Section 4.2: Phase 0 - Research & Development< Space Transport and Engineering Methods
The main program goals are upgrading civilization on Earth, and expanding it to more difficult environments, including space. To accomplish these goals, some new or improved technologies and methods will be needed. Once available, they can be incorporated into suitable designs for their intended locations. For space locations in particular, there has been a severe lack of production and habitation capacity, with the main focus so far being on transport and information services. This imbalance exists to a lesser degree in difficult Earth environments. For example, many ships (transport) cross the oceans, but relatively few things are produced there, and few people inhabit the seas. Phase 0 is therefore included in the program to supply what's needed for the later phases, and to consciously correct unbalanced development where possible. The major goals of Phase 0 can then be stated as:
- (1) Identify systems and elements covering the full range of production, habitation, transport, and services functions.
- (2) Supply needed new technologies and methods, in the form of tested and ready to use elements.
- (3) Supply detailed designs for equipment and locations, incorporating both existing and new elements.
The program as a whole is complex. The Systems Engineering methods (see Section 1.5) were developed to handle such complexity, so we intend to use them to develop this and later phases. Other engineering methods can also be used where appropriate, but the systems approach is especially useful across whole programs. This includes their interactions with the world outside the program, and the constituent parts of a program with each other. Part of the systems process is to break down complexity into smaller parts, which are then more comprehensible and easier to design. We have already started this in Section 4.1 by identifying a sequence of phases and sub-phases according to scale, type of environment, and distance. A given set of locations within a sub-phase can then share similar designs, and to a lesser degree with those of the major phase and program as a whole.
Civilization as a whole has common elements across all of it. For example, people need protection from the environment and food to eat no matter where they are. Heat-treating alloy steel can use the same process anywhere you need to do it. We can therefore define a reference architecture for these common elements of civilization, and apply it to organize the tasks of upgrade and expansion. Many existing parts of civilization and component technologies are good enough as-is for the upgrades and expansions we would like to do. In those cases, we don't have to change them, just use them. Other items are deficient or undeveloped. As we identify them, we can rank them by parameters like benefit ratio, cost, difficulty, probability of success, and time to complete. Then we can add them to our R&D plans in the best sequence. New technology we develop is used internally in the program, and also supplied as a benefit to civilization at large to use elsewhere.
The R&D work can be divided into a general part that applies across the whole program, and sub-phases covering work for specific environments and locations. The sub-phases and tasks are detailed further below. Limits on our current knowledge, and on available project resources, mean we cannot do all the R&D work in advance or all at once. In some cases, a given area of R&D must be completed successfully before following work can be done. Since we do not know in advance if we will succeed, we expect that R&D plans will often need to change, or follow multiple paths. Therefore this phase is expected to continue in parallel with later phases for as long as the program continues.
Early phase production products and services can be used to support later R&D. For example, we may demonstrate self-expansion of an industrial building as an R&D task, and later use that building for further R&D, or as a production area whose products finance further work. Field experience from earlier phases can be fed back to the R&D phase to improve later designs. We also expect progress across civilization in other technologies, so a given design may no longer be optimal and require upgrades.
The research and development process is similar across all phases and subphases. We give the component tasks a consistent numbering system so they may be coordinated and compared across the program:
Task 0: Coordinate R&D - This activity includes coordinating external resource flows, tasking, planning and scheduling, and analyses.
- 0.1: Coordinate R&D External Flows - This task includes arranging and managing resource flows into and out of the phase, from outside the program and to other phases.
- 0.2: Coordinate R&D Tasking - This activity includes arranging which resources will be applied to the phase tasks.
- 0.3: Coordinate R&D Planning & Scheduling - This activity includes developing future plans and schedules for the phase.
- 0.4: Coordinate R&D Analyses - This activity examines past performance and studies ways to improve R&D processes.
Task 1: Conceptual Design - This includes exploring new concepts and developing a reference architecture. This is followed by a systems engineering process to reach a concept level design. This includes defining the main functions and elements of the program, and how they will be operated and maintained across the stages of their life cycle. This model is itself part of the conceptual design. Based on prior experience, systems engineering effort optimizes the program cost and schedule at ~10-20% of total effort, with the systems tasks weighted towards the early part of the program. The systems engineering process flow is used iteratively in later design stages. The subtasks here are a template for those flows, but to avoid repetitiveness they are not broken out separately each time below.
- 1.1: Explore New Concepts - This step covers taking concepts, such as self-expansion and automation, and applying them to create new products and projects. Some concepts only apply to particular phases or elements, so an application matrix is an output of this task.
