Sunday, October 26, 2014

Catherine of Lyonesse

Is that a gorgeous cover, or what?

Considering that the book has now been out, in the UK, for about ten weeks, it is high time and then some that I highlighted it here, (But possible good news on my sluggish posting - fingers crossed! - below.)

How it is selling, as yet I have no idea. On Amazon, not very much, but I am told that it is not a "major channel" in British trade publishing sales, and the fact is that a first novel depends heavily on old fashioned sales off the bookstore shelves.

A public acknowledgement and thanks is due - and overdue - to Tamora Pierce, official Friend of this Blog, and the faerie godmother of Catherine over many years. Also to blog reader and occasional commenter Anita, who originally worked out the genealogy at the front of the book. But I assert sole credit for mistakes.

I should also tip my hat to a reader, 'Gracie,' who posted a wonderful reader review at Amazon. Five stars are always wonderful, but her elegant and insightful comments even more so. Courage and panache, indeed!

And also a tip of hat to a couple hundred of Tammy's fans who responded to her wonderiffic Goodreads review by putting CoL on their to-be-read lists.

Finally, I should say that while the ebook version is not currently available in the US (pending a hoped-for US edition), the paperback version can be ordered from anywhere.  :-)

Biochemistry Note

As I've noted here previously, the life sciences tend to get relatively short shrift in space discussions. I rarely remember life support ecology getting anything like the detailed discussion given to shiny stuff like propulsion systems.

But these things matter, as I have been reminded by being diagnosed with diabetes (type 2 - the kind that doesn't require daily insulin), AKA the American disease, the result of a lifetime of bad dietary habits coming back to bite me. I seem to be responding well to treatment, but one effect of the disease, relevant to this blog, is fatigue.

So, as treatment progresses, I hope to overcome that and start posting here more frequently.

And a Return to Space

Those loyal readers who still drop by here from time to time will surely (?) be glad to hear that I have lately been reading and thinking more about space again. I hope to post some of the results here soon. Meanwhile, I encourage everyone to (re)visit the wonderful Atomic Rockets website, which has been greatly expanded over the past few years even as this blog went relatively quiescent. 

Talk to you again soon!


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Elukka said...

Though my recent involvement has mostly been, uh, hijacking the last post's comment thread for a bit, I'm glad to hear the blog might see some more activity in the future. Congrats on the book!

Anonymous said...

Congratulation on publishing a book, something that many people wish to do but never quite get around to it.

Brett said...

Congrats! I kept waiting for the book to come out in the US, but I think I'll just go ahead and get the paperback via Amazon.

Anonymous said...

First, congratulations on the book!
Second, everything from life support to terraforming to alien biology depends on biochemistry! So, yes, a discussion on biochemistry and space are long overdue! I look forward to it!


Anita said...

Thank you for the attagirl, Rick. More soonest.

Jim Baerg said...

So it's not yet available in the US, but is in the UK. What about in Canada?

Thucydides said...

Wonderful news for you, getting published! Congratulations.

Not so wonderful news about your condition. I have heard that restricting carbohydrates is a useful means of controlling this disease, but take the appropriate steps.

Biochemistry is much more difficult and involved than rocketry (there are only about a half dozen essential equations for rockets), which is probably why fewer authors attempt to incorporate more than some handwaving. The only one that comes to mind right now is "Half Past Human" by T.J. Bass.

Hugh said...

Great news on the book! Congratulations.

Not so great on the diabetes, but glad to hear it's not too serious.

If you want some not-so-light reading about biosciences in space in the plausible near future, I suggest Blindsight and Echopraxia by Peter Watts if you haven't already read them.

Locki said...

Congratulations on being published Rick! I'm sure its something many many people intend to do but very few ever achieve.

I'm looking forward to the biochemistry discussions. I think we touched upon this topic briefly in the past when we were all trying to come up with a myriad of novel engineering solutions to microgravity on the human body.

Realistically, this is a problem that may be easier to solve medically rather than with giant centrifuges. It'll also have the added benefit of being potentially lucratively commercial back on terra firma.

jollyreaper said...

Congratulations on the book. I don't know how people manage the long form. Short stories just about kick my butt.

Rick said...

Thank you to everyone for your congratulations on Catherine of Lyonesse, and your best wishes re my health.

On the latter, my blood tests indicate that I am responding well to treatment.

Sooo ... a space post coming soon! Really!

Eth said...

So, finally found the time to finish it. While it is not the kind of novels I generally read, the premises were intriguing. And I have to say, that was not bad at all - particularly for a first novel.
Well, as a native French speaker, a few things made me chuckle, but nothing off-putting.

So congratulations Rick, this looks like a success!

Also, one particular passage felt like there is a hard-SF writer hidden there - not something I expected in a historical romance :)

Geoffrey S H said...

Congratulations on getting the novel out! Sympathies re: you health.

Looks like I have another novel to try in my [non-existent] free time!

Geoffrey S H said...

*sp your

Anita said...

Just stopping by to say congratulations to the ESA for their stunning accomplishment.

Talking about scoring an Expert Marksmanship Medal.

Cordwainer said...

So I'm going to sound like a quack but here is my pet theory about Atlantis along with a tie in to biochemistry.

Atlantis and Tarshish was actually Southern Spain notably the Tages and Andalus regions that are rich in metal and were some of the first areas to cultivate olives. One of their outposts, colonies or trading partners was the Ozieri civilization of Sardinia who called themselves the Phaeacians or something that got interpreted as such by the Greeks. When the Greek and Hebrew traders asked them where their goods came from they were answered with eponyms they used for regions in Southern Spain which were translated into Tarshish, Tartessos and Antlantis. This culture was very old and likely was the progenitor of the Beaker culture and later the Ozieri culture of Sardinia that created the fine vase work styles that were used like amphorae to carry olive oil to new markets and ended up influencing the ceramics of the Aegean. They traded all along the coast of Western Europe, the British Isles and the Western Mediterranean. Later on the Phoenicians took over their colonies in the Mediterranean and are remembered by the folklore of Carthage as an ancestral people in Virgil's Aeneid by Queen Dido.

As to working in the biochemistry angle oils and fats are essential to life. Perhaps the way to combat the effects of low-gravity would be a therapeutic oil like Lorenzo's oil and other dietary treatments that help deal with myelin deficiency. Maybe if you can protect myelination or improve myelination in the human body you could prevent some of the deterioration effects you see in astronauts bones and muscle tissue. Maybe good ole mustard, olive and rapeseed oil could do the trick.

I am sorry to here about your condition, Rick. My mother struggled with diabetes for decades it is not a fun disease. Here's to hoping they can 3D print healthy pancreas cells and graft them like they have with liver cells.

Cordwainer said...

I'm not a doctor but I think a lot of the medical issues related to space travel and colonization of new worlds(at least those within our own solar system) would have to do with effects of lower gravity. Which means if we can't create artificial gravity we need to monkey with the surface tension of our cells. Most of the problems related to gravity our the result of surface tension overcoming gravity in a low gravity environment. Which means that surface tension is actually stronger and more elastic in low gravity not the other way around. This results in enlarged plaque-ing when our skeletons re-mineralize, poor clotting of platelets due to heightened elasticity that keeps clots from forming, increased volatility and drying up of mucus(low gravity also exacerbated humidity control of environments), repositioning of muscles and organs and poor healing of cells from micro-tearing.

We are going to have to figure out a way to control surface tension of the cells that quells kinetic impacts and normal metabolic responses in a way that allows better healing factors in low-gravity. Slowing metabolic factors and increasing receptor pathways and/or cell adhesion seems the most likely course.

Unfortunately this might result in those adapted to low gravity environments to have health problems when they move to higher gravity environments.

Cordwainer said...

It is quite likely that prolonged exposure to low-gravity environments over years would have adverse effects on the body. Even if the human body could adapt it is unlikely that they could safely adapt back to an Earth-like gravitational environment. The longest continuous stay in space was a little over 14 months. Just because a healthy professional astronaut who engaged in regular exercise did not experience permanent health problems does not mean that someone can spend years or decades in a low gravity environment. Furthermore if we do adapt people medically or genetically to such an environment we cannot be sure if this can be undone with ease or without ill effect.

I wonder how this would effect permanent colonization of space. You would likely have those that permanently adapt to low gravity environments along with Earth-siders that work in space for prolonged periods of time through medical aids but return to Earth from time to time for health reasons.

Cordwainer said...

The subject of life support does bring up some minimal needs that have to be met before we could have regular space travel. Those being:

1)Slight advances in current propulsion efficiency and capabilities that would include re-usability or long term usability in space, increased fuel efficiency and decreased flight time. If we are only concerned with the Earth-Moon system or exploring Mars and near asteroids then this would not require a radical shift in propulsion technologies just minor improvements to current technologies.

2)Some kind of medical "silver bullet" for mitigating the effects of low-gravity on the human body to allow comfortable long term living in space.

3)A cheaper lighter(and hopefully cheaper) alternative to radiation shielding than current materials used.

Caveat to point 1 is also the fact that for long term usability in space you will need a means to protect the hull from micrometeorites and possibly reentry or have a hull that is resistant to these problems and is cheap to build and repair.

Although you can probably get away with using expendables for launch needs you will want a certain amount of long term usability for in-space operations.

One solution to this would be to design a true TSTO where the crew/payload module is part of the second stage and does not separate. To solve the issue of long term usability of the hull you could utilize in-space fabrication of cheap multiple stand-off hulls for different tasks that can be snapped on and taken off your transport vehicle as desired.

Your TSTO second stage would launch from Earth with a removable heat shield which could be kept on for reentry when on an LEO mission or swapped out for a radiation shield for missions in deep space. For missions to Mars you would already have a heat shield stored in orbit for Martian reentry. During removal and storage these shields could be inspected and repaired as needed and you could create assembly lines of different hulls for different space environments.

Carla said...

Congratulations on the book, and yes, the cover is gorgeous. (Although a bit surprising considering the imprint calls itself 'Children's Books'!)
Review posted now.
Sorry to hear about the diabetes, and I wish you all the best for successful treatment.

Rick said...

Thank you Carla for the wonderful review!

And another very nice review.

I agree with Anita - bravo zulu to the ESA for landing on a comet. Tough luck that Philae that it ended up in a shady spot, but they got readings from all instruments before the batteries ran down.

Were there any landings on comets in SF? I'm sure there were, but I can't think of one off hand. Of course, in the rocketpunk era it was not clear, IIRC, that comets had any solid lumps big enough to land on.

I agree that low gravity looks to be one of the most serious problems for long term space activity - for which reason spin habs will probably be routine for both ships and stations. And permanent bases - let alone colonies - on low-gravity worlds could be problematic.

Radiation is the other long term bear. The only known protection is shielding, meaning mass and lots of it - expensive getting the mass to where you need it.

Anonymous said...

As to Solar radiation; most of it is charged particles, so a 'simple' fix would be to electify the hull. However,this complicates the construction and you would need a dedicated power system for your antiradiation 'screen'. Extra complexity and the additional mass of the dedicated power system is an added burden, but a little better than a lot of added mass to the hull. Not perfect, but an alternitive worth thinking about.


Thucydides said...

The only book I can think of that involves landing on a coment is "The heart of the comet" by Brin and Benford.

I also believe that 2061 by Arthur C Clarke had HAlley's comet as a major player, but I can't recall the details now.

Anonymous said...

I can't remember exactly, either, but I think that they refueled? If nyone knows for sure, please tell us. It's gonna bug me until I find out...


Anita said...

The Wiki article "2061 (novel)" has a synopsis. Quick and dirty, protags hitchhike onboard Halley.

Cordwainer said...

As to electromagnetic radiation shields you could always combine your system with shadow shielding to reduce the area you need to shield electromagnetically. As for the dedicated power supply you would probably use a ultra-capacitor made from some dense material as part of the hull layer your EM field was protecting and then place plasma or ion rocket engines around that to act as an ACS as well as feed your EM field a plasma feedstock for producing a mini-magnetospheric field for further protective value.

It is too bad about Philae but maybe things will change as the comet gets closer to the Sun.

Looking at atomic rockets and I was woefully surprised at concepts for small arms in space I don't think a gun made to work in vacuum would look or operate anything like conventional firearms. What are your thoughts?

Cordwainer said...

Any small arms used in vacuum is going to have to deal with cook-off and materials expansion due to both violent environmental temperature fluctuations and the fact that while heat produced from firing the weapon is relatively small such firing could create a radical shift in the temperature of the gun from a cold fire mode, if say the gun has been in cold vacuum for a long period.

I'm thinking you would want a bull-barreled smoothbore weapon with perhaps some kind of electric powered heating pad/insulation system like the tech used in a pizza delivery box but wrapped around the guns barrel and receiver. To insulate the bullets against expansion or cook off you would probably use a Dardick style tround or a shotgun style shell with thicker walls. For functional reliability revolver action, bolt action or pump-action style feed mechanisms would be the most likely. To allow for the use of gloved hands trigger mechanisms would like be squeeze or block triggers without trigger guards or with wide open trigger guards.

For pistols you would have to compensate for muzzle flip so something like the Turbiaux Protector palm pistol, or a harmonica gun would tame recoil and be easier to work with gloved hands. Obviously barrel porting would work to, but in a low gravity environment you might need some extreme porting which would give your gun a rather anemic muzzle velocity.

Without atmospheric or severe gravitational drag a gun using duplex or fletchette rounds might make sense and could make up for the low rate of fire from using the above cycling mechanisms. Even the use of multiple barrels wouldn't be as much of an issue in terms of heft in a low gravity environment.

Some type of internal shifting weight system, reversed barrel porting or reciprocating stock might have to be used to tame recoil since this could cause issues with your aim while firing in awkward position while in an EVA environment. You could always build the weapon into the EVA suit if the barrel of the weapon is relatively short or you could build it into your EVA propulsion system. Barrels don't have to be particularly long to give good range in the environment of outer space but a long barrel does help in sighting and aiming. Shoulder arms would likely require additional training to be used properly in space.

Geoffrey S H said...

Spring-fired 'rocket pistols' (so basically modified gyro-jet pistols) might eliminate the recoil...

Concerning artificial gravity, I usually have body preserving drugs being used until some form of 'electronic gravity' is used, no matter how hard the rest of the setting. Rotational gravity just has too many mechanical and mass issues.

Geoffrey S H said...

Oh, and I heard many years ago that some Cambridge Students had created some form of turn-off-and-on radiation 'shield'. Requires active power but still useful. Thought that was a real thing.

Cordwainer said...

The gyrojet had some design flaws in how the rockets were ignited and how the mechanism for loading and unloading was achieved. I imagine these could be solved easily enough but you would still have to stabilize the rockets exhaust to keep the rocket stabilized and on target. Conventional rocket engines have all sorts of guidance related techniques that they use for this but those same techniques would be difficult and expensive to do in miniature. The gyrojet ammunition itself was expensive to manufacture(I believe it was around $13 a round)even with mass production that figure would probably be more than traditional ammos. Also it took about 18 metres for the gyrojet rocket to burn out and reach its top speed. In close combat you don't want your muzzle velocity to be as low as it was with a gyrojet. To fix these issue would probably cost you as much per round as a mid grade model hobby rocket or about $30 to $50 American per round.

While trounds from the manufacturer cost more than traditional ammo one could convert used plastic tround casings to take conventional ammo or buy empty tround cases adapted to take conventional ammo for cheaper. The reason for the manufacturer's ammo costing more was because it was specifically designed for the Dardick pistol which was essentially a prototype that was poorly engineered in some respects. They produced anemic rounds and a striker/firing pin system that wasn't strong enough to reliably fire more conventional ammunition because they didn't want a law suit if it blew up in someone's hands. What someone did to modify the weapon was their own deal right? Weird how the gun laws in the United States are predicated entirely on a persons individual civil rights but take very little account for public safety and health laws. Like alcohol and tobacco, guns are suppose to be controlled items/substances but we sure don't treat guns in the same way as alcohol or tobacco in many cases.

I agree with Geoffrey though when it comes to centrigual/centripetal or "artificial gravity" as having too many mechanical, mass or energy issue to be practical. I think gecko boots that use Van Der Waals forces for adhesion to surfaces would make the most sense, Stanford has already developed gloves that can hold a mans weight on smooth surfaces and DARPA is looking to develop a self cleaning adhesive set for climbing walls that would work on less than smooth or "dirty" surfaces.

I had heard that some advance had been made in magneto-hydrodynamics that allowed one to concentrate or focus magnetic fields in a more uni-directional way that amplifies the strength of the field. They are using to currently to focus gas or plasma torches and exhaust plumes to allow for better heat direction and cooling of the heat pipes used to focus a welding torch or a gas stove heating element. Such a system might be used to concentrate the mini-magnetospheric effect in front of a crew module where the shadow shield offers no protection.

Geoffrey S Hicking. said...

Could such an effect partly replace a shadow shield (therefore preventing the problems of docking nuclear-electric craft as posited by Winchell Chung)?

If so I'd make that suggestion to him.

Cordwainer said...

Might also make a tail sitter re-entry in atmosphere less damaging for SSTO. Although I think this system would still be weight prohibitive compared to other options. Where it shines is in radiation shielding with the crew I think. Magneto-hydrodynamic tuning of exhaust for a craft that doesn't ever land on a planetary surface wouldn't be a problem but for landing purposes you would probably want to make it part of your "nose cone" assembly and use it as a combination heat shield/radiation shield. As radiation shielding for a deep space voyage it would be less weight prohibitive to have it surround the crew pod and combine it with the vehicles ACS. This way you could have a layer of capacitors followed by fuel tanks for the ACS and finally the ACS and Magneto-hydrodynamic field generators all sandwiched around your crew compartment. Of course this creates a problem with nose mounted docking if you chose to put your crew module in the nose but there are ways to probably engineer around that like a dedicated dock boom accessed via a causeway or fill the docking tunnel in the nose with water and then flush the water to a separate holding tank when you dock.

Cordwainer said...

You could also have a nose mounted dock made of a number of retractable pieces that create a solid plug when closed and the extend and expand into a tunnel like space slightly before docking.

Eth said...

I'm not sure why centrifugal gravity would be worse than alternate methods for larger crewed spacecrafts/stations. Those would require more complexity and may not fully replace gravity on the medical side for a long, long time (it might be easy to miss some long term effects).
On the other hand, if you have a large and ponderous enough craft (ideally a station), you "just" have to make it spin, which doesn't require that much energy compared to moving, and probably maintain a few high-complexity elements like the interface to a non-rotating docking port.

What am I missing?

Adapting today's slugthrowers to space would probably be easier than creating whole new weapons, depending on the needs. They would look slightly different (giant scopes if not simply FELIN-like camera-feed HUD), put against the centre of the chest instead of the shoulder...)
If used, hand weapons would probably be used more for security duty, a bit like pistols today. So what duty exactly would also have to be taken into account. Inside plane-like fragile hulls? You want either low-penetration bullets or maybe use something else like a laser or a foam-gun. Shattered Horizon-like assault? Slugthrowers could do the trick, as long as there are no risks of Kessler syndrom. Otherwise, you'll need to be more creative. Lasers again, or maybe some fancy sublimating bullet. Longer-range Moon- or Saturn's Ring-fights? Rockets (including bullet-sized ones) could be a good choice...

Cordwainer said...

Well Eth; for one the complexity of building a non-rotating space dock for your spin hab. You would have to have spinning components in both the station and ship-side docking components to meet up and mate somehow(even if you counter-rotate your docking ring to the habitats spin. Also, consider that most docking procedures already require the two craft to catch up with and mate with one another at fairly high speeds with little margin for error. It's like in-flight refueling except an error when docking could be a lot more disastrous.

Also, weight is always a premium for a space ship even if you are talking about a deep space vehicle that doesn't have to land and take-off from a planet. A large centrifuge is going to require extra weight and mechanical complexity that you don't need. On the subject of complexity you also have to protect a spin habitat from impacts and radiation somehow.

Of course you can always have your ship rotate end over end, but that could take away from your ships ability to effectively accelerate at a constant rate or alter its course while in flight.

You are right that you could utilize conventional slugthrowers with minor modifications like a insulated sheath to keep the weapon from experiencing rapid temperature changes. I think you would want to be able to fire the weapon off center from the body on occasion so a helmet mounted gun would probably be better(its only for really high powered guns with the capability of high rates of fire that you would have to worry about torsional forces throwing of your aim). You would still have to modify the weapon for use with gloves. Pressurized EVA gloves are getting less and less bulky and more manipulative but they are still not the easiest or most dexterous things to use(your almost better off with a pair of waldos).

Rocket ammunition or launchers might be economical for military use but would likely be too expensive for personal self-defense in the hands of civilians. Also, even a cheap artillery rocket does not make for the greatest precision weapon. Even GMLRS requires multiple projectiles an advanced fire control system and scoot and shoot tactics, it isn't a sniper's weapon.

