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TVIW Symposium on The Power of Synergy

Ever since I started Centauri Dreams in 2004, I’ve been talking about the question of infrastructure within the Solar System. My thinking has always been that while we will doubtless get off interstellar missions beginning with robotics on an ad hoc basis during this century, the prospect of a sustained effort will require a built-out infrastructure that will help us create and test out deep space systems of many kinds, from new propulsion technologies to closed loop life support experiments. One step at a time, but do this right and we may push deep into the Kuiper Belt, then the Oort Cloud and, we can hope, beyond.

That’s a long-term vision and it clashes with what we’ve seen since Apollo, a retreat from lunar exploration by humans that may eventually be reversed as we think about partnerships between commercial aerospace and government space programs. To explore these concepts, an upcoming meeting called the TVIW Symposium on The Power of Synergy is to be held in Oak Ridge, TN from October 23-25, 2018. Participants from NASA, DOE ARPA-E, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Y-12 National Security Complex, and several private companies are being tasked with the challenge of evaluating where we stand in just such an infrastructure.

TVIW stands for the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop, which has held symposia for a number of years in Oak Ridge, Huntsville and Chattanooga — I’ve been pleased to attend most of these, and you can find my reports from past meetings in the archives here. The upcoming meeting is a departure, a gathering convened to explore a set of specific technologies in the context of the resources and technologies being readied in these high-tech areas.

Synergy — that unpredictable, frequently rewarding process of getting more out of a partnership than the apparent sum of its parts — is to be the theme throughout. Focusing on how the work of government laboratories can mesh with private industry, the symposium is to look at a set of seven key technologies, the thinking being that many of these are reaching the stage where they can create transformative progress in space within a decade. That’s a bracing thought, but the organizers believe that multi-agency cooperation can accelerate space exploration.

Participants in the symposium will be examining, for example, high-impulse nuclear propulsion, as studied in DARPA’s Timberwind Program. Political issues always swarm around nuclear ideas, but high-performance technologies realized through upper-stage nuclear rockets fired only once they have reached Earth orbit or beyond could allow faster transit times, enough so to make human expeditions to Mars far more practical than currently envisioned. Going nuclear has ramifications as well in space solar power and cislunar operations including manufacturing.

Have a look at the symposium website for more on the ideas to be discussed, which include high-energy lasers of the sort now being considered by Breakthrough Starshot as a way to propel small sailcraft with miniaturized payloads to the Alpha Centauri triple system. Closer to home, power beaming in space can help to build a transportation network in the inner system and incentivize exploratory missions to the outer planets. Likewise transformative are high-temperature superconductors, developed for several decades at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Magnetically inflated cable (MIC) technologies can help in the construction of large space structures. Large-scale 3D printing, another ORNL specialty, points toward manufacturing capabilities in space that would be a necessary part of a permanent human presence.

Rounding out the list of enabling technologies are self-replicating von Neumann machines, solar power satellites and lightweight large-aperture optics. Can we reach the point where small machines can build larger ones out of abundant space resources found, for example, in nearby asteroids? For that matter, can we consider asteroids themselves, suitably modified by such means, as habitats safe from dangerous radiation from cosmic rays or solar storms?

And on the astronomical front, large-aperture optics offers the prospect of space telescopes that dwarf the scale of today’s efforts, including interferometer arrays for the imaging of exoplanets and advances in our knowledge of cosmology. What the symposium organizers are arguing is that all of these technologies are developing at a pace sufficient to think realistically about fleshing out a near-Earth infrastructure that can swiftly be extended to Mars and beyond.

The speaker list is being fleshed out now, but among those scheduled so far are Michael Raftery (Boeing and Explore Mars, Inc) on the ‘NASA Lunar Gateway Concept;’ Franklin Chang-Diaz (Ad Astra Rocket Company) on ‘Living and Working in Space;’ Phil Lubin (UCSB) on ‘Directed Energy Propulsion – Interplanetary and Interstellar;’ John Mankins (Artemis Innovation Management Solutions) on ‘Space Solar Power Stations;’ Bill Peter (ORNL) on ‘Large 3D Printing;’ Robert Bagdigian (NASA MSFC) on ‘Environmental Control & Life Support;’ and Joel Sercel (Trans Astronautica Corporation) on ‘Capture & Uses of 10 Meter Asteroids.’

The venue in Oak Ridge will be the Y-12 New Hope Visitor Center. Those interested in attending can visit the TVIW Symposium on the Power of Synergy website for more information.


{ 58 comments… add one }
  • Alex Tolley July 11, 2018, 10:14

    A glance at the schedule suggests that the ideas to be presented are well-known. Maybe synergies can be generated, but what I would hope to hear is some novel ideas that might offer breakthroughs to drive the infrastructure. Building infrastructure without a driver (economic IMO) is like building “bridges to nowhere”, they support government contractors, but don’t really move us in the direction of becoming a truly space-faring species. So far none of the proposed economic drivers have come to fruition, with “space tourism” dying before it is even starting. Maybe SpaceX BFR will change that, but I don’t see the issue of “reducing costs of access to space” anywhere on the schedule.