- 1.2: Develop Reference Architecture - The reference architecture is a high level design used to identify technology risks and readiness level (TRL), and make early estimates of cost and schedule. It is a starting point for the conceptual level design. It includes program goals, an architecture description, high level interfaces, element requirements, and element descriptions. Supporting data for the reference architecture includes data sources, analyses to support concept selection, and tracking from goals to lower elements.
- 1.3: Identify Requirements & Measures - These establish measurable features the proposed design must meet, and criteria for selecting among design alternatives. See Section 1.5 Requirements Analysis for details.
- 1.4: Perform Functional Analyses - This breaks down what the design does in terms of functions it performs or a sequence of operations. See Section 1.5 Functional Analysis for details.
- 1.5: Allocate Requirements - This assigns the requirements from task 1.3 to functions from task 1.4 to ensure they are all met somewhere in the design.
- 1.6: Model Alternatives & Systems - There are many possible ways to meet a given set of requirements. Modeling the options provides measurable details for each. The modeling process includes (1) Collect External Technical Information: This includes data needed for modeling and later design, such as existing product data, industry specialist contacts, and current state of the art such as books and articles. (2) Develop Alternative Options (3) Build System Models.
- 1.7: Optimize & Trade-Off Alternatives - This includes varying parameters of a design option, and comparing different options, to find the ones that best meet the selection criteria.
- 1.8: Synthesize & Document Design - The outputs from this task are articles, reports, and books documenting the concepts.
Task 2: Preliminary Design - Assuming the conceptual design produces a sufficiently promising concept, the next stage is to define the elements of the program in more detail. This is done in parallel with component technology and prototype systems because otherwise size and performance would be too uncertain. Multiple design alternatives may exist in this stage, until competing technologies and testing is far enough along to permit selection. This follows same steps as conceptual design, but at greater level of detail.
Task 3: Build R&D Locations - This activity includes building or acquiring use of offices, research workshops, conventional production shops, and prototype test areas needed for R&D work. The design requirements for the R&D locations comes from the previous design work and needs for technology development, and building and testing prototypes. Consideration is also made to adapt the facilities to later phase locations.
Task 4: Develop New Technology - This includes identifying the performance needed based on the conceptual and early preliminary design, surveying the status of current technology, ranking areas for improvement in terms of impact, then applying effort in the most promising areas to improve performance or lower uncertainty. Some technologies are already under heavy development outside the program. So rather than duplicate that effort, we select areas where a limited budget can have the most impact, or encourage others to invest in those areas which need the most work. Technology level work is aimed at single processes or components.
Task 5: Build Prototype Elements - At some point it becomes necessary validate integrated elements and demonstrate performance levels by building prototype hardware. This can be simplified versions of what will become final designs, scaled versions for what will be larger designs, or versions that demonstrate the functionality, but do not use the final materials and components because they have not yet been built. Prototype elements may carry over to later phases if they work well enough, or can be upgraded to final versions in some cases.
Task 6: Test Prototypes - This task reduces technical risk by demonstrating the actual performance of prototype system elements. Initial testing would use the local R&D environment conditions, but later testing uses the full range of operating environments, either in test chambers or by taking the equipment to suitable locations. Deficiencies found during testing are fed back to developing new technology. Early prototypes of a given element may have lower performance goals, which are later increased as improved designs are developed.
Task 7: Design Location Details - This activity covers detailed design of specific locations, including the locations where R&D is done, and locations for later phases. It uses existing technology, plus new technology developed, prototyped, and tested within the program. Because of improved technology over time, goals for further expansion and upgrade of existing locations, and development of new locations, this task is expected to continue through the program. It includes detailed design of individual elements that can be used in multiple locations or sold as separate products.
Sub-Phase Identification - We use the plain "Phase 0" label, with no additional letters, to identify general R&D work which applies across the whole program. When the work is specific to a single phase, a letter is added, such as 0A or 0B. When it applies to two or more phases the R&D work is identified with all applicable sub-phase letters, thus 0CD or 0G-L. Since some R&D locations may themselves need new technology and design, the first sub-phase, 0A, applies to Phase 0 itself. The sub-phases and some of the identified R&D topics are listed below. This list is currently preliminary. The topics are listed in the order we identified them, rather than time order, since R&D sequence and schedule planning is a later step.
