Interstellar Flight: The View from Kansas

by Paul Gilster on December 10, 2012

If Kansas may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think about interstellar matters, be aware that its state motto is ‘Ad Astra Per Aspera’ — to the stars through difficulties. That’s a familiar phrase for anyone who has pondered the human future in space, appearing in countless science fiction stories and often invoked by those with a poetical streak. It turns out that the Kansas motto was not, however, the work of some percipient 19th Century Robert Forward figure, but of one John Ingalls, a lawyer, scholar and statesman who introduced the motto as far back as 1861. And while its roots were in the coming Civil War, the story of Ingalls’ motto is so entertaining that it merits inclusion here, as reported by biographer G. H. Meixell:

“I was secretary of the Kansas state senate at its first session after our admission in 1861. A joint committee was appointed to present a design for the great seal of the state and I suggested a sketch embracing a single star rising from the clouds at the base of a field, with the constellation (representing the number of states then in the Union) above, accompanied by the motto, “Ad astra per aspera.” If you will examine the seal as it now exists you will see that my idea was adopted, but in addition thereto the committee incorporated a mountain scene, a river view, a herd of buffalo chased by Indians on horseback, a log cabin with a settler plowing in the foreground, together with a number of other incongruous, allegorical and metaphorical augmentations which destroyed the beauty and simplicity of my design.”

It was ever thus, and not just for politicians with an artistic bent. Any writer can tell stories about botched copy edits that would make even Ingalls shake his head in disbelief.

Space advocate Steve Durst was well aware of the history embedded in Ingalls’ motto, but also taken with the idea of Kansas in a more astronomical context. After numerous trips to the state, he would go on to found an organization called Ad Astra Kansas, focusing on high-tech and space research but with a wider charter that includes getting the word out about interstellar matters through education. The idea grew out of two other projects likewise affiliated with Durst’s Space Age Publishing Company: The International Lunar Observatory Association and an international series of public presentations called the Galaxy Forum. Durst says he has always been looking for “something broad that would be inspirational, directional, iconic, symbolic,” and in promoting the concept of interstellar flight, he has surely found it.

Image: Publisher and space activist Steve Durst, standing in front of the “Ad Astra Per Aspera” stained-glass artwork at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson just before Galaxy Forum Kansas on September 22, 2012.

Ad Astra Kansas came to my attention when I flew to San Jose last July to speak at a Galaxy Forum on the 4th and meet the energetic Durst, along with marketing editor Michelle Gonella. The organization is now a decade old, having begun its Ad Astra Kansas News in 2001, a publication that continues today under the editorship of Jeanette Steinert. The first Ad Astra Kansas Day was held in 2003, inaugurating a series of such meetings in various Kansas venues with an emphasis on business and education as space development continues. One of these is the Kansas Cosmosphere, a world-class aerospace facility in Hutchinson that seems to exemplify the anomalous nature of the enterprise. Here is a quiet farming community of some 42,000 people that boasts a major venue showcasing space exploration from the V-2 to Apollo.

What else could be created here? Durst talks about an interstellar research and development initiative, perhaps created as an archive or, long-term, a research center with an interstellar focus. Meanwhile, the organization continues to play a midwestern role in the Galaxy Forum program that began in Silicon Valley. Operating from his headquarters in Hawaii, home to ILOA, and an office in California, Durst, Phil Merrell, and Joseph Sulla of the ILOA Galaxy Forum program in Hawaii have, along with Gonella, expanded the forums around the world. They began July 4, 1984, as discussions of lunar exploration but by 2008 the focus had turned to the galaxy, with sessions as far afield as Canada, Beijing, Singapore and Japan. 2011 saw eleven Galaxy Forums from Shanghai to Bangalore, Hawaii and New York, bringing speakers and the general public together to discuss space and the human future in the broadest possible context.

My focus last July in San Jose’s Galaxy Forum was on the question of nearby targets for deep space missions, ‘nearby’ being defined as objects between the inner edge of the Kuiper Belt all the way to the Alpha Centauri stars. It was a good session, held at the city’s Tech Museum on July 4. Jon Lomberg had flown in from Hawaii and Seth Shostak was on hand from the SETI Institute. Durst’s hope is to provoke what he calls ‘galaxy consciousness,’ a way of looking at the future that leverages near-term projects like the lunar observatory but points beyond:

“We are at the start not just of new century but a new millennium. The Galaxy Forum is premised as much as anything on the fact that this is a new domain of learning for us, for all of humanity. Ninety years ago, before Hubble’s findings, we didn’t know there were galaxies or that we were part of one. Even today we have the sense that all those stars we see on a clear night comprise the universe, but that’s not true — it’s just a small patch of our own galaxy that we see. Professionals understand that, but in general educational practice from high school and early college down, there isn’t an awareness that between the finiteness of the Solar System and the infiniteness of the cosmos there is this larger knowable domain of the galaxy to explore.”