    “Build it and they will come” is a great meme, but the sustainability of the infrastructure must be addressed. Ticket prices must be low, otherwise becomes a tax-payer funded project that potentially parasitizing the supporting economy. Nuclear rockets will offer a performance gain, but they only offer an Isp twice that of chemical rockets, so the ticket price goes from “ridiculously expensive” to just “very expensive”. Breakthrough Starshot is offering a new paradigm with beamed sails, so perhaps Lubin’s talk will address the real potential of such approaches. Clearly, there is a synergy between low-cost access to space, space solar power (Mankins) and beamed sails (Lubin). The magic pixie dust that needs to be added is the answer to “so what?”.

  • Thomas R Mazanec July 11, 2018, 11:45

    My thinking has always been that while we will doubtless get off interstellar missions beginning with robotics on an ad hoc basis during this century

    At the rate we are going, we will be doing good to get robots to the solar gravitational foci of the nearby stars by 2100.

    • Paul Gilster July 11, 2018, 12:28

      What I am suggesting is that we will likely *launch* a dedicated interstellar mission (Breakthrough Starshot being one possibility, but not restricted to that) before the end of the century. Such missions would arrive at their target stars far later.

      • ljk July 11, 2018, 15:31

        NASA is planning to launch a robotic interstellar probe to Alpha Centauri by 2069:


        • Antonio July 11, 2018, 19:10

          It’s also planning a manned Mars mission for 2045. None of them will happen, forget NASA. Maybe the Chinese will do it, or maybe a private initiative will do it. NASA is too busy with its Lunar Tollbooth, AKA we-need-more-launches-for-sls-and-orion.

  • Michael July 11, 2018, 13:21

    Not surprisingly the Starshot laser will be able to aid this infrastructure in the ‘Other’ tasks it can perform. It can be used to develop a mini satellite system aiding the communication industry and that’s big money. Scientific endeavours by moving material around the solar system and even land stuff on the Moon. There are many things that the laser can do, even 3D print large structures on the Moon such as roads and domes.

    • ljk July 13, 2018, 10:17

      Many of these things will happen long before the Breakthrough Starshot megalaser is developed, especially smallsats.

      So who is going to develop this powerful laser? A consortium of universities and corporations? Governments? Which ones? Has anyone even made a rough guess as to how much it will cost? Assuming it is even built, who will then control it? Who will make certain it isn’t turned into a weapon of mass destruction?

      I cannot help but feel this is the 2018 version of Project Daedalus: An intriguing study of interstellar travel by a select group with the implied promise of it actually happening one day while the reality proves just the opposite. And like with Apollo, we wait another half century for something major to happen in space development. But prove me wrong here.

      I will be blunt. I am beyond tired of seeing yet another academic meeting where the participants pat each other on the back for their ideas and then nothing happens in the exterior world. Then the cycle repeats.

      Meanwhile, Elon Musk’s red sports car just crossed the orbit of Mars today.

      • ljk July 13, 2018, 10:40

        Just look at the trouble NASA is having getting the complex astronomical satellite the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) even off the ground and then imagine what it will take to build a giant space laser that has to last for decades and meanwhile not be used to fry human civilization.


      • Michael July 13, 2018, 17:32

        “Many of these things will happen long before the Breakthrough Starshot megalaser is developed, especially smallsats.”

        The beauty of starshot is it modularity, it can be built in small modules getting bigger over time and it is adjustable in power and profile shape.

        “So who is going to develop this powerful laser? A consortium of universities and corporations? Governments? Which ones?”

        A synergy of many disciplines and companies are going to be required.

        “Has anyone even made a rough guess as to how much it will cost?”

        If we are clever nothing, if we are really clever less than nothing, reinvest the idea.

        “Assuming it is even built, who will then control it?”

        Who ever builds it first.

        “Who will make certain it isn’t turned into a weapon of mass destruction?”

        It will be a giant that can be brought to its knees in a flash.

        “But prove me wrong here.”

        It will be up to the laws of the Universe to prove us wrong.

        “I will be blunt. I am beyond tired of seeing yet another academic meeting where the participants pat each other on the back for their ideas and then nothing happens in the exterior world. Then the cycle repeats.”

        The project is so daunting in scale and complexity nothing other than a synergy of minds and engineering could accomplish the task at hand.

        “Meanwhile, Elon Musk’s red sports car just crossed the orbit of Mars today.”

        That beam of laser light when it lights up will pass it in less than a blink of an eye.

  • Alex Tolley July 11, 2018, 13:30

    When industry contractors get involved, their aim will be to PR their own corporate business. As good example on the schedule is Boeing’s talk on “NASA Lunar Gateway Concept”. From what I read about this, it is almost the opposite of needed infrastructure, let alone offering synergies. Many commentators see this as a problem, diverting attention from the goal of starting a lunar colony or even a Mars landing. Nice work for Boeing, but of value in building opportunities in space? Very debatable.

    The history of transportation on Earth is to increase speed and lower costs. The US saw covered wagons, stagecoaches, the railroads and air travel. Today, flights across the USA are far faster, cheaper than rail, and can be cheaper than driving. Shipping moves huge tonnages of bulk freight at very low costs. As a result, passenger and freight movements are many orders of magnitude greater than they were when covered wagons crossed the West, or the Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic in an old, leaky, ship. The railroads really opened up the continent, allowing people and freight to move quickly and cheaply. All those old Western movies of cattle drives represented a very short period in history, usurped by railroads that transported the cattle to the factories in Chicago. Town leaders were desperate to ensure railroads came through their towns as it would make or break their expansion.