We have identified self-expanding production, using Seed Factories as starting points, as a general new technology across the program. They can be used in existing locations across current civilization, and new ones on Earth and in space. The general technology includes more specific subjects like distributed production networks, remote-controlled operation, and smart tools which can operate themselves. Manufacturing in general, and automation in particular, already get a lot of engineering effort, so we do not need to duplicate those efforts. Our R&D work will focus on the unique aspects of self-expanding production systems, and integrating other technologies into them. The program's goal is to establish new locations for civilization, and upgrade existing ones. These program efforts fit within the definition of Advanced Manufacturing. Enough work has gone into the seed factory idea to start a second wikibook on the subject. We provide a short introduction here, and refer you to the other book for detailed information.
Seed Factories Introduction - All factories produce products, and some factories produce the same kind of products they use themselves. For example, steel plants typically use some steel in their own construction. Self-expanding factories are specifically designed to use their own output to grow. A seed factory is an optimized starter set of equipment, plus plans and instructions for a chain of expansions, to reach some desired mature state. Using tools to make more tools is not a new idea. In fact it is nearly as old as toolmaking itself. What is new is optimizing a small starter set to bootstrap this process, applying modern computer software, automation, robotics, and AI to the task, and combining several growth paths to increase factory output:
- Making identical copies of the starter equipment,
- Making larger versions of, or extensions for, the starter elements, and
- Making new tools and machines which can do different tasks, and expand the range of possible outputs.
This technology should be worth developing on Earth for it's own sake. It should make setting up new factories cheaper, especially in remote or difficult locations. With an emphasis on self-growth, they may also achieve high economic rates of return. Once developed on Earth, industrial-scale mature factories can build items needed to reach space, such as launch sites and rocket factories. New starter sets are then delivered to space locations, and the expansion process continued. The experience gained on Earth, and the leverage from a series of self-expanding factories, multiplies the savings on future space projects, making them affordable.
Phase 0A - R&D for Phase 0 R&D LocationsEdit
Even when no new equipment or technology is needed for it, research and development needs locations for offices, laboratories, prototype fabrication, and testing of equipment for later phases. We therefore apply the R&D process above to design and build these locations. When new and unique items are needed, such as a special test chamber, they are developed and built the same way as equipment for later phases.
Phase 0B: R&D for Phase 1 Starter & Network LocationsEdit
Distributed Production Networks - Traditional factories and large office buildings brought equipment and people together in one place because it was the only way to efficiently organize the work. Modern communications and transport networks relieve the need to be in one physical place, and allow coordination of distributed work in many places. Some prominent examples are development of open-source software, and Wikipedia. In a modern production system, the control of the machinery can be a mix of a on-site people, remote control by people, and automatic control by computers and software. Since all the people don't have to be nearby, you can operate in undeveloped, hostile, or expensive locations more easily, and with less of an environmental footprint. Remote operators can efficiently split and re-assign their work as needed between locations. It is likely that some machines and workers will still be grouped together in shared locations, for efficiency or other reasons. Modern technology merely removes the requirement that they all have to be om one place.
Some of the needed technology for distributed production already exist. The R&D tasks for this sub-phase are then to improve or fill in the parts that do not, and combine them into flexible distributed networks. The flexibility is needed because the program intends to constantly add new locations, and seed factory technology will expand existing ones. So we cannot operate on the basis of static networks. They have to grow and adapt along with the rest of the program.
Applications to Later Phases - In this phase, a goal for distributed production technology is the capability to connect and operate hobby and home improvement level equipment in fairly close proximity, like a single metropolitan area. Later phases would need upgrades for long-distance remote operations, such as on the Moon from Earth, or Mars from Phobos. More R&D may be needed later on in this technical area. Space is a particularly undeveloped, hostile, and expensive location. So when you optimize your operations you will want to minimize the on-site humans, and maximize remote control, and smart tools which can operate themselves. So at first there will be a strong incentive for the upgraded technology. As factories, habitats, and transportation systems are built for the later phases, people can be supported more easily on-site. So the optimum balance of local people vs remote and smart tools will shift. Having gained experience with the distributed approach on Earth, using it in space will not be something entirely new, but rather an extension of what was learned in earlier phases.
Phase 0C - R&D for Phase 2A Distributed LocationsEdit
R&D for this sub-phase involves design of more specialized and larger machines than for Phase 1. These are used for small business and commercial activities, therefore would have higher duty cycles and longer operating lives. Besides design for these conditions, another R&D topic is the best growth paths from the previous phase, and expansion across a wider range of industry categories. A third R&D area is the grouping of varied size equipment in terms of more specialized and distributed sites across a location, and linkages between locations. All of these R&D areas continue in the next sub-phase to the industrial scale, which uses the largest size equipment.
