THE STARRY FIRMAMENT
FINANCING FOUR COMPETITIONS TO REACH FOR THE STARS
I want the government to offer £2.23 billion worth of prizes, in the form of offers for share capital, to the companies that win four competitions in space technology.
A potential benefit of the prize money being an investment in the project in exchange for shares is that the government could make a profit.
- £90 million to design and, if possible within the budget, build a prototype for an unmanned interstellar probe
- £40 million to design and, if possible within the budget, build a prototype for an interstellar communication diasporanet
- £100 million to design an interstellar colony ship
- £2 billion to be offered to the company that profitably mines the asteroid belt for water (not for drinking on earth but for fuel in space) and/or platinum, so long as they do so by 2024 and so long as the rocket they construct is not an old fashioned chemical rocket but a next generation VASIMR (or equivalently) rocket.
STAR PROBE (DESIGN) £90 MILLION
In 2016 the Russian born US billionare Yuri Milner founded the Breakthrough Starshot project with a $100 million dollar donation. The purpose of the project is to build an interstellar spaceship able to reach the Alpha Centauri (our neighbouring) star system 20 years after launch.
It is envisaged that the ship will be wafer sized and its primary propulsion will be a sail built to be propelled by photons. At launch the ship would be kick started by an energy beam that would originate on earth (enabling relatively low cost construction and maintenance) strike it and thereby accelerate the sail and the rest of the spaceship, within minutes, to ~0.2c (20% the speed of light).
I propose that the equivalent amount of £90 million be offered in order to finance competition to Yuri Milner’s project.
Yuri Milner’s advisers identified twenty major obstacles to achieving the goal. One way for a competitor to win the star probe prize might be to develop a technological solution to one or more of those obstacles. The solution could, potentially, then be sold to the Breakthrough Starshot project and/or used by the winning competitor in their own interstellar probe design or construction.
For example, one major obstacle to an interstellar probe is that moving at ~0.2c (as the Breakthrough Starshot project requires) the spaceship is prone to catastrophic damage from interstellar dust and gas by erosion and by melting.
In a paper uploaded to the Starshot project archive in August 2016 a team at Harvard University propose that this problem could be fixed by an ablative shield placed at the prow of the spaceship.
A consequence of the small size of the spaceship is that it may not be a forbidding proposition to build hundreds of them or even thousands.
This would enable a fleet to be dispatched forthwith that then, upon relevant information being obtained by telescopes whose capacities are dramatically improving, could be redirected to more promising destinations even while en route.
Were a thousand probes built today and launched forthwith at ~0.2c velocity then regardless of any improvements in such craft made subsequently it would be doubtful that any successor ships could ever overtake them. This is because it is doubtful that successor ships could be made substantially faster than ~0.2c. This suggests that were such a fleet dispatched forthwith in all conceivable directions, even ahead of identifying which star systems are most likely to be useful to humans, a first-mover advantage would be acquired in virtue of some of these probes arriving before any other ship at the most potentially useful reachable destinations.
In the event any such destinations did prove to be potentially useful it is self-evident, to me at least, that the great nations would resolve at once to send men and women to the stars. Such first-mover probes as I have imagined could sell information about the destination they had reached to these interested nations (or other parties such as, say, the Mormons who have it as part of their doctrine that they will, in due course, spread across the stars) and in this way generate profit. This is the reason to launch this project as soon as possible.
Moreover, were the UK to withdraw from the the United Nations Treaty on Outer Space so that we were no longer bound to declare private claims to extra terrestrial land illegal and were the Kingdom to declare instead, under our own constitution that private property rights to land are to the benefit of all mankind (which the UN treaty suggests they might not be), it would logically follow that private property claims to the newly discovered star systems, or parts thereof, could be upheld by the UK courts and in such a case international private space enterprises would have a very compelling reason to locate to the UK instead of anywhere else. It is for this reason that the state of Luxembourg has already offered its own jurisdiction for precisely such a function. But in the case of Luxembourg who, like the UK, remains a signatory to the Treaty, it is only the produce of such land that can be protected in Luxembourg courts not the land itself. Indeed, were the UK to renounce the United Nations Treaty it could logically claim such territories, if it wished, as British and sovereign. My aim in suggesting this is to kick start private enterprise in outer space but I am not sure that the idea of recreating the British Empire in space is an entirely unattractive spin-off. It would be nice, I can’t help thinking, to make a even better job of it than the Kingdom did last time!
I submit that declaration of such a sovereign claim would create an incentive for the private development of distant star systems and intrasolar bodies if it also meant protection of private property rights and that for this reason the UK should in fact renounce the United Nations Treaty on Outer Space.