    I see no reason why the same dynamic should not apply to space. We need the equivalent of the railroad to reduce prices and increase volume. Eventually we may get the equivalent of jet airliners. Advanced chemical propulsion and nuclear rockets are like discussing horse breeds and how to best build stagecoaches, rather than railroads.
    I personally would push for beamed propulsion, but anything that looks more like a railroad in relative performance to horses would be desirable. With cheap, fast transport, entrepreneurs and capital can build the needed peripheral infrastructure and businesses to make space commerce and settlement sustainable with its own drivers for expansion, liberating it from the vicarious purse strings of governments.

  • John Rather July 11, 2018, 13:48

    Many Thanks to Paul Gilster for this fine summary article about our motives and efforts. Also thanks to Alex Tolley for his perceptive comments. As General Chair of the symposium, I hope that we address all of the above. There are some notable responses to Alex’s plea for affordable access to space development. We will be sure to introduce the StarTram maglev launch concept and urge everyone to read the book of the same name by James Powell. We hope that Jim will be able to participate by Skype from his health care residence.

  • Alex Tolley July 11, 2018, 15:34

    Interestingly, this week’s SpaceReview covers a few of the topics. But most important is this article: Charting a path for the space industry’s growth.

    The question briefly examined is how do we get from a $300bn space industry to a $1tn one by 2040. There is skepticism that the satellite business will get us there, and that new, currently unknown “killer app” markets must emerge.

    In one sense, the way to approach this is to ask a what if: “what if the cost to get to orbit was a a very consumer affordable cost, e.g. an airline ticket, or a week’s cruise ticket. What would that mean?”. Similarly, “What if a flight to Saturn took just weeks, days, or even hours, rather than years”. These are questions best answered by the SciFi authors. They might lead one to use these premises to determine what infrastructure and technologies are needed, and by working backward, to develop a path to get us to those futures.

  • Antonio July 11, 2018, 17:39

    Mmm it seems business as usual to me. The biggest player to build such an infraestructure is not there (its name begins by S). I don’t see any of the guest organizations participating in space colonization any time soon.

  • Dr. Eric W. Davis July 12, 2018, 0:04

    So it appears that Mae Jemison and her 100-Year Starship Study have become defunct and not contributing to the interstellar endeavor.

    • ljk July 12, 2018, 10:58

      Eric, what details do you have on this news about them?

      I just looked on their official Web site:


      Their last press release is dated September 15, 2017. It is about something called Look Up, which was supposed to happen next month (August) of this year. To quote:

      LOOK UP over the next year will connect people worldwide, from all walks of life, culminating on a single day in August 2018 when everyone will be asked to LOOK UP and share what they see and their thoughts, hopes, fears, dreams and ideas for best path forward. LOOK UP is a day, 24 hours, we acknowledge our oneness as Earthlings and concurrently our right to be a part of this greater universe.

      Why LOOK UP? “It is critical that we realize that worldwide, that all our lives and well-being are inextricably woven into the fabric of this planet Earth and globally connected to the greater universe,” Jemison stated. “This is not a choice; it is a reality. Whether we as a species survive, progress and thrive depends upon how we embrace this reality.”

      They even have a Web site for this Look Up event, which is still functioning:


      I did not expect them to build an actual starship, but it is quite disappointing that they did not even last one-tenth of a century, especially if what they were offering above is what they reduced themselves to.

      • Alex Tolley July 12, 2018, 13:51

        As the pessimists say – Nasa involvement dooms any project. Nasa’s tardiness and even ineffectiveness are blindingly obvious in the face of developments by the NewSpace companies. The glory days are over. JPL seems to be one of the remaining Nasa organizations that succeeds. The SLS fiasco, following on from the Aries I and V cancellations, plus the JWST cost overruns and delays, suggests Nasa is no longer fit for purpose. If a private entity puts people on the Moon or possibly Mars before Nasa, that should be the death knell for Nasa in its current, bloated, form. The organization should be pared back to fulfill tasks like its earlier organization, NACA.

        While Breakthrough Starship won’t likely actually launch an interstellar nanoprobe, their rapid progress in defining the requirements, identifying obstacles and finding solutions seems to be far more indicative of how we should be proceeding. SpaceX’ groundbreaking successes need no further elaboration.

        It really is time to revisit how we do space development and where public money support is enabling and where it ends. Perhaps that will be raised at the TVIW symposium after the whizzy technologies and synergies are explicated.

        • George King July 12, 2018, 15:28

          Within the public side of that public/private equation, a part of the problem is that NASA is told “no, don’t do that, now do this instead” every four to eight years when a new president comes in. That’s not a knock on any particular president’s choices, but it instead is a criticism of that aspect of the structure of how we set public priorities for space exploration.

