On Future Space Colony Scenarios:
The excellent Isaac Arthur has inspired a Facebook group: “Science & Futurism with Isaac Arthur”
First I suggest you research why you should LOVE Isaac and his highly scientific videos exploring aspects of real science and scifi topics. The level of detail yet comfortable manner of explaining space science topics makes Isaac one of my favorite resources for my scifi writing research. (Links at the bottom)
I wish he was everyone’s High School science teacher or college astronomy and physics 101 professor. He explains things that well!
On the Fb group noted above, a new discussion thread has sparked some good debate. (link at the bottom of article)
I decided to weigh in with my 2-Plat by writing this blog post. This way I can expound and add/edit later as more comes to me. Here is the initial question:
Noah Anthony posted June 11 at 2:08pm
“In a lot of the future scenarios on the channel it seems like humanity has united to explore the universe, but do you think it would be still possible with humanity divided into maybe two or three blocs? Maybe the groups could build competing Dyson spheres or divide the gas planets between them. Or is expanding into space a task that we must do together?”
Here is my speculation of what may happen over the next 10 and 100 years:
Let’s say China pushes hard to make this their century, and captures the 1st Near Earth Object (NEO), an asteroid that crosses close enough for a capture/colony mission! They send more and more robots, modules, and crews over to process it. They turn it into a barrel of rocks with a rotating tube inside, a tube habitat right out of Isaac’s videos.
The society of space colonists will likely be a selection of Chinese from across the many distinct regional cultures within the massive Chinese culture, selected for merit and ability in useful disciplines for a space colony.
Their 2nd such asteroid station might also be “all Chinese” or they might choose to go with Shanghai residents to populate the station? Later they draw from one large region, let’s say Hunan province, for recruiting the station’s population. Thus, they easily can preserve as unique, all the special cultural flavor of the people and history, food and festivity, strengths and uniqueness of each regional culture of China. Placing them in their own separate station off Earth is rather like marooning them on an island in the Pacific. They will not interact as much with other cultures, so theirs will be strengthened and solidified over time.
Such could be done for every unique micro-cultural area of the world which we celebrate today. Trick is, *who* would do so and why?
It’s a similar problem to the settling of the New World by the original American colony ships crossing the Atlantic. The cost and technology is far beyond what the average hardy citizen can just muster up with applied grit, however. (And where do we find “hardy citizen” colonists, anyway?)
So not every region of the Earth could build their own space station in orbit, or capture an asteroid to do so. This risks our loss of the unique cultures of Earth!
OR we could go globalist like the UN movement, and wash away everything special about local human cultures in the interest of creating a generic “post-human” mass in the future.
How would we do that?
Next after China, say the EU does the same: grabs a NEO asteroid and creates a habitat for 10,000 people. Their crew being a bit more multi-country, they have the ability to go homogenous as the globalist movement suggests. They likely will do that since this is the first station created by the EU. Future ones will likely keep being generic masses of selected humanity required to live all as one EU state.
A few iterations down we have a hundred thousand colonists in space forming a new unique culture built in space. BUT their Earth heritage is erased. They won’t even call themselves Man, Mankind, or Human. They will pick some new genericized genderless euphemism like Asimov’s “Spacers” or Star Children or floaters.
Next, up, the American capitalists get pissed about being left behind so they get with the program. First it is three separate billionaire business people who boot strap it and make it happen over 5 years. They will each throw a billion dollars at it like a Manhattan Project. Adapting Boeing 747’s as 1st stage lifters it could be done to large scale quickly. Thick aircraft fuselages are modified to carry 100 passengers each up and assemble by plugging the craft/cabin itself into a hab.
This is assembled into a zero-g grid structure at first but once they have numbers they are chained together like a bracelet and rotated to give grav. They build off the end, a longer tube in a trashcan, a rotating station similar to the others (right out of Isaac’s video.)
The cheap “Airplane as first stage” method allows scaling up at a faster pace, so soon the Americans have ten stations out there while China and the EU are still working on #3 and 4.
The Japanese don’t go to build so much of a tube habitat for tens of thousands of population, but they grab an asteroid or two and turn them into resources for manufacturing. All those high-tech—no, this is beyond, we need to use, “Space Tech” for goods made above Earth in space for the space economy, okay, all of these space tech goods need to be built by somebody…
The Japanese historic business clans, those corps that had 100 year plans that carried them through the hardships of the post-WWII 1950’s to become the best car and electronics manufacturers of today, they have included space-based manufacturing in their current 100 year plans. So they seize the opportunity. They build zero-grav stations for shoveling up those asteroids and sintering them down into heat radiators for everybody else’s space stations and ships… among other catchy space tech widgets.
How many “colonists” they bring up is up to them, but it will likely be the family members of the key personnel needed aboard the station platforms. The rest of the residents will telecommute to work, wearing VR gear as they lay in company bed-stations and remote-drive robotic avatars. The bots will work harder, faster, stronger, and cheaper than a human in the zero grav open space platform. Multiple shifts of corporate dron— err, employees, will take turns driving the bots via a “hot racking” system. Automatic service bots will fly by to swap out batt packs whenever bots need them, to keep productivity high.
Equally inspired by the leap of China and EU, Dubai goes into the space station/asteroid colony business as well. Their bootstrap uses an older-school heavy rocket system they buy from Russian sources. They are not so much into competing in the resource business as the others, but their exclusive 7-star tourism in their luxury space hotel and residential niches. This is already a stated goal in 2017, so let’s imagine they go ahead and do what they’ve already said they will do.