Lasers inside a spaceship are a fire hazard and a blinding hazard in tight spaces. Low penetration bullets are cheaper and more reliable in terms of stopping power. Developing a man-portable laser that doesn't present a blinding hazard(technically you could ignore this if your living in a world where Geneva Conventions have been thrown out the window) and that has the power to burn a hole through an EVA suit would take some doing. At least the bullets will leave bruises.

Cordwainer said...

I imagine a foam gun would be just as dangerous to those getting shot as to the shooter. It's one of those things like chemical weapons that sound great in theory but have a serious risk of fratricide.

Cordwainer said...

On an alternate history not I do wonder what would have happened if Constantine had not been successful in taking over the Western Empire and had not held the Council of Nicaea?

Cordwainer said...

"Note not not."

Cordwainer said...

I am sure we have covered this before but what are everyone's thoughts on post-scarcity societies?

Eth said...

Even with the many engineering problems a rotating module or habitat causes, I'm still not convinced that alternate solutions like 0g-countering medecine is a plausible alternative in the plausible near future, and an outright replacement in the plausible mid-future. NASA seems to take rotating modules seriously for a Mars mission, but who know if and when that will happen.

OTOH, it seems that in the pretty large Skylab (built from a spent Saturn V stage), they had fun running on the ring up to apparent 0.5g without dizziness. Maybe that's the solution? Not rotating the habitat but making people inside it move against it?

Good points about interior laser and foam guns. Depending on the evolution of materials, we could imagine fast-evaporating gels that would still temporarily incapacitate but not pose a longer-term problem, but that's probably pretty far off in the future.
If you want to get nasty, there is also portable particle guns (harder to make than lasers, but we are slowly moving there), but that would probably be forbidden by any civilised organisation.

"On an alternate history not I do wonder what would have happened if Constantine had not been successful in taking over the Western Empire and had not held the Council of Nicaea?"
The problem with this kind of alternate history is that it suffer from the full force of the chaos theory. Given how WWI, for example, begun, and how far-reaching its effect were and still are, it's easy to see realistic alternate histories branching off in many directions.

One constant, I would say, is that the kind of systematic technical development we take for granted actually only happened in Europe - others continents saw great inventions and refinements (some earlier and superior to their European equivalents), and Europe's developments were discovered from elsewhere as well as locally, but it's only in Europe that you can see it in every field, from printing to gunpowder and tactics to mathematics to metallurgy, architecture, physics or astronomy. It also extends to philosophy or, later, economics and social sciences.
And despite setbacks and slowdowns, it's a movement that never completely stopped - and who thrived even in the most prosperous times, contrary to what is often seen in other civilisations, where prosperous, peaceful times were also times of stability but rarely reforms.
Compare, for example, the "Immobile Empire" of XIXe century China, or the similar immobile Aztec or Japanese - the latter which understood the danger soon enough to go for a desperate, do-or-die transformation campaign.
Interestingly, unlike the Greek states, the Roman empire suffered from it as well. They were very good at assimilating what they found, but pretty much invented nothing themselves.

Whether this would still be present in this case is an interesting question, and depends on which factors caused that.
One factor is probably that even at its most peaceful and prosperous times, (like Xe-XIe century?), it was never politically or culturally united, keeping rivalries that made them seek further advancements.
But I doubt this would be enough, as other places in the world were similar, and it didn't have the same effect. In my opinion, which may surprise some, it is actually the Christian influence that was the other factor. There is the obvious one, that they were keeping knowledge and schools during the darker times (which was kickstarted by Charlemagne). But there is also that Christian thought was heavily influenced by the ancient Greeks. The concept of universality brought by monotheism and an absolute God may also have something to do with it, as medieval philosophers were already advocating trying to understand the world and its rules from theological arguments.
In addition, it was probably helped by geography : the Mediterranean Sea was a boon for trade, both between European cultures and others. There were also long trade routes thanks to the Arabs among many others, some going as far as India and China.

Eth said...

About how a sandwitch caused WWI:

Seriously, though, those are pretty good at summing pieces of history up in an engaging manner. So far, they talked about the unfairly ill-known epic tale that were the Punic Wars and the mix of absurd and heartbreaking tragedy that was how WWI was set in motion, and both are really worth the short view time. The one they are making at the moment is about the unification of Japan (think Oda Nobunaga).

Their main channel is about videogames and videogame theory, in particularly game design. If you are interested in the subject, I definitely recommend it as a must-see.

Eth said...

"I am sure we have covered this before but what are everyone's thoughts on post-scarcity societies?"

Actually, I'm not convinced by the concept of post-scarcity as I feel is generally described.

Let's say that things progress and everyone has at least my current standard of living (as a software engineer in a G8 nation).
No food or water problems. No electricity problem. Access to Internet, and let's say everyone has high-speed connections. A personal vehicle that can run for hundreds of km in a day if I want, a net of high-speed mass-transport otherwise.
For someone a century ago, that would pretty much be a post-scarcity society. And depending on your definition of scarcity, it may well be a low-level one.

Still, there are limitations. I have to work 8+ hours a day (I like my job, mind you - that's not the question). I can't buy the last guizmo on a whim. I can't go visit New Zealand every weekend.
But let's assume that a combination of technical, industrial, economic and societal revolutions that managed to let the guillotine rust changed all that. Even if I don't work, society is rich enough to give me subsides and access to the above as "fundamental rights". And if I want to work, it can be part- or fifth-time anyway. Intercontinental travel is so cheap it's nearly free, and so is going to the Moon. Or even the Martian or Venusian colonies, if you don't mind the wait, light-lag and comparatively boring place.

Well, if that's the only change, it's not enough. I can be killed by a robber who wants my cellphone. Or by a suicide attack from Daesh (ISIL) as revenge for the air bombings - counter-terrorists are pretty good here, but there is always a risk. Or I could end up on the wrong end of the Justice system and be unfairly sent to jail - you wouldn't believe how many innocents are in jail here. And you really don't want to be in jail here. Or I could say something that displease the government and the media caste a bit too loudly, and end up under heavy political, judicial and media harassment. Or I could stir an ideological lobby or an Internet hivemind for the same effect.

But then again, assuming it would stay the same is probably mistaken. The problem is, it could very easily become much, much worse. It could be Brave New Worlds or Brazil - those were not post-scarcity societies, but they were a logical conclusion of our society.

Eth said...

Another interesting case is the Haven People's Republic in the Honor Harrington books, where the author sadly misunderstood where the story should have focused. Haven is close to a post-scarcity society. It is functioning with 75% of the population on high governmental subsides. People can quit their job and hardly get a dent in their standard of living. And not only does it runs for decades, but it still have the resources and manpower to invade its neighbours as an ever-expanding empire.
But here's the kicker : Haven got itself in a death spiral. 200 years ago, some demagogue declared that people had a Right to receive ever-increasing subsides. Minimum wages for the jobless to live in decency in a prosperous, bristling economy sounds great, doesn't it? Problem is, said demagogues used the general contentment to monopolize power, forming a closed caste of rulers. But things are working, people are prosperous so who cares?
Well, did you note the "ever-increasing" part? Fast-forward 200 years. People are disinterested in working, and some things still do need people working on them - R&D, for one. Even if we can ignore the others, this one is harder. Also, the demagogues that took power for themselves? As you can guess, they aren't the best as ruling fairly and skilfully. First victim? The school system. In the name of equality, you can't effectively note people - and of course they didn't propose alternate solutions to motivate students. The bad management, rampant ideology, teacher disaffection and ill-formed next-generation teachers will do the rest.
And that many people paid that ever-growing much doing nothing, no matter how vast your reserves are, it will end up emptying them.

Then, you have two solutions.

First, you can invade the neighbours to refill your reserves - officially to liberate them from inequality. The problem is, as you apply your own system to them, your new reserves are dwindling even faster. And at some point, you will run out of neighbours you can beat, and you will have to take on someone that will beat you.

Second, you can try to reform the system. Problem is, you have 75% of the population that is not working. So what are they doing all day?
Because profiting from the finest pleasures money can buy all day is fun for a time, but it can't last. Some people will fell apathetic - the old "all day watching television", or the more recent "no-life" syndromes, for example. But generally, not all. And those people will feel the limits of having, and will want to be doing something instead.
They will want to do something meaningful.

What can they do? Not working is a Right, and I can tell you from experience that when told like that, people will do their best to continue exerting said right. Even more as a job is requiring effort (to learn, to do), and once the novelty effect wore off, we instinctively tend to avoid effort.
Some will still do, of course. Some people want to understand the deepest secrets of the Universe. Others see technical challenges of engineering as the greatest puzzle game ever. Yet others will become artists poor and great, experimenting with fascinating concepts, or driven by a vision that may consume them to the core.
But they won't be the majority. Not when Not Working is a Right.

Eth said...

So what can people do that is no "work" and is not an apparent effort? Well, they get engaged for causes, of course.
And as we can see around us, a few will choose moderate, well-thought causes and try to find reasonable solutions to complex problems. Some others will join the military, for a place to belong - that's pretty childish, actually, but this kind of society is enforcing immaturity anyway - or for the possibility to do something meaningful. But again, the ruler caste is also in the military, and the officer's club is exclusive. And as such, not very competent or well-minded toward the enlisted personnel.
The rest will take on whatever simplistic, vocal cause seem to give a simple answer to the Problems. Yep, just like today's information society.
Think some Internet hiveminds are bad? Well, they can be, particularly when some of them have something like Daesh on the other side of the electrons. Now add more than half of the population with big, big subsides and all the free time in the world. And a post-scarcity industry. And interstellar-level technology. And a ruthless, incompetent ruler caste.

Good luck telling them that their Right to Not Work and be paid more each month has to go. And you can probably guess why Haven has a giant KGB-like police system.

How does it end? In their conquest, Haven runs into a smaller, but militarily more advanced and experienced foe, which even managed to federate its side of the sector against them. Using the fear of a hated, Megacorp Overlord-ruled foe (it's the Haven People's Republic, remember? Those demagogues simply happened to be leaning on that side), they manage to temporarily calm the growing domestic turmoil, but past the initial shock and number advantage, they are losing.
When they will fall, the occupation forces will have no idea how to manage this bizarre mess, and the entire nation will explode in general, violent insurrection - where terrorist groups have access to nuclear weapons, and starship-grade weapons will be available.
And there is nothing they can do to stop it.

In fact, there is one thing one person can do to stop it. It implies single-handedly federating the main opposition groups, infiltrating the state police to the highest level, decapitate the ruling caste and blame the army for it, purge the army from nearly all its officers, stay in power thanks to brutal demagogy, mass trials and even more mass executions in a vicious escalation cycle to keep the people to do the same to him.
And the only excuse he has to push for reforms (that the vast, kinetic Administration is stifling anyway) is the war for their very survival they can not win.

Eth said...

So, here you have it, a epic tragedy about the self-destruction of an entire, world-spanning society, which is not incompatible with post-scarcity.

I'll repeat here, however, what I said in the comments of a previous blog post. While this is actually one of the most heart-wrenching, riveting epic tales I'd read for a long time, it is not what the damn book is about. This is but a tenth of the chapters, and some of what I narrated above, I had to extrapolate from the scant elements that were given.
While the rest of the book is not entirely bad, it was actually what kept me reading, up until the end of the war, where previous elements suddenly click together in one brilliant twist - and most of it happens friggin' off-stage.
So I can't recommend the books. Still, I feel it's an interesting example on the subject.

Eth said...

Now, there is also the Nieven-like post-scarcity society.

Disclaimer, I have yet to read Nieven's Culture books. Yes, I know.

So what I mean there is one specific kind of post-Singularity society.
Superintelligent god-like AIs that, for some reason, feel the need to care with skill for the humans, are pretty much running everything. People are free to do what they want as long as they are not hurting each-other (I guess consensual SM are an exception, and let's let this potential can of worms aside here).

The problem I have with how it often seems presented in SF (and I'm not specifically talking about Nieven's books here) is that people are described as searching for 2 worthy goals in life : science, art and hedonism (though the latter are sometimes mistakenly conflated).
Now, assuming that for some reason the God-like AIs aren't able to do the Science part (or that they simply don't want to ruin the surprise to those cute little humans), that's a bit short.
As detailed above, pure hedonism simply. doesn't. work. That's an illusion that we are going through at teenage years, and that can be hard to shake off in today's world, but most people do in the end. If you've heard of the "forty's mid-life crisis", that's often it: someone is looking back and asking themselves "What have I done with my life so far?" In the end, we discover, the important is not the pleasures we experience but what we do.

Science is a worthy thing to do with one's life, and is the meaning that many people give to their life.
Art is one as well, though keep in mind that art is often a way to put into question something in the society. And when it is not working with (and against) limitations, it will have to self-impose them. And art is not simply doing pretty things (it doesn't even have to be pretty - and God-like AIs would be better at it anyway) but something meaningful for its author.

Eth said...

But some things are missing. People will have philosophical problems : is X is right, how far can I influence someone's will before it becomes contrary to the principle of free will and freedom? Are there cases where it is justified? What meaning is there to life under the guard of God-like AIs? If I don't like it, can I go start again without those AIs? If not, can I commit suicide? If yes, can I let other people set themselves for substandard life and dangers while life under the AIs would be better and more secure?
Those are only the first questions on top of my head, but an entire society would have doubtless far more.

And I don't care if you've heard that "philosophy is dead", now Science is taking it over. That's one the stupidest things you will ever hear from a brilliant mind. You won't find whether it was a right thing to execute Tomoyuki Yamashita by running the LHC.

There is also this "Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions" trope that keeps rearing its ugly head. In the XVIIIe century, already, some people thought that humans would quickly enlighten and let those idiocies behind. Many in the XIXe century expected the XXe century to be the last one with religion. And strangely, despite history proving wrong by example time and again with about zero example and many counter-examples, it survives.
Fundamentally, what is generally put in religion are all the questions about meaning to things in general, starting with the existence of mankind and the Universe - and how it affects us.

Note that science cannot answer that. Science is about answering why things work the way they do, based on postulates (the most fundamental one being, what I am perceiving is in relation to the world, aka "I'm not in the Matrix"). But it always starts from a postulate, and is by nature incapable of unveiling a Prime cause, from which meaning comes from.
Note that "pure random chance" is a meaning, coming from a Prime Cause.
Also note that anyone telling you that Science is backing this one is talking out of faith, not of science. Or, put in another way, they are doing new-colour Creationism.
(It works both ways, of course, and the God in the Gaps is more a placeholder than a true spiritual element. Funnily, I've recently heard that the Pope said something similar - he must be a smart guy)

As you can guess with my tone, this one is especially rubbing me up the wrong way, the same way, say, televangelists may for US residents and for quite similar reasons - Agnostics rarely like getting ill-considered ideology forced down our throats.

The point is that both philosophy and spirituality questions will continue to be asked, and people will continue to search for answers. And while meaningful, interesting answers will come up, it can never be a settled question because everyone can have a different answer, which can then evolve with the person.
Which isn't a bad thing! It's not just the answer that is interesting, it's the question and the process of answering it in a meaningful way for the person.

So entire fields are completely cut out for no valid reason, which is pretty unrealistic - unless we assume that those people have long since stopped being humans. (Yay space elves!)

Eth said...

That said, there are obviously interesting things to be said about such society, be it from a sociologist, futurist or SF writer point of view. In fact, the sample philosophical questions above could be a basis for a few stories by themselves, and that's just scratching the surface.

Interestingly, I remember an Asimov novella attacking the concept before it was even a thing.
It's what would today be described as a post-scarcity future, where everything is controlled by a giant computer with stations all around the globe. People have no more physical needs, and no reasons to do meaningful works as the Computer (I think it was a Multivac story) is taking charge of everything. The main character's job is coming up with maths puzzles for his fellow humans.
After denouncing to the Computer some idiot who wanted to (ineffectually) damage a station, he is ostracised by his friends - while they are powerless against the Computer, they resent it.
I won't spoil the ending for you, but you can already see what it points out. Being in the infantile position of having a God-like AI taking care of us may not be what we want - nor what is good for us.

Eth said...

I'll also note that whoever wants to kickstart a Singularity to create such society is deluding themselves, and playing the sorcerer's apprentice on a global scale. (Yes, I'm conscious of the irony writing that on Blogger.)

A Singularity is, by definition, when the course of technical progress escape human control. So it also escapes whatever humans may try to prevent it to go in wrong directions, and there are no guarantee it won't.
If you end up with God-like AIs, there is no guarantee they will like us. You may have created guardian angels, or you may have created your very own Ctuhlu.

In fact, the dangerous naiveté hardcore Singularists feels like a resurgence of the old theories about the Course of History (that, if you remember, was forever altered by a sandwich), in a fascinating parallel to METI.

And, well, sorry for the thread-bombing...

Eth said...

Note that for all my critics of hedonism, I don't mean to be against research of pleasure itself. Researching the finest pleasures of life isn't a bad thing, far from it. And it can be pretty important for good reasons.
The difference is that it is not the central point of life, and can't be enough in the long term.

Not dissimilar, the overwhelmingly common mistake is to say that the goal in life is happiness. If it was, we would simply drug ourselves to oblivion or cut our brains open - mentally deficient people can be perfectly happy with a plate of noodles.
The reason we don't is the same as above - the end goal is satisfaction, as in having done something meaningful (for oneself).
For an illustration of this mistake, look at Brave New Worlds. The Epsilons are perfectly happy - and that's as literal as it can get. Yet, few beyond the desperate would trade places with them, given the choice.

The funny part is that the central concept of our society is "happiness through pleasure", which manages to be wrong twice in three words - pretty spectacular for a core concept.

Also, one way for people in a God-like AI-ruled society to not give a significant place to philosophy or spirituality is if they pretty much all agree on the answers already. The implications are that it's pretty much a monoculture with emphasis on stability and uniformity. Which may or may not imply important limitation to freedom of thought and speech.
Given that the God-like AIs are doing the heavy work, such a culture would probably not fall prey to the problems historical societies of this type had (inability to evolve and adapt, inevitably ending with the fall or immense transformations when outside pressure becomes too much to bear).
Stability has many advantages, then, but it still is a big trade-off.

Cordwainer said...

I tend to think that there are other solutions than a large rotating habitat would be used for actual space travel. A rotating habitat for a space station makes sense, but I don't think a hamster wheel would be that practical for a spaceship. Other options like exercise, medical aids and smaller centrifuges for exercise and sleeping quarters would make more sense. You could also build a habitat like a pendulum that would be more inline with the vehicles forward motion.

While we cannot say for sure what would happen I think if Constantine had not been successful in taking over the Western Empire and had say died early as a result then the Western Empire would have become more Arian in its Christianity while the Eastern Empire would have developed stronger Gnostic and Neo-Platonic influences. There would have been no Council of Nicaea or Constantinople to condemn Arianism or Nestorianism or to encourage a homo-ousian creed so hetero-ousian creeds with a stronger emphasis on dyophysitism might have taken over in popularity. Without state support of the Nicene Creed then it is likely many different Christian sects would have continued to vie for dominance. In the West Arianism largely dominated the ruling class of the Germanic tribes that took over after the fall of Rome so in this timeline Arianism would have likely dominated(historically there were even a couple of Arian Popes of Rome). In the East the more Roman ruling class would likely fused Neo-Platonism some local brand of Christianity, probably Sabellianism or Nestorianism.

If Islam arose in the Middle East in this timeline then those resulting schools of Christianity in both the East and West would have more in common with Islam that in our timeline and less animosity towards other religious creeds since much of Christianity in this timeline would be a number of mainline churches with limited regional political power and only slight differences in creed or liturgy(since they would all be mostly hetero-ousia in creed). Also, without Constantine's interference then the Visigoths would have taken over the Western Empire sooner thus allowing a more united front against the Huns and the Byzantines. The Byzantines would have given up on the Western Empire sooner which along with alliances with the Visigoths would allowed them to throw of the Huns. This would mean a stronger and more rational Byzantine Empire in the East when faced with the advent of Islam.

Muslims would not have been persecuted and would not have made war with the Christian kingdoms as early. Eventually they would fight but the Byzantines would have likely kept the Levant and Egypt for a longer period of time. Toleration for Muslims and Christians living within their respective empires would have been greater and the Crusades led by Western Christianity would not have happened as soon if not at all.

Cordwainer said...

I imagine Eth that you are right in that technology might not have progressed as quickly in such a timeline but I would posit that the greater access to Greek and Neo-Platonist philosophers in Europe as well as a more politically stable polity would have resulted in a greater development of the university system and a greater respect for Non-Aristotelianism inductive logic and empirical study rather than it's reliance on deductive logic and observation might have resulted in an early Renaissance. After all it was Roger Bosso's conquering of Sicily and the subsequent discovery of a much fuller account of Socrates in Plato's dialogues than what Europe had prior as well as a fuller account of the teachings of Pythagoras and Socrates Geometria that really revolutionized European thought. You also have to take in account the possible greater exchange of ideas and trade in a more stable and peaceful Middle East that this timeline would likely have. Of course this is just one of many timelines that one could imagine to have happened.