          It was great when JFK took that bold stroke and declared that we would land a man on the Moon “within this decade.” But as the decades now roll by, it’s very hard to make long range plans when you’re being told to scrap programs and objectives every four to eight years in something that takes a lot of long term planning and steps to move forward intelligently and efficiently. As a consequence, we see NASA bending prior programs, platforms and efforts to try and match them as much as possible to the new priorities — although they may not have done it that way necessarily from the outset if they instead had been shooting for the new objective starting ten or twenty years back. So, and again this is no knock on any individual president, Congress needs to step up and lock in longer term priorities that are not subject to the vagaries of just one person every four to eight years. It certainly is not written in stone, much less the constitution, that the president must be able to unilaterally reset space exploration objectives every four to eight years.

          • Antonio July 12, 2018, 18:07

            That’s not the problem. NASA put a man in the Moon in 8 years. The problem is that then NASA spent money to do great things and now it do things to spend great amounts of money.

            • George King July 13, 2018, 2:05

              Well, what they didn’t teach me in law school about math and especially orbital mechanics, they made up for with lessons on how to qualify my remarks, lol.

              I did say “part of” the problem, as there of course are a host of issues with a bureaucracy of that age and size.

              I do believe that we need to stop this continuing pattern of resetting the agency’s objectives every four to eight years based on one person’s desire to put their own personal imprint on space policy.

        • J. Jason Wentworth July 13, 2018, 1:38

          Alex, your comment about the NACA (the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which was pronounced as its letters, preceded by a “the”–“the In-Eh-See-Eh”–rather than as “Nacka”) should be emphasized. The NACA (often written as N.A.C.A.) never attempted to–or even considered–building its own operational aircraft, much less operating its own government-funded air transport system, but:

          They performed the high-risk, high-cost, high-payoff (but often not immediately economically viable, but often of military utility) basic research in aerodynamics, materials, avionics, aircraft and powerplant design and testing, aircraft safety equipment, and human-factors engineering, data on all of which it made freely available to the aviation industry (under security classification, where necessary). Also:

          As rocketry, missilery, and spaceflight became more important, the NACA conducted pioneering research in these fields as well; the Wallops Flight Facility was their first sounding rocket launch facility, and the first U.S. satellites were developed by the U.S. Army with engineering support from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the NACA. (NACA–later NASA–scientist William O’Sullivan conceived of the radio-reflecting “satelloon” balloon satellites which, after several launch failures in the Beacon Explorer series, finally reached orbit as the Echo 1, Echo 2, and Pageos satellites), and:

          Somewhere along the line, the notion became accepted that spaceflight–or at least the launching of spacecraft (AT&T’s Telstar 1, orbited in 1962, was the first privately-owned satellite)–was exclusively a government responsibility. Since launch vehicles were, for many years, derived from military ballistic missiles (which only governments could afford), it is not surprising that this notion took hold. But now that a private launch industry (as well as a private satellite and even [nascent] manned spacecraft industry) exists, NASA’s role in the space field should be made the same as its role in aeronautics research (the same as what the NACA did). NASA would still launch planetary and–when it can–interstellar probes, since this activity is basic research, but they would no longer develop and operate space transportation systems, any more than it (or the NACA) does/did so regarding air transport.

          • ljk July 13, 2018, 9:58

            While I am glad for the history and other information on NASA – and agree that they better think about reinventing themselves like IBM did when the computer culture changed to stay alive and relevant – I would still like to know what happened to 100 Year Starship, thank you. Did they make any real contributions to the concepts of interstellar travel? That Look Up idea seems like pure drivel. And was Mae Jemison anything more than a figure head?

          • Alex Tolley July 13, 2018, 10:14

            You have stated that very well. I concur 100%. NASA was a response to the shock of Sputnik, and the US mobilized just as it had in WWII. The “Race to the Moon” achieved the political goal but left us with the wrong approach to developing space for the US context. America’s genius has always been in commerce, so it is a pity that commercial pressures have been absent except for the bidding process. It isn’t just NASA either, the same problems appear in military procurement. WWII seems to have derailed the development process in favor of state planning. Where it hasn’t, e.g. electronics, progress has been outstanding.

            I’m not the only one calling for NASA to return to its [the] NACA roots, but it does seem that now the time is ripe for rethinking NASA’s role now that innovative companies have come to the fore.

  • Andrew Palfreyman July 12, 2018, 0:44

    My vision also is for the solar system to be criss-crossed with a web of high power directable laser beams, obviating the need to carry massive amounts of fuel hither and thither. Thus we have cheap and rapid point to point transportation all over, gradually building outward and around.

    As for a “driver” for all this activity – look no further than the foundational motivations for Las Vegas. It’s an existence proof.

    • ljk July 13, 2018, 10:25

      The first occupants of the wider Sol system will be the megarich, who saw the real value of the planetoids and comets while your typical astronomer is either writing academic papers on them or calling them the “vermin of the sky” while studying some remote ancient galaxy 10 billion light years away.

      You want space to be an idealized pristine wilderness of stars gently studied by academics? Fine. You want space to be a place that humanity can spread out to save and better itself as a species and society? Then build rockets and launch them. The Universe isn’t going to be “wrecked” by us anyway, no matter how hard we try. That we see no blatantly obvious signs of intelligent interference in the galaxy and beyond should be telling. We are way too tiny on a cosmic scale to make major change.

  • George King July 12, 2018, 1:42

    Synergy can be found in a permanent base on the Moon rather than a gateway in lunar orbit as currently planned.