Phase 0D - R&D for Phase 2B Industrial LocationsEdit
This sub-phase completes the sequence of growth to larger and more specialized equipment, for developed locations in moderate environments on Earth. It includes equipment for the full range of production, habitation, transport, and service industries. Equipment for all these industries already exists, and is widely produced. The R&D for this sub-phase includes modifying their design so they can be made by self-expanding and distributed systems. It also includes the growth paths and methods to reach industrial scale from the smaller scales in earlier phases.
More specific areas of R&D may be identified later for industry groups or individual industries. One that we know of at this point is industrial transport to Low Orbit, since it will be needed for the later program phases in space:
- 3. Industrial Transport
Launch to Low Orbits - This is placed in Phase 2B because traditional rocket factories and launch sites are industrial-scale facilities on Earth. Locations for Phases 4-6 are in space, but still interact with civilization on Earth. So there will be a continuing need for transport from Earth to orbit, and back. Obviously space programs already exist, and many satellites are in orbit, but their cost is high. Partly this is due to the transport cost itself, and partly due to lack of production in space. This forces all equipment and supplies to come from Earth. In-space production is addressed in the later phases, while this topic covers transport needs.
In the earlier parts of phases 4-6, transport needs to orbit will be small, and therefore using existing launch systems, or ones currently in development, will be the less expensive route. As program traffic increases, the advantage of new and more efficient systems will grow. The R&D in this sub-phase will then cover such new systems, beyond those already in development elsewhere. Sections 4.4, 4.6, and 4.7 present some early concepts for this R&D work. In section 4.4 - Phase 2B Industrial Locations we consider a small, 3 stage, fully re-used conventional rocket and some other alternatives for the "build our own" option. The design is not complete enough to decide between make or buy yet. The intent is when traffic is sufficient, the start-up transportation will be augmented or replaced with larger, more efficient, and specialized launchers. The initial cargo may consist of assembly robots and parts for an initial orbital platform. If we are building our own launcher we want to make it as small as practical to keep the design and construction cost low.
Upgraded Transport to Low Orbit - The program will add upgraded transport when there is sufficient traffic to justify the capital cost. Again, there is always the option to use transport from outside the program, but we consider various internal alternatives using our self-production capacity. On Earth we use different transport systems for bulk cargo than for passengers for cost and safety reasons. One alternative is to specialize our space transport elements for the same reasons. Section 4.6 - Hypervelocity Launcher presents a high acceleration gun for launching bulk cargo such as propellants or structural parts. Delicate cargo and humans would travel by other methods. The launcher gives the cargo a large starting velocity, so it substitutes for part of the rocket stages. In theory it should lower cost because a fixed gun can be designed to fire many times, and is made from industrial pipeline quality parts, which are much cheaper than aerospace grade parts.
Section 4.7 - Low G Transport looks at methods for transporting humans and cargo which cannot withstand the high acceleration of the hypervelocity launcher. The choice of which to use depends on results of more detailed design and what other launchers area available outside the program. Some candidates to build our own systems are a combined air-breathing/rocket system, or a gas accelerator similar to the hypervelocity launcher, but lower g level, followed by air breathing or rocket stages. Separate stages will be easier to develop, modify and upgrade than a single integrated vehicle, although there will be a penalty in operations cost. A single integrated vehicle can be developed later once traffic will support the more complex design.
Phase 0E - R&D for Phase 3A Difficult Earth LocationsEdit
Difficult and Extreme locations involve all the sizes from small to large that were developed for Phases 1 and 2, but in a different environment. Therefore the existing designs will sometimes need modifications, and in other cases unique designs will be needed. The effort to set up in remote or hostile conditions will tend to make small scale equipment less likely, and the emphasis shift to larger sizes. Example difficult environments include very cold and hot regions, deserts and rain forests, altitudes above 2750 m, weak soils, water and ground depths of 250 and 100 meters respectively, areas of low energy resource or high natural radiation, high communication and travel time, low stay times, and high transport energy, or combinations of these conditions. Each may require R&D to accommodate the particular circumstances.
Phase 0F - R&D for Phase 3B Extreme Earth LocationsEdit
Extreme locations are an extension of difficult ones, but farther from moderate conditions up to the limits of technology. R&D would be needed to push technical limits beyond the state of the art. An example would be hard rock mining more than 5 km below the surface, well below the deepest current mines. Some example extreme environments include very cold conditions in parts of Antarctica, The open ocean surface, which has zero ground strength, great depths underwater or underground, and the most remote and inaccessible surface locations.
