Enabling Seasteading Through Space and Lunar Development
By Joseph Friedlander
Previous related articles by Joseph or myself –
A summary of the original idea of a project Orion pulse propulsion variant of a nuclear cannon. A system using existing technology of nuclear bombs and a deep hole to launch cargo and materials into space for about $10-50 per pound.
Why not use the lunar materials, then, to create what Friedlander calls a ‘gigantic solar sail loom,’ one that would stretch reinforcement wires in loom fashion over a framework that could reach 10 by 10 kilometers in size. The idea for this space shipyard is to create vast solar sails, spreading a volatile material on the framework, vaporizing thin amounts of aluminum onto it, then removing the volatile and support structure to create an ultra-thin, 100-square kilometer sail.
Use Al Globus’ idea of an asteroid-retrieval project called AsterAnts. Globus and colleagues Bryan Biegel and Steve Traugott (all working with MRJ Technology Solutions at NASA Ames) came up with the notion back in the late 1990s, presenting it as a NASA technical report and developing its ideas in a presentation at Space Frontier Conference 8. The notion is to retrieve small (1/2 to 1-meter) Near Earth Objects for orbital processing, and to do all this with solar sails that could be constructed and tested near the International Space Station.
A Strategy Of Liberty and Prosperity In Our Lifetime —
Dr. David Criswell has written extensively about the prospect of developing a ‘Two Planet” economy, urging us to see the Moon and Earth as part of a unified industrial system. Specifically he advocates lunar surface generated solar power beamed to Earth (using the Moon as, essentially, a big powersat) which saves enormous expense in launching and stationkeeping, yet gains the advantage of constant output (given the fact that some part of the Moon is always in sunlight, and that the rotating Earth below can be beamed to (with the aid of geosynchronous relay satellites) at all times. (Excepting the polar regions)
In this scenario, the only real export of space industry would be non-material. Information– via satellites today– already is one such. Professor Criswell’s plan would add energy exports. Real space colonization might be enabled by the plan (industrial parks on the Moon with 1c kilowatt hour electricity!) but per se is not part of it.
Dr. Criswell’s speculations served as the foundation for my own—suppose other, material exports are not only possible but cheap from the Moon?
And suppose the peculiar nature of these exports encouraged seasteading and formed a synergy with it?
As Dr. Eric Drexler has pointed out, when it comes to space, down is much cheaper, energetically and in terms of ease, than up.
Consider for a moment a hypothetical lunar electrical launch system.
There are three things to remember here:
1. Hurling a payload into space is 22 times easier from the Moon than the Earth. It is essentially the difference between a Thor sized hydrogen-oxygen missile (60-90 tons) and a Saturn V (3000 tons) when you consider the fact that most of the payload of the initial fuel is the later fuel. Roughly speaking, each could hurl 45 tons to an escape trajectory. Another way of saying this is a fully fueled Saturn V third stage (S-IVB) on the lunar surface would not use all its fuel to accomplish this task. Remember that this 22 times easier figure neglects gravity and drag losses, it is simply the square root energy requirement, so the moon launch comes off even better. A 154 ton Titan II GLV http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titan_II_GLV was necessary to orbit 2 Gemini astronauts from the Earth, but the 4.7 ton ascent stage of the Lunar Module did the job on the Moon.
It takes about the energy equivalent of half an object’s weight in TNT to blow it clear off the Moon– and when it falls to Earth it will generate the equivalent of 14 times its weight in TNT in thermal energy. (If you could tap that lunar energy of position this itself would be an energy source)
1. Natural rentry bodies are possible and cheap to make for hundreds of dollars.
I was quite disappointed that NASA never held a contest, during all the years of the Shuttle program, to give school ceramics classes the chance to make sample reentry bodies and let them be released from the Shuttle in a contest to see which survived (they could have, for example, had letters inside which if undamaged could be recovered). It would have been a spectacular release of say 1000 many-colored reentry bodies.
A sample natural reentry body— a Tektite
Caption from Wikipedia: Aerodynamically shaped Australite; the button shape caused by ablation of molten glass in the atmosphere
Basically, you could make a small one of these in a ceramics class with a turntable. A larger one with the kind of turntable they use to cast 8 meter telescope mirrors.
1. Uncorrected ballistic transfers may be accurate to say 1 part in 10,000 or about 25 miles CEP at the Moon’s distance. (An assumption, but not a gross one) as 155 millimeter artillery can often achieve 50 m CEP (circular error probable) from 30 km. The ratio in that case is 1 part in 600, but in vacuum there are no cross winds or friction. Even if 1 part in 600, the miss radius is around 400 miles, an easy voyage of 24 hours to retrieve and tug the floating conical reentry barge and bring it back to a fixed seasteading site.