    First, the base can produce solar power satellites and more or less drop them into optimum Earth orbits for collection and transmission, all at lower cost than Earth-launched systems. (Instead having a solar power base on the Moon itself for power on Earth, rather than producing satellites on the Moon, would involve longer transmission distances and also having to account for the rotation of Earth and the orbit of the Moon. Just build them on the Moon and then place them in more optimum Earth orbits.)

    Second, the base can develop the skills and technology required for a self-sustaining human colony on Mars. It looks like we will have the capability to get to Mars long before we truly will have the capacity to sustain a settlement there. We should be utilizing the Moon, now, to develop those skills and technologies, in a harsh but nearby environment. To paraphrase, Sinatra, if we can make it on the Moon, we can make it anywhere else in the system. But, right now, we really can’t make it anywhere, for a number of reasons. For example, we don’t have have sufficient experience with the long term effects of low, as opposed to micro-, gravity on the human body.

    Third, the base can build and launch the beamed propulsion infrastructure to serve as Alex Tolley’s low cost “railroad” around the rest of the system, for both manned and unmanned exploration.

    Fourth, while they’re at it, they can build and place the next generation of space-based telescopes into appropriate orbits for their particular missions. Once they have the fabrication and launch infrastructure in place for less sophisticated projects, it’s a natural evolution to more sophisticated and refined projects such as space telescopes.

    So you want synergy? Then I say go back to, and stay, on the Moon. For low cost space-based solar power, for the first needed step toward a permanent human presence on Mars, for the creation of an interplanetary (and beyond) beamed propulsion railroad for continued low cost manned and unmanned exploration of the solar system (and beyond), and for low cost deep space telescopy.

    Now, a lunar base certainly will not be able to do all of that on day one. But it most certainly would be able to attain those capabilities long before a gateway station in lunar orbit ever would.

    • Antonio July 12, 2018, 18:28

      “First, the base can produce solar power satellites”

      Nope. While it has silicon in the form of silicates, it totally lacks the carbon needed to purify it.

      “Second, the base can develop the skills and technology required for a self-sustaining human colony on Mars.”

      Nope. http://www.marssociety.org/home/about/faq/#Q11

      “Third, the base can build and launch the beamed propulsion infrastructure”

      Again, nope. There are no mineral veins in the Moon to sustain an industry, contrary to Mars, which had similar geological processes to the Earth that accumulated mineral ores (volcanism, rivers, hot spots, lakes, rain, glaciers, …). Also, the Moon lacks the carbon and nitrogen needed for agriculture (and a very bad night-day cycle and no atmospheric pressure) and thus can’t sustain the engineers and workers unless all food is transported from Earth at great expense.

      “Fourth, while they’re at it, they can build and place the next generation of space-based telescopes into appropriate orbits for their particular missions.”

      It’s hugely easier to build, test and launch them from Earth.

      • Alex Tolley July 12, 2018, 20:48

        While it has silicon in the form of silicates, it totally lacks the carbon needed to purify it.

        Silicon isn’t the only material that works for PV cells. But more importantly, it is not a requirement that all materials are available locally. The issue is the total cost of production and transport to the location of end use. Carbon and other materials can be shipped up from Earth or acquired from C-type asteroids. Insisting that the Moon is of no use in the manufacture of silicon PV arrays because carbon is not available (and I doubt that as C-type asteroids have almost certainly impacted the Moon) is as unreasonable as demanding California cannot manufacture silicon because we don’t have coal reserves.
        The same argument applies to other minerals. BTW, the Moon has abundant supplies of platinum which can be used in fuel cells. This was the basis for Harrison Schmidt’s argument to mine platinum on the Moon to support the hydrogen economy.

        Human ingenuity are really a lot more effective than you seem to think.

        For an older view on how to use the Moon for industry, I recommend Neil Ruzic’s The Case for Going to the Moon (pub. 1965).

        • J. Jason Wentworth July 13, 2018, 2:05

          Dittos, Alex! Neil P. Ruzic’s “The Case for Going to the Moon” (1965) and “Where the Winds Sleep: Man’s Future on the Moon–A Projected History” (1970 [its Foreword is by Wernher von Braun]) both go into great detail about the industrial and scientific uses of our natural satellite, and:

          Ruzic (an industrial engineer who founded Industrial Research, Inc.) evangelized to the scientific community–most of which opposed Apollo–about the tremendous benefits to *their* chosen fields that the Moon offered, which they were missing, and would regret. (Carl Sagan admitted that he initially opposed Apollo, but realized–once we went there–that it was folly to stop going.) Ruzic also obtained a patent for a very simple lunar cryostat (made of a stack of crinkled [for minimal heat transfer] aluminized mylar “bowls” [painted black on their bottoms] which would, depending on the stack height, produce any desired cryogenic temperature–even almost Absolute Zero–during the long lunar nights). Because the cryostat would super-conduct naturally at night, he also designed linear versions that would serve as levitation tracks for launching spacecraft off the Moon electromagnetically, and–in smaller versions–to support high-speed levitated lunar trains and cars.

        • Antonio July 13, 2018, 4:44

          “Carbon and other materials can be shipped up from Earth”

          Then you could build the panels on Earth much much easily and cheaply.

