrine.

One kind of difference that tends to turn readers off more than others, is if your setting has moral standards different from the readers'. But while we can reasonably expect that the world of the future will have some quibbles with today's views, that really has nothing to do with technology. Well, okay, little to do with technology - new technologies can occasionally alter morals by introducing new options, thus forcing people to decide whether those new options are morally acceptable, and whether the old options are still morally acceptable now an alternative is available.


"1) So far the rules for acquiring property among the planets and moons of the Solar System are a bit vague. Suppose this gets nailed down a bit in the near future? Suppose a key aspect of the law that gets hammered out by the UN (or some other transnational body) is that in order to be owned, extraterrestrial real estate "must be occupied and used productively." Plus there would be some limit as to how much territory you can claim around your landing site."

I would approve of this rule. Note, though, that terrestrial real estate often doesn't work this way - just for starters, nearly all of Earth is officially claimed by some country or another, including territories that no-one is actually using.

Although note that rule zero in all legal disputes is that if one side in the dispute has big guns and the other doesn't, and they're willing to use them, then all else being equal, the side with the big guns will win.


"2) Technically, maybe it's easier to extract resources from Earth than from bodies in space. But industrial activities on Earth have a unique disadvantage: an adjacent biosphere into which waste products may leak. I'm hardly a tree-hugging radical, but even a wannabe laissez-faire robber baron like myself doesn't want soot wafting into his single-malt scotch."

The thing is that space travel is a pretty energy-intensive activity in itself. (This is not only the large amount of energy in the rocket launch itself, but also the implied energy used in manufacturing something as large and intricate as a spaceship.) So if you're an environmentalist, you're not going into space at all until you've worked out how to produce that energy in a sufficiently clean matter. Once you've worked that out, oops, what pollution are you worrying about again?

Yeah, there are other industrial processes that produce pollution besides energy generation, but I'm under the impression that's the big one, and furthermore plentiful clean energy would give us the "spare resources" to afford some inefficiencies in other processes in return for reduced pollution.

Milo said...

Post 2 of 5:

Stevo Darkly:

"But the pirates play lawyer on you. Remember, the old extraterrestrial property laws say that in order for you to "claim ownership" of "a celestial body" you must "occupy" and "productively use" it. But your unmanned barges are not occupied!"

Hmm. I would argue that since I am maintaining the barges (as often as necessary, which granted is not very often) to keep their (highly advanced) technology in working order, and am furthermore actively monitoring and claiming responsibility for them by remote control. I would claim that this constitutes sufficient activity to count as "productive use", even if I'm not bodily present on the barges. (And yes, I would argue the same rules to apply to purely robotic probes on planetary surfaces - you get to claim ownership of them for as long as you're keeping them in working order and making use of them. If they break down and you have no technicians on-site to fix them in a reasonable timespan, though, then they revert to salvage for whoever can claim them.)

If that's not what the law says, then I would just write that one barge off as an unfortunate loss, then fix the law before sending the next barge. Unless I have big enough guns to not have to care about what the law says.


"The law does say "natural celestial bodies" but the pirates say, "We didn't take your barges -- only the unoccupied natural celestial bodies (chunks of asteroidal ice and platinum ore) they contained!""

Unfortunately, you had to vandalize the hulls of my barges in order to reach the ore in question. (You probably also committed some form of traffic offense, since there are bound to be laws against coming too close to someone else's spaceship outside of a mutually agreed docking attempt. That's just dangerously irresponsible even if it's not done with malicious intent.) Also, if you want to play lawyer, then the ore is technically no longer natural (having been artificially processed by mining equipment which broke it into manageable chunks and transported it to an unnatural location), even though it started out as part of a natural body.

Milo said...

Post 3 of 5:

Jollyreaper:

"As far as deorbiting old junk, I'm thinking international law will eventually require satellites to carry with them the ability to self-terminate, either boost themselves out of their useful orbit to a graveyard orbit or, if low enough, intentionally reenter the atmosphere."

This is what current space agencies already do. I don't know if there's a law mandating it or if it's just professional courtesy, but you bet that if private space access become widespread, someone would get around to writing that law.


"Project this forward a hundred years and it's easy to imagine swarms of robotic explorers on all the major bodies of the solar system. Sadly, no romantic notions of a spacesuited geologist with rock hammer. And that's a letdown from the even more romantic notion of bare-chested he-man from Earth with sword of martian bronze slaying the beast men and bedding the green-skinned maidens."

I prefer the spacesuited geologist, really.


"In previous threads I went into my idea of hypersailing. With only one handwaved technology, you can then have a lot of other stuff logically and rigorously flow down from it and keep space travel adventuresome and interesting."

Any but the most optimistic FTL (the kind that allows direct planet-to-planet travel) is useless unless you already have some in-system space travel capability. Otherwise it's like having ships that can cross the wide reaches of the ocean, but having no idea how to overcome the shallower waters of a shoreline. I'd say you need at least enough old-fashioned space capability for a chartered Earth-Luna passenger liner.



Tony:

"As for intrigue and skulduggery, taht can happen within any human population of more than a dozen or so."

I would say that in principle, a diet murder mystery requires only four people - one to get murdered, one to commit the murder, and two to try to solve it (so there's some risk of them falsely accusing each other rather than the the actual culprit). You could get that down to three if there's a believable possibility of the death being an accident, suicide, or sabotage by someone who worked on the spaceship before it launched. Though of course, a story with that few characters would be stretched thin, and killing one of the only 4 people who can keep your spaceship running is an act of debatable sanity in any case.