If we can imagine ballistic deliveries from Lunar Industry to Earth, what would be the products of greatest comparative advantage?
Consider that Earth and near-Earth space each are optimized for different functions from the human viewpoint of what I call a “Two-World Industrial Bootup”.
Consider that the Earth is ideal for sustaining life. Cynics who doubt the ability of mankind to colonize space often point out that it would be cheaper to colonize the Sahara or Antarctica than space– and in a way they are quite correct. (The unanswered question would be, how would people sustain themselves there, and what would they do for a living with enough comparative advantage to pay their way through trade? But more on that below.)
What adds to the expense of space colonization is duplicating the living conditions of Earth. The heaviest thing of a space colony is the 90% of its’ mass that is radiation shielding (1 million tons is the actual colony hull and contents in one design, 9 million tons the shielding) These numbers are comparable to 900 tons of moved earth per inhabitant, and 100 tons of manufactured goods (the colony hull and its’ systems)
On Earth water is available easily, air, even food. And of course there is easy import of manufactured products. (At a shipping cost of less than 1/8th cent a ton mile by large ship!)
In advanced societies the amount of earth (rock, ore) moved per inhabitant is on the order of 10-30 tons per person per year. (The work of a generation in that earth-moving effort would correspond to the shielding mass)
The amount of manufactured goods is on the order of 300 kg to a few tons per person per year (over the whole society– not everyone buys a new car every year, part of this is supporting government, industry, medicine, etc in ways not obvious in your everyday life– but you would feel its’ lack if this share was not there).
Put the numbers together and again it corresponds to a generation of manufactured goods to create the colony hull and kit. This is the chicken and the egg problem of starting a colony before you have a colony.
In contrast, on Earth you can get a new living location going with a fraction of that mass—and even buy existing infrastructure. Nomads and campers obviously make do with less than a ton apiece. These numbers appear impossible to duplicate in space without nanotech.
In space on the other hand, you have free solar power, free vacuum, access (with great amounts of radiating surface) to passive cryogenic cold. Vast industrial operations are possible there that could only be carried on in sealed small chambers on Earth. (Vacuum deposition, for one)
In contrast to the scenario of settling the Sahara or Antarctica– (what would you do there once you got there? If you could not raise crops the logical industry would be mining–) we can imagine an alternative scenario, with teleoperated, automatic and otherwise unmanned Lunar industry exporting large amounts of materials to earth with relatively precise accuracy (an hour to a day’s cruise by boat to recover the floating entry body).
The more I have thought of this, the more I have seen the possibilities in relation to seasteading. (seasteading.org—central thesis is that freedom to move will bring competition to governments and better behavior to citizens.
Design of a seastead at the Millennial Project 2.0 Wiki
Seasteading is a phrase evoking ‘homesteading at sea’. It basically involves the concept of people building floating units which can serve as housing and places of work, and using them as places to life free. (The most convenient ones would be near big cities for the amenities, but supplying remote seasteads is a considerable problem.)
Timothy Blee has written a column dismissing the dynamic geography advantage of seasteading that depends on proximity to urban areas –dynamic geography being the fact that you can move around seasteading units so only those who want to be neighbors are. (Counter– on a strategic mobility level– yes, I am paying extra say for a seastead near Silicon Valley or Manhattan because I need to work there. But tactically, no, I am not hostage to any fool who moves next to me and will not stop activities I simply cannot tolerate. I can move. )
Blee’s basic thesis is that:
1. Once established, you would not be able to separate modular seasteads because of entwined human relations between the residents of one large subunit to another (My counter would be—design single residences that plug and unplug and use the large subunits only as housings to hold these single residences, not as units that most vote. Once the decision goes down to the family level, it is a private affair not a public one)
2. Certain infrastructure hubs or spines (he uses the examples of utility lines) are not separatable in a practical way–(My counter would be– so what? If single units are, move them and not the spine they plug into.)
3. High-tax, high regulation cities have an attraction despite their disadvantages –hardly anyone chooses isolation in the Montana woods because cities are more conducive to business, building families (social cultural and other opportunities). (My counter would be, just because city governments have turned parasitical in the last hundred years is no reason to tolerate their present form by saying seasteading is no alternative. If I were a beer drinking man (I am not) and a snake was coiled around my favorite keg, I would remove the snake and enjoy the keg, not drink in fear and imagine there was nothing I could do. The snake is not an inevitable condition of life, and neither is overly intrustive/taxing city government. Once substantial numbers of taxpayers leave their jurisdiction, they may learn better manners.)