          “or acquired from C-type asteroids. Insisting that the Moon is of no use in the manufacture of silicon PV arrays because carbon is not available”

          But the point of George King is that it will be easier/cheaper to do it on the Moon than elsewhere, and thus we should build a colony on the Moon. The discussion is not wheter it CAN be done. And I pointed out several issues that make the Moon much more difficult and expensive for developing such industry.

          So, for C-type asteroids: obtaining carbon from them is so much cheaper than doing it on Earth that it compensates for all the other problems of the Moon? I think the answer is a resounding NO.

          “BTW, the Moon has abundant supplies of platinum which can be used in fuel cells.”

          I didn’t say that there are no minerals in the Moon, I said that there are no mineral veins.

          • Michael July 13, 2018, 9:27

            “I didn’t say that there are no minerals in the Moon, I said that there are no mineral veins.”

            There are dykes and many impact crater’s where minerals veins could have formed.


          • ljk July 13, 2018, 11:45

            Have we really studied Luna that thoroughly that we can say there are no mineral veins? Why say you that?

            Astronomers still seem to be in shock that there is water ice at Luna’s poles after decades of thinking our moon was just a dried up old rock.

          • Alex Tolley July 13, 2018, 13:16

            Iron meteorite impacts are as good as veins. The Sudbury platinum mine in Ontario, Canada is one such site on Earth.

          • Alex Tolley July 13, 2018, 13:24

            Can we agree ton these premises: ?

            1. That manufacturing location will be determined by economics and time.
            2. If a Moonbase is constructed, e.g. by a government, this represents a sunk cost and the only economic issue is variable operating costs for the facility.
            3. As more users and businesses develop using the base, the share of overhead expenses declines.

            If you can agree on these basic points, then it should be obvious that as long as there is capability, the cost of any specific lunar manufacture should decline. Whether that will be lower than from Earth will depend on a number of factors including transport costs (e.g. launch costs).

      • George King July 13, 2018, 1:45

        Alex of course ably addressed your concerns as to both the viability and the utility of lunar manufacturing.

        As for the utility of a human presence on the Moon in particular (over and above establishing and overseeing a probably substantial amount of robotic and AI activity), I’m not persuaded by the talking points in the Mars Society FAQ either:

        (a) that we’re at a fully matured technology readiness level for a sustainable, fully self-contained habitat 55,000,000 plus kilometers from Earth (at closest approach); or

        (b) that the Moon is not the best place to most reliably and effectively advance the readiness levels for the needed technology, knowledge and skills for a sustainable presence on Mars.

        The good folks at the Mars Society want to go to Mars without further ado and without any resources being diverted to other pursuits that could take us away from doing directly and only that. I get it. But that doesn’t mean that I wholesale buy into these particular talking points.

        We need to demonstrate that we can establish a self-contained habitat on another celestial body where we – far away from home and all at the same time – inter alia: (a) effectively shield ourselves from hazardous radiation (usually not a problem in the Antarctic); (b) reliably produce food, with no crop failures, livestock diseases, etc., etc., etc. in a self-contained environment that absolutely, positively cannot be exposed to the ambient environment, including involving a marked pressure differential (with the latter again not being a factor in the Antarctic); and (c) establish as a matter of human biological science that we can live in a low gravity environment for a sustained period of time without unduly deleterious effects on the human body (and, yes, .165 g is not .376 g., but 1g in Antarctica most definitely is not .376 g and is going to tell us absolutely nothing about the sustained effects of living in a low gravity environment).

        Just like the early European colonial settlers of North America, the first Martian settlers likely will be making a one-way trip. But there’s no sense in that being not only a one-way trip, but also an exceedingly nasty, brutish, and short life as well, as Hobbes might say. We need to get our readiness levels up on all of the collective technology and skills – both individually and as applied at the same time together – that will be necessary to survive in an inhospitable environment on a planet over fifty million kilometers away.

        The Moon is the best place to go to develop those TRLs to get ready to go to Mars – the understandable “go fever” desire of folks focused primarily on Mars to get there as soon as possible notwithstanding.

        On the Moon, we’ll at least have a short three-day escape window back to the good Earth if things go awry, as they very well might as we first try to develop robust and reliable systems. In contrast, if there’s a failure of the self-contained habitat on Mars because we pushed too far ahead, too soon then . . . well, maybe they’ll name the place New Roanoke.

        • ljk July 13, 2018, 10:31

          For as much as the Mars One plan is an obvious con job and cosmic joke, it did prove one thing: That there are lots of people who will willingly volunteer to have themselves flung into space with no return ticket and spend their lives on an alien world, no matter how short a time that may turn out to be.


          That is the kind of spirit we need if we ever want to really colonize space one day.