Phase 0G - R&D for Phase 4A Low Orbit LocationsEdit
Low Earth Orbit already hosts many satellites, and as of the start of 2017, two space stations with a total crew of eight. However it lacks significant production capacity, aside from assembly of pre-made elements at the stations. Eight people is only one billionth of the Earth's population, and no transport systems are based in low orbit. What transport exists is all based on Earth. So while we have a foothold in low orbit, civilization can't be said to have fully expanded to this region. The R&D for this sub-phase is then aimed at full use of low orbits, beyond current programs and activities. So far we have identified the following:
- 1. Low Orbit Production
1.2. Supply Power - Electrical power using solar panels and batteries is fairly well developed for low orbit. Sunlight is available at least 60% of the time, but only special low orbits have it all the time. So energy storage is needed to bridge the time in the Earth's shadow. Thermal power using solar concentrators is an area for R&D.
1.3. Extract Materials - Low orbit has two sources of materials besides those brought from Earth or more distant locations. The first is the upper fringes of the atmosphere, which can be collected by a compression scoop. The second is dead space hardware and artificial debris. Some of the gathered gases can be used as propellant for collecting the space debris, since they are in widely scattered orbits. The space debris at the least is a hazard, and removal is a benefit to other space activities. But it consists of aerospace-grade parts and materials, some of which may still be functional. Salvage and recycling of these items would save having to launch comparable items from Earth. R&D is required to prove the gas mining, collection, and reuse of old hardware is practical. It would also provide some experience for later mining and production beyond low orbit.
1.4 Materials Processing & 1.5 Parts Fabrication - Very little of either of these has been done in orbit and in zero gravity. Extensive experiments and prototyping are needed to find out which terrestrial methods can be used, how they may need to be modified, and what new methods can be used in the unique orbital conditions.
1.7 Low Orbit Assembly - The design of transport systems typically is much more expensive than a single use of them. Therefore a number of deliveries on a smaller launch system is preferred on cost to a single delivery on a very large one. This in turn drives a need for assembly of larger elements in orbit. Section 4.5 - Orbital Assembly gives one approach, using an assembly platform in low orbit. At first, the platform assembles pre-made components launched from Earth. As other production elements get added, it later shifts to assembling a mix of Earth and locally made items. The first task of the assembly platform would be to bootstrap it's own construction. The platform is then used to assemble larger payloads, and then then later build seed elements and vehicles for new locations. Humans are kept to a minimum in the early stages because of cost. The assembly robots start out mostly controlled from the ground. Some experience already exists with orbital assembly of space stations, and similar maintenance and repair tasks for the Hubble Space Telescope. The R&D tasks here are whatever improvements are needed beyond these levels.
- 2. Low Orbit Habitation
Variable Gravity Research Facility (VGRF) - The near Earth environment, like most of the Universe, is hostile to human life. Therefore habitats have to be designed specifically to create the proper conditions. One major alternative for orbital habitats is gravity levels. Humans need some level of gravity for long term health, but exactly how much and for how long is not known yet. Some production methods work better with acceleration, and some agriculture may also turn out to work best with gravity. A VGRF type facility is needed to assess what gravity levels are needed for what purpose, so that later designs can use the proper levels.
Habitat Growth and Upgrade - Habitats will generally start small and grow over time. So another research area is the best growth paths for the them: in physical size, from possibly zero gee to some gee level, from open food and air cycles to closed life support, and from hardware supplied from Earth to local production. The design of the habitats is likely to be complex, and we can only lay out these open questions as a starting point for further R&D work.
- 3. Low Orbit Transport
This category covers transport that operates within low orbits, and reaches farther destinations. Transport to low orbit is covered under Industrial or Difficult Earth Locations, because that is where they are built and start from.
Electric Propulsion - Ion and plasma engines have about 5-10 times the fuel efficiency of conventional rockets, and have already seen some operational use. Section 4.8 - Electric Propulsion looks at options for propulsion modules, which can be used singly for smaller missions and in multiple copies for larger missions. There are several types of such thrusters available, but they will be needed in some form if missions beyond Earth orbit are to be done economically. The higher efficiency allows bringing the vehicle back and using it multiple times, a key cost savings. R&D for this phase would be aimed at upgrading the propulsion to higher power levels, and enabling use of mined propellants rather than the scarce Xenon used today.
Electric propulsion can be used within low orbits for drag makeup, and for orbit change within low orbits and to reach more distant destinations. Power, thrust, operating life, and radiation resistance will all have to improve for these later uses, so propulsion R&D will be ongoing. An early use for such engines is mining the upper atmosphere for fuel, which makes the propulsion self-sustaining. With adequate fuel, mining the Earth's debris belt both cleans up the debris, and serves as a source of raw materials, spare parts, and work repairing and refueling satellites that need it. New satellites delivered and assembled at an assembly platform can also be delivered to their destinations at low cost. One category of satellites to deliver are prospector satellites to observe and return samples from candidate asteroids, to prepare for later mining.