4. “People who live close together for long periods of time need a system of mechanisms for resolving disputes, which is to say they need a government. “ (Counter: No real argument except this– they need a government of courts and enforcement of verdicts– which is to say a two office (arbitration and enforcement) arbitration service, by private arbitration, by clergical arbitration or by (last alternative) a respected judge. They do not need hundreds of city offices and bureaus which spend their tax money on unwanted street festivals, or on celebrating things best left unfunded, or pensioning the last generation of looting politicians etc. A government throughout history has meant an army against the outside, and a judge against the inside, and not much more– if the taxpayers wanted to stay happy. Someday we will learn that again– and seasteading can put the economic pressure on those who refuse to learn.)
Of course as seasteading spreads, revenue-hungry and Constitutionally unheeding local authorities may attempt to restrict commerce to non-cooperating (ie tax-collecting) seasteads. Which brings us to the point of this article–
The central concept of space-enabled seasteading is it gives you an extra trading partner– the sky.
Consider what an enabler and aid having a Two-World Industrial System would be for seasteading.
It should be obvious that having satellite communications and internet, navigation (GPS) already are enormous logistics easers for remote seasteads. (And beamed energy supplies would enormously extend this aid since a beam of energy costs no more to deliver to the Central Pacific than a major port!) Consider the alternative of hiring a small freighter for a custom supply mission—electricity from imported generator fuel can typically cost 3 to 5 times as much at remote island sites for this reasons. The demise of small load, flexible destination packet boats has only worsened the shipping cost differential between ‘major port to major port on major ship’ rates and what a remote seastead is likely to have to pay. )
But consider also the advantages of having the ability to plunk down cargoes where they will be most of use. It takes not noticeably more effort to divert a reentry body cargo barge to the remote Maldive Islands, say, than offshore of a major container port. A seastead there could retrieve and tow (probably with lunar electricity-charged batteries like diesel subs use) the capsule to its’ dock and unload it with ease.
If sufficiently large the reentry bodies might even become seastead modules –or parts for them. Consider that Titanium is an ideal material for sea use—and it typically constitutes 3% of the lunar maria— the flat dark plains that cover ~1/6 the Moon’s surface –around 6 million km2. . In fact, if the Moon has one exportable commodity of greatest comparative advantage it is titanium (there is also aluminum and calcium in great abundance relative to the cosmic abundances—but those are more common on Earth).. You would coat the titanium with ablative rock to boil off during entry—probably waste from the basalt which contains the titanium being mined!
“ Our titanium boat hardware will NEVER corrode or rust. It’s 40% stronger and lighter than stainless steel. … “
“Industry sources indicate continuing usage of the original Titanium equipment after 30 years of constant saltwater immersion has produced no measurable corrosion. Other saltwater applications with water temperatures as high as 500ºF has produced the same result: no measurable corrosion. “
So we see that the exhaustive maintenance needed for a boat made of almost any other substance may not apply to titanium seasteads.
(Incidentally, for appearance’s sake, Titanium is one of the few metals which can be anodized for brilliant colors—like aluminum. As seen on the below page, particularly vivid purples, greens salmons blues and yellows are available.
Consider the amount of titanium on the maria (seas) of the Moon to a depth of 1 kilometer (the maria have a thickness of 1-4 km). Basalt typically has a density of about 3. To a depth of 1 kilometer, each square kilometer contains 3 billion tons of mass, of which 3% is 90 million tons of titanium. This times 6 million square kilometers, and the amount of easily accessible lunar titanium is 540 trillion tons of titanium. If we imagine million ton. 100,000 person seasteads (massive enough for great stability in the worst storms, especially in catamaran footed form) there is sufficient titanium to build 540 million of them, and there are only 335 million square kilometers of ocean (and counting seas and lakes, only 361 million square kilometers). Clearly, there is sufficient lunar titanium to sustain considerable seastead development for the foreseeable future.
And if there is one metal just made to process in vacuum with near free solar power, it is titanium, which is hideously reactive with oxygen at high temperatures though non-reactive at low ones (because of surface skin oxide layer protection, like aluminum). Molten titanium will rapidly dissolve all known oxide-based refractories. But in vacuum it is much easier to work with and produce quality metal products—if need be by direct deposition from a hot metal source to a cool target.