  • J. Jason Wentworth July 12, 2018, 4:38

    One technology (by no means the only one) that would facilitate synergy would be self-replicating machines (von Neumann machines), of which von Neumann interstellar probes would be a logical extension. While I do maintain a healthy level of skepticism about their near-term–and even far-term, ^if^ they’re possible at all (they might not be)–availability, the concept is so attractive that it deserves to be investigated, at least from time to time as technology improves, and:

    Even closer to home, such machines would be of great help in opening up the space frontier. To give just one example, in his book, “Mining the Sky: Untold Riches From The Asteroids, Comets, And Planets” (see: http://www.amazon.com/Mining-Sky-Untold-Asteroids-Planets/dp/0201328194 ), planetary scientist Dr. John S. Lewis (who is now the Chief Scientist at Deep Space Industries) described self-replicating lithophages, robotic devices that would roam about the surfaces of asteroids, extracting water from their regolith, which would be stored and later used–when the asteroids were visited at intervals–for life support and for solar-thermal rocket propellant. Also:

    Lithophages could also be designed to extract water and other volatiles from the organic “tar” on carbonaceous asteroids (and from the tars and ices of comets, especially the short-period comets, including extinct ones that are sometimes mistakenly listed as asteroids, whose dark crusts likely cover plentiful un-sublimed ices). They could also extract metals and minerals from metallic, stony, and chondritic asteroids, for in-space industrial uses. If such lithophages could be developed, they would also have many applications here on Earth.

    • Alex Tolley July 12, 2018, 21:00

      I don’t think you need a binary state of full replication or nothing. Your lithophages may be 95% self-reproducing by mass, just requiring supplies of hi-tech manufactures to complete the reproduction. Indeed, that might even be the safest thing to prevent the boogeyman of the “paperclip” scenario.
      Suppose that CPUs were the needed “food”. They could be shipped to points in the asteroid belt for the lithophages to collect and use to reproduce, perhaps in their “hives”. What we might want is the equivalent of bee hives, where the output is not honey, but refined metal. Other machines in the ecosystem would use the metal to build structures like O’Neill colony hulls, perhaps even complete, ready to move-in structures.
      We are not that far from being able to build such swarm robots to handle such tasks. Wholly new jobs for humans to design and manage those robot ecosystems will emerge.

      • J. Jason Wentworth July 13, 2018, 2:21

        *Nods* Ronald Bracewell envisioned the same sort of partial self-reproduction–if it proved necessary–for interstellar messenger probes, which could produce new electronic components (to replace ones nearing the end of their service lives, say) as they approached their destination stars.

  • Guillem July 12, 2018, 7:02

    Very interesting indeed. Also intetesting the growing number of these kind of meetings. I have the feeling we might be in a phase transition state when building space infrastructure might become a goal soon. After doing some literature research myself, my view is that the bottleneck is tranformation of raw materials into useful stuff to enable in-situ manufacturing, repair, and self replication of all its parts (a requirement -imho- to make the effort sustainable). I haven’t seen a single credible plan to implement such an infrastructure other than building a city of 1 million people (Musk & co), even on Earth. I think this is the ‘elephant’ in the room.

  • Alex Tolley July 12, 2018, 10:01

    transformation of raw materials into useful stuff to enable in-situ manufacturing, repair, and self-replication of all its parts (a requirement -IMHO- to make the effort sustainable)

    That isn’t strictly necessary, as long as trade is possible. Sustainable isn’t the same as self-sufficient.

    What I do think is that 3D printing shows the path to a good way of solving the problem of manufacturing without a large industrial base. In my post reviewing the paper of bootstrapping robot development on the moon, the robots constructed most of the parts for themselves from the lunar regolith. The key here is to adapt designs that can work with such materials to produce “good enough” components. Initially, they will not be as fine a part as can be produced on Earth, but they will work. In some cases, we know that they will work as well or better (e.g. rocket engines). As the space economy develops, manufacturing will get more sophisticated and will meet and exceed what Earth can produce for most, but perhaps not all, goods for the space-based economy.

    Whenever I think of starship colonization, the problem of how to set up a manufacturing base is one that seems to require massive world ships. As a result, sending people who can live simpler, agrarian lives seems more workable. The advent of 3D printers (ultimately Star Trek replicators) seems the way out of this difficulty and, IMO, the way forward for space industrialization.

    Even if it was costless to move materials from Earth to anywhere in the solar system, we would still be better off mining asteroids and other suitable bodies from the sheer mass we will want for a solar system wide economy. Indeed, if transport was costless, I would still prefer to extract material from dead celestial bodies rather than from Earth. If mining and manufacturing is inevitably despoiling, let us spare the Earth and do this off-planet as far as possible, pushing that development with Pigou taxes.

    40 years on, the logic of O’Neill’s assertion about space manufacturing remains true. The difference is that today we can see that robots and other sophisticated machines will have a far bigger role to play in building that future.

  • tesh July 12, 2018, 11:40

    The more I hear about beamed propulsion the more I become uneasy of the motives to build it and whether, even if it becomes possible to build, that such a thing will ever come into existence. There is no political landscape in existence, or indeed one that has ever existed or likely to, in which we will see a humungus laser being built in space. By the time it is feasible (technically and politically) its need will have gone.

    • J. Jason Wentworth July 13, 2018, 2:17

      Space-based X-ray propulsive lasers could side-step that problem. While they could be used against spacecraft, they would be useless against targets on the Earth’s surface. Also, because X-ray laser beams remain tight over longer distances (because of their much shorter wavelengths), they could effectively push sails (which would be made to reflect the X-rays at grazing-incidence angles) over greater distances (and the X-ray beams could also heat propellant in laser rockets).

  • ljk July 12, 2018, 13:53

    Is Orion – the original one – being considered at all for this meeting?


    I ask only if they want to look at technologically and physics-wise plausible methods of interstellar travel, especially one that has been around since the 1950s.