That’s a confounding fact but true — I still find myself having to explain the difference between ‘interplanetary’ and ‘interstellar’ at the oddest moments. Thus the idea of ‘galaxy consciousness’ is a praiseworthy target, but one that will require more than a generation of work. The idea grew out of Durst’s earlier work with the International Lunar Observatory Association, which itself emphasizes that its mission is “to expand human understanding of the cosmos through observation from our Moon.” The original ILOA mission was conceived as deployment of a 2-meter dish observatory near the lunar south pole, for observations both of the local environment as well as deep space as a way of educating people about the Solar System’s context in the cosmos. But ILOA is also working on a Google X-Prize entrant with the goal of placing a 10-cm optical telescope on the team’s lunar lander scheduled for 2014.

And in September 2012, ILOA signed a memo of understanding with the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences allowing ILOA scientists to conduct observations with the UV telescope set to fly on the Chang’e-3 lunar lander in 2013. With Galaxy Forums set to expand to South America and possibly Antarctica by 2014, ILOA is part observer, part educator, with the goal of having a voice in the changing philosophical perception of our planet’s place in the galaxy. Meanwhile, Ad Astra Kansas is a reminder that deep space begins close to home, in the students whose careers may be launched by education that opens minds to the cosmos. Who knew in 1861 that John Ingalls’ state motto would have that kind of reach?

tzf_img_post

ljk December 10, 2012 at 11:49

Quoting Paul Gilster from the main article:

“It was ever thus, and not just for politicians with an artistic bent. Any writer can tell stories about botched copy edits that would make even Ingalls shake his head in disbelief.”

Oh yes. I once covered a lecture on the history of science fiction and space exploration for a local newspaper. The editor somehow took it upon himself to state that the Martian invaders in H. G. Wells The War of the Worlds won their war against humanity!

I naturally and quickly corrected him, but it was of course too late and never received a decent reply. Perhaps he was a secret Martian agent whose job was to spread propaganda?

FYI: Terrestrial germs were the natural weapon that took out the Martians. They then moved on to colonizing Venus, which apparently didn’t have any annoying intelligences with cannons and presumably they learned their lesson about washing their tentacles first.

A. A. Jackson December 10, 2012 at 15:10

As I read this , I thought Kansas!.
But then I quickly remembered what I wanted was Kansas City Missouri.
O, well.
Robert Heinlein was born in raised in the state next door.
Maybe that is close enough

The Royal Air Force uses “Per ardua ad astra” (“through struggle (or adversity) to the stars”) an interesting one and not sure who came up with that, at least A.C. Clarke was in the RAF!

From Wiki this:
“Ad astra is a Latin phrase meaning “to the stars”. The phrase has origins with Virgil, who wrote sic itur ad astra (“thus you shall go to the stars”, from Aeneid book IX, line 641, spoken by Apollo to Aeneas’s young son Iulus) and opta ardua pennis astra sequi, (“desire to pursue the high (or hard to reach) stars on wings” book XII, lines 892–893, spoken by Aeneas to his foe Turnus in their combat). Another origin is Seneca the Younger, who wrote non est ad astra mollis e terris via (“there is no easy way from the earth to the stars”, Hercules Furens, line 437, spoken by Megara, Hercules’ wife).”

Now that goes back a long long ways!

NS December 10, 2012 at 17:36

As I recall, in “The Man Who Fell to Earth” the Rip Torn character quotes the RAF motto to David Bowie, who doesn’t recognize it even though he’s passing himself off as an Englishman interested in space flight. It’s a clue that the Bowie character (actually an alien) is not what he claims to be.

Mike December 10, 2012 at 20:37

As a native, I’m embarrassed to have only just learned the state’s motto from this article. I’ve been a expat too long…

The motto is singularly appropriate though: in the 60s Boeing still had major production facilities in Wichita and did some of their Apollo contract work there. A little bit of Kansas has likely been to the moon.