Right now near- Earth space is an industrial wilderness. Other than communication satellites, there is nothing there than vacuum and rock. But there are immediate and obvious industrial advantages to sunlight touching rock in vacuum. The cost of thermal energy on the Moon should be very low, because a foil mirror –not being destroyable in minutes by wind, as would happen on Earth– can work for decades, and provide solar heat in high concentration.
If we can plop down fully worked titanium structures into the oceans, bearing cargoes that pay the way, and use those structures as components of seasteads, and supply these floating assemblies with lunar solar power— then we have solved the problems of energy and materials supply, as well as that of jobs. Because traditionally commerce flourishes where trade routes cross. And if living at sea becomes cheaper than living on land—even without tax considerations, then people will migrate there. Enough migration and the logistics have a momentum of their own and the seastead cluster itself becomes a trading destination.
This is a cheaper and safer form of space colonization –but on Earth, the Earth providing the life support functions and the colony possibly directly operating the lunar industries that send down the goods they need. Their food could be grown in floating greenhouses and fish farm corrals. They might process the resources of the seabed crust directly below the colony, and move the colony itself down the length of a mineral deposit, using beamed lunar solar power to work the materials. In fact this vision of seasteading not as political escape (that will come in its own time) but enabler of logistics and cheapener of expenses at remote deep ocean mining sites would give a place to be a reason to be there and a long term goal in sight—as in Marshall Savage’s vision-book, The Millennial Project–
Later version, Millennial Project 2.0 Wiki training toward true space colonization at sea without the vast logistic difficulties of ‘true’ space colonization, wherein every job in space must be done by someone living in space– no remote help centers, no teleoperated robot arms, no on-Earth mission control/backoffice! Because of lightspeed delays such remote aids would be largely useless much beyond the Moon– but in the Two-World Industrial System bootup process they are powerful leverage tools, enabling us to avoid paying for entire generations of non-optimal space barracks and only art the wealthy end of the process pay for formal colonies.
Deep seabed mining, especially near ocean ridges, gives access to hitherto untouched deposits of industrial metals on the unseen 2/3 of the Earth. Just by random distribution, (yes, geology is not all random distribution but there are always surprises) we could argue there should be at least 2 times more of high concentration deposits of desirable minerals. This could put off ‘Peak (fill in the blank)’, what I call Peak Everything, off for a crucial century or so.
1. As long as we have cheap energy (and better still, supercheap energy, around 1c per kilowatt hour, electricity as cheap as the thermal energy of coal, 1/5 the current cost)–materials for growth should not be a problem on Earth. The solution to Peak Everything is supercheap space solar power (under 1 cent US per kWh) and rock reduction mining. We need it even on Earth for garbage reclamation, so we might as well develop it for space as well. The idea with garbage is to use plasma-recycle technologies to make a melt and a gas output. The gas is mostly CO2 and steam. (In the absence of oxygen it can be a fuel gas, but we are postulating energy cheaper than that fuel would be worth). The melt, if dropped into water and crumpled, will make a rock like substance. (If left to cool from the glowing orange state it becomes hardened brittle glassy rock) To this we apply the same comprehensive chemical reduction techniques of rock reduction (properly, rock analysis on an industrial scale) and through various chemical steps refine out everything that is in it– take away the oxygen, sort out the solid elements, extract what we need. With supercheap electrical power it works. (Plasma torches generate the high temperatures needed to dissociate the oxygen from the rock) Today it would be uneconomical. But with that abundant cheap power, we can mine the 1/1000th of typical rock that is phosphorus, and the similar portion that is potassium, for fertilizers. We can obtain essentially unlimited amounts of the useful metals. Typical crustal rock is 1/400th chromium, a comparable amount of vanadium and manganese, 1% titanium, and 8% aluminum (and we need not mine typical crustal rock. There are huge amounts of intermediate richness rocks –far poorer than the ores we mine today– that return far more trace elements than the average. Typical rock for example, might contain 29 parts per million copper. Not too good a deal unless you are simultaneously going for say 30 other industrial elements, at which point it becomes economical with cheap electricity. There are very large amounts of rock richer than average crustal rock, and often it would make sense to mine rocks far poorer than ore, but far richer than normal rock. We will have ‘Peak Ore’ and perhaps even ‘Peak 10 Times Richer Than Average Rock’ but we will probably, while Man lives upon the Earth, never have ‘Peak Rock’ because the Earth, when you get right down to it, is made of rock. ‘Peak Rock’, ‘Peak Seawater’, ‘Peak Air’ ‘Peak Sunlight’— don’t think so. With unlimited penny a kilowatt hour power from space we can power our two-world economy on those..