DIASPORANET (DESIGN) £40 MILLION
On 17-Apr-2011 P. Galea presented a paper at a symposium entitled “World Ships – The Long Journey to the Stars.” In this paper the author outlined the engineering requirements for maintaining a light communication link between the inner solar system and any spaceships journeying through interstellar space.
Such a communications capacity would be invaluable to a crewed colonization effort.
The author noted that in the context of a fleet of interstellar ships for the earth to act as a communications hub would be a great deal more practical than the fleet attempting to maintain intra-fleet communications directly.
He proposed using the gravitational force of the sun to focus a high frequency (light) signal incoming from the interstellar ship. From the point of view of the interstellar spaceship this would mean pointing its broadcast antennae at the sun (a relative obvious space-mark).
The focal point would be exploited by positioning a relay craft, with receiving and broadcasting dish, on the side of the sun opposite to the location of the spaceship. After the incoming signal was gained it would be relayed to earth. Conversely a signal transmitted from the earth to the relay craft would then be broadcast by it using the sun as a transmitter lens.
It is a consequence of this approach that for every interstellar ship there would need to be one relay craft.
Using the sun as an enormous antenna allows signal gain potentially equivalent to a 10,000,000 km diameter Cyclops (a particular type of) antenna array. Assuming a power output on the relay craft of 10 Megawatts theoretical upload rates of Gigabytes per second would be achievable enabling substantial data flow back and forth.
The main problem with this idea is,
“The relay craft has to be held on track with a staggering degree of precision.”
This problem can be solved by deploying a flotilla of Navigation Satellites at least 10 Astronimical Units outward of the sun which constellation would enable the interstellar spaceship’s position to be fixed with sufficient precision for the relay craft to be shifted so as to maintain the orientation to the spaceship that would ensure the stability of the communications link.
A difficulty of the above scheme is that it would require at least five spacecraft (one relay craft and four, and potentially more, navigation satellites at least one either side of and one above and one below the sun) in the solar system. Launch costs alone for five 7 ton satellites would be £1.0 billion (2016 prices).
The focus of the competition to build a prototype diasporanet would therefore in part be on reducing the mass of the launched vehicles. This would not be easy as in order to position themselves correctly they would need to have propulsive systems and the relay craft in particular would need a substantial integral power source.
INTERSTELLAR COLONY SHIP (DESIGN) £100 MILLION
On 17-Apr-2011 Gregory L Matloff presented a paper “World Ships – The Solar-Photon Sail option.”
In this paper the author considered the three configurations of solar sail he considered most viable given the >1g acceleration loads experienced during close solar pass.
The first he examines is a parachute sail. This suffers from the fact that cable mass rises faster than payload mass for any given increase in size. The third he considers is a Hoop Sail but he identifies problems with this too.
Probably a better option, in his view, would be a hollow-bodied sail. Matloff proposed that it be made from beryllium and considers a 110,000 ton vessel, propelled by a 550,000 ton sail with a radius of 540 kilometres, traveling at ~0.002c (so taking 1,750 years to reach Alpha Centauri) and with a 1,000+ crew.
I think a more realistic and useful target would be a 1,500 ton vessel propelled by a 7,800 ton sail, with a radius of, say, 8km feeding a variable specific impulse magneto-plasma rocket able to travel at ~0.03c (so taking 120 years to reach Alpha Centauri) with a target crew of 150.
The conceptual environment for photon powered spaceships has been transformed recently by commitment to the idea of a kick start, powered by emitters on the surface of the earth, to achieve higher states of initial acceleration.
In a paper published in 2012 Stephen Ashworth assessed the practicability of beamed energy vehicles. He came down against them on the grounds that natural photon pressure would be unable to deliver sufficient acceleration for a sub-1,750 year journey time to Alpha Centauri and because of the need to use auxiliary propulsion to ensure the spaceship remains sufficiently centred on its power beam. However Stephen Ashworth did not allow for Galea’s proposed solution to the navigation problem. Stephen does allow for more practicable journey times if a collimated laser kick-starter is used but he did not allow for Yuri Milner’s determination to make this happen. What he did do, however, is fix a couple of other problems. Stephen Ashworth pointed out that greater efficiency can be achieved by capturing the beamed energy at the vehicle as electrical power and using it to drive an electric propulsion system such as the variable specific impulse magneto-plasma rocket or, if such a rocket was not available, then deceleration could be achieved by reflecting the power beam from one annular sail section to another. Not only does the use of an electric rocket fix the problem of how to decelerate upon arrival but Stephen Ashworth estimates that such a rocket would improve the energy supply fifteen fold potentially reducing, all else being equal, journey time to Alpha Centauri from 1,750 years to 120 years. If this approach were combined with a more powerful and precise power-broadcasting beam speeds of 0.2c seem reachable. Ten years ago it was a given that photon powered spaceships would be too slow for interstellar missions. Not any more.