GaryChurch December 11, 2012 at 7:50

It is now the second decade of the twenty first century and we actually have a
tremendous amount of technology available and devices that may have been tested in some form in the past and found to work quite well but for various circumstances did not enter production. The example that every real space nut is aware of is the aerojet aj-260 monolithic solid rocket booster. Each of these put out over 7 million pounds of thrust and would probably been used in a pair with a core liquid engine like the Titan configuration. This was the logical progression from the Saturn V; a vehicle with over twice the first stage thrust. In fact we have the ability to build much larger boosters of up to 325 inches. Built with submarine hull technology it is recovered at sea and resused. This system is the only practical reusable technology as the liquid shuttle motors turned out to be a total waste of time returning to earth for reuse. Thus came the RS-68. With a pair of the largest possible solid rocket boosters and a core cluster of liquid hydrogen/oxygen along with upper stages, the HLV is the most efficient method available for getting into space. Getting into space by landing a payload on the moon. Chemical propulsion is completely appropriate for getting to the Moon where atomic spaceships can be assembled, tested, and launched on missions to set up the next base of operations. Eventually the ability to build large spheres with solar energy and lunar ore will make Bernal Spheres several miles in diameter available. This size should not be surprising considering there is no gravity and solar energy can be manipulated to refine and form large sections for such a sphere. Accelerated by beam propulsion and decelerated by H-bombs these may reach speeds of 10 percent of light and be our first starships before the end of the century. If revivable cryopreservation is available then several thousand colonists could be carried and if not then a small generaqtion crew would propagate for the journey. Not only starflight but a world powered by Lunar Solar Power and allowing a western quality of life for a population of 10 billion. Beam propulsion energy beamed down from relays in orbit from the Moon would allow cheap lift to space a reality and millions leaving the planet everyday for Bernal Sphere Lives in the outer planets or the many or the few leaving on star treks. This is all just technology for the early 60′s except for more refined beamed power technology.

GaryChurch December 11, 2012 at 17:21

“in the 60s Boeing still had major production facilities in Wichita and did some of their Apollo contract work there.”

One of my favorite talking points concerns military spending; we can spend the public treasure on training our young people to clear buildings with automatic weapons or we can train them to build spaceships. We can keep building nuclear aircraft carriers and submarines or we can build spaceships. The money is going to be spent and supposedly a democracy has the right to choose how. Considering the tens of thousands of heavy bombers built in world war two and the fleets of jet bombers built in the cold war, supporting a launch schedule of 50 to 100 super heavy lift vehicles a year is not only possible but actually a easy goal. It is simply a matter of retooling factories and retraining people. The same amount of money for a different defensive strategy based on creating energy in space instead of stealing it on Earth. I was never a fan of Space Solar Power because just like O’Neill figured out in the 70′s it is easy enough to understand why we cannot send these truly gargantuan constructs up from Earth. But I have recently become quite interested in Criswell’s Lunar Solar Power. With a realistic survey of the technology available It does not seem like there is any flexible path to the stars- and only LSP has the potential to get a large number of human beings off the Earth by eventually providing enough energy to make the holy grail of cheap access to space possible- by way of Beam Propulsion. There really is no other contender technology. It works like this; chemical propulsion to get to the moon where nuclear missions can be launched and eventually enough power can be beamed to Earth to allow beam propulsion to replace chemical propulsion.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_production_during_World_War_II
Considering the 150,000 bombers built by the allies in World War II I think we certainly have the ability to send a hundred big rockets a year to the moon if a couple decades down the road we have enough power beamed back to give everyone on earth a house with cheap electricity and clean water. A very high standard of living for everyone on Earth with zero carbon emissions and pollution. With enough electricity giant plasma reformers can break down contaminated materials and even nuclear waste could be safely lifted off planet with beam launched vehicles. Eventually the population will drop as space habitats become extremely attractive places to live and Earth becomes a vacation destination.

The public really has no clue that such a future is entirely possible- there are no technical challenges that have not been answered or laws of physics that have to be broken.

Though I am not really a Zubrin fan and do not consider Mars a good destination for various reasons, a chapter in one of his books describing the superships built by the Chinese Empire and their abandonment is really the classic lesson that should be taught to the public anyone advocating space travel. There is nothing stopping the human race from going into space except our lack of vision.

Eniac December 12, 2012 at 0:40

Gary: You have an interesting argument in redirecting military expenses into peaceful space exploration. I fear, though, that something quite different will happen: Space development will get the very boost you wish for it, but in the service of military power rather than in stead of it. It will not be long until space will be recognized as the ultimate high ground. Ground which must be controlled by the single remaining superpower at all cost, and which must be taken first by anyone aspiring to challenge such superpower.