Milo said...

Post 4 of 5:

Geoffrey S H:

"In an environment in which cameras are everywhere,"

They are? I think even astronauts are going to want some privacy. Everywhere in public areas, maybe, but even then there's no more need for that on Mars than on Antarctica.

"People can see you when you're in public" has not stopped murders from occuring in real life.



Tony:

"If you want uber-magitech space drives, that's fine, just don't talk about "inertial compensators". An inertial compensator won't just lower the intertia of the crew, it would lower the intertia of the subatomic particles that make up the crew, causing them to disintegrate."

One of the most fun attractions of Alcubierre drives is that they implicitly cheat inertia by their very nature, with no additional handwaving.

(One of the least fun detractions of Alcubierre drives is that they don't work without some pretty serious handwaving to begin with. But then, neither does anything else, so...)

I'll also note that short of FTL/FTL-like magitech, you would require some seriously hardcore antimatter rockets before you have so much delta-vee to use up that "just throttle down to 1 gee" isn't a viable strategy for coping with inertial stresses. And if you do have FTL/FTL-like magitech (Alcubierre or otherwise), then they clearly ignore the laws of motion as we know them anyway, so trying to explicitly compensate for this particular law is rather missing the point. The ship isn't moving in any sense that makes sense in terms of inertia. So whether you're going FTL or STL, inertial compensators are pointless.

Artificial gravity for when your ship is stationary is, of course, more useful. But still pretty optional unless you're concerned about being able to film your show on a set that isn't actually located in space.

Milo said...

Post 5 of 5:

Geoffrey S H:

"The trick is to get a kind og AG that dooes NOT lead to hover-cars, or whatever."

Unless you want hover-cars in your setting :)



Tony:

"Finally, with artificial gravity, fusion power is a given, since we know for a fact gravitational compression can do the job."

Not necessarily. Gravitational compression backed by the mass of an entire star can do the job (slowly), but the gravitic technology might not be powerful enough to create gravity on that scale. Or it might be able to do it, but only when fed more input energy than the fusion reaction produces.



Wow. Hope all five of my posts make it!

Milo said...

Annnnd... nope. I'm going to give Rick some time to see what he can rescue from the spam heap before I try to wrestle with reposting.

Rick said...

Schizotech - now that, or more precisely avoiding it - is one of the more useful concepts I've seen discussed here!

I agree that bone crushing acceleration is one of the most common offenders, because people have no idea how much a few milligees adds up to if kept up for a few weeks.

Thucydides said...

Anti gravity?

This isn't the plausible midfuture(tm) or even the Rocketpunk Universe anymore; you are in the universe of the Grey Lensmen or something similar.

Hmmm, implications of anti gravity technology? Maybe the "Cities in flight" series might provide some clues. I suspect that should anti gravity be possible, it isn't particularly scalable. You can uproot the island of Manhattan, but the energy source and equipment to lift a 747 turns out to be about as big as an aircraft carrier...(or the other way around; eliminating gravity at the atomic level turns out t be trivially easy, so long as you only manipulate one atom at a time).

Like most technology, anti gravity will turn out to have totally unexpected implications on the order of drive in movies, the sexual revolution and strip malls had with the introduction of cheap reliable cars.

Milo said...

Okay, Rick hasn't done anything about my missing posts, so I'll try reposting (with slightly different subdivision). Rick, if you do rescue my original posts from the spam filter later, please delete these reposts.



Repost 1 of 2:

Stevo Darkly:

"You'll have to do a little handwaving, and you'll want want to keep the number of world-changing breakthroughs to a minimum, both to minimize the amount of handwaving and to keep your fictional future world from being so weird and different that your current-day readers can't understand or relate to it."

Actually, I would postulate that weird settings are harder on the writer than on the reader. As a reader I'm quite happy reading about exotic settings unusual enough that I'm actually drawn into wanting to learn more about how they're put together, and you'd be surprised what people can relate to as long as it's presented well. But that's a lot to come up with from scratch. And also tricky to work into a "show, don't tell" doctrine.

One kind of difference that tends to turn readers off more than others, is if your setting has moral standards different from the readers'. But while we can reasonably expect that the world of the future will have some quibbles with today's views, that really has nothing to do with technology. Well, okay, little to do with technology - new technologies can occasionally alter morals by introducing new options, thus forcing people to decide whether those new options are morally acceptable, and whether the old options are still morally acceptable now an alternative is available.


"1) So far the rules for acquiring property among the planets and moons of the Solar System are a bit vague. Suppose this gets nailed down a bit in the near future? Suppose a key aspect of the law that gets hammered out by the UN (or some other transnational body) is that in order to be owned, extraterrestrial real estate "must be occupied and used productively." Plus there would be some limit as to how much territory you can claim around your landing site."

I would approve of this rule. Note, though, that terrestrial real estate often doesn't work this way - just for starters, nearly all of Earth is officially claimed by some country or another, including territories that no-one is actually using.

Although note that rule zero in all legal disputes is that if one side in the dispute has big guns and the other doesn't, and they're willing to use them, then all else being equal, the side with the big guns will win.

Milo said...