Chemical Propulsion - High thrust engines, such as conventional chemical rockets, are still an attractive option for some purposes, despite lower efficiency. These include landing on bodies with significant gravity wells, and when velocity change or transit needs to be done quickly, such as passing through the Earth's radiation belts. Which propulsion type to use for what part of a trip will need to consider multiple factors including the ability to extract fuel locally. R&D for chemical propulsion will include adapting it to use and store propellants made in orbit, and improving engine operating life.
Spaceport Network - In the long run, large numbers of vehicles changing their orbits by consuming propellant is inefficient. Large scale infrastructure which reduces propellant needs would be desirable. We will refer to them as Spaceports by analogy to airports. Their main function is transport of payloads by potential and kinetic energy change. However they will also serve as transportation depots, with docking for multiple vehicles, habitation, warehouseing, maintenance, fueling, etc. The first concept for such infrastructure was the Space Elevator, dating back to 1895. Unfortunately the Earth's gravity well is too deep for the original idea of a one-piece stationary elevator to span with any known materials. This idea can work for smaller bodies, and later concepts have improved on it and are preferred for multiple reasons. A network of spaceports can eventually replace much of the propellant used in space, and increase the percentage of payload transported. The R&D work for such a network is placed here because the first spaceport would be located in low orbit. Section 4.11 - Space Elevator looks at some alternative concepts for such a network.
The basic transport function is accomplished by Momentum exchange between a payload and the spaceport structure. Depending on direction, the payload gains or loses energy, and the opposite happens to the spaceport. If traffic is balanced, or the spaceport is anchored to a more massive body, it's orbit is not affected. Unbalanced orbit changes are corrected by an efficient propulsion method on the spaceport. To the extent this replaces lower efficiency vehicle propulsion, there is a net savings. Various experiments have been done in orbit related to this technology, but much more work is needed, along with other technologies for a spaceport network and associated vehicles.
Phase 0H: R&D for Phase 4B High Orbit LocationsEdit
High Earth Orbits are currently used by a number of remote-controlled satellite types, including communications, scientific, and navigation. They are all delivered from Earth, and local production and habitation don't yet exist. Transport is only that built-in to the satellites when delivered. High orbit is fairly devoid of native materials, but has a high level of solar energy, and is accessible from Earth, the Moon, and Near Earth Asteroids. Between current civilization on Earth, and future locations beyond it, it can serve as a useful production and transport nexus, and later for large-scale habitation. Fully developing this region will require extensive R&D work. Some identified tasks include:
- 1. High Orbit Production
1.4 Materials Processing - This is the conversion of raw materials to finished supplies or stock materials. In the early stages this can be asteroid materials brought back from Inner Interplanetary orbits to a location near the Moon, such as Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 2 (EML2). EML2 is a Lunar-synchronous location 64,500 km behind the Moon's center. It is low energy to reach from interplanetary orbits, and provides full time sunlight for power. Early products include shielding, propellants, and water. Extensive R&D is needed to identify the best locations and processes. Alternative locations include:
- Air processing: aboard a low altitude scoop ship, or low orbit assembly platform.
- Asteroid processing: in place at the asteroid, a high orbit nearer Earth, or lower orbits.
Given the program's prior development of self-expanding production and remote operations, we assume processing is bootstrapped from a set of starter elements, delivered by electric tug to the desired orbit. Until human habitation can be supported locally, it would rely mostly on remote control and automation. Some processing operations may not function well, or at all, in zero gravity, and others will benefit from or work uniquely in the zero gravity and vacuum conditions. So a major area for research will be for which specific processing flows are to be used under what conditions.
Phase 0I: R&D for Phase 4C Inner Interplanetary LocationsEdit
The space between the major planets and moons has traditionally been viewed as devoid of use, to be gotten through as quickly as possible to reach the "real" locations like the Moon or Mars. This view is incorrect and obsolete. Open space has always been known to have a large and constant flux of solar energy. At the Earth's distance from the Sun this is 1360 MW, on the order of one nuclear plant, per square km, and there are 281 quadrillion square km around the Sun. From 1990 to early 2017, the number of known asteroids in this region has grown from 180 to 16,000, and we continue to rapidly find more. There are also new ideas on how to efficiently extract large quantities of materials from the larger bodies. With sources of energy and raw materials already in place or which can be imported, widespread use of this region should be possible.