As to post-scarcity societies I would thing they would never "truly" exist or come into existence. The social pressures against their existence would to great. The elite in power would either ban or limit the use of the technology that would bring them about to maintain their power or they would retool the education system to increase the value of human capital so that the Right to Not Work individuals would never be in the majority or would only slowly gain a majority over time thus resulting in a society that still values a work ethic but has really only a little utilitarian need for it, but a significant social perception of a need for it(work ethic, et al.).

Cordwainer said...

After all is not society itself a slave to blind imitation?

Thucydides said...

This thread is out of control, but in a really good way! MAybe Rick's next post should simply be a blank page with the date on it....;-)

I will avoid speaking about small arms in Spaaaaaaace! since that should probably be a thread of its own (if not already covered in one of the many Space War posts).

Rotating spacecraft are probably the simplist and most robust solutions to the issue of artificial gravity in space, and if the size is right (and interplanetary ships will be huge) then the shuttle can simply match rotation much like the "Orion" in 2001 during the "Blue Danube" sequence. Even a hamster wheel on a smaller ship seems to be much easier than some of the other possible solutions mooted here.

WRT ancient history, much of the kickstart to European civilization leading to the Renaissance can be traced to scholars fleeing from Bryzantium with their accumulated knowledge and libraries as the Islamic armies closed in. In essance, Ancient Greek knowledge made its way back to Europe, but the culture of Europe was now more open to assimilation of new concepts and more importantly to experimenting with these concepts and looking for new things.

Post scarcity societies will look very different, but perhaps not for the reasons you have been thinking. Politics, as defiend byn Organizational Theory, is a system for allocating scarce resources. If resources are no longer "scarce", then much of what passes for politics is no longer going to be relevant. Bandwidth and time will probably be the only real "bottlenecks", so politics in a post scarcity environment might have more to do with time management (i.e. how do *you* get more time with really important people, for example).

Cordwainer said...

Well, that is a good point about politics being very different in a post-scarcity society(I can't even imagine what it they would be like). Given the nature of Organizational theory as not really being one theory but a group of theories how you actually believe organizations came to be and actually behave is going to color peoples view on how post-modern organizations would adapt to a post-scarcity society. You might actually see the rise of greater localization and wholesale cooperativeness(like cooperative federations) between organizations in a society where resources are more easily available and thus the extent of power and efficiency or economy of directing that power is greater. People being people though I think there will be resistance at first to such adaptation. While I tend to favor consumer driven cooperatives the status quo in society is usually in the form of some kind of production driven cooperative and even if production becomes an easier and nearly labor-less process the blind imitation of following the biases of the past will no doubt influence the future and those that hold the reins of power during the pre-scarcity interregnum to post-scarcity would attempt to hold on to those reins. This is why the anarcho-syndicalism of Proudhon would likely work no better than the anarcho-capitalism of Rothbard. Of course since this is all theoretical musings I'm sure Thucydides could enlighten us as to whether that supposition has any value.

Thucydides said...

3Frankly Cord, your guess is as good as mine.

The only constants that I can see are the issues of time and bandwidth. I suspect that this might work to strengthen "localism" and bind cooperatives of both producers and consumers in regional alliances (not as strange as it sounds, depending on what is being produced or consumed you could conceivably be part of several different cooperatives, and on either side of the fence).

If technologies like 3D printing can supplement mass production, and material science radically reduce the need for exotic and expensive "ingredients" , then location and transportation costs also become far less important in any economy (cities like Detroit grew as industrial centres because of their proximity to raw materials like iron ore and coal, coupled to cheap transportation of bulk materials by lake freighters. If you can "print" a 3D car out of a few ceramic materials, then being on a lake is useful for aesthetics rather than transportation).

We are already seeing some of the effects of gatekeepers trying to close the gates on the Internet (which is the foundational technology of any post scarcity society), and Cord is quite right, the people who benefit from the Status Quo will fight to the last taxpayer to retain their perques and privilege.

If you are serious about bringing on the revolution, then you should probably be learning and investing in techniques which unbind you from centralized systems. Local production of food through "victory gardens", small scale energy production coupled to intensive energy conservation on your part and even entering the "extreme retirement" movement to decrease your dependence on government social welfare systems are all low tech and readily available means to get started. As more and more people get involved, they will personally be living in a very reduced scarcity environment, and developing the skills and social techniques needed for the new age.

Cordwainer said...

Well, I would also think that a post scarcity society is going to be less constrained by convenience, cost, and transportation as you have pointed out. Although, they would still be constrained by those forces to some extent it would really come down to how practical a product or service would be. I would tend to think that this would encourage both producers and consumer supported organizations to bundle services and products together in a more holistic way. In other words the purchase of a product would be centered more around what services are packaged with that product, while services would be packaged with association memberships that offer other services at rebated prices along with the membership fee for the service you are actually interested in.

3D-printing is one of those things that does need regulation not just from a status quo point of view of maintaining private producer centered manufacturing, but because they could cause a great deal of trouble related to the rights of the community versus individual rights and human health and safety. In my opinion the Internet needs to be regulated for the same reason. That does not mean that the policing of such technologies could or should not be done by local communities, in fact I am of the opinion that the more eyes and hands we have in their policement is best.

In our current post-modern world it is really not practical for many to implement extreme retirement, perhaps a post scarcity society would be different by I have a feeling that people would have to pool their resources in some way since industrial and technological progress has a way of inflating costs over just the course of decade much less the course of a lifetime. In other words even if costs in a post scarcity society are low costs will still fluctuate and new products and services that will appeal to people will appear over time and these will not be as cheap or easy to budget when they first roll out. Also if the sale of products and services becomes more bundled and cooperative in nature then people will come to expect more and more from those activities. People love free stuff and by their nature aren't very good at practicing self control. People practice self control when their is fear that the marker will not be stable, a post-scarcity society would appear at least in the moderate term to be more stable than a post-modern one. Although, if Eth is right then sooner or later people such a society would have to pay the piper. I would point out though that if you have a sizable frontier with sizable resources then conquest or reform may not be necessary for a very long time.

Cordwainer said...

I would also point out that as a technology that 3D printing like the cotton gin may not makes us less dependent on large organizations but more dependent.

Also, in a post scarcity world the distinction between what is local and regional and what is part of larger centralized polity becomes fuzzier. This is why I don't even deign to know what the politics in such a society would look like. Maybe, Eth is wrong and the people might actually be less dependent on welfare due to the increase in buying power and better ability to budget due to greater market stability and access to goods and services. If most of the services that governments provide can be provided by local cooperatives in such a society then large centralized governments could become minarchist. Local cooperatives and local government becomes more important and possibly more participative. If that is the case then, Eth may be right and people would likely turn to activism and spend their free time engaged in politics and civil service within their communities. I'm sure this would lead to a lot friction in those communities and between those communities and not the peaceful utopia the many wish for. Needless to say if you can 3D print houses then the litmus for burning them down in protest isn't as great. Larry Niven might be right and we could end up with anarchy parks for people to get out their aggression without causing severe bodily harm.

Eth said...

That's an interesting alt-history analysis you have there, Cord.
I would guess that without a centralised Church, there would be less war conventions and possibly more conflicts - and bloodier ones - due to religious tensions. There could also be interesting things, like if an entire region is won over by Manicheists, those who thought that Man was Evil and as such refused to have children in order to go extinct (amusingly, there are parallels with a few hardcore environmentalists). Historically, they basically lost debates and the movement withered off, but there may not be the case in this scenario.
IIRC, the First Cruisade was declared after some jerk ordered Christian pilgrims massacred, in the (vain) hope that it would unite Christendom against a common foe. Which was half a success, as a major faith was indeed united against a common foe - too bad for them it was Islam.
Without a central Church to declare the first Cruisade, in addition to less tensions between Christians and Muslims, Islam may have become less expansionist and less strongly associated with the Arabs. If an Arab empire emerged, it may have been quite different then; even more so for the Ottoman empire

Byzantine scholars were one of the factors of the Renaissance, but not the only one. Two major factors were the introduction of the Hindu-Arabic numeral system (including the all-important zero) and gunpowder.
Numbers and the zero allowed modern mathematics (Roman numbers are really, really not made for maths) and, by extension, modern sciences.
Gunpowder made (compact, dark) castles obsolete, bringing the adoption of (large, luminous) palaces, with subsequent development in architecture and art. It also partially democratised the battlefield, which is sometimes said to have big effects on the society of its time (a bit like the ancient Greek switching from super-expensive chariots to expensive Hoplites to more egalitarian triremes), but that's rarely told as one of the major factors.
(And, of course, the fact that Europeans were culturally apt to seize the occasions to advance.)

Eth said...

"Politics, as defiend byn Organizational Theory, is a system for allocating scarce resources."

That would be economy politics, but I'd say that politics are more than only that. There are also decisions about what is or isn't allowed, for example, which can be based on ethics in addition to economy. "Should we allow brain uploading?", or "Should we allow the creation of sapient slave races?" cover more than pure resource allocation problems.

About the disappearance of central governments (or equivalent organisation), they could still have their usefulness at this point. They could help create and maintain standards for ease of interaction between small communities (be them legal, technical or moral). They could also tackle mega-engineering, like Dyson spheres, or galactic black hole power generation and distribution.
If there is no FTL, though, such organisation could be very different from what we know today. When borders are at dozens of millennia from one another, there may not even be a core government but an union of smaller equal systems interacting until solutions emerge and propagate - the galactic organisation would be an emerging system, so to speak.

And we'll need someone to blame when some idiot tears an ever-expanding rip through space-time.

Cordwainer said...

Eth said,(And, of course, the fact that Europeans were culturally apt to seize the occasions to advance.)

Well one of the reasons why Europeans were so apt to adopt new things was the fact that Europe was made up of many different polities in competition with one another. In my alternate timeline a fractured and diverse Christianity would take the place of competition between polities and the Eastern and Western Roman Empires would take the place of a centralized church. Yes, there would no doubt be lots of fratricide between different competing Christian groups(as there was historically)but that would be supplemented by a tighter and more secular political control over such groups. Whether the Visigoths would have the skill and organization to replace the Roman Empire in the West is up to debate but the Eastern Empire would no doubt be up to the task. State churches would no doubt develop, they simply would do so later and not be Nicene in nature. Given a much earlier conquering and political consolidation of Rome under Visigoth control and the common enemy in the Huns I think the Visigoths might have developed the necessary organization. The Vandals had a well developed navy so the trade with the Eastern Empire and the Middle East would not have suffered the blow it did during the "Dark Ages". I have no doubt that Eastern knowledge and technology would have made it to Western Europe eventually and probably sooner.

A good point is made about choice politics versus economic politics, though. Would such a timeline provide the forces necessary to adopt certain technologies in a wholesale manner and improve upon them in innovative ways without the constant conflagration of war we saw in our own history of Europe.

Also, I never implied that large federal or central governments would disappear and I agree that they have a very important role in supervising and regulating proper behavior in a society. What I was implying was that community as we view it and government by a centralized organization as we know it could change in some very radical ways. Such federations would likely be more about who you know and have contact with whether face to face or by telecommunication than by who you "live" with in a local community. Most people in the Western nations have no or little contact with their physical neighbors in our post-modern world for instance, nor do people necessarily have strong relationships with those they work with or sadly with their families. The push for community possibly becomes more hedonist with relationships developing more from the fulfillment of consumer based needs and wants.

Cordwainer said...

Oh, by the way Eth what you actually describe as Hedonism is much closer to Epicureanism which is very close to my own philosophical views.

Geoffrey S H said...

So much to comment on!

Another alt hist discussion point. Were it not for the Royal navy in the 18th century insisting that certain diseases be combated (in the face of Galenic experts insisting that it couldn't be done) modern medicine might have turned out somewhat differently.

Also: I know I'm not going to get a chance to post these whilst saying on topic, but I thought I would put them somewhere. These are some sketches for spacecraft (and other things) that I have done over the years (with others stored elsewhere). There are some incorrect details (no propellant tanks worth the name or a shadow shield yet), and the drawings are crude, but nonetheless I wanted to show how Rick's blog has helped me refine ideas over the years.

So consider it an odd form of 'thankyou'. :)

Cordwainer said...

Well, Geoffrey the combat of communicable diseases is a long and laborious one. The British Navy was not the first to institute large scale immunization techniques but were the first in Europe to do so. The Mongols and Han Chinese were the first but their methods were primitive. There is some argument whether the Japanese, Turks and Russians improved upon them and use them to a large scale. The French did improve on them as well as develop anasthetics and sulfa drugs to combat infection but as far as we know they did not use these advancements on a large scale. The British borrowed French advancements and working with Cambridge University and others to actually engaged in a scientific study of the problem employing imperical data gathering and medical experiments that led to advancements in many areas of medicine. The knowledge was their but it took various social pressures and minor incremental advancements in science and technology to bring those discoveries to their modern fruition.

Thucydides said...

Gunpowder democratized the battlefield, but the "Infantry revolution" was already underway by the time effective firearms werein large scale use.

The Infantry Revolution replaced individual, expensively trained and equipped warriors like Knights, Samurai or Jannisaries withblocks of infantry soldiers equipped with weapons that were simple to use (although not necessarily inexpensive). The cost differential of having a large pool of manpower that could be quickly pressed into battle vs a small core of elite warriors was on the side of cheap manpower.

While the Japanese were able to use their unique position as an island nation to eventually ban firearms (after enthusiastically using them to settle the final wave of wars that established the Tokugawa shogunate), the Europeans could never get things like bans on crossbows to stick. By the time firearms were avalable on a large scale, there was centuries of custom to equip the peasantry and yeomen with effective weapons (crossbows and pikes were the most common).

After the battle of Lepanto, the effect was very pronounced: the Ottomans lost tens of thousands of very expensively trained bowmen, and it would take a generation to replace, while the Europeans could muster replacement gunners.

Cordwainer said...

Good point, but the "Infantry Revolution" itself was the product of the politically fractured state of Europe, particularly in the city-states of Italy and the Hanseatic League of Germany. A politically more unified Europe like China and Japan could adopt certain technologies on a slower scale I suspect. Who knows how that would effect the likelihood or level of exploration that we saw with our own Age of Discovery. Who knows the Somali's might still have a trade empire and the Americas might have been settled later. Of course the 600 pound gorilla would be how Europe and the Middle East would deal with the Mongols or if the Mongols would have ever developed an Empire in the first place. If things were more peaceful between Islam and Christendom in the timeline I presented then one would expect the Muslims might have not been worn down or as politically disorganized due to the Crusades and fared better against the Mongols. Similarly the neighboring empires that the Mongols originally faced may have been more economically and militarily successful due to greater stability in Eurasia or they may have become even more idle and overconfident in their wealth and power and fallen to the Mongols earlier.

Cordwainer said...

Perhaps the Jurchen/Jin Empire would have been more successful due to more stable trade with the West and overshadowed the Mongols with an earlier conquering of the Song and Tanguts?

Geoffrey S H said...

Just saw this:

Thucydides said...

Nopt sure how far I want to go down the Alt history road before bringing up culture.

While it is true that Chinese had developed many things before the Europeans (gunpowder, paper money, ocean going ships), you will note they only got "so far" with these inventions. The Europeans appropriated these and many other innovations they encountered and continued to experiment and expand on these ideas in ways their originators never even considered.

While this *could* be considered a result of Europe's fractured political landscape, we should also consider that the very same Europeans didn't react the same way in antiquity or even during the era of Classical civilizations (and the Greeks in particular were about the most "fractious" bunch ever). Whatever the "it" ingredient was, it surfaced after the final collapse of the Western Roman Empire, and led to the modern world we know.

I somehow doubt that if the Res Publica Roma or the Imperium managed to survive, there would be jet airplanes from the Han Dynasty Empire or globe spanning Somali trade networks. There is no historical or cultural evidence that non European cultures would have been capable of implementing the scientific or Industrial revolutions.

Cordwainer said...

Space is a big place so I imagine that history and culture will develop their in much the same way it did on Earth before the Post-Modern Revolution. In other words geography will determine the culture that develops is some way. Gravity, access to resources and proximity to Earth will be some of the factors involved.

You could have a situation where you have semi-permanent workers who are artificially adapted to the environment of space but travel to and fro between Earth and NEO environments(we will call these Earth-Siders). You would then have those who permanently live in space and are so well adapted to their environment that adapting to life on Earth would be difficult and not very healthy for them(Spacers). Both these groups would likely develop organizations to collectively bargain for their worker's rights with businesses and governments back on Earth, but you would also have some Earth born workers who would remain independent as either freelance entrepeneurs or because they are part of groups that governments and businesses feel they need to have tight control over like civil servants or high level business executives.

Environs within NEO would most likely have civil services provided for by their respective governments or by earth based businesses(like in a company town). Most of the actual work force though would be unionized in some way though since working in space would require facing considerable danger, high levels of education and training, a great deal of expense in transportation and living costs and a lot of independent autonomy of action away from the control mechanisms of Earth. If most of your commands are coming via radio or a company foreman that takes at least a couple of weeks to get out to your location and is often times stuck at or near that location for the a long duration then your people are going to get the idea that they can run things how they please and not necessarily how the company wants things done. All of these factors would necessitate some sort of collective bargaining process.

Outside of NEO(Mars and the Asteroid Belt, etc.) more and more tasks would be turned over to the space born and you would likely see many of these communities civil and legal services taken over by the above mentioned collective worker's agencies.(union, guild, employees association). Mars proper itself would likely start out as a secluded frontier that would likely attract political and religious dissenters within Earth's society. People who want to go their own as hermits in other words. It would be a long time before transporting resources from Mars would be profitable in any way. It would probably be easier to mine Phobos for mineral resources than Mars. So the Martian colonists would likely have a long time to themselves to develop their own independent culture(s) and government(s). Once mining operations started to move out the Belt and Phobos though Mars would become a hub for trade to the Miners who would benefit from Martian products that they would otherwise have to send away for from Earth.

Cordwainer said...

In simple terms you could have a authoritarian like government agency or business back on Earth with fascist corporatist ideals. A socialist like group of Spacers vying for dominance within NEO and largely left to their own devices outside of NEO, and a pluralist set of libertarian and weird "anarchist" communities on Mars.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Rick!

I'm working on something at the moment, but it's just for practice: a reimagining (harder sci) version of Saberhagen's Berserker universe.

Take good care of yourself neighbor. If you can post more often, I know we'd all love that. I'll keep checking in every so often.

Eth said...

"Oh, by the way Eth what you actually describe as Hedonism is much closer to Epicureanism which is very close to my own philosophical views."

My knowledge of Epicureanism is not what it should be, and on the ever-growing list of things that I need to study more - so correct me if I'm wrong.

As far as I can tell, there is at least one fundamental difference between Epicureanism and Hedonism: in Epicureanism, pleasure is not expected to work by itself, you have to put effort into "correctly" enjoying it - it is ritualized so to speak. For example, meals are to be taken silently, to better enjoy it. Similarly, Epicure is warning against morbid, destructive pleasures (the obvious one would be drugs) and tells how even a simple slice of bread can (and should) be enjoyed. The logical conclusion is that the Hedonist's pleasure escalation should be avoided.
As such, Epicure isn't simply enjoying pleasure, but gives meaning to (and through) the enjoyment of pleasure and use it to reach for satisfaction, where the Hedonist is flatly trying to reach happiness through raw pleasure - with the escalation it drives.

It seems to me that Epicure was much maligned through Europe's history due to the Church embracing the sort of antagonistic (and IMHO misguided) ideals of Stoicism. Epicure being a proponent of Atheism surely didn't help, though. As such, he was wrongly conflated to Hedonism, despite actually warning against it.

Interestingly, it seems to me that Confucius had relatively similar teachings before them being twisted into later Confucianism, this time by those in power seemingly embracing his teaching instead.

The most important philosopher of Hedonism is probably the Marquis de Sade (who was indeed as horrible a person as you may have heard, if not worse).
Important points in his work are that he was happy to be born on the powerful's side so he could abuse the weak, and that he wanted absolute freedom (from religion, secular law, family, and finally any form of morale) through gleefully violent means if necessary, as no rule should hinder the search for pleasure. Then let this freedom enforce Might makes Right - describing himself as one of the "wolves", where wolves would prey on weak, easier sheep instead of each-other.
Parallels between this call for absolute freedom and the position of some Ultraliberals ("In the name of Freedom, stop meddling with our business; enforcing regulations is against Freedom!") who are growing as our society is increasingly consumerist. Separating the chicken from the egg may be complicated, but this is probably not random chance.

Eth said...