Repost 2 of 2:

Stevo Darkly:

"2) Technically, maybe it's easier to extract resources from Earth than from bodies in space. But industrial activities on Earth have a unique disadvantage: an adjacent biosphere into which waste products may leak. I'm hardly a tree-hugging radical, but even a wannabe laissez-faire robber baron like myself doesn't want soot wafting into his single-malt scotch."

The thing is that space travel is a pretty energy-intensive activity in itself. (This is not only the large amount of energy in the rocket launch itself, but also the implied energy used in manufacturing something as large and intricate as a spaceship.) So if you're an environmentalist, you're not going into space at all until you've worked out how to produce that energy in a sufficiently clean matter. One you've worked that out, oops, what pollution are you worrying about again?

Yeah, there are other industrial processes that produce pollution besides energy generation, but I'm under the impression that's the big one, and furthermore plentiful clean energy would give us the "spare resources" to afford some inefficiencies in other processes in return for reduced pollution.


"But the pirates play lawyer on you. Remember, the old extraterrestrial property laws say that in order for you to "claim ownership" of "a celestial body" you must "occupy" and "productively use" it. But your unmanned barges are not occupied!"

Hmm. I would argue that since I am maintaining the barges (as often as necessary, which granted is not very often) to keep their (highly advanced) technology in working order, and am furthermore actively monitoring and claiming responsibility for them by remote control. I would claim that this constitutes sufficient activity to count as "productive use", even if I'm not bodily present on the barges. (And yes, I would argue the same rules to apply to purely robotic probes on planetary surfaces - you get to claim ownership of them for as long as you're keeping them in working order and making use of them. If they break down and you have no technicians on-site to fix them in a reasonable timespan, though, then they revert to salvage for whoever can claim them.)

If that's not what the law says, then I would just write that one barge off as an unfortunate loss, then fix the law before sending the next barge. Unless I have big enough guns to not have to care about what the law says.


"The law does say "natural celestial bodies" but the pirates say, "We didn't take your barges -- only the unoccupied natural celestial bodies (chunks of asteroidal ice and platinum ore) they contained!""

Unfortunately, you had to vandalize the hulls of my barges in order to reach the ore in question. (You probably also committed some form of traffic offense, since there are bound to be laws against coming too close to someone else's spaceship outside of a mutually agreed docking attempt. That's just dangerously irresponsible even if it's not done with malicious intent.) Also, if you want to play lawyer, then the ore is technically no longer natural (having been artificially processed by mining equipment which broke it into manageable chunks and transported it to an unnatural location), even though it started out as part of a natural body.

Milo said...

Okay, Rick hasn't done anything about my missing posts, so I'll try reposting (with slightly different subdivision). Rick, if you do rescue my original posts from the spam filter later, please delete these reposts.

...Aand the reposts promptly go poof. AAARGH. We need to find some sort of permanent solution to this mess.

Okay, slicing into really tiny pieces, maybe that'll help...



Rerepost 1 of 4:

Stevo Darkly:

"You'll have to do a little handwaving, and you'll want want to keep the number of world-changing breakthroughs to a minimum, both to minimize the amount of handwaving and to keep your fictional future world from being so weird and different that your current-day readers can't understand or relate to it."

Actually, I would postulate that weird settings are harder on the writer than on the reader. As a reader I'm quite happy reading about exotic settings unusual enough that I'm actually drawn into wanting to learn more about how they're put together, and you'd be surprised what people can relate to as long as it's presented well. But that's a lot to come up with from scratch. And also tricky to work into a "show, don't tell" doctrine.

One kind of difference that tends to turn readers off more than others, is if your setting has moral standards different from the readers'. But while we can reasonably expect that the world of the future will have some quibbles with today's views, that really has nothing to do with technology. Well, okay, little to do with technology - new technologies can occasionally alter morals by introducing new options, thus forcing people to decide whether those new options are morally acceptable, and whether the old options are still morally acceptable now an alternative is available.

Milo said...

Rerepost 2 of 4:

Stevo Darkly:

"1) So far the rules for acquiring property among the planets and moons of the Solar System are a bit vague. Suppose this gets nailed down a bit in the near future? Suppose a key aspect of the law that gets hammered out by the UN (or some other transnational body) is that in order to be owned, extraterrestrial real estate "must be occupied and used productively." Plus there would be some limit as to how much territory you can claim around your landing site."

I would approve of this rule. Note, though, that terrestrial real estate often doesn't work this way - just for starters, nearly all of Earth is officially claimed by some country or another, including territories that no-one is actually using.

Although note that rule zero in all legal disputes is that if one side in the dispute has big guns and the other doesn't, and they're willing to use them, then all else being equal, the side with the big guns will win.

Milo said...

Rerepost 3 of 4:

Stevo Darkly:

"2) Technically, maybe it's easier to extract resources from Earth than from bodies in space. But industrial activities on Earth have a unique disadvantage: an adjacent biosphere into which waste products may leak. I'm hardly a tree-hugging radical, but even a wannabe laissez-faire robber baron like myself doesn't want soot wafting into his single-malt scotch."

The thing is that space travel is a pretty energy-intensive activity in itself. (This is not only the large amount of energy in the rocket launch itself, but also the implied energy used in manufacturing something as large and intricate as a spaceship.) So if you're an environmentalist, you're not going into space at all until you've worked out how to produce that energy in a sufficiently clean matter. One you've worked that out, oops, what pollution are you worrying about again?

