A Program for Human Expansion
A Program for Human Expansion
The Seed Factory Project,
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- We report progress in defining a program for expanding human civilization to more difficult environments, on Earth and eventually beyond. This expansion is enabled by improved technology, including self-expanding distributed production, cyclic material flows, and automation. The improved technology benefits the bulk of civilization both by direct increase in productivity and reduced resource needs, and by increased access to resources from new locations. The ability to manage difficult environments and mitigate space-based hazards reduces civilization-level risks, and meets other desirable goals. The proposed program appears to have enough potential improvement over existing programs to justify continued work.
Previous space programs have been criticized as being too “mission oriented” and not sufficiently tied to earthly needs to be obviously desirable on their own merits. The present program attempts to remedy this issue by starting with human goals and allowing the technical results to proceed from them, rather than dictating a space mission as an initial assumption. We treat the Earth as another planet in space, which even in temperate environments humans have not yet learned how to inhabit fully, and in the more difficult and extreme environments cannot inhabit at all without substantial outside support. In this context, space becomes a somewhat more extreme environment than those found on Earth. Technologies for living sustainably from local resources would apply everywhere, from the most agreeable locations on Earth to the most extreme ones in space. Developing them then both improves life for the great majority of people, and enables expansion to the more difficult and extreme locations, tying earthly needs to developing space in a natural way.
The program concept grew as part of the online textbook Space Transport and Engineering Methods (STEM). The nascent concept started as a set of tutorial examples for students studying Space Systems Engineering. The author gradually realized that the collection of examples, taken together, seem to be a better approach to future space programs, and also applied back to Earth. For example, learning how to extract useful materials from random asteroid or Lunar rock works just as well for extracting useful materials from random Earth rock. Since more people live on Earth, the first application for such a technology would be here, and then later in space. We have adopted this approach generally - develop the technologies for where people live now, then extend them to more difficult locations, including to space. In this paper we summarize the work so far by leaving out most of the technical details worked out as examples in the textbook. We will also look at what further work can be done to improve the integrated program.
The textbook and the details of the program contained in Parts 4 and 5 are both works in progress. They follow a software-like model of incremental improvement rather than a paper-based textbook and journal model of publication as a finished product. As open-source works, any competent contributor is invited participate in further work, and the results are available for anyone to use. The present author (Eder) has done most of the work to date.
2. Program Approach and Status
Early concept studies for a proposed program such as this must make assumptions about who is the eventual “customer” – the entity who has needs and desires to be met, and who is the designer who will perform the work. For our study we assume the customer will be civilization as a whole, rather than a particular nation or corporation. The designer is assumed to be a non-profit foundation, with later transition to other organizations to implement. To go beyond concept studies, the designer must demonstrate to the customer that the proposed new program has enough merit to implement it over current programs and plans. That is one of the goals of such a study.
As a technical approach we are using Systems Engineering methods. Systems Engineering has evolved as a way to develop complex projects over their complete life cycle. A complex program, such as expanding human civilization, will have multiple desired features. These include cost, performance, risk, schedule, and a number of others. We want to balance these often conflicting desires and produce a "best" solution from the customer's perspective. To do this we define a number of measurable criteria based on what is important to the customer, and then combine them to a single scoring function. Best is then whatever design alternatives produce the highest score.
By their nature, complex programs are too complex for any one individual to design. The System Engineering approach also includes breaking down such a complex program into a hierarchy of elements to the point that the smallest parts can be comprehended and worked on by individuals or small teams. At the top level, the program goals define what the overall design objectives are. These are turned into detailed explicit statements, then divided and passed down the hierarchy as "Requirements" to the lower tiers. The lowest level elements will then be designed according to their assigned subset of requirements. The intent is when these individual elements are combined into the complete program it will then accomplish the desired top level goals. Managing complexity by dividing it into many smaller parts, and then assembling the parts into larger and larger functional elements is not simple or easy, but at present no better way is known.
The Systems Engineering process in practice is one of continual refinement, with later work affecting earlier assumptions, and finer detail being developed over time. However it can be described as a set of discrete steps for presentation purposes, which are applied repetitively at various levels of the program:
- Requirements Analysis - The higher level goals are converted into measurable statements of performance, cost, and other desired features. Customer preferences are also modeled with measurable criteria and a scoring function. The requirements and criteria are then used to evaluate designs as they are developed.
- Functional Analysis - Divides the program into lower level elements, leading eventually to individual functions that can be designed for. It concentrates on what needs to be done rather than how to do it, so as not to exclude possible solutions.
- Requirements Allocation - Distributes subsets of the requirements to lower level program elements. Single upper level requirements often must be divided into more specific components to accomplish this.