"I'm working on something at the moment, but it's just for practice: a reimagining (harder sci) version of Saberhagen's Berserker universe."

I've heard a few praises for the Berserkers, but not much else. How does it hold up? And what is the "feel" of it (themes, ambience, emphasis on which parts, SF hardness...)? Would you recommend to pick it up?

The "life-destroying death machines from the dawn of times" make me think of the more recent Inhibitors series, which is pretty hard-SF. It is sometimes quite flawed, but all around a good (if a bit depressing) read. And as far as crushing threats go, the Inhibitors themselves are a pretty great example.

Cordwainer said...

If your looking for a good philosopher to read and you haven't already then I would suggest David Hume or Jose Ortega y Gasset. While I disagree with some of their conclusions I think their understanding of human motivations and their metaphysics regarding logic and the human psyche are quite profound.

Cordwainer said...

Getting back to the subject of bioengineering I do wonder about the possibility of humans bioengineering or surgically altering themselves to be more efficient organisms. It wouldn't be that difficult to make people more efficient in their water and food intake or their pedal locomotion. Such modifications might be useful for the settlement of outer space and would make environmentalists happy.

Also, fire is going to be a big hazard aboard a spaceship, particularly a warship. What is everyone's thoughts on designs to prevent fire and fire damage?

Thucydides said...

The "geography" of space can be sliced and diced in many ways.

My preferred version is a "Solar" economy from Mercury to Cis Lunar space, with energy exports via high energy lasers to Mars and the Asteroid belt.

Jupiter is a self contained economic unit, harvesting material from the plethora of moons and other bodies in orbit and capturing energy from the vast magnetosphere surrounding the planet (think of the "flux tube" that Io creates by orbiting inside the magnetosphere)

Saturn and the Ice Giants are a separate 3He powered economy, separated from the other two economies by great gulfs of distance, and (at least initially) time due to lightspeed lag and the long time for vessels transiting to and from the inner Solar System.

Other metrics can be used to create your own "geography", so it will be interesting to see what other ideas are out there.

Cordwainer said...

Not to wrangle your philosophical hide Eth, but I think you but from your philosophical arguments regarding spirituality and morality it seems as if you are putting science aside from philosophy and religion when it should probably be an integral part or those concepts and institutions within society. A society that functions reliably is one that creates a consensus between those institutions not conflict. Whether the ideology that fosters that consensus is erroneous, ill conceived or flawed does not matter. It is what people do with that ideology for the greater good that matters. All societies are based on half-truths and lies, some are just more palatable for those who possess reason than others.

As to the geography of space Thucydides I would include Mercury, Apollo asteroids and other sunward objects in the near-earth-orbit economy but I believe those objects won't be exploited right away. Due to some of those objects eccentric orbits and the draw of the vast resources of the asteroids within the asteroid belt proper I expect that those sunward objects would get exploited and colonized around the same time as mining efforts are made on Phobos and the Belt. Travel to Phobos, Mars and the Belt would take longer and have fewer promising orbital windows than travel to sunward objects which would mean that sunward objects would be easier for governments back on Earth to maintain a degree of political control over while objects out towards Mars and further would have greater political and economic freedom and have to be more self-sufficient.

Cordwainer said...

As for Jupiter and Saturn I would think they would only get settled once the Mars-Belt system becomes to populated to maintain that population comfortably. Resources will be more than sufficient it will be a lack of elbow room and social freedoms that will push people out to Jupiter's Moons at first. There is sufficient metals to be mined in the belt for centuries if not thousands of years. More that sufficient water for drinking and providing air to. Mars will act as a bread-basket to feed the growing population in the belt for centuries as well and the wealth that governments and individuals in the Belt will hold would likely make the importation of food and necessities from Earth quite accessible. This is not to say that colonization of Jupiter and Saturn's moons will necessarily be a long, long way off. Just a couple of generations of asteroid miners packed into small space habitats like sardines would likely be more than enough push force to make their grandkids want to go voor-trekking.

Thucydides said...

In terms of "Space Geography", I would suspect that anyplace that can supply its own energy and life support materials (Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen) will become essentially independent of the Earth's polities. The distance will be so great that the Earth Police, Space Navy or Political Commissars will have a hard time maintaining any sort of effective control, and if the place is self sustaining, then the amount of leverage available will be reduced as well. This is not to say that these colonies might not still choose to be in someone political orbit for trade or defense purposes, the issue here is can they remain part of a voluntary federation, or will the central polity attempt to reign them in like Athens tried with the Delian League (until most of her colonies abandoned their attachments to Athens).

One other factor that I have considered as a possible basis for a "universe" is that any place that can act as a source of these materials for one can become a source for all. If a NEO or the Planet Mercury were to offer to sell energy of liquid water for an agreeable price to all comers, then they would have leverage to play various sides against each other.

A Chinese expeditionary force might discover that their attempt to take over an asteroid is drawing a negative response from the USSN, the EU and Brazilian Space Force, not to mention the ire of the Belters, and the Chinese government will discover that getting material from other asteroids will become hideously expensive (if not downright impossible; not only will the asteroids refuse to sell to any Chinese ship, but the various other Space Forces will combine to enforce the embargo).

Timelines will also be interesting. From a straight physics sort of perspective the farther away destinations might be last to be colonized, but social, economic, political or religious pressures might drive some people to strike out for deep space far earlier than most people would assume. Of course a colony striking out for the Kruiper Belt or Neptune in the late 2100's might end up more like Viking settlement in "Vineland" (at the very thin edge of possibility), but who knows what the specific motivations might be?

Cordwainer said...

Well all systems of government, even autocratic ones are in some way voluntary(Vichy France, Nazi Germany for instance had it's share of sympathizers while the majority went along for the ride either out of fear or for economic and political gain).

The issue is that those areas where goods from Earth can be acquired easily will have a greater likelihood of maintaining an alliance with polities on Earth even if it is merely lip service and whether or not they have access to adequate resources to make them self-sufficient. Also communities don't just grow up overnight they require a great deal of investment from other communities around them and the acceptance of some common culture to base their legal, economic and ethical systems on. I have no doubt the space colonists will identify with their parent polities long after those polities have any real significance or control over their lives.

The vast distances in space and the multicultural draw for it's resources will no doubt result in a loose leash mentality on the part of Earth polities. It will no doubt be business and labor interests who will fill the gap as they have in remote areas of the world in the past(Cattle Wars, Railroads, Company Towns in the Old West for instance).

Eth said...

"Not to wrangle your philosophical hide Eth, but I think you but from your philosophical arguments regarding spirituality and morality it seems as if you are putting science aside from philosophy and religion when it should probably be an integral part or those concepts and institutions within society."

I'm not exactly putting it aside, it's more that in this argument, it wasn't the main element IMHO.
Science is an extremely powerful and generalist tool, and one that is necessary (in one form or another) for the society to adapt and evolve, in particular. The obvious historical counter-examples are societies where moral or spiritual norms ran against it, forcing the society to stagnate; or when it prevents valuable technical developments and drives poor, uninformed choices based on warped knowledge.
Inversely, a common mistake of today, it seems to me, is to believe that science (or rather, Science) is an universal tool, which it isn't. That's actually something that was understood by some as early as the fifteen century (Rabelais : "science without conscience is but ruin of the soul"), which was unfortunately proved right. Asimov called the creation of WWI poison gas the "Sin of the Scientist" (as cited by Atomic Rocket) - what happens when science stops playing nice with the others.
Similarly, some people try to use Science to prove things from outside of it (e.g. their beliefs) : instead of using science to search for conclusion, they use faith to find conclusions (which is fine) and then try to justify them with science (which is not). The most vocal ones can be found among Creationists and Antitheists. They will maintain that they are actually using Science to prove their point, so it also counts as a "when all you got is a hammer" case.
Or the extreme case, when some people announce that Philosophy is dead, now that there is Science!, which is a case of "when you got a hammer, who needs screwdrivers anyway?"
So I agree with you that science is a capital element in any modern society - which, like the others, one that can be misused. But then again, as a SF fan, what else could I say? :)

"All societies are based on half-truths and lies"
I'll simply say that it is a bit of an oversimplification, if also a virtually universal pitfall. Going into further detail would require discussing about the nature of truth, reality, objectivity, subjectivity and probably a few more cans of worms...

Eth said...

"As for Jupiter and Saturn I would think they would only get settled once the Mars-Belt system becomes to populated to maintain that population comfortably."

Do you mean socially? Resource-wise and geographically, there is plenty to go.
But wouldn't you expect lots of at least relatively autonomous pebble-states? Again, given the size, relative spareness and plentifulness or available resources, shouldn't they have a long way before them as far as social or political elbow room is concerned?
OTOH, I can see the relative proximity of Terra and Mars as well as faster ships reduce distances to a point where people may want to go to the outer System, maybe even the Kuiper belt and later the Oort cloud.

Also, about future population, it may be far less populated than today's Earth, especially human future extends for a really long time.
(Now this reasoning has a name, but I couldn't remember it)
Let's assume that we could have been any human in the past, present or future history of Mankind - a variant of the Copernican principle. Taking only the past and present, we note that living today is more probable than any other time period, as we are far more numerous today.
Inversely, given that we are living today, it is possible to calculate probabilities of how many humans are yet to be born. If we are at the "median" of Mankind, it means about a hundred billion humans are yet to come (rough estimates, it's the order that is interesting). If we are at the first percentile, it means ten trillion humans are yet to come.
Each percentile is equally probable due to our postulate, but each percentile doesn't represent a linear variation of how many people are yet to come.

You can see the function here (feel free to correct my mistakes):

Arrogantly assuming that I didn't make mistake there, you will note that there is only 10% chances that there are a trillion humans or more to come.
It means that if growth rate doesn't invert soon, Mankind probably has few centuries to live. I personally don't see likely events that could truly wipe Mankind out at such middle term. So the conclusion is that, assuming Mankind is there to stay (and probably turn upward at some point), then we may be at one of the most populous periods of History, both past and future.

Eth said...

Now, this argument doesn't take all into account.
First, improbable doesn't mean impossible (if only because for our ancestors, Mankind lasting so far was extremely improbable, according to this argument), particularly with relatively high 1% or 10% probabilities.
Second, the base postulate can be attacked. For example, if impending destruction is coming (say a stray planet on collision course), then this argument won't hold against the evidence of near extinction.

Also, it should be remembered that future humans may be far, far more long-lived than today. Some people are militating for the "Millenial Human" even today, and putting lots of money to try and make it less improbable for us to live it. In the PMF, living for centuries may be the norm (at least for some).
So even with low birth rate, it is still possible to have a large population even by today's standards.

Finally, this is assuming that all humans are equals. Mankind's heirs may not all be humans - between AI, uplifted animals, artificial sapient beings, heavily modified humans and probably things we aren't imagining yet, those may throw this model around.
It may still be used for baseline humans, though.

Cordwainer said...

I was talking about social comfort not resource comfort. Germans and Swedes immigrated from their countries during their "Golden Period" economically speaking. It was a combination of the draw of new opportunities to the youth and a lack of opportunity for those in the lower class that led to this immigration. The reality is that their has never been just three classes in post modern societies we still live with a largely feudal system of 4 to 6 socioeconomic classes. These are the dependent class, the working class, the intelligentsia or skilled working class, the gentry or management class and the elite class. It is the working and skilled classes within a society that get pinched by economic and technological change the most which unfortunately means they have to seek new job markets to stay relevant.

If we are talking about pebble states then this is even more relevant because the populations and access to new opportunities are small. German settlers East of the Rhine had barely populated Germany during the 12th and 13th centuries when they started to trek out to Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic States.

People are living longer and their reproduction cycles are becoming more extended. That means that even in an industrialized society where populations are low due to a greater need for educational investment you are going to have enormous pressure on the youth to support those who enter into old age and a great deal of competition between those in their peer group and with middle aged workers who are more experienced in the same fields. In other words as population levels fall and technology increases we will likely see a reverse of ageism within the workplace with older workers becoming more and more valuable and less and less opportunities for the young.

There is nothing wrong with your calculation except that the evidence for total population in the past is something of an estimate and therefore your utilizing and unknown to find an unknown, so their is a wide margin of error 1% to 10% is a factor of 10. Also the base postulate that an extinction event could happen is fairly high since there is evidence of at least one if not two population bottlenecks within our species of hominin(homo sapiens sapiens).

Cordwainer said...

As to whether philosophy is dead and on the nature of science as a generalist tool I would defend the position the philosophy is not dead and that science is a very exact tool that can be easily mishandled by fallible, biased and subjective humans. The fault is not in the stars, but in ourselves.

I would also point out that reality of relationships to each other when studying moral philosophy IS! a can of worms! Human beings are not of one type or philosophy many different philosophical beliefs are held and utilized within society and at their best most societies(at least the ones that function well) tend to dwell between some form of moral relativism with normative relationships and some form of moral universalism that is value pluralist. Moral absolutism is a fraud created defined by moral hypocrites like Emmanuel Cunt(hmm! I mean Kant)

Cordwainer said...

I don't have a problem with moral universalism because it is not always value monist and as a philosophy is capable of drawing value pluralist of value preferences. There is enough sand in the oyster to forgive those who know not what they do. As to moral relativism as a philosophy I have no problem with the entire branch(even moral nihilism) from a theoretical or clinical discussion. I do have a problem with it as functioning philosophy if it does not draw normative or prescriptive conclusions regarding preferred behavior. Personally, I think science is a great tool for drawing such conclusions if it is used correctly, Eth.

Cordwainer said...

Understand that I don't call people hypocrites lightly. My definition of hypocrisy is not the same as Merriam-Webster's. If hypocrisy were simply believing in a standard of behavior that you yourself are unwilling to follow then we would all be hypocrites. Hypocrisy to me is believing in a standard of human behavior that people are incapable of following and that does not allow for human error or vice. It is better to show the wrongdoer the err of their ways and teach them virtue then to hold oneself above them and punish the evildoer.

That is the difference between theoretical moral philosophy and practical ethical philosophy.
Morals are the ideals we believe in, ethics are the real world work-arounds that we use to mesh those beliefs with the reality of the world and relationships we have with it.

"All societies are based on half-truths and lies", may well be an oversimplification but I don't think we know enough about human behavior and the "science" behind it yet to truly say we have discovered all the philosophical "truths" in the universe. Which is why philosophy is far from dead but if anything is happening upon and age of imperical discovery where psychology, sociology, anthropology, neurology and genetics among other sciences can give us great insight into a philosophy that is truly practical and useful to the human animal.

Cordwainer said...

Also for all the moral nihilists and Karl Popper fans out there I would make the point that if all inferences are ego based and suffer from testing bias then you cannot make an argument for anything and are left in a moral limbo. For societies to function you need to make inferences that you can draw normative or "natural kind" relationships with. So even if your inference has bias it is better to work from a biased or false opinion then to have no basis to make decisions. Decisions have to be made, actions have to done. It is better do something than to do nothing. Which is why I can't for certain make a reasoned argument that society is not based on lies and half truths, but the heart of the matter for me is that people have to follow something that gives there lives meaning and virtue or life is neither very rewarding or meaningful.

Cordwainer said...

They found another methane spike on Mars. Hmm! I wonder if they find hydrocarbons as well as opals and gemstones on Mars if that would be sufficient draw to import such items from Mars. While natural diamonds are not rare they are treasured for their size and uniqueness(low gravity could make for large gemstones). Opals are extremely rare and could have formed in Mars watery past. If you have methane or more complex hydrocarbons then you don't have to bring complex equipment with you to extract and reform rocket fuel.

Thucydides said...

The problem with "mining" methane on Mars is we have no idea of the source, the concentration, purity etc. A lot of detailed prospecting, analysis and engineering work needs to be done IOT extract natural methane deposits on Mars (although the plus side is you would learn a huge amount about Mars doing so).

From a practical perspective, using the sort of "gaslight" technology that Robert Zubrin pioneered with Mars Direct allows you to get known quantities and qualities of methane fuel right where you need it. I would want to use a known quality before striking out to find an unknown (so you will need methane reformulators in order to "wildcat" for methane deposits, a nice irony, I think....)

Eth said...

Good points about immigration. With enough technical and industrial resources so colonisation is not reserved to Great Power flagship efforts (anymore), I can see things turning the way you describe them.
I wouldn't call the current system "feudal", though, as for me it means a particular political system whose most well-known example was during the high middle-age - but that's semantics.

For how many people may be left, what is interesting is more the magnitude than the exact numbers IMHO. Even if the numbers for 1% or 10% are one order of magnitude more or less, it doesn't change the fact that, all things being equal, the most probable would still be that our current explosive growth rate will end 'soon', one way or another.
Even if, again, I found this argument interesting but it is to be taken with a grain of salt.

This definition of hypocrisy isn't one I commonly hear, though I can see where it would come from. However, I would argue that people like Kant weren't hypocrites as much as they really thought that people could do that, and then that the world would be a better place for it. Which is crazy, but that's precisely the problem with them IMHO : it is a form of craziness. (I'm not a specialist, but it looks like a form of paranoia.)
AFAICT, Kant really applied what he devised (and is said to have lived a joyless life with utterly unmovable daily habits - probably not a coincidence). For a more extreme case, Robespierre was also utterly incorruptible - and when the Parliment (was) turned against him, he instantly refused Saint-Just's proposition to stay in power through military force. That would have been un-Republican.
So I wouldn't say 'hypocrites' as much as 'insane', as they already applied to themselves what they asked to others. It doesn't make them any less wrong in those two cases, though.
That said, such insanity isn't always incompatible with hypocrisy, for those who don't actually apply it themselves.

About moral nihilism, I think you hit the nail on the head.
A common set of moral rules is necessary for society to work, even if some may appear arbitrary from an outside perspective. It doesn't mean that all moral rules are or have to be arbitrary, of course, and we often try to justify rules, both existing and proposed changes. It can be based on efficiency (survival for extreme cases), to have it match the individuals' ethical positions, to keep it self-consistent...
To rip an example from the headlines, the use of torture is attacked as immoral because, depending the person, it is useless as an information gathering tool (as opposed to a terror weapon), because it is bad from a personal ethical point of view, because it is incoherent as the goal is precisely to fight against people using such methods, or both.
Interestingly, it can work the other way around. The most obvious example is a religion being transformed ('warped', would say some) to justify moral stances - which can be particularly cringe-worthy when said moral stance is otherwise unjustifiable.

Cordwainer said...

Agreed, modern class stratification is more High Middle Ages. Since we don't really have a lower class that is composed of a are majority of serfs and slaves, and the yeomanry and gentry classes didn't really become common until the 13th and 14th centuries and did not gain the political power they have today until the late 14th and early 15th centuries in Western Europe(Later in Eastern Europe and Russia).

I do agree that fanatical idealism is a form of control disorder similar to paranoia, but that does not mean people can't have idealist positions and be perfectly sane and not fanatical. It merely means that they have to change there Most Honest Opinion to a Most Humble Opinion and realize that is their opinion and just an opinion not necessarily a fact. Even if you can make a factual case for a moral absolute that absolute is really only as "true" as it is accepted by those that follow it. Anything that one can have a contrary opinion on or a value preference for is essentially non-arguable. Which is why I can't entirely disagree with the idea that all "arguments" are biased and influenced by human ego in some way. That does not change the fact though that some inferences are physically true. You can argue that the Sun doesn't set in the West because "west" is an arbitrary direction defined by a persons relation to their position on the Earth and would have no context without the Earth's magnetic field or the science of geography and understanding of the observer's perspective when viewing the motion of the Earth in relation to the Sun. But, such an argument would be an exercise in sophistry.

Eth said...

Zurbin's proposal reads like a good starting point for Mars. On longer term, is there a source of hydrogen to make the model sustainable? Otherwise, early Mars bases could be dependent on hydrogen import until they start their own mining and refineries.

Gemstones aren't a Mars resource I remember hearing about, but it may be a good one. If rare on Earth (and asteroids) and with interesting properties, abundant space travel could make their exportation profitable thanks to the high value to mass and, more importantly, a demand that is higher than what is available on Earth alone - as long as artificial gemstones don't become more interesting, at least. But then, Mars may be developed enough to have its own economy.

Here :
the author is working with making Titan a resource colony. The postulate is that hydrocarbons will still be useful in the future, particularly as the industry didn't spend enough efforts in switching models anyway, so with large, cheap(ish) tankers, it is viable to mine Titan, which literally has oceans of the stuff.
Interesting things happen when energy-rich, independent Jupiter enters conjunction between Terra and Saturn.
I'm not quite convinced that by the time there is such space infrastructure, Terra still needs it that much, but it's an interesting path nonetheless.

Thucydides said...

The most obvious source of Hydrogen for any Martian expedition would be any water or ice that could be found and extracted from the Martian soil or atmosphere.