Same as with the oceans, many centuries ago. Naval development would not have been anywhere near as intense had it not been for the simple recognition that to rule the seas means to rule the world. You can make a similar argument for the air, in the last century. Sooner or later this will happen in space, and off we go. For the wrong reasons, perhaps, but nevertheless. It has always been this way.

ljk December 12, 2012 at 10:58

For good or bad, if it were not for the military, our space programs would be but a fraction of what they were and are now if it were only done in the name of science.

For example, we could have had a manned lunar base by 1966 if we had gone with the U. S. Army’s plan called Project Horizon back in 1959:

http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/an-army-base-on-the-moon/

Only 75 Saturn II flights through 1964 delivering supplies, materials, weapons, and men and we’d be ready for any communist plots to invade the Moon and take the High Ground from us.

What these plans lacked in reality, they certainly made up for it with audacity. Will private enterprise be able to fill in the gaps that the governments seem to be wavering on? Would a new Cold War with China actually work in the sense of getting us into space as it did with the USSR? It would have to be permanent this time.

GaryChurch December 12, 2012 at 14:10

“space will be recognized as the ultimate high ground”

In case you didn’t notice, satellites pretty much have that high ground thing covered. There is a whole lot of nothing out there for the military be bored with. The valid millitary mission is comet and asteroiid deflection. Those same bomb propelled interceptor spaceships can also transport things like colonists and nuclear reactors to places like Ceres and Callisto and Titan, Titania, Triton.
Anyplace but Mars please.

Eniac December 13, 2012 at 1:02

In case you didn’t notice, satellites pretty much have that high ground thing covered.

Small, unprotected Earth orbit satellites do not even begin to cover this ground. Bigger satellites with energy weapons can take take them out easily. Fixed installations on the moon can shoot any satellites out of the sky. And so on, plus many ways that we cannot even imagine today.

This high ground is the most spacious of all, and we have only begun to scratch its surface. We are at the canoe stage with bow and arrow. Lots of ground to cover until the equivalent of aircraft carrier groups, nuclear submarines, and cruise missiles.

GaryChurch December 13, 2012 at 14:55

“Fixed installations on the moon can shoot any satellites out of the sky.”

The ploy to make money off militarizing space fell on it’s face decades ago. The main reason for this is that if you want clear the table you can send a couple vehicles up in satellite opposite orbits and explode ball bearing filled warheads; no more satellites. This is the equivalent of nuclear weapons making war obsolete on the surface below, Mutually Assured Destruction of everything in orbit makes any weapons on the moon or elsewhere redundant. The only airspace that counts is zero to a couple hundred miles straight up. It only takes a couple minutes to get up there and they cannot be stopped.

Launching from the Moon has no purpose because to even contemplate destroying all these ground launched space weapons and making Moon weapons relevant means profoundly contaminating the planet with fallout from nuclear weapons and that brings MAD back into play.

This is the main reason there is no army base on the moon right now. The secondary reasons why there are no military bases Beyond Earth Orbit is of course the expense- it is hard money when building weapons that sit on a runway or in a silo are easy money. It is easy to roll hundreds of defense contracts cumulatively worth hundreds of billions through the door but anything that goes into space has a microscope on it. No profit there.

ljk December 13, 2012 at 15:09

A bucket of sand going at orbital speed (18,000 MPH) could do a lot of damage to a spacecraft in its path.

GaryChurch December 13, 2012 at 15:20

http://earthsky.org/space/asteroid-toutatis-passed-within-18-lunar-distances-on-december-11-12

The valid military mission for space is a CAPS Comet Asteroid Protection System; atomic spaceships armed with nuclear weapons. This also can answer another threat- engineered pathogens- by establishing survival colonies on other bodies in the solar system to guarantee species survival.

You would think with drones taking over pilot roles and Navy surface forces contracting that the military would be all over going into space. But the military mind is not famous for successfully preparing for the next war.

The war we are fighting right now is basically one of exploitation; the masses of poor are being manipulated with religion to violently oppose the status quo of haves and have nots on this planet. It took a while for the lightbulb to come on but it finally dawned on me recently that the solution to conflict on this planet is to provide every human being on earth those basic qualities of life that remove the percieved need for militant activity. The only system that has a strong possibility of winning the war against exploitation does so by exploiting Lunar Solar Power as advocated by David Criswell.

It is a truly epic project and is not a sure thing by any means; microwaving the atmosphere is going to have unintended consequences. But to bring the carbon footprint down to zero and have basically cheap endless electricity for the predicted 10 billion people on Earth may very well compensate for the downside.