- System Modeling and Concepts - Builds mathematical models of the system elements based on alternate identified design concepts to meet the requirements.
- Optimization and Trades - Varies model parameters for a design alternate to find the optimum values, then trade off optimized alternatives against each other to select the best result.
- Synthesis and Documentation - Combines results from lower level design work into a coherent higher level whole, and documents the results as a baseline for further work.
At present, the overall program goals, program level criteria and scoring function, and the program level requirements have been defined. The structure of program elements has been established, and functional analysis to populate the lower levels of of the structure has been started. A concept for the overall program has been formulated, and a number of individual design concepts have been identified for lower level elements. The potential advantages of the new program are evident, but much work remains to be done to complete a conceptual design and demonstrate the potential can be realized in practice. The remainder of this paper summarizes the current state of the design. For full technical details see parts 4 and 5 of STEM.
3. Program Goals
A well defined program should have a set of goals to work towards, against which current and new projects can be compared, and progress measured. We identified a set of such goals that are assumed to be desirable for civilization. They are human goals, rather than space mission goals as such. The expectation is a space component will be part of the final program concept, but it is not specified as an input. Our initial goals include:
- Improve Life on Earth - by developing better technology for living sustainably from local resources.
- Understand the Earth Better - by observing our home planet, its environment in space, and other planets and environments.
- Reduce Hazards from Space - by identifying what they are, followed by developing methods to deal with them.
- Increase Biosphere Security - by adapting to more difficult environments, including future changes in the Earth itself.
- Expand Accessible Resources - by improved access to currently difficult Earth and space locations.
- Long Term Survival - by dispersal to multiple locations and acquisition of critical new resources.
- Increased Choice and Freedom - by opening unoccupied locations to habitation.
- Increased Opportunity - by access to unclaimed resources and more efficient technology.
Additional benefits from reaching these goals include:
- Low Cost Access to Space - by removing barriers that keep current costs high.
- Spin Off Technology - since technology developed for one purpose inevitably finds uses in other areas.
- Optimism for the Future - by demonstrating we are not limited to a finite, closed, and degrading world.
4. Overall Program Concept
We expand the range of human civilization to a series of more difficult environments, building production capacity, habitation, and transport for each location. Once established, we then start building the next location. The first locations are temperate Earth ones, where improved technologies are demonstrated in areas like remote operations, automation, resource extraction, and recycling. Temperate locations are where most people live today, so the technologies have the widest immediate application there. It is also easier to start developing them without contending with difficult environments, and with local access to people and supplies.
As the technology improves, successive locations are built in more difficult Earth locations such as the oceans, deserts, ice caps, or deep underground, and then eventually moving out into progressively more distant space locations. Production capacity from previous locations is used to help build starter hardware for later ones. The successive locations provide places to live and work for increasing numbers of people, and interact with the rest of human civilization as any community does. The intent is to use the improved technologies to provide a better quality of life for the residents, and a surplus to send to the rest of the world. Newly started locations, like any construction site, will take a while to reach that level. Expanding to new locations provides new places for people to live, which increases choice and allows freedom to try new social and business arrangements. It also increases access to new unclaimed resources. This increases opportunities and the resource base on which human civilization depends.
A particular idea we consider important is the “Seed Factory”. This is a starter set of equipment for a new location, which can make parts for more equipment for itself, as well as finished products for other uses. As the seed expands to a full production capacity, it makes an increasing range of products and needs a smaller percentage outside parts and supplies. This is a more powerful idea than a replicating system which only copies itself:
- A seed factory does not have to be able to make full copies of itself. It can use a percentage of outside supplies. This makes it smaller and simpler to design, and less expensive to start with.
- A seed factory can not only grow by building copies of existing equipment, but by building larger versions of the equipment, and by building new types of equipment that widen the range of possible outputs.
The design of a seed factory should make optimal use of human labor and technologies like automation, robotics, and remote control. In temperate locations this is for cost and efficiency reasons. In difficult environments it enables early construction when the location is not yet set up for human residents. Besides the seed idea, we also consider as important technologies the local extraction of resources, recycling, and high efficiency transport. These reduce long term dependency on, and costs of, a location from outside support.
- 4.1 Reference Architecture for Self-Expanding Systems
- Consider customer, business/organizational, and technical contexts in presenting the architecture.
- The reference abstracts multiple instances of applications, and shows their relationship.
- Contains mission, vision, and strategy details, customer needs, and opportunities to use technology.
- Provides guidance for multiple users and organizations for how to develop instances.
- Flow from technology R&D into new elements & output products, using distribution network for designs & hardware.