Much like the idea of extracting methane deposits from Mars, trying to extract native water from Mars also needs careful planning, exploration and prospecting, so the initial wave of exploration will need to import Hydrogen.

Still, Zubrin's calculations show that you still save a huge amount of time, mass and money by extracting *some* of what you need locally, so even importing hydrogen still puts you farther ahead.

Cordwainer said...

I think it would be better to use a Mars For Less or Earth Departure Stage system to deliver hydrogen peroxide to the surface of Mars rather than use in-situ resource utilization at first.

Once you get the return fueling stages away then you launch a Mars To Stay mission and a Mars to Return mission using Space-X's Heavy Lift capabilities.

The Mars To Stay modules would be built around the Mars Oz architecture and would include a fuel plant for resource utilization and a large horizontally landed bent biconic habitat module.

A Mars Direct "Express" Dragon module would be used in the Mars to Return module and would be used to deliver and return crew rotations to Mars as well as return samples.

Hydrogen peroxide deliveries could be broken down in various methods to produce water, oxygen and hydrogen for the colonists and in a pinch could be used as a fuel for an escape launch from Mars gravity if you needed to.

Basically you would send 4 crew with the Mars to Stay mission along with an additional Mars Return launch utilizing two Space-X Dragon capsules(one manned and one unmanned). The manned Dragon would have a two man crew and a small cargo bay for necessities and utilize hydrolox propulsion solely. The unmanned Dragon capsule would have a smaller crew and cargo bay with extra fuel tanks for hypergolic fuels. It would also have a bimodal hydrolox and some form of hypergolic propulsion system developed from the use or decomposition of hydrogen peroxide and ammonia and nitrogenous wastes from the astronauts. This way you have plenty of redundancy for an emergency return if your Sabatier reformer breaks down or can't provide sufficient hydrogen volume in time to make a return flight.

Thucydides said...

While using H2O2 is probably better in terms of materials handling (deep cyrogens like L2 are murder to deal with over long periods of time, seeping through the pores in the metal, embrittling the metallic parts, needing heavy insulation and refrigeration etc.), it really only adds to the overall complexity of Mars Direct (you now have to extract the Hydrogen from the H2O2 before making Methane fuel. There might be direct conversion schemes, but I don't have the chemistry to figure that out.

The beauty of Mars Direct is that the return stage is automatically fuelled and checked out before the manned ship(s) ever get launched. If the stage fails, then another return module is sent to Mars and you wait two years for a favourable conjunction top try again.

Or you could wait for this guy instead:

Cordwainer said...

H202 has been stored safely in orbit as part of satellite propulsion systems for years before. While it is highly reactive that is the beauty of using it as a storage medium for both energy and oxygen as well as hydrogen rocket fuel. Also, the hydrogen peroxide could be stored in as hydrogen peroxide-urea crystal(like the ones dentists use to white teeth). Reduces it to a solid and you just add water to get hydrogen peroxide. Send it as a solid with the necessary amount of potassium permanganate to extract water and oxygen like in early Air Independent Propulsion for submarines. The reaction creates steam for electrical and mechanical power, water for drinking and oxygen for breathing. You could launch it cheaply to Mars using conventional medium payload rockets for relatively cheap.

Using Sabatier process on the atmosphere would not be the most efficient in terms of throughput, you would be better off cooking the constituent elements out of the soil and then running them through a nickel or alumina catalyst at high pressure.

Thucydides said...

The primary driver in Mars Direct is to make things as light, simple and robust as possible. This means making quite a few compromises and some judgement calls. Getting a machine to dig soil, sift the soil and process it to feed into the "oven" and then carry out a chemical reaction on an essentially unknown solid seems to be much more difficult overall than the process Zubrin championed, which uses a well known reaction (based on gaslight era technology) and simply needs to have the local atmosphere piped in, then mixed with a known quantity of Hydrogen and energy to work.

If you are not bringing an engineer along to supervise the process then I think I would stick with Zubrin's ideas. IF there is a similar process using H2O2 and atmospheric CO2, then we can eliminate the cryogenic Hydrogen and perhaps save some headaches.

Anthony Zuppero makes a similar argument on his NOEFuel page, suggesting we ignore the splitting of asteroidal water into hydrogen and Oxygen then using the H2 as remass for efficient NTR's, and simply using asteroidal water directly as remass in inefficient "steam" NTR rockets.

A vast amount of massive and expensive equipment is eliminated, and this makes steam rockets much more reliable, economical and competitive in terms of costs when delivering bulk materials from the asteroids back to market.

An added bonus. for fans of laser driven rockets here is a link to some high speed film of lasers striking water droplets:

Rick said...

Happy New Year!

And yikes - what an amazing thread! I'm hopelessly far behind on most of this discussion, so I'll just hit on a couple of earlier space-related points:

Electromagnetic shielding. I think some physics mavens once discussed this at SFConsim-l, and the results were fairly sobering. Such as that it would require a loop on order of a km in radius, and pumped up with a few terajoules of energy. Pretty demanding requirements, broadly on a level with torch drive technology.

Spin gravity. There are uncertainties about what the minimum radius and max rpm would be for human comfort, but for the plausible midfuture it still seems much the best solution for long mission times. Milligee drives would not interfere with spin, and in most cases you could spin the entire spacecraft, avoiding a permanent rotating connection. Solar electric drive, though, would pose a problem.

Geoffrey S H said...

@ Rick:

" would require a loop on order of a km in radius, and pumped up with a few terajoules of energy. Pretty demanding requirements, broadly on a level with torch drive technology."

That might be sobering to a NASA scientist trying to use the technology now, but to anyone writing a future history it is actually pretty useful.

A few watertanks to hide behind in the first primitive craft would be replaced by a small storm shelter. Then perhaps a larger room followed by each living-cabin being lined with water to form its own individual shelter. Follow that up with an EM shielded torch-drive craft with much of the hull also shielded by water and you've got a nice technological progression right there. Hopefully not too fanciful.

Cordwainer said...

Geofrey, why so much water? Unless your using it for reaction mass or building a generation ship your crew aren't going to need that much and there are plenty of lighter materials that can be used for radiation shielding.

As for water storage I would prefer storage of hydrogen peroxide urea crystals over water. Reclaim water from urine and feces and mix with the crystals to release free hydrogen peroxide then divert some of the H2O2 to sanitize stored feces(which in turn can be used as radiation shielding). The rest of the hydrogen peroxide can be run through a potassium permangate catalyst to produce oxygen and steam. You use the steam to produce electricity to power any of the pumping involved in your waste disposal system and then condense the steam into water which gets run through a filter for drinking water. This allows you to get more water then reclamation alone and combines a lot of necessary elements you would need for waste disposal, radiation shielding, water and oxygen storage into one system.

Thucydides said...

The size of any electromagnetic shielding will depend a lot on what you are shielding against. Giant devices measuring kilometres in diameter and consuming terra watts of energy seem to be designed for worst case scenarios (an Island 3 habitat orbiting Jupiter, perhaps?).

Or maybe not. Marshal Savage's book "The Millenial Project" was built around an unvarying assumption that in free space there was a need for a watershed 5 metres thick to stop cosmic radiation, as well as providing the sort of shielding needed to protect against violent solar storms.

In terms of actual space hardware, I advocate for passive shielding for the simple reason that anything that can go worn will go wrong. Wrangling the sort of machinery needed to energize kilometre sized loops of superconductors with terrawatts of energy is just screaming for trouble to come find you, while a hull overlain with slag from asteroidal mining or a giant tank of water has far fewer failure modes to contend with. At the sort of size and scale we are looking at, active radiation shields would probably mass as much as passive shields anyway, so we are not really losing anything by going along the passive route.

Cordwainer said...

Waste water from non-potable sources for bathing would get pipe to the now dehydrated feces to form a light weight sludge that gets pumped into a reservoir that conforms around the crew habitat. You would place some salt water tanks around the habitat as well and use the salt water for non-potable uses. Storage tanks and plumbing for all the aforementioned stuff would be made from polypropylene or graded-Z shielding. Some onboard refreshments would be stored as well in the galley along with various flavor enhancers(dehydrated tea, coffee and juice) for the crews dining pleasure.

Cordwainer said...

Why salt water? Because your astronauts will also need an easily accessible source of salt. Desalinate some of the salt water into drinking water and use the salt for seasoning and preservation of food stock. This also provides you with redundancy if your hydrogen peroxide-urea set up fails.

Thucydides said...

While Cord is being ever inventive, I am thinking more along the lines of a response I saw in a different site talking about Bill Gate's project for a toilet which extracts drinking water from waste.

The poster (paraphrase) suggested that this was exactly the wrong approach, since the device was expensive, complex and would be difficult to maintain in situ in any third world location. The idea of having some sort of NASA grade hardware in a place without the sophisticated infrastructure of reliable power, trained technicians and a logistics pipeline to replacement parts does seem relevant to this discussion: the "Maytag repairman" is going to be a long way away when something goes wrong (either in Somalia or on the way to Mars).

In LEO you can always "bag" it and head for home soon after (even a trip to the moon using current technology is only three days there and three back, a bit unsavoury if the sanitary facilities stop working, but not fatal.

So what to do? for the present this will be a difficult problem to crack, since you don't have lots of space or excess ass in space (an orbiting greenhouse or ecosystem to break down wastes "naturally" isn't an option; its hard enough to do in a real ecosystem on Earth...), and high energy solutions like flashing it to vapour or even plasma in a solar furnace has issues of its own. Medium energy solutions which don't use a lot of energy and don't take up a lot of space are very complex.

It would be nice if some sort of "biotechnical" system was possible; a sort of terrarium where masses of bacteria, algae and other organisms quickly and quietly digested the waste products and could in turn be harvested for their own useful end products. We don't want something which takes a lot of time and resources to run, and which is largely fault tolerant. And of course what works on Mars will work well on Earth too.

Thucydides said...

My god I hate autocorrect.

Thucydides said...

And one more comment (and maybe the starting point of a new thread...hint....), but economics might push spacecraft designs towards a "covered wagon" like the one described here:

Cordwainer said...

I like the space coach idea. It actually makes sense to carry a lot of water for such a vehicle. Like the plumbing problem with my idea though it requires a lot of redundancy and ease of repair to work effectively though. It might be less complicated to just use the water itself as reaction mass, although whether this would provide sufficient Isp and thrust would be a concern. I imagine that engineers would have to accept some complication to any design in a spaceship though, that is why most space vehicles are designed with very high tolerances for reliability. The environment of space is far different then the plains of the American Midwest after all.

Cordwainer said...

As to laserstars I would like to bring up the possibility of using non-coherent UV and synchrotron light sources to give such vehicles a large area effect anti-missile weapon, rather than point defense missiles and lasers. Maybe your laser star could have a more spherical shape using such a system.

Eth said...

What would be the dispersion rate on non-coherent UV? I vaguely remember hearing some very high angles for non-coherent light; that would make it effective only on point-blank range, meaning that it would need some extreme energy to be effective. At this point, wouldn't it be cheaper to use (antimatter-triggered) nuke-pumped xasers for defence (and attack)?

Cordwainer said...

Well synchrotron sources would produce a wide profile of UV and soft x-rays. It might be more energy efficient to use this method: Lasers have been used to indirectly generate non-coherent extreme UV (EUV) light at 13.5 nm for extreme ultraviolet lithography. The EUV light is not emitted by the laser, but rather by electron transitions in an extremely hot tin or xenon plasma, which is excited by an excimer laser.[29] This technique does not require a synchrotron, yet can produce UV at the edge of the X-ray spectrum. Unfortunately, I think it is only useful for producing short pulses.

Cordwainer said...

Also, anti-matter triggering would require extra infrastructure to both store the anti-matter when not in use and to create the anti-matter. The methods above while not particularly efficient would utilize well understood and conventional technology that is currently available and is capable being used with conventional electrical grid technologies, whereas anti-matter triggering would essentially be a form of explosive pulsed energy generation. Such technology has proven difficult to implement in the lab due to the severe EMP it can produce and in the ability to direct that energy in the desired direction in the desired fashion. Hence the reason why Thermo-nuclear pumped X-ray lasers were eventually dismissed as too difficult to produce effectively for Teller's Star Wars program.(with modern materials and advances in X-ray "mirrors it might be possible, just barely though.)

Thucydides said...

My understanding of the issue was Excalibur was virtually impossible to aim. The description at the time resembled a spiny sea urchin popped up into space, with each "spine" being a separate laser rod that had to be aimed with a high degree of accuracy at a separate target.

Now in theory this would have been very efficient (one small nuclear physics package could take out 20-50 incoming targets) but in the real world the problems of accurately aiming the rod, slewing across the sky at a rapidly moving target and at the same time suppressing vibrations that would have thrown the beam off were pretty much insurmountable.

I'd be very surprised if it could be done with today's state of the art.

And of course the issue of EMP as a flurry of nuclear explosions took place in near space was never addressed either, so far as I know. The fratricide against friendly and neutral satellites and other space infrastructure would have been immense (frying Soviet satellites would have been an acceptable side effect, but probably overwhelmed in the general carnage).

Cordwainer said...

I would be surprised if Excalibur would work with modern day material science and design as well and even if you could it would be so much easier to just develop a nuclear howitzer or cannon instead. I make the distinction that a Casaba howitzer is "plasma" or hot liquid metal weapon and "nuclear cannon" would be a nuclear shaped charge projectile weapon with most of the projectile remaining solid.

With CAD design, a laser triggered "clean" fusion bomb, fiber optic or silicon carbide diodes replacing the metal collimator and an "x-ray" mirror at the opposite end you might just make Excalibur work but it would be hard to mass produce a device that would work effectively all the time. A smaller cleaner bomb would and the "x-ray mirror would reduce the EMP effect and its not a that big of a deal considering in such a Star Wars situation most of the military hardware you would be using would have to be rad and EMP hardened anyways. The issue is if you want to use a stationary pulsed "laser star" that uses an nuclear or anti-matter pulsed power system for it's weapon platform. Constant firing is going to effect your sensors and ability to aim effectively. A stand alone missile or mine as a one-off weapon using such technology seems feasible but not very practical in terms of effectiveness when you can get better results with cheaper less "brutal" or fratricidal means.

Thucydides said...

Without going into the weeds, any laser device has one huge advantage over any other form or projectile weapon; the beam is moving at the speed of light.

Particle beams are almost as fast (until the decolaminate), and while nuclear pumped projectiles can move amazingly fast compared to conventional artillery, they are still orders of magnitude slower than a beam of light.

The only idea for Excalibur which "sort of" makes sense comes from the novel "Footfall", where the bundle of lasing rods and aiming package is released behind an ORION nuclear pulse spacecraft and is energized by the nuclear pulse units that power the spacecraft. Since the rods and aiming package are apparently bundled together like a box of drinking straws and the target is an alien spacecraft the size of an aircraft carrier (these are the parasite craft; the starship is much larger.....) many of the issues that plagued the SDI version would be vastly reduced (only one aiming package, all the rods move in a uniform package and most flexing and vibration modes are suppressed by design).

Of course having to use an ORION battleship to deliver the xaser weapons has a few issues of its own.....

Cordwainer said...

Lasers have other advantages than moving at the speed of light. They don't change the mass or center of mass of your ship when fired and they don't litter space with as much space junk when fired. They can be used as precision weapons to reduce collateral damage as well. Also, if the power and heat signature is sufficiently stealthed then they leave a very low firing signature unlike guns or missiles with their large exhaust plumes.

While projectile weapons would be cheaper, more flexible and probably more practical for a "space navy". I would expect that if the exploitation of space is largely peaceful and commercial, then no doubt laser based weaponry would be in more common usage police and military roles.

Wide-band tunable laser brooms with flat panel laser arrays that can operate in infrared, microwave and radio wave spectrums and are capable of wide area "non-coherent" modes or pulsed sweeping could be used for point defense and deorbiting space junk.

High energy non-coherent UV light sources like those I mentioned before as well as EMP's could be used to disable or blind spacecraft or missiles. While gas dynamic and liquid-solid state lasers would be used for artillery purposes.

Eth said...

IIRC, the problem with bomb-pumped xasers was that the conventional explosives on the fission detonator shook the system too much before the fission and fusion stages would go off, thus making it impossible to keep the aim. With antimatter-triggered fusion, there is no first-stage shake to break the aim, so it should make the main hurdle disappear.
For what I understand, X-ray mirrors for the laser are possible. X-ray mirrors already exist in orbital X-ray telescopes. They work by reflecting grazing photons, and look like long tubes instead of conventional mirrors. They have to be pretty perfect, almost at the atomic scale, but definitely not impossible.
(Gamma ray mirrors are impossible AFAICT, but that's another thing altogether.)

Antimatter generation and storage are high-tech problems, but not insurmontable ones, possibly even for the PNF. The CERN is currently the leading group in the subject, but I've read not so long ago that the US army (and probably others) sent their own experts to the CERN to learn more, being very interested in the military applications of antimatter-triggered fusion.
I've read some previsions for antimatter-triggered fusion bombs in the next few decades. You need a microgram of the stuff to set a bomb off - well beyond our current manufacturing (or harvesting) abilities, but maybe not for long. And antimatter storage seems to progress at least as fast.
Note that keeping a microgram of antimatter in a ready-state bomb may not be more complicated tomorrow than keeping a highly toxic, highly radioactive, perfectly shaped plutonium core yesterday. Expensive and maintenance-heavy, but probably not harder for the military.

I'm thinking of it because point-defence with non-coherent light would require stupendous amounts of energy: it disperse way faster than lasers and do less damage with the same energy. So if you have the technology to throw so much energy at incoming projectiles, you probably have the technology to build bomb-pumped lasers, which would be effective at longer range.
That said, with that much energy, you may still be better off building lasers, even if they are more expensive. I'm not sure in which context you would have energy so cheap that it would be more cost-effective to use non-coherent light.

Also note that antimatter-triggered nukes also open for other techs: micro-nukes (not limited by critical mass anymore), short-range plasma death rays (by directing the explosion), hyperfast rockets (unremarkable Isp but huge acceleration - perfect for short-range missiles), more efficient pulse nuclear propulsion which may even bypass the Outer Space Treaty by making its fuel unable to be used as a separate bomb...

Anonymous said...

Casual Anti-matter creation and long term storage to allow the use as triggers for fusion powered weapons might be a very long way off, if it is possible at all.

In this article they have stored 309 atoms of antimatter for 17 minutes. (Longest)

The antimatter storage problem gets much harder the more antimatter you want to store in one container, So storing micrograms of it indefinitely in numerous places to use for future on-demand Laser War needs does not necessarily follow what we know about antimatter at this point.

Even in some future where you could easily store antiprotons long term, they still might not be all that attractive for weapons since the basic idea is a freezer/magnetic trap. Leaving you with vulnerabilities current nuclear weapons do not have. Hard Radiation or EMP could kill the circuitry of the trap, or someone might let the batteries run down, etc.

The anti-matter / fusion propulsion problem might actually be easier, especially for say .. one way probes .. Since in that case, "indefinitely" becomes a fixed time span that can be designed around.


Cordwainer said...

An anti-matter triggered nuke or a pure-matter anti-matter annihilation is still going to produce an explosive force Eth. Just not of the same magnitude. There are other technologies that will get you the same results such as laser-triggered neutron bombs or traveling wave reactors with some kind of neutron amplifier to produce a shaped nuclear explosion inside the high density core of the reactors own nuclear elements.

While powerful non-coherent light sources do require immense amounts of energy they have the advantage over bomb pumped lasers in that they don't have to be launched away from the ship prior to being fired or be aimed in any particular direction. Also, the power generation system used conventional technology that for the laser-star vehicle that is in question would no doubt be able to provide with a nearly limitless supply of solar and onboard nuclear energy. For something as large as laserstar you might be able to swing an anti-matter generator pile to power the system, but whether that would be more efficient that conventional means is debatable. Micrograms of antimatter compared to lots of solar arrays and a few medium size nuclear reactors with around the same mass size in terms of infrastructure, I a can't quite calculate whether it would give you and advantage. You might end up with roughly the same amount of energy or more energy than you actually need with anti-matter. As mentioned you still have to overcome the storage issues that Anonymous brings up.

Cordwainer said...

Eth, asks but why wouldn't anti-matter/matter annihilation produce an "explosion", its just going to produce radiant energy.

Physics 101, you still have to capture that radiant energy in some form, and in the case of a laser you have to collimate and reflect some of that energy into a "coherent" beam.(technically a xaser or graser would not be "coherent".)Not all of that radiant energy is in the form of x-rays or gamma rays and in the case of anti-matter a large amount will be gamma rays which are harder to collimate and as you pointed out can't be reflected. In fact most models that utilize gamma ray sources for lasers actually collimate the gamma rays through a dense material that produces some x-rays as secondary emissions. The effect of secondary emissions as well as some lower level photons being produced will produce heat on your bombs "shell" that will cause expansion. Also, getting your matter and anti-matter to go off in a perfectly clean annihilation event is like trying to get gunpowder in a shell to burn without producing any smoke or debris. Good luck with that, your just as likely to have and uneven "explosive" event as you are with a nuke.