Yeah, there are other industrial processes that produce pollution besides energy generation, but I'm under the impression that's the big one, and furthermore plentiful clean energy would give us the "spare resources" to afford some inefficiencies in other processes in return for reduced pollution.

Milo said...

Rerepost 4 of 4:

Stevo Darkly:

"But the pirates play lawyer on you. Remember, the old extraterrestrial property laws say that in order for you to "claim ownership" of "a celestial body" you must "occupy" and "productively use" it. But your unmanned barges are not occupied!"

Hmm. I would argue that since I am maintaining the barges (as often as necessary, which granted is not very often) to keep their (highly advanced) technology in working order, and am furthermore actively monitoring and claiming responsibility for them by remote control. I would claim that this constitutes sufficient activity to count as "productive use", even if I'm not bodily present on the barges. (And yes, I would argue the same rules to apply to purely robotic probes on planetary surfaces - you get to claim ownership of them for as long as you're keeping them in working order and making use of them. If they break down and you have no technicians on-site to fix them in a reasonable timespan, though, then they revert to salvage for whoever can claim them.)

If that's not what the law says, then I would just write that one barge off as an unfortunate loss, then fix the law before sending the next barge. Unless I have big enough guns to not have to care about what the law says.


"The law does say "natural celestial bodies" but the pirates say, "We didn't take your barges -- only the unoccupied natural celestial bodies (chunks of asteroidal ice and platinum ore) they contained!""

Unfortunately, you had to vandalize the hulls of my barges in order to reach the ore in question. (You probably also committed some form of traffic offense, since there are bound to be laws against coming too close to someone else's spaceship outside of a mutually agreed docking attempt. That's just dangerously irresponsible even if it's not done with malicious intent.) Also, if you want to play lawyer, then the ore is technically no longer natural (having been artificially processed by mining equipment which broke it into manageable chunks and transported it to an unnatural location), even though it started out as part of a natural body.

Thucydides said...

Something like 80% of the world's energy production is based on thermal energy, and when you factor in the amount of waste heat, pollutants and waste like ash, you have a very large target.

Since lots more energy is lost downrange, it is also worthwhile to find efficient technologies to replace what exists now, such as LED lights to replace incandescent and CFL bulbs.

jollyreaper said...

Can't take credit for the term, sadly.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SchizoTech

Great pic there to represent the idea -- a tactical flintlock pistol complete with lasersight. lol

The setting may seem at first to be The Middle Ages, The Colonial Period, or some Fantasy Counterpart Culture thereof, but when you look closer, you find polyester, robots, or other high-tech toys in between the horse-drawn wagons and wattle-and-daub buildings. There's generally no rhyme or reason for which technologies are anachronistically present besides the Rule Of Cool. Sometimes these may be leftovers from a lost technological civilization, but most of the time there is no explanation whatsoever for the bizarre mix of medieval and futuristic.

Tony said...

Milo:

"Not necessarily. Gravitational compression backed by the mass of an entire star can do the job (slowly), but the gravitic technology might not be powerful enough to create gravity on that scale. Or it might be able to do it, but only when fed more input energy than the fusion reaction produces."

Hey, we've handwaved ourselves into being able to manipulate gravitational fields at will. Who's to say we can't do so in an energy-efficient manner?

Rick said...

Yes, just after my last comment I googled and found that 'schizotech' came from TV Tropes - which, of course, was the end of my productive activity yesterday.

That website is Evil, but most of you probably already know that.


On antigravity, note that it need not be equivalent to 'inertialess,' or otherwise pose any really fundamental physics problems. One of my favorite magitech ideas is an antigravity that, in effect, ratchets its way out of a gravity well.

Feed power into the field and it pushes against a massive object (e.g., the planet), thus levitating itself. Stop feeding in power and the field remains at the given potential level, thus hovering. Draw power from the field and you descend. Think of it as hydraulic jacks minus the jacks.

So far as I can see this violates no physics and produces no conundrums. In practice there'd presumably be losses to deal with, and the expense of developing and building the field generator, but these need not be inherently more severe than for a host of familiar industrial processes, such as building and flying jet planes.

Rick said...

Admin/maintenance note:

I've let some messages out of the spam filter that may already have been replaced, or duplicated, or whatever.

I should recommend to Blogger that they provide a deletion option for duplicate posts that does not identify them as spam (causing the spam filter to 'learn' incorrect lessons). But if/when I will do so, let alone if/when Blogger does anything about the problem, are very open questions.

So, for now, just bear with occasional multiple posts, belated rescues, and the like!

Tony said...

Rick:

"On antigravity..."

You're describing a gravitational physics similar to the buoyancy physics that governs the operation of fish and submarines. Except I'm having a hard time seeing how you could maintain equilibrium without inputting energy. Youd have to imagine a contragravity field that buoys one up similarly to the way water buoys up an immersed object, and a way to interact with it.

Thucydides said...

On anti gravity

I'm with Tony on this one. either you are bending space/time against the gravity well of a planet or star (relativistic anti-gravity), or you are generating a field of gravitons (Quantum anti-gravity?). The only other plausible means I can think of is playing with the Higgs field (scalar anti-gravity?).