Section 4.13 - Interplanetary Development looks at concepts to use this space. General R&D is needed on Orbital Bootstrapping. This is how best to bootstrap from early energy and materials extraction to large-scale finished locations, with a range of production, habitation, transport, and services capacity. A future "space city" is not likely to be built all at once in final form, any more than cities on Earth are. The question is then how to build them in smaller increments. More specific R&D tasks include:
- 1. Inner Interplanetary Production
1.3 Orbital Mining - The general rationale for mining in space, rather than bringing everything from Earth, is the Earth's gravity well has a fixed energy cost of 31-62 MJ/kg to climb, depending on orbit. Farther destinations require even more energy to reach. The production energy from raw materials to finished products is less than this, typically 10-20 MJ/kg, and production equipment typically can process many times it's own mass and production energy during it's operating life. It therefore takes far less energy to deliver production equipment and make the products from local materials and energy than to deliver the products from Earth. This includes the propellants for space transport, which makes the delivery of the equipment easier.
Section 4.9 - Orbital Mining looks at alternatives for supplying the raw materials locally. For Inner Interplanetary locations this involves extracting and transporting raw materials from Near Earth Asteroids (NEA) to a processing location. NEA's are the next easiest to reach resources after the atmosphere and orbital debris in low orbits. The mass returned by a mining system and tug is on the order of 100 times the equipment mass per trip, and the equipment life is on the order of 6 trips taking 2.5 years each. A typical trip consumes 2.6% of returned mass in propellant, but certain asteroid types contain up to 20% easily extracted propellant. So the mining operation can be self-fueling after the first trip. Mining should drastically reduce space operation costs if that mass can be put to use.
Mass return ratios of 50 or more are desirable for space mining in general, since these are raw materials and further processing is requires. A lower ratio may be acceptable for salvage of equipment and debris in Earth orbit, since they are already manufactured and even operable equipment. These ratios look feasible from the analysis done so far. By using the Moon for gravity assist in both directions, traveling to and from Inner Interplanetary orbits can be done with less than Earth escape velocity.
NEA orbits and composition are randomly distributed, and we prefer to mine the easiest to reach ones at optimal positions and timing. However 82% of discovered NEAs are larger than 30m, and thus a minimum of 18,000 tons and usually much higher. This is too much to move as a unit for early tugs, so R&D is needed on the best ways to collect smaller loads of material from them. Along with the space tugs noted below, the mined material is delivered at first to High Orbit for processing.
1.4 Orbital Processing - Aside from bulk radiation shielding, some processing is usually needed to turn raw materials into ready inventory. For items like propellants, water, and oxygen they can be used at that point. Other items need further production steps to turn them into finished products. Section 4.10 - Processing Factory looks at the alternatives and options for this task. Materials processing on Earth is a very large industry with a long industry, but very little has been done in space yet. The R&D needed for this program phase involves adapting and optimizing the processes for the unique conditions there.
- 3. Inner Interplanetary Transport
3.1 Bulk Cargo Transport - "Space Tugs" are needed to move raw materials from where they naturally occur to where they can be processed, and move finished products and other cargo from place to place. Tugs generally do not need human crews, and are slow but efficient. Electric propulsion has already been developed at smaller scales, but much larger units are needed for this task, and the tugs should be designed for refueling, so they can be used many times.
3.3 Transport People - We want to eventually carry people to open space locations and the major planets and moons in the Inner Interplanetary region. However, radiation is present throughout the area from the Sun and cosmic sources. "Transfer Habitats" are a way to carry people safely and efficiently. They are placed in repeating transfer orbits between bodies or locations, such as between Earth and Mars. Since the habitats don't change orbit once set up, they can have heavy shielding, greenhouses, and processing equipment. The raw materials come mainly from asteroids already in nearby orbits. Local production reduces payload needed from Earth, and gives the crew and passengers something useful to do during the trip. Small vehicles are used to get from the habitats to planetary orbits at each end of the trip. Additional habitats can be set up on the Martian moons as way stations, and eventually other locations. All the locations eventually can produce fuel, do spacecraft construction and repair, serve as science platforms, and serve as the nucleus for later permanent colonies. Extensive R&D is needed on how to build and expand such habitats, and the various systems they need, such as food production and environmental recycling.
Phases 0J to 0L: [RESERVED]Edit
The following three sub-phases do not yet have identified R&D tasks. Their sub-phase headings are reserved for later use.