Cordwainer said...

In final summation. There is a need for high energy non-coherent "death-rays" in space.

The evolution of laser brooms for de-orbiting and vaporizing "space junk" could easily be adapted for military application like point defense.

Anonymous said...

For a point defense system you could do a more sophisticated version of this...

No need for lasers, Kinetic kill would work. You could even have the projectiles burst to increase their target spread. Skeet Shooting in space!

If you have a really high energy system in mind (TJ loop of wire for shielding or some death ray or a laser) you can use a nuclear reactor and a lot of capacitors. I assume you would want superconductors in systems like this.

Of course if you are faced with some threat that suggests you would need this sort of energetic defense; you could use some short duration/high thrust propulsion source to move out of the way instead- such as a Chemical rocket.

If you can't easily move out of the way for say a space station... You can use Solar Power, Gigawatts of Solar Panels are much easier than Antimatter.


Anonymous said...

If clearing away our space junk is the goal I think explosives or nuclear weapons would work. Just explode them so that energy pushes the hopefully now smaller pieces away from the orbits you want them, hopefully with enough velocity to not bother you in the future.

Or you could do the opposite, use the explosive to push them towards the atmosphere and use the atmosphere as your shield.


Thucydides said...

The issue of using nuclear explosions in space is really the lack of a coupling mechanism to transfer the energy to the target. In the Earth's atmosphere, the immense energy release goes into the atmosphere and provides all kinds of excitement for everyone.

In space, only the radiant energy of the device that is intersected by the opposing spacecraft, asteroid etc. is useful in any way. Nuclear "shaped charges" get around some of the issues by focusing the energy in a cone (how tight this could be is way beyond my pay grade).

Antimatter has a few advantages in weapons or energy applications.

First, because the energy density is so high, milligrams will deliver as much energy as much larger amounts of fusion or fission fuel. Even with a magnetic trap or other apparatus to contain the antimatter, you "should" be able to have a much smaller and lighter system than the equivalent nuclear reactor/device. This may break down for small yield or output devices, but in general, you have a much smaller mass to accelerate or decelerate using antimatter.

Second, the energy release of a matter/antimatter reaction is even faster than that of a nuclear reaction. For explosively pumped devices, this may be important. Also, having the reaction take place long before thermalization or vibrations can propagate through the device may have advantages.

Finally, with some matter/antimatter reactions (electron/positron) there is no release of neutrinos, a signature suppression that could be advantageous under some circumstances. With a proton/antiproton reaction, you get a spray of charged particles (mesons, mostly) which could be harnessed for various purposes. The old Traveller game explained the SFNal "Neutral Pi Meason cannon" as being the vector result of the reaction, where the neutral mesons were directed at the target and could pass through virtually any type of normal matter until the particles decayed; delivering their energy through a planet if need be....

Eth said...

"Second, the energy release of a matter/antimatter reaction is even faster than that of a nuclear reaction. For explosively pumped devices, this may be important. Also, having the reaction take place long before thermalization or vibrations can propagate through the device may have advantages."

Yes, that was the problem with using conventional nukes. By the time the conventional explosion triggered the nuclear explosion, it had already spread enough to scramble the rods. With antimatter-triggered nukes, the nuclear reaction is ignited fast enough that its X-rays reach the rods before anything else.
To prevent gamma rays and other undesirables from perturbing the rods, stuff like lead and heavy water can be used. It is transparent to X-rays but absorb the rest, and by the time it is destroyed, the rods already focused the X-rays and the lasers are out.
Note that this kind of weapon only focus a few percent of the bomb's energy. But a few percent of a lot can still be enough.

You could have the same result with laser-triggered fusion, but I haven't heard much about laser-triggered nukes, while many scientists are optimistic (or rather, pessimistic - few seem to like new breakthrough in mass-destruction weapons) about being able to efficiently produce and confine antimatter for this purpose in the next decades.

Non-coherent light for orbital cleaning is a good idea. Non-coherence and fast divergence are actually an asset there, as it allows to be less careful about where the beam goes next.
However, I'm not certain it can be efficiently applied to point-defence. the debris is inert, you can manoeuvre to close in and/or light it for arbitrarily long time and is normally not a specially-shaped, fast-incoming object specifically made to be hard to blast. It may be better than nothing when you are building warships out of civilian hardware in a hurry, though.

About kinetic anti-projectiles.
I would assume that each projectile has some guidance and a bit of delta-V to counter eventual manoeuvres from the projectiles - for example having a small laser on the gun ablate bits of the bullet to change its course.
It could work, but the main problem I have with it is that contrary to lasers, bullets continue until they hit something. If you are unlucky, they may start a Kessler syndrome; and in case of major conflict in orbit, enough bullets will probably be fired for one to be unlucky. May be a moot problem depending on the situation, though.

Anonymous said...

I have my doubts that..

Antimatter catalyzed fusion bomb pumped X-Ray Lasers.
Antimatter fueled Death Rays relying on principles yet discovered.

..will ever be considered a reasonable solution to dealing with near-orbit Space Junk.

More mundane solutions surely will occur to those tasked with that problem first. Using more primitive nukes is even a bit out there.

As you suggest you would need to add some reaction mass to the more boring bombs to increase the effective thrust of clearing the debris. And shaping the charges of course would make things a lot easier.

While mass is indeed a problem, a few assumptions come in in the space junk clearing scenario. A big one is the relative cost of lifting mass vs producing antimatter.

Antimatter is currently the most expensive item on the planet at around 25 Million dollars / mg. Current launch costs are around $10 a gram. Even if you ignore containment mass for the moment, that ratio allows for a pretty huge amount of chemical explosives to be lifted in antimatter's stead.

In a future with a true orbital presence that you would need to clear the space junk away, surely the cost of antimatter will go down, but so will launch costs. Then remember also that each mg of antimatter might need say a kg of containment mass as a ballpark.

I would suggest the actual debate will be more like~ Well these chemical explosives are becoming an unwieldy solution, Do we upgrade to nukes or IR lasers?

Then of course there is sure to be politically popular idea of lifting antimatter and then introducing a gamma rain of death (however small) to fairly near orbits from antimatter starter explosions.


Anonymous said...

The way I'm reading the gist of some of the posts is something like..

1)We need to clear space debris
2)We will use the most advanced space weapons we can think of to deal with them!
3)That way we will have bomb pumped Xray lasers(or whatever) so we can have a war.

It seems unlikely that will be the actual chain of events. I would suggest something more like:

1)The simplest lowest cost/tech solutions will be used for space debris for as long as possible.
2) Eventually there might be something up there worth fighting over
3) More complex weapons will be developed as fights start.
4) Those new weapons might then, some day, be used on space junk provided they are economical.


Anonymous said...

(Eth Said..)
About kinetic anti-projectiles.
I would assume that each projectile has some guidance and a bit of delta-V to counter eventual manoeuvres from the projectiles - for example having a small laser on the gun ablate bits of the bullet to change its course.
It could work, but the main problem I have with it is that contrary to lasers, bullets continue until they hit something. If you are unlucky, they may start a Kessler syndrome; and in case of major conflict in orbit, enough bullets will probably be fired for one to be unlucky. May be a moot problem depending on the situation, though.

Good points of course, but maybe you could live with them.

For space debris you could use dumb projectiles. Since the debris aren't going to home in on you.

For actual weapons aimed at you, depending on the range, your own projectiles may need to be able to make course corrections to counter those of incoming weapons.

The adding even more debris problem can be minimized in two ways. The shotgun effect makes small projectiles that will be unlikely to punch through future unlucky traveler's Whipple shields. And secondly you could fire your point defense at a very high velocity so that it will end up somewhere its very low risk, instead of floating around at a comparable orbit after the fight/debris protection event.

The farther you get from Earth Orbit (or wherever) the more volume enters the equation, making the chance of an accidental future collision exponentially less.


Cordwainer said...

My idea for a smart projectile would be to build a shell with a flexible motorized tail that carries superimposed shape charges on it like the vertebrae and ribs on a fishes skeleton. The tail could be flexed to change the shells center of mass for attitude control and the charges could be set off to change course. High velocity projectiles using rail guns or super cannons(like the V3) would also be useful for point defense since they would not have to be terribly massive to be effective and they would travel fast enough to escape the gravity well if they miss. At close range any kind of projectile weapon or collision is going to give rise to the Kessler effect. This is why laser brooms will probably have a military application at least for debris removal. The cheapest method for debris and space junk removal is to use gun or rocket launched inflatable ballutes or semi-rigid "bean bags" to capture debris or knock it out of the way.

Anonymous said...

Maybe a team/fleet of small robot spacecraft that have an solar electric drive that allows them to change orbits and maneuver somewhat (long "on station" time") They could be equipped with three debris clearing modules. Either all on one craft or some mix.

Module 1) A IR Laser of some sort with capacitor banks, possibly capable of firing diffused as well as focused, as mentioned in posts above. Range wouldn't have to be all that great.

Module 2) A torpedo launcher pod that launches a torpedo that attaches to larger, "slower" chunks of debris then lights a chemical rocket to change its orbit

Module 3) A torpedo launcher pod like #2 but this one just blows up.

Then use these robots like little roombas to clean the orbit ranges you have a presence in.

As their life wears down they can suicide against the atmosphere.

Not very dramatic. Well except for the last bit. Unless someone were to tamper with their programing when you were spacewalking in the vicinity or something ..


Cordwainer said...

I was thinking more like a constellation of IR laser "photonic thruster" type vehicles to broom up debris and then Spider Fab like vehicles that build nets or ballutes to capture or push debris that the laser brooms can't deorbit easily. Material that couldn't be deorbited by the laser brooms could be gathered up by them into a specific orbital path or area for easy removal by the SpiderFab bots.

Cordwainer said...

The Spider Fab bots could be made sufficiently intelligent or have tele-presence so one could investigate and determine whether space junk could be recyclable or not and then capture and remove what is recyclable with their gripping arms. Then tow it back with them after deorbiting non-recyclables.

Eth said...

NH, for bomb-pumped lasers, I wasn't thinking about using them for space debris removal, but for military use. That would be like using nukes for civil engineering - the US and USSR did experiment with it, but environmental and security problems aside, it's simply too damn costly.
Also, bomb-pumped lasers in low orbit would have the same effect than plain nukes, massive EMP on the ground.

For nuclear shaped charges, the most well-known is the Casaba-Howitzer, details here :
Basically, it throws tungsten plasma at the face of whatever it is aiming at. The same principle is used for nuclear pulse propulsion, with the plasma cloud shaped differently.
Interestingly, it isn't technologically very challenging (for nukes, mind you) and probably not that much expensive than the base nuke.
In space, given the scales involved, it would still be considered point-blank weapons. The interest is to make them more effective against the target than conventional nukes.

Good point that kinetics could have enough velocity to escape, that would make the Kessler problem far less of an issue.

About space debris removal, I doubt kinetic impactors would be a good solution. The impact would create more debris, which would be counter-productive. Pushing/vaporising them with a laser, or pushing them with a tug for the biggest pieces, would be better solutions.

Anonymous said...

The Kinetic Kill idea might also be a point defense collision avoidance scheme.

"Hey where did that 200 year old weather satellite come from - its headed right for us!"

Point Defense Turret Bot AA - Dakka Dakka Dakka .. boom.

Some shards of the target might still hit your Whipple Shields, but this is an emergency type defense, after all.

As noted for 'sweeping' duties it seems to have a much more limited utility.

The main reason I can see its use for point defense is a very short time to go from inert to ready to fire.

Your IR laser point defense, requires your power system to be running, your capacitors to be charged, etc.

A machine-shotgun might need a the equivalent of a couple of cell phone batteries depending on the design.

Which might make it useful for low power craft as well.


Cordwainer said...

For a kinetic point defense I think something like Metal Storm would be useful, you can use it to machined gun a large target with multiple projectiles and you can fire off successive charges at the same time to launch projectiles at the front of the barrel en masse at high velocity. Such systems could be placed on turrets or flat panel arrays. Combine these with flat panel IR laser arrays for "brooming" away slow moving debris and some kind of mobile whipple shielding panels that act like a roll off door that can be pulled away to fire weapons and in which damaged panels can be replaced by undamaged ones via some type of conveyor belt like system and you could have a pretty decent armor system. You could even have an air bag system in between the conveyor armor, the airbags would inflate to provide structural support and impact absorption when your sensors detect a particularly large or high velocity projectile that can't be dodged or destroyed.

Cordwainer said...

I would point out that explosive gas dynamic lasers wouldn't need a whole lot of "charge up time" and once a ballistic lasers "capacitors" are charged they can be fired and used on targets for a fair amount of time and can change their destructive output instantaneously. Just look at the U.S. Navy LaWS that was recently put on the USS Ponce. In fact a laser for naval applications has some advantages over guns in that it can self-correct while in continuous fire more easily than a gun which has to correct for the inertia of the ship, the ocean and the gun recoil itself.

Anonymous said...

It may be that a typical spacecraft in orbit uses significantly less power than a warship at sea, and the debris come up a lot faster.

Its common to imagine a future where every spacecraft has a nuclear reactor of some type and on such ships lasers are simple to power up.

But it is by no means certain that will be the case. Its quite possible a typical orbital craft 200 years from now might have a "power-plant" of only a few kilowatts, instead of 100's or MWs.

Total power available would dictate systems on board.

Thucydides said...

Since orbiting debris is coming at you far faster than even the fastest rifle bullet, schemes involving impact should be considered very carefully.

If getting access to space resources becomes easy, then having a big honking water shield in "front" of the spacecraft should be an option. Actually the wake shield could be made of almost anything, like slag from lunar mining or even freezing the water into a giant block of ice. Perhaps a monster "pillow" or aerogels would cause the inching debris to lose a lot of kinetic energy as it passes through, dropping it into a lower orbit or even causing it to re enter the atmosphere.

This leads to an interesting problem. Since the direction of travel is independent of the thrust vector until you light up the engine (you could aim the spacecraft for the retro burn and be flying with the engine bell pointed in the direction of travel), the shield might actually have to be a separate spacecraft that flies in convoy with you.

For the militaristically minded among us (i.e. everyone...heh) the Laserstars and Kineticstars in the constellation are all buttoned up behind mobile shields that can absorb some level of kinetic energy by design (and would probably take considerable laser power to burn through). All weapons are " sited in defilade to fire in enfilade" to borrow from the machine-gun pam, and battles are going to revolve around the use of angles as weapons and sensors need to see and shoot in a cone around the shield. Having a smaller shield or pushing your shields farther out to get a better angle will become a huge question of risk management for the constellation commander.

Thucydides said...

Autocorrect strikes again.

I mean to say a monster pillow of aerogels that can absorb the kinetic energy of incoming debris.

The 21rst century is going to be annoying

Cordwainer said...

Well, that was another idea of having a Nextel ballute filled with carbon aerogel either as a mobile platform that can be launched ahead of the vessel or be mounted on towers that actuate the shield to open and close weapon "portholes". In the latter case the "pillows" would provide standoff armor around the entire ship when lined up horizontally to the towers ends, these "pillows" would be shaped so that they could be actuated along their axis 45 degrees from side to side. Thus opening one area of the hull while fully enclosing another.

As for mobile kinetic armor drones I think that would be difficult to implement a constellation fully around a ship it would have to rely on a combination of different drones to work which in turn would be difficult to launch and maintain. That being said you could have simple "pillow" like drones dropped behind the vessel that would act as kinetic and ablative barriers as well as anti-missiles. Having a drone in front or to the side would either require having a specialized ship to carry and tender such drones or the development of cheap drones that can be easily launched from any ship and that is capable of enormous delta-v and cruise capability(unlikely). I would forego a side by side constellation of drones due the impracticalities I mentioned and that you would actually be increasing your target profile.

Instead utilizing missiles constructed or soft materials(ice, Teflon, Fiberglass, rubber) that explodes once it gets out to a certain distance in front of the vessel would be better and would only have to be launched when enemy fire is detected thus lowering the necessary loiter time.

As for having your engine bell out front this might actually be advantageous in combat. Your engine bell is likely to be the most thermally resistant part of the ship, automatically making it laser-proofed to some extent. If the bell is properly designed then it could be made resistant to projectile weapons as well. For instance if you use a plug nozzle with cascade veins or a variable geometry electromagnetic choke/mag-sail you could design such set ups to have a "closed" configuration where you have a sloped armored shell in which no nasty kinetics can get in your engines chamber or innards. Also having your engine cone or bell facing the enemy while coasting(or in the case of a ship with engines at the "back and front") or accelerating into the enemy would allow you to make faster turns or course corrections. The engine plume itself would vaporize most small projectiles.

Cordwainer said...

Instead utilizing missiles constructed or soft materials(ice, Teflon, Fiberglass, rubber) that explodes once it gets out to a certain distance in front of the vessel would be better and would only have to be launched when enemy fire is detected thus lowering the necessary loiter time.

Why soft materials you may ask. Well to offset damage to your own ship from the Kessler effect of your ship ramming into them if you don't change course or if they bounce off incoming projectiles into your ships evasive trajectory.
Aramid fibers would work as well and could be shaped into matte like or ball like structures to increase surface area.

Geoffrey S H said...

Nanotech might be quite useful in this situation in the far future. Growing out a 'palm tree' shield in front of the spacecraft and moving along the hull to face incoming fire as needed.

If you want the engine to serve as a type of shield, placing the bell nozzle on a gimbal to face in almost any direction might also be a good idea.

Cordwainer said...

A gimbaled bell nozzle is a good idea Geoffrey. I would suggest you have a Christmas tree complex of bell nozzles that horseshoe or clamshell into one another when not in use. That would allow for better attitude control, greater redundancy and the ability to defend specific portions of the complex from specific attacks.

I think the time it would take nano-technology to 'grow' a sufficiently large mass would be difficult even with handwavium technology. I could see Nano-FET truster technology being used to create a dense enough controlled cloud around the thruster pad assembly to act as "armor".

One solution for a simple plug type nozzle would be to simply stack several bell nozzles on top of on another and place a set of accordion like struts between them. The larger outer bells could act as cascade veins depending on how you accordion them out, thus allowing you variable and altitude correcting thrust. Placing a plug nozzle at the end that closes against the bottom bell and has a slight gimbal would give the set up further slope protection and allow some vectored thrust capability.

Cordwainer said...

Of course the nozzle configuration I mentioned would have to be rather robust. I doubt if it would work very well in atmosphere or at really high thrust pressures. Making the thing robust enough not to blow up when your pushing all the energy of your rockets engine through a tiny space between the retracted bell nozzles would be difficult.

The technology needed to make such a thing feasible though might make such a set up suitable for use with hotter burning ionic liquid propellants that allow for monopropellant and bi-propellant bi-modal propulsion systems in the same engine. Such a nozzle system would have more surface area to distribute heat better and could be "opened up more" when utilizing the more energetic bi-propellant reactions. The difficult part with modern materials would not necessarily be the nozzle system but developing a reaction chamber that can handle the heat and pressure of ionic bipropellant reactions. A monopropellant you would also have coking problems due to the fact that most hydrazine salts would either have to be burned as a solid or as a paste, so developing a bimodal system would be difficult although a hybrid system isn't out of the question.

Anonymous said...

One concept I think is fairly self supporting is an orbital infrastructure of IR laser systems who have the primary purpose of facilitating Laser Thermal Propulsion.

It could be used basically from liftoff to orbit, and even for Lunar missions, various stations of lasers (nuke or preferably solar powered), reflecting mirrors, and fueling stations.

Remass could be water, since it relatively easy to store and available in a few places outside of earth.

A system like this one has an advantage in that you now have powerful lasers available to do things like debris sweeping or other "defense" roles when not accelerating spacecraft.


Thucydides said...

While having a cloud of "pillows" surrounding the spacecraft would be nice, for practical reasons I only suggested one shield cruising "ahead" of the spacecraft in the direction of travel. 99% of the time in the peacetime navy (or merchant marine), the shield is simply there to absorb incoming debris; paint chips, small bits of rock or ice or other passive threats to the spacecraft.

Even if it is not particularly mobile (and a shield of water, ice or rock would not be very mobile at all), it still closes off some angles against incoming attack during a hot war scenario. Indeed, the "worst case" scenario is the ship's commander or AI manoeuvres the ship around the shield rather than trying to place the shield between the ship and incoming fire!

I like the idea of using nano tech to "grow" a wakeshield in front of the ship; this is probably something that would happen in the yard as the entire ship is being "grown". While I also doubt that the entire "trunk" could be reoriented more than a few degrees without a lot of time or effort, it does seem possible to move the "branches" and "leaves" to cover a wider arc in front of the ship.

