December 6, 2012
In a way, my vision is to help everyone else achieve their visions. (As you can see from the letter pictured, I've been working on these concepts for quite a while.)
I would like to share technology, resources and project opportunities with The Planetary Society, NASA and space businesses(such as Elon Musk's company, Space-X), to save and generate, $1 Trillion dollars of funding in 10 years. This is equivalent to over 50 years worth of NASA's current yearly budget.
This forum highlights some difficult choices... Moon or Mars, Human or Robotic, this decade or... someday. The choices are difficult because of the lack of funding. And, in the near future, NASA will most likely receive less money, and will therefore have to scale back not only new space goals, but reduce existing programs as well. It is also becoming clear that there is not enough funding for other important goals and issues, such as education, health care, retirement, the environment and, the costs and global consequences of our energy choices.
So, what to do?
Well, one solution path for this financial dilemma is, to implement techniques that reduce the overall costs of projects, so that more can be done with less money. Archimedes had said, “Give me a place to stand, a lever long enough and a fulcrum. and I can move the Earth”. This is leverage. Leverage is an example of efficiency. If I may loosely paraphrase Archimedes: If you use every technique to be efficient enough, and reduce costs enough, eventually you can do everything with practically nothing. The 'nothing' part being money.
I was a presenter at the Case for Mars III Conference in Boulder, Colorado in 1987. During one of the question & answer sessions, a NASA engineer, who had worked on the Saturn V for the Moon missions, stood up and posed the comment, "Why do space projects cost so much?". He went on to add that, "excluding the fuel, which was nothing more than Hydrogen and Oxygen... which was water, the bulk of the Saturn V vehicle sitting on the pad was nothing more than tons of metals and plastic. The main thing that costs real money is the labor... the people who put it together."
I was quite taken by his comments, because that concept was at the core of my paper, "How to Colonize Mars on a Budget". And, if one were to "follow the money" paid to the space workforce, it is easy to see that the bulk of it goes to pay for the house, food and the utilities, the car and its fuel... the basics. My efforts at that time were focused on researching and designing a house, transportation and community infrastructure which could be built cost-effectively, and have lower overhead costs, such as lower utility bills.
Here is the Synopsis for that paper:
"Session 14.8 How to Colonize Mars on a Budget- The purpose of my paper is to describe a program which could place a manned base on Mars within 10 years at a cost of $200 million dollars(1/200th of the current high estimate of 40 billion dollars), and will examine a method of financing that will require no government funding.
Early Mars Base development and testing is achieved as mission designers and fabricators build and live in their own business community. Offices and homes will be built using a modular habitat design based on passive-solar, microprocessor-interfaced technology, integrated with environmental systems to provide its own energy, food, water and waste treatment. The buildings will operate self-sufficiently and will therefore reduce overhead and labor costs. Lower Mars Mission costs are further achieved as the business community is expanded and the designers receive immediate design feedback. Gained experience is translated into refined project innovation and economies of scale will result as the designs are perfected and replicated.
The design methodology employed will reduce the complexity of a Mars Mission, eliminate costly mission components(such as a nuclear reactor for power), and take advantage of launch systems that are simpler and cheaper than the shuttle, thus freeing up shuttle missions for other purposes.
Duplication of these efforts will provide quality offices and homes for commercial sale or lease. These revenues provide the cash necessary for the Mars Mission and is analogous to NASA launching satellites for profit. These techniques are also applicable to housing, energy, waste and environmental problems facing society today. The practical implementation of solutions that address immediate human needs should also foster stronger public support for NASA."
Let's look at how this can work in three(3) example cases. (Note-I haven't contacted many of them yet, but where I could, I've tried to list the Board and Advisory Council members who might have a direct tie-in to a particular project/application. So, this is a small introduction for everybody.)
First Example- Elon Musk has announced that he wants to send 80,000 people to Mars and find ways to reduce the costs to $500,000 per person.
Musk is already part-way there. His strategy for Space-X consolidates most of the design and assembly activities under a single roof. In one interview, I read something to the effect that, "they can bring metal in one door, and have rockets come out the other end". Overall launch costs are greatly reduced. The materials cost for a rocket is just 2% of the total costs. Therefore, the facility/infrastructure overhead and labor costs may be 98% of the total.
Over the years, I have designed, engineered, tested, and lived in structures using these technologies. It is affordable. Right now, we could build a home or office for about 1/2 of conventional construction costs... with no utility bills. Plus, I've run the numbers for larger scale activities, and if the design and assembly of space projects were to be conducted in well-designed, efficient communities, you could build and operate those project sites for about 10% of conventional costs. Even if I was only half right, Musk, and Space-X, could reduce their labor, facility and infrastructure costs by 80%. I believe that Space-X is about to begin operations at the Cape, to process, launch, and refurbish Falcon rockets. That would require more employees, and could be a perfect site to try out an efficient Business Community design, which could be modified later, for use as a Martian Community.
At the moment, Mars does not have existing homes, offices, a utility grid or, food and transportation infrastructures. It seems reasonable to assume that anything Elon Musk could experiment with here, to develop and improve habitable structures and the associated infrastructure costs, could also be directly applied to Mars colonization efforts. So, Musk could enjoy labor cost savings, which will further reduce Space-X's already lower launch cost(and/or, increase profitability), while simultaneously reducing the costs of colonizing Mars.