5. Program Structure
Technology development, both in civilization as a whole, and particular technologies within the program, is expected to be a continuing process rather than a one-time event. Therefore the first level of structure below the whole program is a series of program phases implemented when sufficient levels of technology are reached. Each phase includes upgrades and expansions to existing locations, and establishing new locations enabled by the improved technology. We cannot predict in detail what new technologies will be developed, or how well they will work. Thus the later phases are more in terms of goals and direction to follow than specific design details. Prior to the first permanent locations, we have a Technology Development Phase (Phase 0), and currently identify three Construction Phases (I, II, and III), marked by improved technology and performance. At present the phases target program criteria total scores of 30, 40, and 50 points, although this may change as the work progresses.
The next level of structure is the set of locations to be built or upgraded within each program phase. The specific locations will not be identified until much farther into detailed design. At present we have identified five general ranges of locations, and are working towards defining them in more detail:
- Temperate Earth - Defined by environment parameters within which 90% of people currently live, with 5% at each extreme outside these limits.
- Difficult Earth - Where one or more environment parameters are 10% or more beyond their temperate ranges.
- Extreme Earth - Where one or more environment parameters are from 20% beyond their temperate ranges, up to the limits of practicality.
- Near Earth Space - These are locations less than 10% beyond escape energy of the Earth-Moon system relative to the Earth's surface.
- Distant Space - These are locations beyond Near Earth Space in energy terms.
The level below locations, which is Level 4 in the structure counting the program as Level 1, is the set of functions that occur at each location, and the systems that implement those functions. The primary functions of production, habitation, and transport are expected to recur in multiple locations. The system design to implement these functions is likely to be the same or similar across multiple locations, so it makes sense to approach their design from the general standpoint at first, and then adapt to specific locations as variations to the basic designs. More detailed analysis from the functional standpoint is just starting. There are a large number of candidate systems and designs identified to satisfy the functions and higher level program goals. We will note them in this paper, but we have not established if they are needed in the program at all yet, nor when or with what specific features.
6. Program Criteria and Requirements
|Category||Weight (points)||Specific Criteria|
|1. Objectives||7.5||Program scale in population|
|2. Performance||27.5||Number of locations, growth rate, improved technology, quality of life, resources|
|3. Schedule||0.0||None (included in growth rate)|
|4. Cost||35.0||Development cost, new location cost, Earth launch cost|
|5. Technical Risk||5.0||Allowance for technical uncertainty|
|6. Safety||15.0||Location risk, general population risk|
|7. Sustainability||10.0||Biosphere security, survivability|
|Total||100.0||Sum of above scores|
The program is intended to benefit civilization as a whole, but we cannot ask every person what their design preferences are. It is both impractical to ask 7 billion people what they want, and most of them don't know enough about the subject to make an informed decision. Therefore we act as a proxy for them and make our best estimate of what they would tell us if we could overcome the impracticalities. The preferences are embodied in a set of evaluation criteria, which are derived from the program goals and other sources. Each criterion is scored on a relative scale, nominally 0 to 100%. The criteria are weighted against each other in importance by assigning points out of a nominal total of 100. The score for each criterion times its weight is then summed across all the criteria to produce a total score. Selecting the best design is then a matter of choosing the one with the highest score. The scale used in this scoring system is arbitrary. What is important are the relative values among different features of a program. The formulas implicitly define exchange ratios, such as how much extra cost are you willing to accept for better performance, or how much quality of life is worth relative to risk. This scoring system also simplifies evaluating a design with features that have different units of measurement by converting them all to a common numerical scale. A summary of the program level criteria are listed in Table 1, and a more detailed table and how they were arrived at can be found in STEM Section 5.1
The program goals (noted in section 3 above) are too general to design to, so they are converted to more specific and measurable statements. These are called "Requirements", from the fact that the design is required to meet each statement. The initial values for the requirements were set from our best understanding at the start of the study. As the conceptual design progresses, and what is feasible and optimal emerges, they will be updated to a more specific and final set of requirements. These will then be allocated to lower level program elements for design and implementation. The initial set of requirements are listed here, and how they were arrived at can be found on page 3 of STEM Section 5.1.
- 1. Objectives
- 1.1 Program Goal - The program shall expand human civilization to a series of new locations with increasingly difficult environments and distance.
- 1.2 Program Scale - Expansion shall be demonstrated by permanently supporting at least 95,000 humans total among new Earth locations and at least 2,000 humans per new space location.
- 1.3 Choice - Specific locations and their internal organization, function, and operation shall be chosen by program participants and location residents within the limits of design constraints.
- 2. Performance
- 2.1 Number of Locations - The design shall maximize the number of new locations, where new is defined by at least a 10% increase in an environment parameter or distance measured in time or energy terms.
- 2.2 Growth - Each location shall increase the capacity for production, habitation, and transport in a progressive manner.