This is also something I have considered as a part of future ship design. As ships go farther and faster, a permanently deployed wakeshield needs to be part of the ship. Far enough in the future, ships may resemble golf tees, with a wide structure in the front tapering away to the crew compartment and then the engines. If a suitable material can be found, there may even be a "golf ball" perched on the front carrying water or perhaps metallic powder(s) for the 3D printers to provide additional protection for the ship.

Cordwainer said...

It would be better to have the fuel tanks and propulsion in the golf ball to allow for a better arc of momentum for maneuver. Put the crew compartment in the tee portion and stick a parasol with a 45 degree angle to it(like when half closed)to the top. You get the best slope angle for incoming kinetic strikes and it adds a little radiation shielding for the crew compartment. It could be extended out to its full length to allow shuttle or satellite craft safe launch conditions.

Anonymous said...

Having the reaction mass/tanks as a shield might not be the greatest idea considering how little spare mass you are likely to haul around. Might be hard to plan for how much random future thrust you are going to lose. Never mind the fact that once you start venting hydrogen or water or whatever you are using, you would have to repair the leak.

A low mass full coverage Whipple shield with some redundancy built in might be better. Perhaps something that could be patched if redundancy is compromised.

Warships I am sure are different. But I am unsure why you wouldn't just design those for one way missions anyway, where "slowing down" again is low priority. And therefore the tanks would be mainly empty minus some jinking type mass.


Anonymous said...

Empty at the time of the attack that is. The acceleration done at the start of the mission.


Geoffrey S H said...

'It would be better to have the fuel tanks and propulsion in the golf ball to allow for a better arc of momentum for maneuver.'

Sounds like the engines should be up front too- a 'valkerie' style spacecraft.

Cordwainer said...

For a relativistic vehicle yes but for travel inside the solar system, no!

Not much sense in putting fuel tanks and engine up front and trail the crew pod behind. Your putting the largest surface area in front of the craft as well as possibly explosive fuel and engine components up front where they make a big whopping target in a military sense. Better to use a wake shield of relatively low mass in front and put the ,crew, fuel and engines behind. Or as mentioned before design your propulsion "nozzles" to act as armor and put such propulsion modules at either end of the ship.

Thucydides said...

Warships I am sure are different. But I am unsure why you wouldn't just design those for one way missions anyway, where "slowing down" again is low priority. And therefore the tanks would be mainly empty minus some jinking type mass.

If you are simply looking at one way "busses" to deliver military hardware, then ultra lightweight solar sails (alternatively magsails or electrostatic sails) would be best.

K. Eric Drexler developed such a sail (and even samples of that sort of sail material) as far back as 1975, and some of the performance figures are very impressive for one way flights. At an acceleration of 77mm/sec2 you can send a ship on a direct flight to Pluto in roughly 15 months. At that sort of speed, once it separates from the sail's "bus" it is pretty much a warhead of its own without needing much enhancement.

The presumptive Plutonian Navy won't have as much success sending a counter back at Earth, though.

Of course the real mission of military forces is to occupy the territory of the enemy in order to coerce their cooperation (which is why air campaigns and raids have limited utility), so being able to follow up with a ship load of Marines (or occupation nano tech, depending on your scenario) and having patrols in orbit to observe would be important in order to achieve the political goal.

Cordwainer said...

Well, the Plutonian Navy could always use MagBeam propulsion and a MagSail can tack against the solar wind. Also, the Plutonian's would have advantages of their own such as ice ships made from ice as dense and hard as iron and the ability to knock comets into a collision course for Earth.

Anonymous said...

I figure - destroy opponents space forces with one way mission robot/drone ships ...

Follow in with the occupying force ships. I expect those to be largely robot/drone also. Including "ground" forces.

Probably start with a shipped-in orbital-superiority force designed to shoot down any resistance from space.

For the initial attack, I am not sure specifics of whether it is to be solar sail or mag sail that matters, really. It might be any of the possible propulsion technologies "manned" ships might use.

For example if you used a NTR robot drone, the plutonium wont get homesick if after its mission it heads on a mission off thataway at solar system escape velocity.


Anonymous said...

An additional comment. I am highly skeptical about magical nanotech. While I am sure molecular scale machines will have some utility. I think attributing them with the ability to conquer a planet isn't very plausible for any time in the foreseeable future. If ever.


Cordwainer said...

Thought this might be of interest. Perhaps ferroelectric materials and metallic frost gathered from Venusian highlands might be of economic value?

Cordwainer said...

Plutonium won't get homesick if you turn it into a bomb. We are talking about war, so why not just turn your NTR drone into a kamikaze.

Anonymous said...

Depending on the politics involved that may or may not be seen as acceptable as well.

We live in interesting times that give us a little insight as to how that might take place. Consider current Drone technology. We basically have made Recon Planes and Small Attack Fighter Planes that are remote controlled.

US government/administrations has embarked on a policy where these Drones are treated differently than manned craft. Not from an expandability side as you might expect. But from a culpability side; where they engage in some diplomatic fiction that a strike by an unmanned plane is somehow not the same thing as a strike from a manned plane.

Use a F/A 18 to kill a "terrorist" in Yemen or Pakistan = International Incident.

Use a Drone to do exactly the same mission = Application of new technology in the war on Terror. One where "policy is still being written"

It makes the pessimist wonder perhaps if its all some sort of Test case for the eventual use of Drone mini-tanks invading "terrorist" occupied towns and securing them in countries where international and domestic opinions would never allow you to send ground troops.

Do you think if Drone ground "assets" were ready, they would have hesitated sending them in to blunt the ISIS advance a few months ago?

So perhaps in this orbital war scenario deliberately nuking your opponent's orbital assets and sending down hot debris might be seen as politically abusive. Where a NTR equipped missile bus that brought a cloud of guided Kinetic Kill Missiles that is destroyed and the same sorts of debris rain down is labeled as collateral damage.


Eth said...

Use a F/A 18 to kill a "terrorist" in Yemen or Pakistan = International Incident.

Use a Drone to do exactly the same mission = Application of new technology in the war on Terror. One where "policy is still being written"

That's an interesting point. I had never thought much about it, and simply assumed they did it for cost/performances reasons, and to avoid the embarrassment of a pilot in the middle of a country where he shouldn't be if (and I mean when) a plane doesn't come back.
But you are right, if they actually sent manned planes, it would probably spark a much stronger reaction.
Maybe it's because manned planes are far more capable as weapons of war? Drones are made for surveillance and soft-target killing, not for attacking a regular military, though. We should ask the US Army to fly a B-52 on autopilot for a bombing run over Pakistan, to see what kind of reaction that would cause. You know, for (political) Science!

That said, drone combat is a vast subject, with quite a few people scrambling to define its ethics as it is growing.

I remember analysts pointing out that ground drones were impractical as soldier replacement, precisely because of that: if a child throw a stone to the drone (which could damage it), should the drone shoot the child? I am talking about the policy the operator obeys - autonomous lethal actions are a whole other can of hungry, acid-dripping purple worms.
If it does, you have an army of child-murdering robots. If it doesn't, the insurgents simply have to have children stone the drones to scrap (with the occasional grenade/IED).
And a drone isn't the best way to do peacekeeping. By the same logic you have peacekeepers wearing berets instead of helmets, and less body armour, when security is better, you don't want scary inhuman robots rolling around looking like the Machine Empire's own death squads.

Which can also be a reason to send people along when you invade (assuming you care about peacekeeping, that is). To have a human face to the occupation force, in addition to the human decisions that will be necessary.
Of course, if you simply want to kill them, terrorize them to obedience and/or destroy their things, you may not need the hassle.

Anonymous said...

I think at present it is a technology/need based thing.

We simply do not need Drone ground assets yet. That will change at some point. It is hard to overstate how far ahead the US is militarily. Who knows how long that situation will last. As it is many of the US weapon systems use technology 20-30 years old. There is no need to replace it yet.

I expect in a couple hundred years the front-line combatants of all services will be largely robotic in nature (drones and autonomous)

And I also expect the inventor of the drone army will try to be creative about defining their army's restrictions. Somehow using drone armies will be different than human soldiers in culpability not just expendability. Allowing them greater freedom of action.

As you mention the child rock thrower problem. Which is already a problem without drones. While many will see it as somehow different, since its just a machine; I can see some will argue that excuses shooting the kid, while others will say there is no excuse.

With human soldiers the kid killing issue is a function of how justified the war is seen as being. The US killed lots of children and other civilians in Iraq for example, but it was only as the war became increasingly unpopular did you begin to hear about it.


Eth said...

I think at present it is a technology/need based thing.

AFAICT, technology is there. There are projects to create 'mules', walking drones accompanying soldiers and carrying equipment. Some calculated that between training, equipment and the rest, a machine gun-equipped drone would be quite cheaper than an infantryman (if way less versatile). Even more so if you go for Future Warrior-like infantry. (AFAICT, the French FELIN is the only operational one so far, but most first-rate militaries are developing it.)
And autonomous targeting already exists, for example for fixed sentries on the South Korean border.
Need, OTOH, less so as you either need human versatility or, in the case of peacekeepers, the aforementioned human face.

So far, though, there has been a rising movement against authorizing drones to autonomously taking lethal action, and enforcing it on international treaties. We'll see where it goes.

It is hard to overstate how far ahead the US is militarily. Who knows how long that situation will last. As it is many of the US weapon systems use technology 20-30 years old. There is no need to replace it yet.

I expect the US military to suffer many setbacks in the next several decades. Funding will most probably decrease on the long term, which, combined to the need to replace ageing equipment and a succession of vastly over-budgeted (and often under-performing) projects, makes things untenable on the long term.
The first thing to go will probably be air superiority, with the F-35. Worse, it will also cripple many allied air forces.
Naval superiority is also threatened with things like the Zumwalt and LCS, though probably not as much.

We can already see some of its effects, as the US are less present in Africa, trying to delegate it to Europe (which means France, mostly). Problem is, Europe has already cut its military budget so hard that it can't afford it on its own.

It's not as bad as one would think for the US, thought. In the next decades, the ageing, budget-strapped Russian fleet won't be able to do anything else than protect their territorial waters. And who knows, maybe the Canadian governments will actually do something about their army. Or even, let's be wildly optimistic, their navy. (I would have said their air force is a lost cause, but after a corruption scandal was revealed about their purchase of F-35, they may buy actual planes instead.)

South America seems pretty calm, military-wise (the main target of the Brazilian Air Force seems to be criminals).

China is building a military fast, but they still have a long way to go. Corruption is a particularly crippling problem, that only long-term efforts can curb. And India is also developing their army in response, as well as Japan.
North Korean military is mostly obsolete, and mostly a threat because of their nukes (so a giant military won't help anyway). And South Korea is actually pretty much able to stand on its own against them anyway (save the nukes). Also, they are seriously pissing China off now, so they wouldn't help them either.

So while the US military may shrink (though it may keep the lead), so should be the need for it.

I would expect the Pentagon to cope, once budget cuts and over-spending really menace to break the military, by doing serious reforms to curb malpractices, and do less costly, underwhelming superprojects (like the F-35) for more rational ones (like the A-10).
Kind of like European militaries, actually - which means it may or may not actually work.

(In case you wondered, yes, I kind of dislike the F-35.)

Anonymous said...

One possibility is the Robots replace the common infantry tasked with the marching in where angels fear to tread.

While the more specially trained infantry are human since obviously they will be more flexible and adaptable.

Any infantry role seen as particularly dangerous gets a drone, urban street checking house by house and so on.

High value targets - send a special forces team instead.
As Eth mentions another area is where a soldier's gear is heavy. Maybe the squad machine-gunner role is replaced with a drone. Since the drone can carry more ammunition/ heavier weapons.

Seems a given that instead of hauling around heavy LAW rockets or Motars or Stinger Missiles, a Drone could be used.

So it could be the drones get mixed in with the normal infantry squad.
In the latest conflicts "Death by IED" is the biggest threat to soldiers. So a drone going ahead to ensure no IEDs are present seems a good first role for robot infantry.


Geoffrey S H said...

"We can already see some of its effects, as the US are less present in Africa, trying to delegate it to Europe (which means France, mostly). Problem is, Europe has already cut its military budget so hard that it can't afford it on its own."

Britain is probably the worst affected. Over here, the budget is so low that we cannot defend ourselves at all. I am seriously wondering if the armed forces will be scrapped completely, there are too many gaps in our forces (such as maritime AWACs/ ASuW).

Thucydides said...

Many prototypes of western robotic fighting machines have been demonstrated, but generally they have not been released in war zones due to ethical considerations.

The Russians are now developing generations of combat robots, but have far fewer ethical concerns. I think many of them are designed to act as a mobile firebase, since they can carry more weapons and ammunition than an ordinary soldier.

Robotic weapons are an interesting case. If they are rigidly programmed, they may be easy to defeat since it won't take too long to discover their SOPs. Robots with open ended programming could conceivably start to seek their own goals (which might conflict with those of the commander), and would be considered dangerous and unpredictable, although difficult to fool or defeat.

Of course a machine would also be stunningly fast and accurate, so a robot might sound like an oddly firing machine gun in combat, but really firing single aimed shots as fast as it can identify and line up each target. Human soldiers will be quite outmatched (unlike the movies, where even fast, flexible and frankly magical "robots" routinely miss their targets, while humans snipe them....).

I suspect that the Russians and to a lesser extent the Chinese are shaking politicians and the public out of their decades long stupor into realizing the "real world" is out there and needs to be dealt with. Since the Western governments are already fiscally restrained (broke) and are learning the difficult way about contract management, I see a few things happening:

1. Modest increases to budgets
2. Development of robotics to replace manpower intensive jobs that support military operations. The robot soldiers won't be working for General Patton, but for the quartermaster instead.
3. Movement of military doctrine and force structures into different and non traditional forms. The conventional "heavy metal" army becomes more of an adjunct to either distract the opponent or finish them off. Weapons systems will branch into things like Cyber, "Psyops", Financial warfare and other means of attacking the enemy society. See Russian Hybrid Warfare or Chinese "Unrestricted Warfare" for a more complete introduction.
4. "Encouragement" through various means of changing the management structures and overheads of contractors. Think of how SpaceX can charge $50 million for the same service and using essentially the same hardware as ULA, which charges $400 million to boost a satellite into LEO. Can SpaceX build a fighter plane? (Would they be interested?)

Some changes will happen "on their own" since we are coming to a true revolution in warfare. Much like armoured knights reached technical perfection just before they became obsolete (swept from the battlefield by a combination of easy to use weapons that negated their armour and the "Infantry Revolution" in tactics which made close formation of Infantry armed with effective weapons able to stand off an armoured charge), the modern mechanized army is probably reaching the pinnacle of its form, but is being challenged by insurgents armed with cell phones, social media and IED's.

Anonymous said...

For the time being they won't need Robots working for the quartermaster.

Instead the US military takes advantage of people who live in poor countries and has subcontracted out a large number of the non-combat, low skill jobs that used to be done by US soldiers.

While this increases the combat ratio of the actual active duty soldiers; there are some questions as to how ethical the contract companies, and the government itself, has been in this practice.

Of course this situation can only last for as long as the income disparity between rich and poor countries lasts. Also in a Science Fiction setting cheap labor might be hard to come by on the frontiers.


Geoffrey S H said...

"Some changes will happen "on their own" since we are coming to a true revolution in warfare. Much like armoured knights reached technical perfection just before they became obsolete (swept from the battlefield by a combination of easy to use weapons that negated their armour and the "Infantry Revolution" in tactics which made close formation of Infantry armed with effective weapons able to stand off an armoured charge), the modern mechanized army is probably reaching the pinnacle of its form, but is being challenged by insurgents armed with cell phones, social media and IED's."

Cavalry never truly went away, even when it was found that mechanized vehicles were more practical, they were replaced by an even heavier form of cavalry- the tank.

Cavalry, warships and infantry never truly go out of fashion, they merely change or lose pre-eminence, but their basic roles are too useful to do away with. Similarly, IEDs and insurgents are not always ideal for seizing territory and going on the offensive. They only can be used defensively. No insurgent army could truly challenge a western state. ISIS had to become quasi-conventional to stand a chance of seizing Baghdad.

So I would be sceptical of the supposed total decline of the conventional mechanized army, China and Russia would otherwise have focussed purely on economic warfare rather than beefing up their conventional militaries. Why spend so much effort on something that is merely meant to distract the foe?

Anonymous said...

5000 years of human history would seem to agree with Infantry, Calvary, Navy. as the cornerstones

Anonymous said...

Airpower does many of the roles Calvary did at one time as well. Fast moving, far ranging, making it difficult for Infantry to hold entrenched positions ..


Geoffrey S H said...

Absolutely, but such things are also delegated to armoured cars and light tanks. The role has split into two groups.
I tend to disagree with the 'air power as cavalry' analogy due to the medium of aerial warfare being so different (the air is not land, in the same way as space is [not] an ocean).

Anonymous said...

Helicopters are designated Air Calvary.

Close Air support also has this function also. Basically when used directly against troops instead of things.

As you say Air Power also does more than that.


jollyreaper said...

The typical cycle of human organizations tends to go from successful to gradually accumulating inefficiencies to the point of becoming incompetent; some crisis will arise and either reforms are enacted to bring the organization back to a successful state or it will succumb to the crisis.

There is always an element of corruption in even the most successful governments. As far as the US is concerned, there has been rather a lot. But this corruption still didn't get in the way of accomplishing tasks considered important to the national interests. We could have a functional military. We could build big-ticket projects like space programs and major weapons systems.

At this point the government contracting process has proven itself incapable of designing a successor to the space shuttle. The Senate Launch System will end in failure just like all the other programs before it. SpaceX developed the Falcon 9 rocket for a budget less than the pad renovation at the Cape for the SLS, something around $400 million.

The F-35 project is an absolute the stunner to me. I can understand the contractors wanting to lard the bill a bit while still turning in something functional. But this flying deathtrap is completely unusable and $1.5 trillion to boot! We can debate the merits of the military-industrial complex but in terms of getting bang for the buck, we were doing much better 30 years ago than now.

To reverse the stupidity on display would take a military defeat to make Pearl Harbor look like a flat tire and leadership willing to use the outrage to catalyze reform.

I consider the US losing one or more carriers in combat operations to be likely. The alternative is simply rusting in place as they are outclassed and outflanked by cheaper and more nimble alternatives. The armored knight example mentioned above is worth keeping in mind. I'm also thinking of the surprising turn of events with the Spanish Armada when an expensive and seemingly capable force is destroyed through a combination of enemy intrepidness, bad leadership, bad tactics, bad weather and overall bad luck.

I think drones are poised for incredible growth and development and are pretty much at the Wright Flyer stage, after decades of speculation the technologies have reached the point where concepts can be put into practice. We've only seen the beginning.

Cordwainer said...

Most all warfare is predicated on the themes of force distribution and firepower. Man and missile. Whether we are talking about Hannibal's Balearic Slingers and War Elephants or modern day tanks and airplanes. The tools and capabilities have changed but two basic needs have remained.

Those being the need to be able to put down supporting and direct fire and the need to get your manned forces where you need them when you need them. This will not change whether you use humans or drones.

What is of interest for those writing military sci-fi are the practical methods for doing so in the near future or in novel new environments like outer space.

We can grip about how unsustainable our current military technologies but it is the creative solutions that are the provenance of authors and futurists. After all look at how much the Arthur C. Clarke's idea of a communications satellite has transformed modern warfare for instance.

Maybe we should take a pause on this or suggest this as a possible theme for Rick's next blog, rather than sidetrack ourselves too much.

Anonymous said...

Actually I think that current Military corruption, mistakes, changes .. are all valuable to making a believable future setting.

Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, Humanity is fated to forget the past.

A military with corrupt bidding, badly conceived weapons platforms, mismanaged priorities, and so on is far more believable than Star Fleet.

Additionally the demilitarization of Western Europe could make a nice parallel for a Colonial system that develops in an absent aliens setting.

Only to find out there was a threat after all.

Cordwainer said...

Well, the future could hold a militarily more united EU. We can't really say as of yet. The UK's problems with its military are from decades of mistakes from the post-war period to the modern day. They can't even make a decision on a decent assault rifle and it took the French of all things to fix the problems to the EM-2 and FN-FAL.

Cordwainer said...

Not to knock the Brits too much. I think they are good model for an economy with a good balance of co-operativism, socialism, privatism and capitalism.

While their education and healthcare systems are hardly sterling they are decent models of how privatizing those systems can actually work in a practical and functional way. Unfortunately, privatizing a military is one of those institutions that should not be privatized and is better suited to a socialist or even communist model in some ways.

While you need capitalists to produce the technology and goods to support the military you need tight government controls on bidding, contracts, salaries and benefits to prevent crony capitalism within the military industrial complex.

Geoffrey S H said...