Any one of these would need a huge mount of energy just to cancel out the local gravitational field. By analogy, you might need a surge of energy just to get started (similar to starting an electric motor), a constant supply of energy to remain in equilibrium and a controlled release of energy to lower an object.

tsz52 said...

Stevo Darkly: Good work! I like how you've made it happen without needing to tweak the contemporary narratives or tech too much [I take radically different narratives as a bedrock given, once these have run their appalling course... kind of Enlightenment/Modernism (without the social engineering experiments)].

Jollyreaper: I'm committed to the uber'hard' tech path now for my tale, but 'hypersailing' has always called to me too (as the single handwave)... aether all the way!

I have no great love for Games Workshop (having worked for them) but have always been pretty awed by the 40K universe... it wasn't done very well at all but the first Horus Heresy novel went into that Lovecraftian theme a bit: it's all science and tech and rationalism, gods and superstition are dead... until... could have been awesome; typical GW wasted opportunity.

Geoffrey S H: I seem to keep saying this, but narratives and Will are the human powerhouse, not mean-spirited economic theories.

Why have a space station? Because we want one and Will it to be so. Most civilisations have wanted to leave artifacts behind that future generations will remember them for, with fondness, reverence and awe (and maybe even gratitude); rather than with only unbridled hatred and contempt.

Pyramids, Spruce Goose, Chrysler Building and Apollo all rolled into one - just because we *can*! It helps that it also has a utilitarian (and economic) purpose too.

Same for your murder mystery - perhaps there will be a time (again) where the individual takes precedence over nannying bureaucracy, and so won't accept being constantly observed and bio-monitored.

Chuck in a single enabling technology (materials tech for my money) and you can do what you want (just do the research).

[By the way, you weren't referring to Battlefleet Gothic were you? Sigh... my Eldar Corsairs were an unholy terror back in the day....]

Anyway, you mentioned training right at the very top; seems to me that a near-future with feeble drives but with some development 'out there' might have a bit of non-professional-astronaut traffic - families, inspectors, designers, engineers and execs paying visits.

People seem to take the airline model for granted, but it won't be anything like that; you see how a single person flipping out on an airliner is a Very Serious Thing Indeed, that will likely make the plane divert and land - well in space it's worse, and for months, not a few hours, and nowhere to divert to.

So you do your best to weed out the unsuitable/unstable ones on the ground, but Space Is Different: some folks will simply not be able to handle its Difference (ego-crash from seeing exactly how insignificant they are etc); claustrophobia, vulnerability, being in freefall, being in low g at high rpm (assuming minimal centrifugal g), will not be able to be properly obedient to the crew, will have personality conflicts with fellow passengers/crew etc.

It all compounds and most of it simply can't be properly replicated on Earth, so the station also provides a copy of this environment for a few weeks for the potential passengers, before they board the ship for real, for that essential final weeding.

[There'll be some economic way that anybody who feels that they should drop out is rewarded for taking that social responsibility by not being financially stiffed; and maybe a floating pool of space heads who temporarily live on the station and get discounted flights to fill up the berths at the last minute, or whatever....]

Rick: When I saw that the link for schizotech went to tvtropes, I decided to take Jollyreaper's word for it.... :)

tsz52 said...

Stevo Darkly: Good work! I like how you've made it happen without needing to tweak the contemporary narratives or tech too much [I take radically different narratives as a bedrock given, once these have run their appalling course... kind of Enlightenment/Modernism (without the social engineering experiments)].

Jollyreaper: I'm committed to the uber'hard' tech path now for my tale, but 'hypersailing' has always called to me too (as the single handwave)... aether all the way!

I have no great love for Games Workshop (having worked for them) but have always been pretty awed by the 40K universe... it wasn't done very well at all but the first Horus Heresy novel went into that Lovecraftian theme a bit: it's all science and tech and rationalism, gods and superstition are dead... until... could have been awesome; typical GW wasted opportunity.

Geoffrey S H: I seem to keep saying this, but narratives and Will are the human powerhouse, not mean-spirited economic theories.

Why have a space station? Because we want one and Will it to be so. Most civilisations have wanted to leave artifacts behind that future generations will remember them for, with fondness, reverence and awe (and maybe even gratitude); rather than with only unbridled hatred and contempt.

Pyramids, Spruce Goose, Chrysler Building and Apollo all rolled into one - just because we *can*! It helps that it also has a utilitarian (and economic) purpose too.

Same for your murder mystery - perhaps there will be a time (again) where the individual takes precedence over nannying bureaucracy, and so won't accept being constantly observed and bio-monitored.

Chuck in a single enabling technology (materials tech for my money) and you can do what you want (just do the research).

[By the way, you weren't referring to Battlefleet Gothic were you? Sigh... my Eldar Corsairs were an unholy terror back in the day....]

Anyway, you mentioned training right at the very top; seems to me that a near-future with feeble drives but with some development 'out there' might have a bit of non-professional-astronaut traffic - families, inspectors, designers, engineers and execs paying visits.

People seem to take the airline model for granted, but it won't be anything like that; you see how a single person flipping out on an airliner is a Very Serious Thing Indeed, that will likely make the plane divert and land - well in space it's worse, and for months, not a few hours, and nowhere to divert to.