Eniac December 14, 2012 at 13:34

A bucket of sand going at orbital speed (18,000 MPH) could do a lot of damage to a spacecraft in its path.

One of the reasons why current space assets are going to be found lacking, and ways of improvement will be sought. Like going beyond Earth orbit, for example.

The ploy to make money off militarizing space fell on it’s face decades ago.

It hasn’t happened yet. Is that your reason that it is not going to happen?

Launching from the Moon has no purpose…

Besides this just being an off-hand example, what I had in mind where solar powered directed energy weapons, which may (or not) be useful installations on the moon. This is besides the point, though.

Where this will really go is likely as inconceivable to us as a nuclear submarine with ICBMs would have been to ancient Polynesian seafarers, but that it will go somewhere, far and fast, is in my view a given.

Eniac December 17, 2012 at 2:47

A bucket of sand going at orbital speed (18,000 MPH) could do a lot of damage to a spacecraft in its path.

This is an often repeated kliche’, but is it really true? Space is really large, and a bucket of sand really small. As the sand cloud spreads to a size where its orbit would intersect with a substantial fraction of satellite orbits, it will become very sparse, with the spaces between the particles becoming large enough for there to be a good chance of a satellite surviving repeated encounters with the cloud until such time that the cloud is completely dispersed. Also, the half-life of sand in near-Earth orbit is not likely to be long, since small particles are slowed down by drag much faster than large spacecraft. Does anyone know anything other than hearsay, i.e. a true quantitative treatment of the “bucket of sand” issue?

It may well be that a bucket is not sufficient, and that something more like 1000 tons would be needed. That in turn requires substantial advances in space launch capacity, ironically exactly the kind of military driven space development I had in mind. And the race does not end there: For any given amount of sand you can put in orbit, there is another orbit further out that would still be safe.

Eniac December 17, 2012 at 3:20

GaryChurch:

It took a while for the lightbulb to come on but it finally dawned on me recently that the solution to conflict on this planet is to provide every human being on earth those basic qualities of life that remove the percieved need for militant activity. The only system that has a strong possibility of winning the war against exploitation does so by exploiting Lunar Solar Power as advocated by David Criswell.

Here you are making the tacit assumption that the only way to provide every human being on earth with a sufficient quality of life is by providing lunar energy. This is a series of leaps of faith rather than any sort of conclusion.

Firstly, in my opinion, quality of life is not nearly as tightly linked to the amount of energy provided as you and many others assume. Secondly, even if that were the case, there are plenty of ways to supply that energy without going to the moon, or even space. Thirdly, the technological hurdles against economically beaming energy from space (much less the moon) to Earth are enormous and dwarf those in the way of, say, terrestrial fusion energy.

The issues surrounding the exploitation you mention are not driven by scarcity of resources, but by defective social systems. People are in poverty not because there aren’t enough resources to go around, but because of a lack of organizational ability to develop the resources and apply them towards better living standards for everyone. Probably the biggest causal factor are corruption (private or government) and strife (criminal or military). Both of these lead to massive misallocation of human resources, which in turn turn leads to an inability to develop natural resources and maintain a working economy at the level needed for affluence. The western model of government has in large part been successful because it somehow keeps corruption and strife in check. The only way to get affluence for everyone is if everyone could get their act together to the extent that the currently affluent nations have. Unfortunately, in this world, this seems at least as remote a concept as energy from the moon…

Eniac December 17, 2012 at 3:26

Upon further reflection, the above mentioned mysterious ingredient that “somehow keeps corruption and strife in check” is most likely the thing otherwise known as the “rule of law”. With it comes the requirement for separation of powers, and ultimately democracy and freedom of expression.

GaryChurch December 17, 2012 at 14:55

“-and dwarf those in the way of, say, terrestrial fusion energy.”

Fusion energy is a myth; the only two places it will ever work as advertised is in a star or a bomb. As for beam technology- it actually does work. You have it more backwards than an Orwell novel.

GaryChurch December 17, 2012 at 15:01

“- in my opinion, quality of life is not nearly as tightly linked to the amount of energy provided as you and many others assume. Secondly, even if that were the case, there are plenty of ways to supply that energy without going to the moon, or even space.”

Actually, the western standard of living and quality of life is completely linked with energy consumption and you are completely wrong about “plenty of ways” to supply that energy. I am not making any leaps of faith- I am just quoting from people who have written books or papers on the subject like Ozzie Zehner and Criswell.

