09 May 2007

Making Space Launch More Affordable

Brian Wang at Advanced Nanotechnology Blog has posted a thoughtful entry on the prospects for cheap space launch within 10 years--via laser and magnetic launch technologies.
The $10,000/kg cost of getting things into space has been crippling what is possible in space. Any low cost system will also need to have a high volume purpose. I discuss the best system that would still involve chemical propulsion and laser and magnetic launch systems. The focus is on laser launch array systems (and mirror reflecting enhancement). I believe there is no technical roadblock for the laser array launch system being developed within 10 years. As with any significant project it would take a coordinated effort and funding.

....Laser photonic mirror system could launch things into orbit and could enhance the laser array launch system with mirrors to multiply efficiency by 1000 up to 100,000 times.

High volume magnetic launch (4000g) acceleration with ion propulsion at the top could bring launch costs down to $10/kg. High volume systems which have operational costs which are only the cost of electricity tend to converge to the $10/kg price. The laser launch and laser launch mirror systems also converge to those prices at high volume.
Go here for the original article, with excellent links and graphics.

Brian is talking about revolutionary changes in the cost of space launch--a reduction from $10,000 per kg to $10 per kg. There is no earthly way of describing to the uninitiated what this would mean for the future of humans on and near earth.

But throwing caution aside, I shall go cautiously insane for a moment in looking at the market value of near earth asteroid 3554 Amun. This asteroid is 2 km in diameter, and assuming typical nickel-iron meteorite composition, Amun is worth $8,000 billion in iron and nickel, $6,000 billion in Cobalt, with a total worth on the Earth metals market in the late '90s of $20,000 billion. Its worth to spacegoing enterprise, given it would already be in orbit and not need to be launched, would be in the vicinity of $300,000,000 billion, at current launch rates. At Brian's reduced rates it would be worth only $300,000 billion--a significant discount indeed.

Consider how much wealth $300,000 billion would be: roughly equivalent to the gross global product of Earth for the next thirty years or more. Source: Mining the Sky by John S. Lewis, Addison Wesley Press.

Think of it as a minor motivation for the few humans who value wealth--particularly in a rapidly expanding human universe.

A space rush would be similar to the many gold and silver rushes of previous centuries, and the oil rushes that continue even in an environment of so-called peak oil. The huge influx of wealth to the countries able to capitalise on this explosion of pioneering exploitation of space resources would sponsor accelerated research into biotechnology, nanotechnology, cognitive science--not to mention any number of new and decadent amusements.

This would not be the next level, but it would certainly be a good bypass around the economic implosion in the west being brought about by demographic aging and shrinkage combined with a worrying dysgenic population trend. With a new and rapidly expanding frontier full of near-instant billionaires and trillionaires, a lot of very interesting possibilities will inevitably come about.

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