Internet lessons for space: Nasa’s should only enable space infrastructure

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Al Fin has two interesting articles :Mining space the gold rush that never ends and Making space launch more affordable. The articles also refer to my own article about using laser arrays that can be enhanced with mirrors to create a scalable modular space launch and infrastructure system.

There are lessons to be learned from the growth of internet infrastructure:
– What were the enabling elements in the explosive growth of internet infrastructure and which ones would be helpful in enabling explosive space infrastructure growth
How could the internet service provider model be used to help create a space access provider model
– how commerce was enabled and private capital was used to leveraged government funds
– how standards were funded and managed
– how improvements were encouraged

DARPA primed the pump for the internet. The history of the internet NASA should prime the pump for space access and that should be its primary and maybe even sole purpose. Space access is a more capitally intensive task, so it justifies more focus.

What are some of the key design elements for the internet that should be followed for a good space infrastructure system.

1. The internet is about moving information but space access is about moving energy and matter. The internet drove down all sorts of costs associated with moving information. A revolution in space access needs to be architected to drive down the costs of getting more energy and matter.

2. Highly utilized tiered system that can be built modularly and incrementally

The internet has the backbone network and primary nodes and routers. It also has tiers of providers.

How internet infrastructure works

There are lessons to be learned in how the internet backbone was privatized to plan how a modular space infrastructure could be incentivized and maximum leverage achieved

Space access technology should look more preferentially on systems that are modularly expandable and scalable.

3. Most of the pieces of the internet infrastructure are automated with minimal configuration. The early internet also had a lot of manual work/configuration and knowledge barriers. Custom coding and configuration were costs and barriers. The space infrastructure should be cheap and automated.

4. As much as possible use commodity components and hardware that is used for other purposes. Computers were not just used for the internet. There was money and market forces already at play pushing the improvement of computers. This is an advantage to using laser modules. Lasers are being developed for military and industrial purposes. Lasers have a rapid improvement rate.

On the ground laser module:

Power module in space:

5. The build out of space infrastructure does not need to involve people in space. I am a huge proponent of space colonization and of a manned space program. However, those pieces should come after the space launch and energy generation systems are built (or from a separate pool of funding). Designs for space structures can be made to be completely automated and modular.

If something (commodized cheap module of the overall system) does not work then it should be thrown away. There should be redundancy. Every part is cheap and replaceable.

Google has over 450,000 servers built from commodity components Custom build or assemble only when it helps in the scaling process

The goal should be to drive $10,000/kg launches down to near the cost of the electricity needed to lift a kilogram into space ($5-10/kg). Then the modular space energy infrastructure should then drive down the cost of electrical energy as well.

Supplying power for space and back to earth is an infrastructure that could be built up without the complexity and cost of involving people. the low to no gravity of space means that we do not have to build structures -we just have to have the pieces stay positioned relative to each other. The systems that are put into space should avoid complicated construction. Systems using magnetic or photonic positioning and formation flying could avoid the need for costly astronaut construction. Space telescopes are also infrastructure that is amenable to floating/inflating in place non-construction construction.

Once the launch costs come down then the other activities will be justified. Space mining, colonization etc…

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