I have sources and you have your opinion.

Eniac December 17, 2012 at 23:10

GaryChurch:

I have sources and you have your opinion.

On this type of subject, it is easy to come up with plenty of sources for both sides of the argument, and not worth the trouble.

As for beam technology- it actually does work.

Next you’ll be citing the Goldstone experiment, which is to efficient energy beaming as the Farnsworth fusor is to fusion power.

Long range energy beaming is a myth, and fusion can actually work. I could come up with plenty of references that say so if I thought it worth the trouble.

Eniac December 17, 2012 at 23:25

you are completely wrong about “plenty of ways” to supply that energy.

Let me name the obvious three: Solar, nuclear, and fossil. One is renewable, one practically inexhaustible, and one good for many centuries, at least. Each by itself, even. All are many orders of magnitude cheaper than beaming power from the moon, and feasible, to boot.

It appears that you have been reading too much Oil Drum Drivel.

ljk December 18, 2012 at 9:58

Eniac said on December 17, 2012 at 2:47:

[LJK] A bucket of sand going at orbital speed (18,000 MPH) could do a lot of damage to a spacecraft in its path.

“This is an often repeated kliche’, but is it really true? Space is really large, and a bucket of sand really small.”

As you like to say regarding another topic, it only requires one to get the job done. :^)

An astronaut doing an EVA getting hit by an object going 18,000 MPH might agree with me. Plus recall those thick Space Shuttle windows hit by orbiting paint flecks: They looked like they were struck by rifle bullets. Had they been thinner, the situation might have been different.

Eniac December 18, 2012 at 14:12

LJK: This is all very well, but does not address the point I was making: How much sand is enough to have a decent chance of hitting more than a few satellites in LEO? Do we know a bucket will do it? I have the impression that this particular quantity is determined by dramatic flourish rather than any objective calculations.

GaryChurch December 18, 2012 at 15:39

Eniac…….pistols at dawn!

Seriously, I could be wrong (and so could you).
I can see you accusing me of reading oil drum propaganda but I suggest you read Ozzie Zehner’s Green Illusions. I am a very progressive eco friendly person and I have wondered many years if there is some energy industry conspiracy that keeps clean power from becoming a reality. The only conspiracy is human greed influencing exactly how we live on this planet.

Zehner’s book spells out the situation in a unique way; he calls it as he see’s it and the numbers cannot be spun too much because he presents the basic foundations of what it takes to make the electricity flow. Criswell is more biased toward his proposal even though it is peer reviewed and has all the math equations.

What Criswell is proposing is a river of energy traveling from vast collectors on the surface of the Moon to Earth Geostationary orbit and from there down to surface recievers of several square kilometers.

What fusion proposes is to keep a sustained nuclear reaction going without the use of a sun. The other way to generate useful energy from a fusion reaction is to actually explode H-bombs underground and harvest the resulting heat and nuclear products. The only useful work that can be had from a H-bomb besides this kind of excavation is to use it as a propulsion device for spaceships.

The two questions here seem to be:
1. Can microwave energy be beamed across long distances in space (a quarter million miles or so) from a transmission site on the surface of the moon to a geostationary relay station? Yes or No? Probably yes but what really matters is the size of the geostationary relay station.
If it has to be over a couple square miles in area
then getting it to Earth geo from the metal shop on the Moon may not be practical- and that means Eniac wins and Gary is Loooooooser!

2. Can energy be made available for the projected world population of 10 billion people in the coming decades of this century?

No. To supply the same amount of energy to all 10 billion inhabitants of Earth that is presently consumed by Westerners with a high standard of living would require……..a river of energy being beamed down from space. All the fossil, nuclear, solar, and renewable energy on the planet is NOT going to be able to meet that need without an astronomical amount of coal and gas power plants, along with a huge expansion of nuclear.

It will be cheaper and less suicidal to build the power stations on the Moon.
It it will work.

Rob Henry December 19, 2012 at 6:15

“A bucket of sand going at orbital speed (18,000 MPH) could do a lot of damage to a spacecraft in its path.”

People seem impressed by the destructive capabilities of a pistol bullets, which is about 500J. At 18,000 mph (8045m/s), grains would have to weigh 15mg to have this energy, so a 15 kg bucket would have just a million projectiles. These could form a ring around the Earth, that intersecting it at infinite speed at right angles would give it a line density of one grain per forty metres. Of cause you would intersect it much more slowly and at a shallower angle, so the actual density would appear much greater. Let‘s call the factor by which its greater H (my guess is that typical values for this is in the five to ten range). In my mind it would be narrowly dispersed from 150-200km altitude, where I imagine all the low Earth stuff is. This would make its cross-sectional density of 0.5H grains per km^2. There would be 32 crossings per day, so that is 16H grains/sqkm/day. A non-bullet-proof satellite with a 100 square metre cross-sectional area would have a half life of about 600/H days.