- Phase 0J - R&D for Phase 4D Main Belt & Trojan Locations
- Phase 0K - R&D for Phase 4E Outer Interplanetary Locations
- Phase 0L - R&D for Phase 4F Scattered, Hills, & Oort Locations
Phase 0M: R&D for Phase 5A Lunar LocationsEdit
The Moon is physically near the Earth, and obvious to anyone who looks at the sky. Since 1958, over 100 Missions have been attempted to flyby, impact, orbit, land, drive on, return samples from, or use the Moon for gravity assist. Many of these have succeeded, including six landings with people. Despite all this activity, it is not the first program phase we want to start in space. This is due to the extra propellant needed to land on the Moon relative to orbital operations nearby. However, once propellants are produced in quantity in nearby orbits, the difficulty decreases and lunar locations can be developed at relatively low cost.
Section 4.12 - Lunar Development looks at some design options for the Lunar surface. With a spaceport network in place, including one in Lunar orbit, it would be possible to go to and from the Moon in a robust and low cost fashion. However, this will not be available to start with. Precursor missions can be delivered by electric tugs to Lunar orbit, and use conventional rockets to land. These can explore and help select a Lunar surface locations. Remote controlled robots could do some preparation work, like paving landing pads by solar or microwave heating. Expanding on the initial work, heavier mining and processing equipment could be delivered and start to use the relatively large mass and surface area available. Seed factory parts and permanent habitats follow according to a logical progression. The primary question is when to start using the Moon as a location, in the context of other locations and the level of technology. Specific R&D tasks include:
- 1. Lunar Production
The energy to reach Lunar orbit is 1.5 MJ/kg, while typical production energies, from raw materials to finished products, are 10-20MJ/kg on Earth. Production energies are likely to be similar in space. Gathering raw materials from the Lunar surface is fairly low energy, since repeated impacts have pulverized the surface into a fine Regolith. Since twice as much sunlight is available in high orbits than the Lunar surface, the preference appears to be to send many materials to orbit for further processing. Additionally, high orbit is a meeting point for materials from the Moon, asteroids, and Earth. Lunar surface materials are lower density minerals, well mixed from impacts, and low in volatile compounds. This is due to the Moon's high early temperatures and low escape velocity. Asteroids usually did not get heated as much, and their denser components are now exposed by collisions. The Moon's denser materials are trapped deep inside. So available materials from the Moon is different from the major asteroid types. Some materials are rare or absent on the Moon or asteroids, and are better brought from Earth. Using all three sources allows a wider range of processes and products than from the Moon alone. More R&D is needed to see if this is the best option, or if production should be distributed in multiple locations. The best mining and processing flows will also need extensive work.
- 3. Lunar Transport
3.1 Bulk Cargo Transport - If much of the processing is to be done in high orbit, we will need an efficient way to deliver bulk raw materials from the Moon. Candidates include centrifugal and electromagnetic catapults, and space elevators, all of which require significant R&D.
Phase 0N: R&D for Phase 5B Mars LocationsEdit
Section 4.14 - Mars Development looks at concepts for developing the surface of Mars and it's moons. One approach is to start with a habitat on Phobos. At first we use local materials from that Moon to support trips to the surface. Since we don't yet know the composition of Phobos, other materials may be needed from nearby asteroids. Since Mars skirts the inner edge of the Asteroid Belt, there are many candidates to choose from. At first we produce propellants and crew supplies. Later we can construct spaceport structures to exchange momentum and reach the Martian surface more efficiently.
We already have a number of satellites in orbit about Mars, and landers and rovers exploring the surface. With a propellant supply in orbit, we can start to land more substantial equipment and build up larger facilities on the ground. These can be remote-controlled from orbit until enough habitat capacity is available for full-time crew. Early missions can deliver seed factory components to start local production. With surface propellant production, and later large ground accelerators coupled to orbital spaceports, access to Mars will be much easier in both directions, and large-scale development can proceed.
Many of these technologies are conceptual at present, and will need extensive R&D prior to use.
Phases 0N to 0S: [RESERVED]Edit
Section 4.15 - Later Projects looks at some ideas for later phases. Since technology changes over time, it is not worthwhile to make too many detailed plans for far into the future. Long range concepts can serve as a guide for future research, though. As the time frame gets closer, ideas like these, or new ones developed in the future, can be incorporated into updated program plans. The following five sub-phases do not yet have specific identified R&D tasks. Their sub-phase headings are reserved for later use.
- Phase 0O - R&D for Phase 5C Venus & Mercury Locations
- Phase 0P - R&D for Phase 5D Jupiter System Locations
- Phase 0Q - R&D for Phase 5E Outer Gas Giant Locations
- Phase 0R - R&D for Phase 6A Interstellar Space Locations
- Phase 0S - R&D for Phase 6B Exostellar Locations