Kick starting a colony ship involves difficulty if it means subjecting the crew to higher gravitational force than is healthy over sustained periods. On the other hand, it has a massive impact on journey time. Accelerating at twice standard gravity per annum over a fifteen year period delivers an eighty fold increase in velocity as compared with acceleration at standard gravity over the same time period so that a journey time that would otherwise be 1,750 years is reduced to 22. Accelerating at 1.5g on this logic reduces journey time from 1,750 to about 200 years.
Given that the spaceship should maintain artificial gravity (for example by spinning to create centrifugal force) of not less than 1g the issue of gravitational force is a major obstacle to overcome in building any slow colony ship design.
Another problem that would need to be overcome would be fending off cosmic rays. Current thinking has tended to focus on shielding (for example by wrapping the crew space in water) but an artificial magnetosphere could prove a more elegant and cost effective solution if one could be generated.
In any case the purpose of the competition would be to produce a design that was viable.
When ships embarked upon voyages of discovery in the late 15th century the crew did not know what, upon arrival, they would find. They sailed literally into the unknown and in the process often died for their pains. I think a slow and cautious dispatch of unmanned probes to nearby stars before risking any human exploration or colonization is guilty of the charge of health and safety madness.
Interstellar colonization should not be postponed by 250 years while unmanned missions map the sphere within, say, ten lights years of earth.
Current thinking on interstellar colonization is framed by, for example, Yuri Milner’s project, in that it aims to identify more useful destinations before committing to intense exploration and, as such, is a more precise setting of targets than a scatter-shot approach. Actually the Breakthrough Starshot probe concept does tend towards a scatter gun approach in the sense that it envisages large numbers of spacecraft probes being sent out initially. In any case the idea is to dispatch robotic probes first and only to consider sending people subsequently. My contention is that if the stars are worth pursuing they are worth pursuing with people at the first practical opportunity even if deaths result.
Subject to speeds attainable being competitive with unmanned vehicles a colony ship can double as a probe.
In conclusion my proposal is not to build a crewed interstellar colony ship. Not yet. Phase I would just be to design it to map out all the issues that need to be overcome. If, after, say, five years of work, the design proved viable then the next step would be to prototype some of the component technologies and only then to go on to construction.
ASTEROID 2024 (FOR A PROFITABLE BUSINESS) £1 BILLION
In April 2017 a Singaporean technology consultancy published its assessment that asteroid mining would begin as soon as 2025. Already Planetary Resources (who plan their first prospecting mission in 2020) and Deep Space Industries (both on the US west Coast and, in the case of Planetary Resources also with offices in Luxembourg) have raised large amounts of venture capital.
In November 2016 The state of Luxembourg (just as I am proposing the UK do on a larger scale) invested $25 million in Planetary Resources. Since then it has invested an additional $175 million in asteroid mining projects (including additional amounts in Planetary Resources).
In the UK the Asteroid Mining Corporation was formed in February 2016 while in the USA Kepler Energy and Space Engineering hopes to steal a march on the opposition by mining, in effect, sample amounts using existing technology and to do so as soon as 2019.
Deep Space Industries seeks to establish a fuel depot in space near to a water rich asteroid by 2020.
No doubt the dates for the depot and for the commencement of mining are a movable feast but in this matter the key thing is that the economic exploitation of the near asteroid belt is already being, and is going to go on being, pursued and so there is a demand, from the companies pursuing, for appropriate suppliers.
By financing, in the form of taking shares in a private company, or companies, via a competition, the government could equip investees to get into the running and make money for itself at the same time.
The reason this makes more sense than applying the same argument to financing, say, films is that, in my judgement at least, the total long term positive consequences are greater and the film makers, in any case, can manage by themselves (or not as the case may be).
My idea is that the government would harness the private sector to cost effectively implement these goals and create the preconditions for a Britain that would raise its eyes up from the pavement and fix them instead on the stars.