"Well, the future could hold a militarily more united EU. We can't really say as of yet. The UK's problems with its military are from decades of mistakes from the post-war period to the modern day. They can't even make a decision on a decent assault rifle and it took the French of all things to fix the problems to the EM-2 and FN-FAL"

Just out of interest, if you could sort out the UK military, what would you do? I'm curious to hear from people on this.

Just as long as you don't say "share capabilities with the EU to maintain a European force as the military continues to shrink" like the average journalist. If all eu militaries continue to shrink (and no thought is put in to stopping that shrinkage at some point), then the size of that theoretical EU force within a generation would be minimal and there would be little point in sharing capabilities.

Cordwainer said...

Instead of shrinking the force I would divide and prioritize duties between a common EU force for common external threats and concentrate national forces on national threats (like border control and EMS services). What the EU needs to do and what individual countries within the EU are different. The mission of any united EU force is likely to be similar to the mission of NATO which is to defend against large and amorphous threats like Russian Pan-Slavism and Islamist terrorism.

Developing a AfriCom like force within the NATO/EU task force would help to share the burden against humanitarian and security missions in Africa and lessen the influence of old colonial biases regarding military actions on the African continent and in the Middle East.

The EU also needs something similar to a Strategic Air Command to maintain the long standing stalemate and enmity with the Russian Federation. Anti-submarine and submarine fleets need to be put under the auspices of the EU and maintained through a common budget to alleviate the burden on countries with these costly weapon systems. While I think that the F35 Lightning Joint Task Fighter program is a boondoggle I do thing the EuroFighter Typhoon is a decent design for a common EU fighter interceptor. I believe the aforementioned Strategic Command should be in charge of developing common interceptor, cruise missile and medium range strategic missile weapon systems and should have control of submarine and ASW forces.

At the national level I think countries should be concentrating on weapon systems that aid in their territorial defense, troop deployment and artillery capabilities(short range missile systems, mobile armor and artillery, naval picketing and coastal guard duties). The days of the UK having the "king of navies" is long past. They should concentrate on troop transport, armor, and ground attack/air support capabilities.

As to fixing the problems with the EM-2 I think all the EU forces should just move to a common assault rifle with a modular design to allow for mission specific differences for different militaries that face different fighting environments. Something like the Adaptive Combat Rifle that was floated for the Individual Carbine contest in the U.S. While it doesn't make a lot of sense for the U.S. forces to have a common rifle in terms of cost benefit. A common rifle system for the EU would save a lot of money and a lot of lives in terms of interoperability and supply capability.

As to the political issues within the UK's own military there is a definite issue with cronyism and stubbornness within the upper echelons of the Military. The British military needs to retire people out earlier with stricter limits on time allowed to serve. They also need to pink slip more of the mid level ranked officers/NCO's who have poor performance ratings instead of keeping them on. A faster promotion system with more opportunities for enlisted men to move into commissioned ranks would also help immensely I think.

Cordwainer said...

Also, the British Military Industrial complex should stick with what it does well which is combat tanks, ground attack aircraft, communications and electronic warfare equipment and troop transport systems. These can be money-makers for them with customers from the EU common force, other nations within the EU and elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

It may sound crazy, but .. The F35 will likely be fixed.

Too much money spent for that not to happen. Some combination of actual fixes and on-paper claims of fixes will take place.

Whether or not the plane will actually be able to do its assigned role once fixed, that might be a different thing.

This isn't the Sgt York, where they could just nix the whole project. The scale is just too big.


Cordwainer said...

Agreed, it will get built but I think the orders will get scaled back considerably. The Super Hornet, EuroFighter Typhoon as well as Japanese and Indian new generation interceptors will provide adequate replacements for main interceptor role that the F35 is suppose to fill. The F-35 might be more suitable as a EW/ECCM "command" fighter sent ahead of other fighter/interceptors. While the F-22 might make a better reconnaissance and strategic strike fighter for taking out enemy air defense.

Thucydides said...

The big problem with the EU is there are at least three nations with the political and economic power to build their own signature hardware (i.e.. the UK, France and Germany) for reasons of prestige and economic nationalism. So many "joint" projects had floundered on these rocks that the few that do succeed really stand out (generally aviation, since the capital requirements have risen to a ridiculous level. Why isn't Elon Musk building aircraft?)

The F-35 story is a repeat of the F-15/116/18 story on steroids; those aircraft were derided as being overly expensive and unable to do the job; yet have emerged as the premier airframes of their time. And BTW, the F-35, despite its "F" moniker is more of an attack aircraft, designed to come in the first wave using stealth to close in and deliver bombs and missiles at its targets. The F-22 is/was supposed to clear the sky ahead of its counterpart.

Given an almost clean sheet of paper, I might go for reviving the YF-23, but the proposed two seat, long range strike version, coupled to swarm technology applied to UCAV's, cruise missiles and even long range AAMs powered by small jet engines. The FB-23 would be in control of the swarm, having the range, loiter ability and room for control electronics to be an effective command plane, but also a full bore fighter should the enemy penetrate the screen of weapons and ECM surrounding it.

Tony said...


We're not in the "Wright Flyer" stage. That would have been Aphrodite and buzz bombs. We're more like in the Boeing 707 stage -- like jet engines changed passenger aircraft, digital computing and communications have changed remotely controlled aircraft. But note that just like the aircraft that followed the 707, the drones that follow the ones we have today will be more refined, but not that much more capable in gross terms.

WRT the ethical issues, as I've pointed out before, we attack them there, they attack us here. I don't think the public is ready for that, but it's going to happen.

WRT robotic ground combatants, the big difficulty is that it turns war into predation by removing the personal risk to the combatants. We don't really want that.

"...true revolution in warfare."

Been hearing about that for over 20 years now. Ain't happened yet and ain't likely to happen. The way we fight wars is evolving all of the time, but the nature of war is constant.

Which brings us to this:

"5000 years of human history would seem to agree with Infantry, Calvary, Navy. as the cornerstones"

Never forget artillery.

Also, air power, as a whole, is essentially a form of artillery. Except for air reconnaissance in direct support of ground operations, everything an air force does is in direct execution or direct of indirect support of striking ground targets. Even air superiority is about making the world safe for your strike operations and unsafe for enemy strikes on surface targets.

Anonymous said...

"WRT robotic ground combatants, the big difficulty is that it turns war into predation by removing the personal risk to the combatants. We don't really want that."

Who doesn't really want that?

I suggest there are (or will be) a number of people who would want that. Especially if as some suggested they might do the job more effectively than humans.

Particularly if its sold that way.

"Hello, if we use robot soldiers, our side's causality rate will go down 80%."

I imagine air strikes are sold much the same way. After all, those caught in those attacks are basically defenseless once air superiority is established.


Anonymous said...

Indeed as you mentioned artillery, it seems to me that history favors "predation" in that sense. Once the opponent no longer had artillery to fight back, or aircraft to fight back, etc ..

The attacks don't then just stop. The side still able to deploy artillery, air power, etc, instead uses them to make the combats as one sided as they can, within the political parameters established.

Use of Ground Robots seems more or less the same thing.

Imagine a time when two armies are facing each other and one side runs out of ammunition. Does the side that still have bullets fix bayonets instead in order to bring risk back into the combat?


Geoffrey S H said...

Depends on how many rounds you have left. If you can push them that little bit further back with bayonets, then you will have inflicted further attrition without expending what has now become your trump card. Time the redeployment of that trump card correctly and you win.

Of course, I'm massively oversimplifying here.

"The big problem with the EU is there are at least three nations with the political and economic power to build their own signature hardware (i.e.. the UK, France and Germany) for reasons of prestige and economic nationalism. So many "joint" projects had floundered on these rocks that the few that do succeed really stand out"

Its not just that, the Type 45 was built because the FREMMS frigates simply weren't good enough for an Euro navy that wanted to effectively defend Atlantic waters. Even if the Type 45 is overpowered, its still somewhat suited to the conditions it should fight in.

This is one of the problems I have with euro-integration, much is made of nations not cooperating for economic reasons, but often the desires of each nation don't square up with regard to military capability.

Furthermore, I think it would be useful for some euro presence in Asia again, simply due to the need to reconcile with those former victims of colonialism. Be that presence military (for helping India defend against China?) or economic/educational (student exchange programs?) or a mixture, but the need to redeem ourselves in the eyes of what may be the premier world powers in the next century looms large whenever I think about geopolitics.

Certainly, if Britain doesn't find some minor way to be useful there I worry we will suffer the consequences. Its not like we have any friends on the world stage given our military inadequacy in Iraq, European Union obstructionism and colonial legacy.

On the other hand we will probably turn further into Europe (while continuing to insult the European Union as we usually do), shrink the military budget and cut embassies across the globe, and refuse to atone for past colonial atrocities. The result being a faded European power with few friends, no influence, declining wealth and a dismal reputation. So it goes.

Tony said...


"Who doesn't really want [robotic combatants taking personal risk out of war] that?"

You don't want it, for starters. When soldiers' personal risk is removed from war, war becomes an exercise in taking without any more risk than economic risk. And one would think that was okay. But when that happens, the enemy sees no down side in directing his attacks at the people who pay for and support the robot army. That's civilians like you.

"I suggest there are (or will be) a number of people who would want that. Especially if as some suggested they might do the job more effectively than humans."

I'm sure there are people that short-sighted. It doesn't mean they know what they're doing.

"I imagine air strikes are sold much the same way. After all, those caught in those attacks are basically defenseless once air superiority is established."

Aside from the fact that the pilot still risks anti-aircraft fire from the ground, an enemy that has no other recourse than to take air strikes without fighting back will find a way to fight back, most likely through attacks against the air force's homeland.

Tony said...


"Indeed as you mentioned artillery, it seems to me that history favors 'predation' in that sense. Once the opponent no longer had artillery to fight back, or aircraft to fight back, etc .."

I'd like to know when you think that ever happened. Even the Germans and Japanese in their final extremities in WW2 still had a lot of artillery and ammunition. They also had a lot of aircraft, if not enough fuel to fly them.

"The attacks don't then just stop. The side still able to deploy artillery, air power, etc, instead uses them to make the combats as one sided as they can, within the political parameters established.

Use of Ground Robots seems more or less the same thing."

By the time that a losing opponent is rendered helpless, the winning side has taken many casualties and sunk a lot of treasure. They know what was risked and have a true knowledge of paying the price.

If one starts with robots, one only knows how much money it costs, at some abstract level. And the target society or region only knows that there has been no fair play, and has no incentive to avoid any expedient in retaliation.

Now, I know it's popular to think that fair play has nothing to do with war, and to some extent that's true. But a contender in a war has to know that it at least stood a chance under some set of conventions. If it doesn't, then it has no disincentive to abandoning conventions and attacking in any way possible. Keeping a sense of fairness and a confidence in the effectiveness of war conventions is a very important part in keeping war from becoming much more worse than it already is.

"Imagine a time when two armies are facing each other and one side runs out of ammunition. Does the side that still have bullets fix bayonets instead in order to bring risk back into the combat?"

Nope. But when the losing side understands that it has had its fair chance under existing war conventions, it doesn't disband and become guerillas, or worse, terrorists. It surrenders.

Cordwainer said...

Anonymous Anonymous said...
It may be that a typical spacecraft in orbit uses significantly less power than a warship at sea, and the debris come up a lot faster.

Its common to imagine a future where every spacecraft has a nuclear reactor of some type and on such ships lasers are simple to power up.

But it is by no means certain that will be the case. Its quite possible a typical orbital craft 200 years from now might have a "power-plant" of only a few kilowatts, instead of 100's or MWs.

Total power available would dictate systems on board.

True but this does not mean you couldn't have a fair degree of flexibility in weapon systems. Explosive power generation systems would allow you to have gas dynamic lasers, railguns and EMP's without having the need for huge reactor. Also, solar power would be easily available in space. If you can pack the extra hardware(solar cells, solar thermal concentrators, rectennae, ultracapacitors, etc.) to capitalize on solar power or beamed power systems then you could conceivably carry whatever armaments you want.

Anonymous said...

RE: Tony's descriptions of a sort of modern gentlemanly conduct of war;

I suggest you have ignored how one sided many recent conflicts have been for sake of your argument.

I'd suggest this "fair play" idea is a romantic notion. One that will be/and has been disregarded as soon as it is expedient.

You can always still surrender to the robots.


Anonymous said...

If you have a station that can beam you power why not just put the high power directed energy weapons on it?

As for explosive power generation, its seems a bit wasteful. Why not use a missile instead? It is explosive power generation in a very simple form. One that doesn't have efficiency losses trying to produce electricity and then further losses trying to make a directed energy weapon.


Cordwainer said...

While I agree a missiles will always be cheaper and more efficient as weapons that isn't to say that railguns, hypervelocity projectile weapons and lasers wouldn't have their uses.

In orbital conflicts projectile weapons may run into issue due to the Kessler effect. Invading forces may have reasons to keep orbital infrastructure intact and both forces will want to reduce fratricide due to "space junk" they create. In deep space this is not as much of an issue but you still have a problem with the massive distances involved in space travel that makes seek to kill and time on target strategies difficult.

Missiles will likely have to be very large to carry out seek to kill and the distances traveled will likely not be much further than the ranges at which you come into laser or non-guided projectile range. Of course precision guided artillery rocket barrages for area denial would allow for longer ranges with similar sized weapons, but would require a large number of missiles to pull off(particularly in the vastness of space). Such tactics would be better suited to defensive engagement of orbital entry points. Seeker type cruise missiles would also be useful for targeted strikes against orbital infrastructure by invading craft as they are entering a gravity well. They would probably be less effective against warships in deep space that would be able to conduct evasive actions and use a layered fleet defense against missile attacks.

Railguns, hypervelocity projectile weapons and lasers would of course be useful in point defense roles and in orbital or close range combat where you want to avoid Kessler effects. Railguns and other hypervelocity projectile weapons have the advantage of being relatively small compared to say a long range rocket or guided missile and would have a lower detection profile as well. As pointed out before lasers move at the speed of light so dodging them is most likely out of the question. Also its not like laser weapons are some esoteric technology, its a technology that already has application on the modern battlefield so why we wouldn't utilize such weapons in space is beyond me.

I imagine a low tech space warship would be something like a giant GMRLS with revolver like munition launchers. The launchers could be loaded with a number of different munitions. These would include:
1. Seeker cruise missiles.
2. Semi-active rocket powered guided munitions for area denial artillery barrages.
3. Explosive powered gas dynamic laser for point defense and close range combat.
4. Hypervelocity multi-charge supergun like the German V3, firing a sabot round with a guided "smart" projectile for medium range precision targets where you don't want a lot of collateral damage.
5. An explosive driven ferromagnetic generator round with a vector inversion generator designed to produce an EMP and helical plasma projectile like SHIVA for blinding your enemy when engaged in close range shoot and scoot combat.

Cordwainer said...

I suppose projectiles 1 and 2 could be replaced with a multi-mode projectile like Nimrods.

Geoffrey S H said...

"I imagine a low tech space warship would be something like a giant GMRLS with revolver like munition launchers. The launchers could be loaded with a number of different munitions."

Low tech- that may be (what would a high-tech missile warcraft look like?) but that certainly seems to be the sort of thing only a rich nation could afford. What about poorer low-tech space empires?

Geoffrey S H said...

p.s.: It has occured to me that if you want gimbals on the engine for a spacecraft, it would have to be structurally strengthened to 'tumble'/ yaw with more force than if normal thrusters were used. Seeing as most spacecraft will be strengthened to withstand force coming 'downwards' rather than 'sideways', I think it may be a legitimate point to make. gimbals might require unexpected mass penalties to be added on.

Cordwainer said...

I think a simple one axis uni-directional gimbal for a spacecraft engine could be made structurally strong enough without too much mass penalty. You can have a cluster of such thrusters to give you pitch and yaw control. The issue I see with gimbals is that they would be susceptible to damage from space debris and missiles. Thus requiring one to build protective cowlings or fairings which would be mass prohibitive. Of course if your craft is a purely space-going design that doesn't have to land on a planet you could have your nozzles in cone-like array (like a bunch of grapes). This would allow the nozzles and exhaust plumes of one group engines protect another and provide good redundancy. You would only have to build protection for the gimbals at the "top" of the cluster.

As for a "high-tech" missile carrier I think they would be more like drone or bus-missile carrier with space-dock and tender capabilities. Probably look something like Dean Ing's hollow cylinder type ships. They could be skyscraper like constructs tethered or suspended by tethers (like Cylon BaseStars), but I think such constructs would have even more tumble and yaw issues that would harm their structural integrity. Also, such a construct begs the question of "where do you put the thrusters".

Thucydides said...

Given the amount of energy needed just to move around in space, the "low tech" weapons system would be the ship itself (particularly if it is an unmanned "drone", the classic cargo carrier design).

Since being hit by virtually anything at orbital and interplanetary velocity is going to ruin your day, you could (as a funny illustration in Atomic Rockets suggests) dump Sneaky the cat's litterbox out the airlock. The look on their faces when clumps of frozen cat litter pass through the enemy station at Mach 25.....

On a more practical basis, the release of cargo containers will provide the sort of "shotgun spread" needed to hit a moving target, and even a high tech enemy might discover burning through a 20' ISO container full of Lunar dust is rather problematic. Most of the duties of the Space Navy will resemble customs inspections on the high seas, intercepting ships or objects that seem to be on potential collision courses for inspection, and making them heave to if they are not slowing down, diverting their course etc.

Tony said...


"RE: Tony's descriptions of a sort of modern gentlemanly conduct of war;

I suggest you have ignored how one sided many recent conflicts have been for sake of your argument.

I'd suggest this "fair play" idea is a romantic notion. One that will be/and has been disregarded as soon as it is expedient."

That's an...intriguing -- and not very well-informed -- response.

War conventions, both formal and informal, have nothing whatsoever to do with gentlemanly conduct or romanticism. They exist as a consensus position that there are things that combatants would rather not do if they didn't have to, because retaliation would be too costly. So everyone agrees not to force each others' hands by doing those things. Powers that don't follow these conventions get punished -- harshly. Perhaps you recall Shakespeare's Henry V threatening to subject Harfleur to an old-timey sacking if, "guilty in defense", the town did not surrender after resistance became pointless. That's an old, old convention of warfare, reliably dated back to at least Classical Greece. Gentlemen and romantics need not apply.

To bring things back to where all of this started, one of the oldest conditions of war is that combatants expose themselves to some degree of risk. Of course one can seek to mitigate risks with things like armor, tactics and/or training, fortifications, etc. But it is understood that a risk to life and limb exists. Serious war conventions have evolved around this condition. The one of interest here is that when one side adopts means or methods so superior that there is no fair fight under the existing conventions, conventions no longer apply to the opponent. If he wants to engage in assassination, insurgency, or terrorism, he is going to, because he no longer feels himself bound by any conventions he might have observed in the past. So...

"You can always still surrender to the robots."

Nope. Sorry. Robot opponents free you of the conventional option of surrender. You probably won't even fight them. You'll probably mount a terror campaign in the opponent's homeland from the beginning. In fact, it would be pretty hard to rationally argue that 9/11 was anything but an act of unconventional war precipitated by US conventional superiority in things like air power and mechanized warfare.

Cordwainer said...

Well, Thucydides my thinking is that spaceships are going to have to be pretty sturdy and that space is quite vast so dodging kitty litter or shot gun spreads won't be out of the question. Projectile weapons are more likely going to be area denial and siege tools in terms of space combat. Bus missiles, drones and kamikazes will be expensive special use weapons or weapons of last resort, because as Tony has pointed out there are economic and military costs for not conforming to certain rules or conventions of warfare. Unfortunately, it is the threat of force and the initiation of force that is the main enforcement principle for much of what we call civilization. I don't think that will change much in the future except that our capacity and efficiency to utilize force may increase to such a level that the cost-benefit analysis in regards to being violent will lessen. In other words the cost of being violent won't be worth the benefit as our technology to utilize enforcement principles both violent and non-violent gets better. Here's hoping to a better future through tender aggression, Yay! Blargh!

Anonymous said...

Re: Tony further explaining his take on War Conventions..

Let me see if I get this right, you suggest:
1. War has always carried personal risk to combatants
2. The acknowledgement of said risk has contributed to the development of war conventions.
3. Thus war must always continue to carry such personal risk in order to preserve the conventions that came about due to step 1.

Where does the fact that for most of history it was impossible to remove the human from the battlefield come in?

Now that it is becoming possible, I don't think they will keep robots off the battlefield for platitudes sake.

Why exactly can you not surrender to a drone or a robot? Surely it is possible to program a robot to accept a surrender if you can program it to Shoot a machinegun.

Why does that make War of human soldiers against Robots and drones impossible?

We haven't even suggested the capabilities here. Surely the Russians have a Mig for example that could make short work of a Predator Drone.


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