Note that specific materials may still be easier to produce on the Moon than Earth, noticeably titanium as mentioned above.
The Earth is ideal for sustaining life, and many will not care to risk vacuum and radiation. For them space import-sustained seasteading would be an ideal way to be part of that lunar ‘backoffice’ They could operate remote tractors, bulldozers, backhoes and walking draglines. They could monitor rock refineries and plot capsule launches. And the benefits would come, literally and figuratively, to the very seastead where they lived.
In time those seasteads might grow quite elaborate. One can imagine catamaran (or other immersed floats supporting pillars sticking above the water) hulls suspending ‘plains’ of greenhouses at sea, for land vegetables, besides the many possibilities involving floating perimeters and sacks isolating pockets of sea in which to grow secure mariculture crops such as algae, seaweed and fish.
Links on seabased platforms and their uses.
I have imagined a world where everyone lives on million ton cruise ships. (gigawatt thorium reactor or lunar solar powered, with 100,000 people on each) These are more like huge platformed catamarans than traditional ocean liners
List of ten great Atlantic ocean liners
Queen Mary 2 at wikipedia
Queen Mary 2’s facilities include fifteen restaurants and bars, five swimming pools, a casino, a ballroom, a theatre, and the firstplanetarium at sea. There are also kennels onboard, as well as a nursery.
Queen Mary 2 has 14,164-square-metre (3.500-acre) of exterior deck space, with wind screens to shield passengers as the ship travels at high speeds. Four of the ship’s five swimming pools are outdoors (although one of these is only one inch deep for use by small children). One of the pools on Deck 12 is covered with a retractable magrodome. The indoor pool is on Deck 7, in the Canyon Ranch Spa Club.
In total, 300,000 pieces of steel were assembled into 94 “blocks” off of the drydock, which were then stacked and welded together to complete the hull and superstructure.
The ship’s final cost was approximately $300,000 US per berth, nearly double that of many large passenger ships. This was due to the size of the ship, the high quality of materials, and that, having been designed as an ocean liner, she required 40% more steel than a standard cruise ship
A seasteading structure will similarly have to be overbuilt compared to a ‘good weather’ cruise ship that can simply avoid bad weather by following announcements. Spend enough time at sea and rogue waves will occur, and stuff just happens.
The Queen Mary 2 masses around 150,000 tons and has over 85 mw of power.
She has 3000 passengers and around 1200 crew. (A passenger/crew model might not be the best for seasteading unless it were done subtly. Also, the crew/served ratio of a luxury hotel is not sustainable without robotics into the middle-range future for economic reasons)
Imagine six of these babies as catamaran footings for about a square kilometer of growing surface on a parklike farming plain/jogging path
You can imagine that the amenities of a million ton ship would rival those of a major resort’s downtown luxury shopping district– but really, if EVERYONE lives on a seastead there would be no more than a per-capita share of these things because there are only so many upscale customers relative to your society (Those numbers may change– but so will expectations, so ‘upscale’ gets redefined yet again. The wealthy of 1930 may have had a private orchestra and private movie theatre on call. The poor of today have CD-quality music and movies on demand from a cheapo I-pod clone holding the equivalent of thousands of songs and a few dozen movies.. Redefining poverty up (and cultural decline down) happens all the time, and we hardly know it till it is pointed out. In the future everyone may live on a seastead and have luxuries we would ache for today– but it will seem normal to them.
You can imagine that with nuclear electricity, heat, distillation (from waste heat) liquid fuel consumption would be quite minimal and those small quantities could be synthesized at sea from atmospheric carbon dioxide and distilled water. Most of their food would come from lower mass farm pots embedded in sea water at largely nonmobile locations, but these more mobile seasteads would grow their own vegetables and fruits where freshness was important and receive food shipments periodically. Such a world saves greatly on the difficult logistics of supporting import-dependent cities at high altitude (think Mexico City) because nearly all shipping is done at large quantity at sea for 1/50th the cost of a railroad, which itself is 1/10th the cost of a truck. It can be—in the future– more economical than land-steading!
And one of the best features of seasteading would be freedom to pick what you wanted for an environment and leave the environment you don’t want behind. I am thinking of climate (my wife’s Minnesota winters!) but the statement may equally apply to crime, and to a local degree, bothersome business regulations. One may imagine running a business on a seastead and importing and exporting around the world– (while touring it!) and perhaps manufacturing you product locally from a combination of sea-bottom and lunar-maria-mined materials as you move about your course, so that we not merely have an economy that is of two worlds, but products whose mixed molecules literally were mined on two different orbs circling our one common Sun.
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Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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