The earth’s 190 ton per annum (2011) platinum production (at £717 per ounce) is worth about £5 billion per year. With asteroids containing substantially more platinum than the earth’s entire estimated reserves the projected return on a mining for platinum operation could be taken, after adjusting for price falls if the market were flooded with a fifty per cent increase in supply, to be circa £35 billion (amortised over 10 years). The figures justify a considerable investment in this opportunity even if it did prove, as enhanced supply depressed prices, to be somewhat short term. It is for the reason that it might prove short term that it would be prudent to mine for water too. Water would primarily be useful as a long term fuel source for spaceships. It would also be necessary for potable and not potable water for human life beyond the earth as it becomes established, for example, by the People’s Republic of China should it succeed in establishing a manned moon base by 2040, as it wishes to, but at the same time fail to process sufficient water locally (from the small amounts existing in crater shadows) or by the European Union should it succeed in establishing its moon village by 2030 as it wishes to.
In the asteroid mining competition I would have it be stipulated that the mining rocket be powered by a variable specific impulse magneto-plasm (or equivalent) rocket. This is a novel type of engine that relies on magnetic fields to contain and manipulate, typically, an argon gas fuel. The technology offers the prospect of nozzle operating temperatures two orders of magnitude greater than traditional chemical rockets. A year and a half ago NASA awarded a $9 million grant to the US company Ad Astra to build a prototype which NASA reports to be on track today half way through the project. On the other hand, initial milestones have not as yet been met even though progress has been made so it is possible that Ad Astra will not deliver or even that the this whole technology will not deliver (hence my mention of any equivalent being also satisfactory). If built magneto-plasma rockets would need a small fraction of the fuel of a traditional chemical rocket enabling it to transport much greater weights and, if additional space were allocated to fuel, to change trajectory repeatedly during missions. If the technology is delivered it offers to effect intra-solar industry as profoundly as the railways did terrestrial industry. A further feature of this type of rocket is that it would go substantially faster thereby reducing the time astronauts would be exposed to cosmic radiation in travelling from A to B and consequently it would be a more practical propulsive system for human crewed vessels particularly to Mars. A draw back of the technology is that the earth’s magnetic field would interfere with it so such a rocket would have to be built where the earth’s magnetic field would have little effect so in cislunar space not on earth. This in turn would demand construction technologies that could deliver small weights of intelligent equipment (3D printers and robots) that could then assemble larger systems in situ or that could lift weights more economically. Although the price of lifting weight into orbit remains extremely high it has been falling and will continue to. Mining the asteroids with such rockets would therefore require a two track approach including the construction of cislunar infrastructure, a dock, where such a rocket could be assembled as well as building the rocket (which would use solar power for thrust when operating close to the sun by which I mean, more or less, inside the orbit of mars) itself. Based on an assessment by a group at Caltech I have allowed £2 billion to build the rocket but we might estimate that there would be an additional £8 billion needed to pay for the dock, the new assembly technologies and returning the mined material to earth. This cost of £10 billion would still leave a profit of £25 billion so long as the competition were well and truly pipped at the post which is the reason why we need to get on with this.
In May 2017 Ye Peijian, commander and designer of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program, announced that the People’s Republic of China intends to mine asteroids for the likes of palladium and platinum. The Mail newspaper in the UK reported that the Chinese estimate the asteroid belt contains trillions of pounds worth of these minerals. In practice that is not so since if so much became available the price would fall. But the belt does contain platinum to a practical value of circa £35 billion plus which is still a very valuable prize and as mining costs fall the vast quantities of diverse metals in the asteroids might start to become economic to use.
In the year 2000 the EU, the USA and Japan filed 91% of all the patents in the world. The People’s Republic of China filed about 4%. In 2015 the EU, the USA and Japan combined filed 34% and the People’s Republic of China 51%.
The UK courts may accept that claims to parts of the asteroid belt by private enterprise, or indeed individual persons, for the benefit of all mankind is a legally acceptable form of proceeding if we pass legislation to make it so and so British jurisdiction could open up the belt to investment from all over the world. It seems to me quite possible that, by contrast, the People’s Republic of China will take the view that asteroids it possesses fall within its exclusive economic zone a zone which, on earth at least, is one within which Chinese state powers call all the shots with the rest of the world far from encouraged to join in. If so I suspect our juridical model would attract far more capital to our advantage than the Chinese one would.
A historian once described ancient democratic Athens as the first nation whose character was that of a man with a fist full of coins and eye for the main chance.
I want to see the United Kingdom take on more of the character of ancient Athens and when our civilisation expands into the inner solar system I want to see in that civilisation more of ancient Athens than modern Beijing.
2,788 words written 18-May-2017 by:
Aidan Christopher Ulrich Powlesland
UKIP candidate for Parliament 2017 Suffolk South