Of cause a military sized bucket would be more like 1.5 tons than 15 kg, and be launched into a retrograde orbit

ljk December 19, 2012 at 11:45

I was kind of throwing out that phrase about a bucket of sand in orbit mainly to make the point that you don’t need big, fancy, complex weapons to take out or at least seriously damage a spacecraft in orbit. I did not really expect the Spanish Inquisition, but I should have known better here. Now I do know what it takes to take out a satellite when it comes to sand in space. And so do our enemies.

If you really want to be effective in taking out the enemy above Earth, here are all the details on how to do that:

http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/spacegunconvent.php

And here’s a particularly fun weapon, the x-ray pumped laser platform:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Excalibur

I think there is one thing we can all agree on, and that is the human race has spent insane amounts of money and resources on developing myriad ways to take each other out, from spears and swords to basic automatic weapons to nuclear bombs and zeus knows what next.

I hear that slamming two black holes together would create lethal radiation able to sterilize planets out to hundreds of light years. One has to wonder just a bit if those beams of charged particles that stream from the centers of some galaxies aren’t aimed on purpose in some cases? I know I will be told otherwise, but that doesn’t make for very exciting plots now, does it?

Eniac December 19, 2012 at 12:16

Gary,

Your description of the Ozzie Zener book looks interesting enough. I may pick it up one day and leaf through it… From what I gather from blurbs, Ozzie would probably agree with me that a higher standard of living does not necessarily mean higher use of energy. In many ways this is obvious: It is not a decrease in living standard when using a Prius to travel rather than a Ford LTD, but uses less than half the energy. It is not a decrease in living standard to sit on the couch at home with a laptop instead of driving to work in the SUV and firing up the 500W desktop workstation. It is not a decrease in living standard when taking the high speed maglev train from Shanghai to Beijing instead of driving or flying. And so on…

Griswell’s “river” of energy seems to entail multiple stages. That would not be economical unless losses at each stage would be small, i.e. not more than 10%. Microwave devices have a fairly high efficiency, but not nearly enough to allow an efficient multi-stage transmission network, especially if you add in the inevitable losses from side lobes and other beam related issues. In terms of technology readiness, we are much, much further from having even a simple useful short distance beam power transmission system than we are from fusion breakeven.

All the fossil, nuclear, solar, and renewable energy on the planet is NOT going to be able to meet that need without an astronomical amount of coal and gas power plants, along with a huge expansion of nuclear.

Astronomical is not the term to use for one, at most two orders of magnitude. With appropriate resources put into it (many less than needed for the moon river), this is eminently doable. With somewhat more resources, it could be done while at the same time reducing the ecological footprint. The key is to enable the less developed countries to marshal these resources for their own populations. Nobody else is going to do it for them. Which brings us back to the conclusion that sociopolitical issues are more relevant here than technological ones.

Let me propose a much simpler alternative to the moon proposal: Reserve a tract of land in the Mojave or Sahara desert for a huge solar farm. Neglect the problem of power transmission, since it is in any case going to be much easier than from the moon. Use currently achieved power per square meter in existing solar farms. Calculate how many square kilometers you will need to supply the power for 10 billion people at today’s living standards. You will find this to be a fairly managable spot on the map, the size of a medium-sized lake, perhaps.

Eniac December 19, 2012 at 12:42

I get about 1,000,000 km^2 for that giant solar farm, so admittedly, it would not fit in the Mojave, and probably not in the Sahara, either. But distributed over the whole world, each nation for its own population, the amount of land needed is not excessive. The oceans could be used, too.

Chances are, also, that per-capita energy use in developed countries will continue to decline as it has in the US since the seventies. And other forms of energy will not just go away, either.

GaryChurch December 19, 2012 at 16:12

“It is not a decrease in living standard when using a Prius to travel rather than a Ford LTD, but uses less than half the energy”

Actually, the Prius battery back is a monstrosity that is no improvement over the LTD. The electricity for a Prius comes from fossil fuels by the way. Building giant wind turbine farms to charge up your electric monster makes the LTD and oil refinery look like the height of efficiency in comparison. That is the reality that is in direct conflict with the greenwashing of these technologies that are advertised as the future.