    Because I can think of at least one nation on this planet which has the capabilities and the motives to build an Orion or ten.

    • Alex Tolley July 12, 2018, 15:29

      But 2 of those nations have been actively destroying the fuel supply since the 1970’s. ;)

      The tv series “Ascension” depicted a society launched on an Orion class ship in the 1960s. In reality, it was just a reworking of J G Ballard’s “Thirteen to Centaurus”. The technology might be the current best solution for a Golgafrincham “B ark” ship to remove the most useless members of Earth’s society (however defined).

    • Michel Lamontagne July 16, 2018, 13:31

      Orion was never a really plausible method for interstellar travel. It was an interplanetary travel solution, but the ISP of the base model was not that great, and to get it to very high levels required for interstellar travel required handwavium clean nuclear fusion thrust units. I’m not saying it was physically impossible, just that it is not much more likely than any other type of fusion drive.

  • Gary Wilson July 12, 2018, 14:17

    Could you elaborate on that comment tesh? I don’t really understand why you think that to be true. The scale of laser drivers can be debated but surely they would provide a sound path to (at the very least) solar system wide transportation. It would start small (probably on Earth’s moon) but could be expanded from there. Are you worried about the military implications i.e. who or what is this laser actually being pointed at?

    • tesh July 15, 2018, 2:48

      I’m always worried about the (potential) military applications with anything space related and to think otherwise would just be denying the obvious. Even if this was somehow sidestepped (military application fear), I just cannot see funding being easily forthcoming from a government anytime soon and if it does it will likely be through a military source.
      The concept is interesting and seems very useful but realistically how far in the future is this likely to come to pass – that we have a solar system wide network of beamed propulsion akin to a rail network? 200 years, 500, 1000?

      p.s. As far as “who the laser is being pointed at”…:
      What is the most likely funding source? Probably a military program.
      It will likely need to be tested (subscale) – fine.
      Prototypes will be built – fine.
      How do you protect proliferation of the tech? We see with N.Korea, Pakistan, India and Israel that tech (nuclear in this case) will get out and put to its own political (if not military) uses. Thankfully it has not moved into the hands of smaller, non-state, actors but that is probably more due to luck than design I fear.
      Will the first tests be done on/from earth, from a space station or the
      moon? Where on earth, which space station and when on the moon?
      Transportation to the moon will require extensive infrastructure?

      • Alex Tolley July 15, 2018, 14:00

        Lubin’s D-StAR lasers are pretty clearly military use. At the Starship Century[?] conference, he pitched them as a planetary defense to vaporize/deflect asteroids and as a potential accelerator for light sails assuming the almost perfect reflectors could be constructed.

        My guess is that the military would point them from the ground to space to blind/kill/disable satellites and possibly ICBMs. A space-based system might be pointed at the ground to destroy ICBMs at launch – the easiest time to kill them as they are at low speed and all the MIRVs are in place. They could conceivably be used to destroy other targets on the ground.
        The problem, of course, is that ground or space-based lasers are also targets, with locations known. A ground laser would have to be protected, perhaps in a silo, to be exposed only when needed, much like silo-based ICBMs. It is difficult to hide the location of a large array of lasers as posited.

        If the US was a minor power, like Iran, these lasers would be “banned” as “dual use”. Yes, they could be used for peaceful purposes like beaming power to spacecraft, but also for military use. The US should find ways to make these only suitable for peaceful uses, but that would then stymie DoD funding, which I suspect will be needed to get them ready for propulsion uses, like Breakthrough Starshot’s nano sails.

  • Gary Wilson July 12, 2018, 14:28

    As a species we will definitely need to mature in order to grow outwards into the solar system. If much of the thinking remains at the level of trying to dominate each other militarily, nation versus nation, we might continue to create insurmountable problems for ourselves.

    • ljk July 13, 2018, 9:15

      Do you have a plan for changing this?

    • ljk July 13, 2018, 10:06

      This is the old trope, that humanity needs to solve ALL of its many problems before we can do anything like explore and colonize space.

      However, even a casual student of history can see that is often adversity and strife which propels at least some humans to progress and advanced our technologies.

      The true parent of the Space Age – with all due respect to Goddard and other rocket pioneers of the day – was the V-2 rocket developed by Nazi Germany and later adopted by the USA and USSR to improve their geopolitical positions in the Cold War.

      Yes, too much strife can be detrimental. However, too much peace and relaxation leads to complacency and stagnation. Hopefully, with over 7.6 billion humans on this planet and rising, we will have at least enough people to keep society from collapsing from either of these extremes.

      If we waited for life to be wonderful, we never would have left the trees and caves.

    • AlexT July 13, 2018, 10:52

      Nice wishful thinking, the problem that we (homo sapiens) are that we are, you should replace the human race by someone else, so your dreams may be become true , but I suppose you will not find the better candidate – we are result of long-long time evolution on our planet and our “not pleasant , militant and non nice” behavior – is the best way to survive…

  • Michael July 13, 2018, 8:42

    A powerful laser system on earth could be very useful in mapping the moons rock structures. If we landed seismic detectors on the surface of the moon we could then fire the laser at points on the surface, we then measure the wave reflections through the moon. We could then get high resolution maps of any lava tubes or mineral deposits.

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