Similar to the best luxury vacation destinations on Earth, Dubai Star Tower has unique Zero Gravity playrooms, and shuttle and suit excursion packages for those willing to spend a million dollars on the vacation of a lifetime, above Earth.
Which reminds us… those same Russians get busy in the space race as well. They soon use their rocket sales to Dubai as a funding source so they can build their own rockets and asteroid station out there. Production is split between the two. Crewed by Russians and populated by the large ethnic mix Russia is already known for, all essentially Russian in culture, their goal is to harvest space resources for sale in the space economy growing above Earth and out to Jupiter. They help Dubai build their wheel stations. They send expeditions to the Trojan Asteroids and moons of Jupiter, establishing exclusive claims to mine resources and build colonies. These and competing claims from American space businesses tie up the UN Space committee for years.
I’d wager one of the American stations fails and implodes, with the first 1000 people dying from death by vacuum. But the other two persist. One is a hotel destination like Dubai’s and the other is a hard core resource mining conglomerate staking claims to everything they can reach first.
After the billionaires succeed, and especially after the first disaster kills off an entire station colony, the public outcry moves congress and the POTUS to force NASA to regulate any such off-Earth businesses originated in the US. And the business advantage of having govt regs and redundant NASA’s redundant snail’s pace off their back for 20 years is erased, just like that. That 5th station might not be finished for 25 additional years and become so expensive it will go bankrupt even before then. NASA becomes the administrator of a dying space whale. But at least they have a 2nd backup plan similar to Cheyenne mountain, a place to save the elite few of the nation, should one of these asteroids eventually strike Earth.
BUT what are they DOing up there? What incentive motivates any of the players to bother doing this?
Capitalism. They all want to be the first Trillionaire in Earth history. Oh by the way, I forgot to mention earlier… most of these NEO asteroids have resources valued in many multiples of trillions of US dollars. So the first individual or company to claim one will become the richest company in world history as soon as it touches down. That is motivation enough to pretty much everyone on the planet.
Wait, really? You wouldn’t get on an airplane to Manhattan today if you were assured you could *own* Manhattan when you landed? Please. Regardless, we already have several billionaires and countries making all kinds of claims about why they’re going into space…. Think it out.
SO, the first goal would be to “mine” or harvest and process, lunar and asteroidial resources above Earth’s surface. Water, silicon, aluminum, titanium, gold, platinum, diamond, etc high tech and mid-tech manufacturing metals, gases; even basic “dirt” grade asteroid ore (tailings used for layers of shielding from cosmic rays) and water. Especially water… all brought to High Earth Orbit. Maybe they decide lunar orbit is easier to manage so they build their key NEO trade platform there?
The cost savings of space-sourced resources versus the same products lifted up from Earth would make a speculative resource business worth investing in to the billionaire crowd. (heck, I would buy a share right now if I could!) Soon they establish a space based resource economy. Their above Earth corporations make bank by selling their resources in orbit to the new colonies, hotels, manufacturing stations, and miners coming after them.
China, unfettered by such public hesitation as befalls the Americans, and willing to sink billions into public projects unlike the bankrupt EU, therefore fills space with a dozen stations for every EU or US colony. Dubai will try the same but with a far smaller population they have less pressure driving them forward.
I’d rather like to think we Americans will fill the solar system with colonies mining away. But I fear the current state of effective “de-regulation” of private space businesses is just one major disaster away from government control. NASA makes pretty good space vehicles… it just takes far too long for too small of results and they stupidly allow their contractor companies to go multiples over budget. If this heavy burden system of regulation, over-building, and over charging is placed over our fast-paced capitalist space companies, we’re going to see our new space race slowed out of the gates.
You might ask, where is the moon, what about India, or… insert your favorite country. I’d love to hear your explanation of where they fit into such a speculative scheme. Or regale us with your own, near future off Earth.
From this scenario of national colonies in space which I ponder for the next 10 to 100 years, I do not see a one-solar system government emerging, but more of a Switzerland approach of independent states with a non-central govt concerned with trade and standards.
And without a unified govt we will not be going to the stars in that kind of unified manner as the OP suggests and asks. The first starship might have a crew of experts from many of our future stations, colonies, and planets of Sol system.
But I dont think it will be due to unified humanity by govt influence, I think it will be because the expedition’s driving personality wants to hire the best tech for each slot on their crew.
Therefore, in summary, imho, the Chinese may be the future of Galactic Man, folks. Unless something changes.
Here is Isaac Arthur’s YouTube channel. Specifically the video about rotating structures.
Here is that Fb group mentioned above:
By the way, yes, you will see rotating structures and other means of creating space habitats featured more prominently in my 2nd novel: Ceres 2526. I have long planned to use several elements I now see are featured in his video linked above. I think I have a special design that will still surprise you even if you study and memorize every moment and the subject matter. Worldbuilding is a special fun.
In 2525, my 1st scifi novel, we visited an asteroid colony more designed to make use of the full potato shape of the asteroid as a low grav station. Considering the space environment around it, I thought I could get away with that design as a simple setting to introduce my characters and settings. Its more about the action than the science, but I still feel I explained my design adequately to satisfy the science students among my readership. Let me know!