Second Example- B612 Sentinel Telescope project. Astronaut Rusty Schweickhart was a founder of, and currently on the Board of Directors of the B612 Foundation. Their very important goal is to identify, track and hopefully deflect, any potential Earth impacting asteroids. Their $200 million dollar Sentinel Telescope project is expected to take 5 years to develop, and then take another 5 years to complete a search. Dr. Ed Lu, a former NASA astronaut, is currently running the B612 Foundation. Dr. G. Scott Hubbard is the Program Architect, and, is currently on the Board of Directors of The Planetary Society. It is my understanding that Ball Aerospace will build the Telescope, Space-X will launch it, and NASA offices will manage communications and tracking through the NASA Deep Space Network.
I propose that the same Business Community designs and technology, described previously as a way to reduce launch costs for Space-X, could also be used by the B612 Foundation, Ball Aerospace and NASA, to help save the labor and overhead costs of a sufficient number of employees to offset the $200 million dollar Sentinel Telescope project. If even just half the cost of each $50,000 employee could be saved each year in the first 5 years, simply by reducing the expenses for the mortgage, utilities, food and transportation costs(by living in more efficient communities), that would work out to be: $200 million over 5 years = $40 million per year, divided by $25,000 saved per employee = 1,600 employees... spread out between the 4 organizations. Musk/Space-X may end up with over 2,000 employees, Ball Aerospace has about 14,000, and NASA employs about 18,000. The total, not including B512, is about 34,000 employees. So, getting 1,600 of them off-the-grid, would represent about 5% of the total workforce of researchers, designers, engineers and fabricators. Plus, each organization can be licensed to expand this approach to more of their employee base, to continue lowering their costs over the years.
Third Example- Large Multiple Gravity Rotating Space Station. This design can be used for a number of projects. The design is a large, cellular matrix of components, in the shape of a fully-enclosed Disk, about 80 feet(25m) thick in the center, 480 feet(150m) in diameter, and tapering to 35 feet(11m) thick at the rim. If rotated at just under 2 rpm, occupants will have Zero-G in the center, lunar Gravity part-way to the rim, and Mars Gravity at the rim. This allows for Low-Earth Orbit testing of the mechanical systems and, testing of Human, plant and animal physiologies under simulated Lunar and Mars Gravity conditions.
Plus, launch costs can be surprisingly low. One geometric variation of my structural system yields 2 building components: a rigid-skinned, near-spherical room-sized shape... a Pod, and a larger volume, roughly in the shape of a Cylinder. For shipping to Low Earth Orbit, these shapes are bisected, and stacked inside each other, providing a very compact shipping ratio. When assembled in orbit, the bisected forms are recombined, and attached to each other. The shapes attach in a way that creates larger voids between them, dramatically increasing the final assembled volume. These materials, compacted into a single Falcon Heavy fairing could be assembled/expanded into a space structure at a shipping-to-final volume ratio of 250 to 1. The final volume from one Falcon Heavy launch would enclose roughly 1.3 million cubic feet(37,500 cubic meters). To create the same volume using traditionally envisioned, pre-built, enclosed cylinders, to be combined in orbit with connecting airlocks, at an estimated(high) cost of $125 million dollars per Falcon Heavy launch, a single launch using my materials could save about 375 launches, or, about $50 billion dollars.
The next step after testing is to use the Space Station as an Interplanetary Vehicle, to actualize one of Dr. Buzz Aldrin's long-awaited Visions, a Mars Cycling Orbiter. Dr. Aldrin(currently on TPS Advisory Council) had invented the concept and worked out the math on how to move a space vehicle between two planetary bodies, such as between the Earth and Moon, or the Earth and Mars, so that with minimal course corrections, and very minimal fuel, the vehicle could cycle continuously between the two... indefinitely. So, that could be the long-term space transportation system between Earth and Mars. With enough volume, large numbers of travelers could be accommodated, food could be grown, air and water could be replenished. With a rotating station providing artificial gravity, human health is improved, and the utility systems simplified.
The only problem left is that of deep space radiation. So, here is where we can provide another opportunity for the B612 Foundation to achieve it's goals. Out of the thousands of Near Earth Asteroids, there are many(and probably many more to be discovered with the Sentinel Telescope) that appear to already be close to a cycling orbit between Earth and Mars. The Rotating Space Station could be accelerated from Earth, to rendezvous with an NEA that is 60-80 feet(18-25m) in diameter. A carbonaceous one would be nice. The asteroid would then be crunched up, and the mass distributed in layers of the cellular matrix, to create an internal radiation shield that is several feet thick. The volatiles could then be used in an electrically powered ion or plasma engine. Oh, and by-the-way, the top surface area of the Disk would be covered with PV materials, or Solar-Thermal-Electric units, to generate several megawatts of power. This could provide Dr. Franklin Chang Diaz(also on TPS Advisory Council) an opportunity to test out more of his propulsion designs. The first course correction would also demonstrate a way to move an asteroid, one of the original goals of the B612 Foundation.
This is just a sampling... there are more examples, and many other goals of space exploration that can be accomplished through design, efficiency and savings. If a good portion of the goals and projects used these techniques, and these efforts were augmented by revenue from Earth-based commercial projects, $1 Trillion dollars in revenue and resources IS attainable. This could be more fully described in a blog series.
I hope I am able to participate, to help accomplish these Visions.
An asteroid or comet headed for Earth is the only large-scale natural disaster we can prevent. Working together to fund our Shoemaker NEO Grants for astronomers, we can help save the world.