I am all about the million square mile solar thermal farm- I am right there with you Eniac. Just so you understand that those power towers in the deserts and whatever you use to store energy are going to be a great deal of trouble. The environment is not conducive to these farms transmitting dependably at high efficiency.

What is needed is 24-7 microwave energy raining down on these square mile installations. No interruptions, no fluctuations.

“sociopolitical issues are more relevant here than technological ones.”

I have to completely disagree with that statement; it is ALL about the technology and has little to do with turning down the thermostat. The truth is that even if everyone on Earth becomes energy conservationists just to raise the people who are in poverty up to the minimum level will require far more energy than we now produce.

Eniac December 19, 2012 at 22:35

Actually, the Prius battery back is a monstrosity that is no improvement over the LTD. The electricity for a Prius comes from fossil fuels by the way. Building giant wind turbine farms to charge up your electric monster makes the LTD and oil refinery look like the height of efficiency in comparison. That is the reality that is in direct conflict with the greenwashing of these technologies that are advertised as the future.

I guess you do not drive a Prius. You do not charge a Prius (well, the newest ones you can, but don’t have t0). It uses fossil fuel, but only a third as much compared with a 1980 LTD. Per mile. One third the energy, all the living standard (actually quite a bit more, with all the gizmos it has over the LTD. GPS, rear-view camera, etc.). And it is a bit faster, too.

Just so you understand that those power towers in the deserts and whatever you use to store energy are going to be a great deal of trouble.

More trouble than building on the moon and sending the power to Earth? Really?

sociopolitical issues are more relevant here than technological ones.

I have to completely disagree with that statement; it is ALL about the technology and has little to do with turning down the thermostat.

I am not talking about turning down the thermostat. I am talking about insurgents blowing up power stations, thieves dismantling transmission lines for the copper, an impoverished population tapping (and occasionally blowing up) oil pipelines, and dictators enriching themselves and their cronies instead of investing in infrastructure. These are the real problems facing developing and would-be-developing nations, and they are entirely sociopolitical in nature.

Rob Henry December 20, 2012 at 6:47

“The electricity for a Prius comes from fossil fuels by the way”

As you probably realised soon after you wrote that Gary, you had confused those annoying and nonsensical claims about electric cars with hybrid motors. Sure the complaints about factoring in all battery production and replacement cost might be the same, but the stresses placed on fossil fuel by its running usage are completely different. Oops?

Eniac December 20, 2012 at 13:24

Let me just clarify this, here: I loved driving my 80′s LTD. Handled like a boat, sat like a sofa. Comfort incorporated. Luckily, that was at a time when gas was under a dollar the gallon.

Eniac December 20, 2012 at 13:42

Rob: I hear that it is quite a lot cheaper when you charge your plug-in Prius than when you run it on gas. You might argue there is distortion of economics by government subsidies and regulations, but favoring coal/electricity over gasoline, by this much? I do not think so, and from this I tentatively conclude that the “annoying and nonsensical claims about electric cars” you mention are at least partially justified.

GaryChurch December 20, 2012 at 13:54

“-stresses placed on fossil fuel by its running usage are completely different. Oops?”

No mistake here; I am talking about 10 billion people driving a Prius. If we want most of the future population of Earth to own a vehicle then the only thing left is Lunar Solar Power. Trying to supply energy to that many people with Earth resources is the future disaster that drives people like Criswell to try and prevent it from happening.

Unless you think that we should all start walking and cooking with sticks except for that one percent that live in their gated luxury communities- you might want think about where we are going to get that energy.

Eniac December 20, 2012 at 22:57

… the only thing left is Lunar Solar Power.

The only thing? What happened to the giant terrestrial solar farms we determined could do the job much cheaper and sooner?

Eniac December 20, 2012 at 23:09

Gary,

No mistake here; I am talking about 10 billion people driving a Prius.

Let’s not forget why I brought up the Prius. You claimed that living standards are tightly correlated to energy use. The Prius vs. LTD example clearly demonstrates this idea to be flat wrong: Higher utility, at one third the energy cost.

This is not a marginal effect: It is radical, and we see it in many other areas besides automobiles. Accordingly, per-capita energy use in the US has declined since the seventies, and probably will continue to do so, despite ever higher living standards.

Eniac December 23, 2012 at 1:00

The above will become more obvious during this decade, and at the end of it the fear of running out of energy will joint the fear of overpopulation in the crowded pantheon of doomsday scenarios that did not come to pass.

Comments on this entry are closed.