Tau Zero founder Marc Millis has a future history with a focus on space development over the next forty years at Centauri Dreams Marc Millis also headed the NASA breakthrough physics program.
By 2015: Virgin Galactic has flown dozens of tourists into low earth orbit. The Google Lunar X-Prize will have been won and a few companies vying to dominate the resulting private space probe market.
NBF – There should be a mention of whether there is success with the Spacex Heavy rocket and the reusable launch development of Spacex and Blue Origin. The Solar electric sail will also be critical. Another high impact possibility is if there are real development of LENR (Rossi, Brillioun and others) or with the nuclear fusion innovations at General Fusion, EMC2, Lawrenceville plasma physics, Tri-Alpha Energy, Helion Energy, high frequency laser fusion, muon fusion or other approaches.
The effect of citizen space travelers is seeping into the cultural psyche. As more people see Earth from space — the ‘Overview Effect,’ where borders are invisible and Earth’s atmosphere is but a thin fragile coating — there is now a greater sense of protecting Earth’s habitability and a growing disrespect for war. And yes, the numbers in the “200 mile high club” (“sextronauts” – wink-nudge) continue to grow despite the fact that microgravity adaptation sickness spoils many weekend getaways. At universities, it is now common to see mini space programs of their own using probes of ever-advancing capabilities – in step with continually advancing Artificial Intelligence and sensors. Asteroid prospecting has begun, and new X-Prizes are conceived to encourage the first mining operations.
NBF – The key variables for how much space development there is if
1. Spacex has successfully developed reusable launchers and lowered costs by 100 times.
2. Room temperature superconductors have been developed to enable ground launched magnetic sails and other applications.
3. The extent and scope of the energy breakthroughs with hot or cold fusion.
4. How much enhanced capability from nanotechnology in materials and with manufacturing ?
Without human biases that cling to paradigms and pet theories, Artificial Intelligence research impartially assesses thousands of competing scenarios of assumptions and data in minutes. This not only covers engineering optimizations, but also basic research in physics, chemistry and synthetic biology.
Soon, the seemingly intractable problems of indefinite closed-loop life support and even radiation shielding are solved. Survivable human outposts on the Moon and Mars are completed shortly thereafter.
NBF – Solar sails are mentioned by Marc Millis, but I think far superior macro scale carbon nanotubes, graphene and enhanced aerogels could make for far better solar sails. A very thin solar sail with heat resistant material would enable a close flyby of the sun for a very fast interstellar mission.
Airbus is targeting 2030 to be able to use additive manufacturing to print airplanes. DARPA is also working on an additive manufacturing revolution. The success of an additive manufacturing revolution along with refinement of massive (like Foxconn is developing) robotic factories to make large modules which can be rapidly assembled like legos will be far faster scaling up and construction of new vehicles like new space vehicles.
What is happening with the global economy will be a big factor. Has low cost and abundant clean energy been developed and deployed along with additive manufacturing to usher in a massive economic boom ?
Meanwhile, small and innocuous physics discoveries mark the beginning of breakthrough spaceflight. All this starts with sensor experiments that can detect the motion of the Earth through the universe – not by the Cosmic Microwave dipole effects as in the 1980′s, but from more fundamental interactions with the primordial inertial fame of the universe. From these Mach/de Broglie sensors, new physical effects are discovered. Eventually, rather than just sensing inertial frames, devices are invented to affect gravity and inertia. The first propellantless space drive is invented shortly thereafter. And after that, it becomes possible to create synthetic gravitational environments on spacecraft for the long-duration health of the crew. The advent of space drives and synthetic internal gravity enables humans to venture to the outer reaches of our solar system.
NBF – By 2040, I would include the developments from full blown molecular nanotechnology.
If there as I am expecting full blown commercial fusion power and molecular nanotechnology then the economy will be booming at very high growth rates. Manufacturing capabilities will be massively enhanced.
10,000 or more fusion powered with assisted molecular nanotechnology manufacturing would be able to enable rapid colonization of the solar system.
Nanomedicine would enable massive life extension and combined with enhanced genetic engineering would enable adapting people to space and other environments.
By now, human survival beyond the constraints of Earth is an imperative. The further refinements to full-cycle sustainable life support, radiation protection, synthetic gravitation, space drives and fusion power enable the construction of colony ships. Although still slower than light-speed, these developments make it possible to consider sending a colony toward the planet Destiny – which it could reach in less than 3 centuries. Smaller probes are much easier and multiple versions are launched to numerous interstellar destinations.
NBF – with a decade or more of maturity of molecular manufacturing with mass produced nuclear fusion and superconductors in space for harvesting several milligrams per year.