So you do your best to weed out the unsuitable/unstable ones on the ground, but Space Is Different: some folks will simply not be able to handle its Difference (ego-crash from seeing exactly how insignificant they are etc); claustrophobia, vulnerability, being in freefall, being in low g at high rpm (assuming minimal centrifugal g), will not be able to be properly obedient to the crew, will have personality conflicts with fellow passengers/crew etc.

It all compounds and most of it simply can't be properly replicated on Earth, so the station also provides a copy of this environment for a few weeks for the potential passengers, before they board the ship for real, for that essential final weeding.

[There'll be some economic way that anybody who feels that they should drop out is rewarded for taking that social responsibility by not being financially stiffed; and maybe a floating pool of space heads who temporarily live on the station and get discounted flights to fill up the berths at the last minute, or whatever....]

Rick: When I saw that the link for schizotech went to tvtropes, I decided to take Jollyreaper's word for it.... :)

Tony said...

tsz52:

"I seem to keep saying this, but narratives and Will are the human powerhouse, not mean-spirited economic theories."

The 20th Century rolls over in its grave...

tsz52 said...

Tony:

"The 20th Century rolls over in its grave..."

I suspect that it will be remembered more fondly than the 21st one... but that's another story.

Thucydides said...

Ah, for the good old days of the 16th century....

Human desire and will are certainly driving factors, but economic theories (and organizational theories, and management theories, and, and, and...) describe the "ecosystem" that human desires and will can be carried out in.

A very sparse "ecosystem" (impoverished by authoritarianism, lack of social structures, lack of easily exploitable resources etc.) will have few outlets for humans to express their desires or will, while a richer "ecosystem" provides more outlets and opportunities. I have used this example before, but consider again that ancient Athens had the power and ability to stand off the Peloponesian league backed by the Persian Empire for a decade after they lost their Army and fleet (and allies in the Delian League); Elizabethan England was able to overcome the vastly richer and more populous Spanish Empire, the Serenìsima Repùblica Vèneta could hold its own against the Ottoman Empire and the small “Tiger” economies are on par with the Chinese “Dragon” despite the vast mismatch in size, population and resources.

Here in the Rocketpunk universe, there is a certain tensio between those who believe that space settlements and colonies will be liberating, and those who see them as being very rigid entities. Perhaps the real issue is we are looking at it from different points of view on the timeline. Early spaceships, stations and bases will be very sparse “ecosystems”, lacking manpower, easily exploitable resources and ruled by a fairly restrictive rule-set both for safety and to enforce the goals of the owners (either the State or corporate interests), and would indeed resemble the ops center on a warship or control room of a power station. Later in the timeline (how much later is probably the debatable point), there will be a much richer “ecosystem”, encompassing greater manpower, greater degrees of freedom as systems mature and resources become easier to obtain.

I am not as pessimistic as some (only one hundred people in space by the end of the century?), and also believe that one there is a firm foothold, there will be a geometric progression of population, technical and economic growth, each element feeding off each other.

Scott said...

@Jim Baerg:
No, I happen to think nuke power is safe, *if* the designs are good.

Chernobyl was/is an incredibly lousy design, known for being unstable at low power settings, having no isolation of the reactor from the generator, *and* requiring coastdown pumps to avoid catastrophic failure. Guess what? The Chernobyl accident happened when they were testing a new scram-coastdown pump design.

The test required the reactor to be running very close to the lower limit. Instability happened, causing a pressure and tenperature spike that breached the graphite Reactor Vessel. Between the steam explosion and the introduction of oxygen to the reactor, big boom. Everyone knows the rest of the story.

All I'm trying to say is that you'd need to somehow demonstrate the reactor design was actually safe, whether it is a power reactor or a thermal one. I have no clue how you'd be able to test it in atmosphere, since there's no way you could test a nt rocket underground. I'm getting chills thinking about all the red tape alone, nevermind the greenpeace barrage.

Scott said...

To elaborate on the safety of nuclear reactors a bit:

Pressurized Water Reactors are safe. Their innate properties make the operator heat up the reactor to make more power. However, PWRs don't operate in a temperature range compatible with radiating heat in space.

Liquid-metal reactors have issues with their shutdown behavior, and issues with the heat exchangers if you don't want to radioactively contaminate the turbines. That doesn't stop them from being safe, though. It just makes them tough to use and gives reliability issues. Neither one of which makes them desirable for orbital use. Note that the US Navy experimented with lm reactors and gave up on them.

Graphite-water reactors are chernobyl. Not safe. The operator has to cool the reactor down as more power is made.

I don't know about pebble-bed helium or nitrogen reactors, but they should be safe. The two questions for orbital use are: "what's the thermal coefficient?" And "what is the mean time between failures?". Thermal coefficient is whether you have to add heat with increased power or remove heat with increased power. MTBF should be self-explanatory.

tsz52 said...

Thucydides:-

"Human desire and will are certainly driving factors, but economic theories (and organizational theories, and management theories, and, and, and...) describe the "ecosystem" that human desires and will can be carried out in."

I think that the main problem is that your statement puts the word 'the' - rather than 'an' - before the word '"ecosystem"'.

These folks' constructs are mistaken for self-evidently-True, Timeless Laws.

Though it sounds a bit too like a slogan, they dictate rather than facilitate.

Everybody has their talents and their calling, fair enough, but I see that for the greater and more 'revolutionary' and avant-garde artifacts (space stations, grandiose and beautiful buildings, etc), the process should be driven by the genius theorists letting their creativity go into overdrive; then the engineers and scientists prune it back to something doable, that will push the tech envelope; then the economists are instructed to find a way to make it happen, and allowed some input into making it more profitable/self-sustaining.

What happens now is that anything that possesses even a spark of greatness (including novels even) gets strangled to death at birth by economists... or economists are the ones coming up with the crazy ideas (with no limit to how heinous, or self destructive), which then get immediately acted upon; as if economists were the only ones - the Priesthood - with a direct line to Wisdom and Reality, rather than peddlers of fairly arbitrary, pseudo-scientific theories.

Again, it's an ideologically monopolistic practice, with the full set of excesses and flaws that come with a monopoly.

As long as these guys are running everything (with their current theories), we don't get our space future; so, by def, any space future has to be built upon different narratives. It's a square peg, round hole thing.

I agree about the liberating/controlled thing being different points in the timeline, but it will always be some of both: 'OK, it's a pleasuredome - do what you want, but mess with the airlocks and we'll space you.'

Nick P. said...

"Liquid-metal reactors have issues with their shutdown behavior, and issues with the heat exchangers if you don't want to radioactively contaminate the turbines."

Not quite sure where you got that bit about radioactive contamination of the turbines from. The primary sodium loop does indeed become radioactive through neutron activation, but that isn't sent directly to the turbines. It goes through a heat exchanger to heat up a secondary sodium loop which isn't radioactive and is also kept at positive pressure so that any leak will go into the primary side and not the other way around.

This secondary sodium loop is what is allowed to leave the containment building where it goes to another heat exchanger to boil water for steam turbines.

The biggest problem I usually see people hold against liquid metal reactors is that a leak in the metal-to-water heat exchanger can lead to a rather spectacular fire and indeed most of the accidents I've heard of are usually just that.

That, and also if given a fertile blanket they can breed Pu-239 like nobody's business so everyone always screams "ZOMG PROLIFERATION!1!!~!"

Never can figure out why they don't use a eutectic for the secondary loop...

Anyway, Boiling Water Reactors on the other hand DO let steam generated directly from the core power turbines and indeed they do tend to have fission product buildup in the turbines. I've not heard of it being a serious issue through being that what does tend to lodge there usually has a short half-life and decays quickly.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boiling_water_reactor

Jim Baerg said...

Continuing the orbital plane change issue:
I determined some ranges of deltaV needed for the plane changes to get from Earth to Mars or Venus.
The plane change has to be done as the spacecraft passes the line where the planes of the two planets orbits intersect (line of nodes). This will almost never be when the spacecraft is departing or arriving at one of the planets, so the spacecraft will leave one planet in an orbit in the same plane as the departure planet's orbit, make a plane change to the destination planet's orbit plane & then continue to the destination planet. So *IF* there is any reason to have a space station in low orbit to service interplanetary craft, having the station orbit the planet in the plane of the planets orbit around the sun would be equally convenient for all interplanetary destinations.

Mars Venus
Inclination of orbit to ecliptic 1.85° 3.4°
Vel for Hohmann orbit km/s - Low 19.88 26.86
Vel for Hohmann orbit km/s - High 33.67 38.04
deltaV for plane change m/s - Low 642 1594
deltaV for plane change m/s - High 1087 2257

The low deltaV occurs if the plane change is when the spacecraft is near the outer planet & the high deltaV is if the plane change is when the spacecraft is near the inner planet.
These deltaVs are doable with chemical rockets though the cost is significant for the Venus high end value.
If interplanetary trips are being done with low thrust high ISP drives the plane change will be done over several days as the spacecraft passes the line of nodes.

Jim Baerg said...

BTW I had repeated failures when I tried to post the previous 2 comments as one comment. Is there some limit on comment size that blogger should make explicit?

Thucydides said...

Several disparate points here:

NTR's were tested extensively (in the open air) so there is a large database to begin with. NTR designs can be given a field trial in orbit if the financial and political will exists (and I believe at least one design came close in the 1980's; the "Timberwind" project that was developed under the SDI program. If a "Black" version was flown, we might never hear about it). Small NTR's could be tested in an enclosed structure if we wanted to start a new program today, although that would be expensive and time consuming.

"The" ecosystem exists; what are constructs are models that try to explain the ecosystem or predict how things will respond under particular conditions.

This model also demonstrates why there are limits to what we have been able to do; steam engines and mechanical computers were invented in Greek and Hellenistic times, but the social, cultural, political and economic environments had no "niche" for these developments to fill. For all I know tsz52 is indeed a genius with the visions of a grand unified theory; but he has no access to the "ecosystem" to support his dreams or there is no "niche" for his grand unified theory to exist in. The entire "Rocketpunk" universe was essentially stillborn because of the computer revolution; Space stations made sense in 1950 so there would be a crew of engineers to replace parts and do calculations, by the early 1960's it was already possible to do everything with reliable digital computers (the pilot of RoBo became the flight control package on a Minuteman III missile). All the ecological "niches" for people were closed off. Lots of arguments on this Blog are based on the premise that some niche does/does not exist for large numbers of people to go to space.

Just because we cannot get what we want does not mean there is some sort of grand conspiracy by the Illuminati, George Soros or the Knights Templar trying to stop you (if that was true, then you really could take direct action to fix things). Unlike animals, we can observe the environment around us and make adaptations to our behaviours and assumptions on the fly.

Tony said...

Re: Jim Baerg and orbital inclination issues in interplanetary transfers

What Jim seems to be missing is that the transfer is made neither in the plane of the origin planet nor the plane of the destination planet. The transfer is made in a plane that intersects both the origin and destination planes at the points of departure and arrival, respectively. The most economical way to achieve that plane is to launch into it from the ground.

Tony said...

Re: nuclear electric propulsion testing and safety

Nuclear electric can easily be tested all-up on the ground. Remember, such a system is physically divisible into a power module and a motor module. The motor module can be tested in a standard vacuum chamber on the surface, just like electric motors always have been. The power module can be tested undergound (in a vacuum, if necessary), inside a steel and concrete enclosure, and the power taken by cable to the motor module.

Tony said...

Re: tsz52

Men of vision given the reins? Scientists and engineers are told what to do? Economists told to "keep up"? The people, offstage, not even a factor, except (presumably) that they do what their leaders tell them is best?

Santayana was right...

Jim Baerg said...

Blogger keeps eating the my comment that was intended to be the continuation of my comment about interplanetary plane changes. Could it have something to do with there being a link to a wikipedia article?

Jim Baerg said...

Try again.

Now for a *reason* to have a Transport Nexus in LEO.

Look up http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tether_propulsion. The space elevator is one variant of this class of ideas, but requires materials with a strength to weight ratio near the limit fo what is theoretically achievable. Other variants can be done with materials that are now commercially available rather than needing unobtanium. The bolo or the hypersonic skyhook could be put in LEO & since the low end would be moving at a few km/s LESS than orbital speed a single stage chemical rocket or spaceplane could rendevous with it. An object released from near the high end will go into an elliptical orbit good for transfer to a high orbit like GEO or lunar orbit or even earth escape. This would substantially reduce the cost of getting into high orbits. For low orbits that aren't in the same plane as the tether's orbit it would probably still be more economic to launch directly from the surface into the desired orbital plane. (A satellite released from the high end of the tether *could* make a plane change & lower its perigee with little rocket fuel & then use aerobraking to lower its apogee. I'm not sure this would ever be cheaper.)

So assuming any reason for lots of traffic to high earth orbits (moon base? repair & salvage shop for comsats just beyond GEO?) there is a reason for such a transport nexus between surface to tether shuttles & other spacecraft.

Interplanetary craft could also rendevous with this tether, but such traffic will likely always be sparse compared to traffic within the earth-moon system. (Even if interplanetary traffic gets 'large' earth-moon traffic will increase more.)

Rick said...

Jim (& everyone) - Blogger's commenting system continues to be a horrendous mess. There's some message length that it won't post, and a probably shorter length that it SAYS it won't post, but then posts anyway.

Your whole series of posts ended in the spam filter, for no good reason - but I gather that Blogger is in an unending struggle with real spammers, so filter settings are being constantly tweaked, with unpredictable results.

My antigravity description does sound a great deal like buoyancy, but that's not really the analogy I have in mind. My mental metaphor is a machine that ratchets its way up the side of the gravity well (the problem being what it clamps onto).

Tony said...

Re: tethers

Spacecraft can't stay on the tether. They're just released into orbit. For conservation of momentum reasons, you would need to bring down as much mass as you sent up, preferably at the same time. What's a viable down cargo? Until you have that, you have to add a lot of energy brought up from Earth every launch in order to make the thing work.

Scott said...

@Nick P: gah, that's what I get for commenting late at night... it's not a contamination issue, it's the catastrophic sodium-water explosion enhanced by the hydrogen-oxygen explosion/fire... unreliable, therefore not suited for 'uninteresting' orbital applications. Nevermind the weight.

@Thucydides: NTRs were tested in open air, before the atmospheric test ban treaty. Testing one *now* would be quite a political challenge, but the French might be up to it.

Nuke-electrics aren't as bad, but you still need to test the flight reactor as well as the rocket portion.

First, you need to test the radiator system *at 1600K*. Once you have a stable radiator design, you can build and test the high-temp reactor. Where the heck can you test the radiator? Yes, in space would be the best bet, but otherwise you'd need a vacuum chamber the size of a football stadium!

Then comes the reactor problem... You need a lightweight reactor vessel material that suffers minimal neutron embrittlement and is strong enough to handle an average temperature of 1600+K, with spot temperatures significantly higher. Reinforced carbon-carbon, maybe? Once you have the material, how do you test the reactor? It would be intensely radioactive in operation (no shielding), and would not be shieldable by water. Standard neutron-dampers can't take the heat. Again, you'd really need to test in space. And testing in space is the last thing you want to do!

Granted, most of these issues are engineering or materials science, but you still have to find the political will to launch the beast (not to mention fund it's development in the first place).

Scott said...

@Rick: based on my (very limited) understanding of physics, the hover@idle part of your agrav doesn't work. You'd need to continuously put energy into the engine to lift the craft. The weird part of gravity is that you'd actually need to put less energy into the hover the higher you went.

Tony said...

Scott:

"And testing in space is the last thing you want to do!"

Why not? Send your prototype on a solar escape trajectory and wait until it passes some arbitrary safe point (100k km? Lunar orbit? whatever) before initiating reactor criticality.

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