- 2.3 Improved Technology - Locations shall increase the levels of self-production, cyclic flows, and autonomy in a progressive manner.
- 2.4 Improved Quality of Life - Completed locations shall provide an improved physical and social quality of life relative to the upper 10% of Earth civilization.
- 2.5 Data - The program shall collect and disseminate [TBD] data about the Earth's environment, surrounding space, and objects therein.
- 2.6 Resources - The program shall output a life cycle surplus of at least 100% of internal material and energy resource needs.
- 3. Schedule
- 3.1 Completion Time - The expansion to a new location shall be completed before expected progress in technology indicates a re-design is required.
- 4. Cost
- 4.1 Total Development Cost - The total program development cost for new technology and hardware designs shall be less than 50 times the unit cost on Earth, and 5 times the unit cost in space of the hardware.
- 4.2 New Location Cost - The peak net project cost for a new location shall be less than 50% of the expected long term net output.
- 4.3 Earth Launch Cost - The program shall progressively lower the Earth launch cost component of total system cost, with a goal of $0.08/kg of total system mass.
- 5. Technical Risk
- 5.1 Risk Allowances - Program designs shall include allowances for uncertainties and unknowns in knowledge, performance, failure rates, and other technical parameters. New designs with higher risk can be included in program plans, but a process shall be included to resolve the risk, and an alternate design with lower risk maintained until resolved.
- 6. Safety
- 6.1 New Location Risk - New locations shall progressively lower internal risks to life and property, with a goal of significantly lower risk than the general population.
- 6.2 Population Risk - The program shall significantly reduce natural and human-made risks to the general population, including external risks created by the program.
- 7. Sustainability
- 7.1 Biosphere Security - The program shall increase biosphere security by establishing alternate biospheres and long term storage of biological materials.
- 7.2 Survivability - The program shall design for the long term survival of life and humanity from changes to the Earth which will render it uninhabitable and depletion of critical resources.
- 8. Openness
- 8.1 Open Design - Technology and design methods developed within the program shall be open for others to use. Specific instances of a design and produced items may be proprietary.
- 8.2 Access - Development of a new location shall not prevent reasonable access for transit or to unused resources.
7. General Design Features
We identified three important functions that seem to be required for civilization as a whole. These are (1) production of material goods and energy, (2) human habitation for protection, comfort, and enjoyment, and (3) transport to move people and goods from one place to another. Varying subsets of these functions occur at most developed locations, new or existing. Since the functions will recur in multiple locations, we look at their general design first, then specific instances for particular locations. Production of food at a minimum is required for survival. Production of other goods and energy is required to build not only habitation and transport elements, but more production capacity. Therefore we see improved production technology as the first area to concentrate on, but improvements in the other areas are also desired.
We have not yet determined what specific technologies are needed for improved production, but we have identified a number of candidates. In addition to well-developed technologies like automation and robotics, these include:
- Self-Expansion - Using a minimal starter set which not only produces useful output, but grows by helping make more equipment for itself.
- Modular Design - Using standardized sizes and interfaces so that production elements can be added or rearranged without custom design.
- Generalized Resources - Using materials and energy found everywhere as sources, rather than requiring high grade sources only found in certain places.
- Distributed Operations - Decoupling humans and production tasks from needing to be in the same place at the same time(i.e. a traditional factory).
- Cyclic Flows - Including reuse/repair/reprocessing of materials into the original system design rather than an afterthought.
Work on general habitation and transport technologies has not started yet.
8. Specific Candidate Designs
The author is a Systems Engineer with long experience on space projects, and the examples developed in the STEM textbook were initially all related to space. Now that a program concept has emerged with a large Earth component, more work is needed to fill in that part, add missing space elements, and draw all the parts into a coherent program. The following list of designs should be considered candidates for the space parts of the total program. They have not reached final selection, nor have been optimized.
- 8.1 Earth to Orbit Transport
- Startup Launcher - The task here is to deliver the first parts for an orbital assembly and production platform. A small, three stage, fully reusable rocket and some other alternatives will be considered, or to buy transportation on other existing launch vehicles. The intent is to upgrade or replace this method by more advanced launchers once the cargo traffic justifies it.
- Bulk Cargo Transport - On Earth we use different methods to deliver bulk goods and humans/delicate/priority cargo. When sufficient traffic justifies specialized launch methods, we consider a Hypervelocity Launcher as a substitute for the first stage of a conventional rocket. A rocket stage is still needed to complete reaching orbit.
- Low G Transport - The complementary system for delivering humans and delicate cargo has a number of options. Existing and planned launchers outside the program are definitely candidates, as are combined air-breathing/rocket systems, or a low-g gas accelerator.
- 8.2 Near Earth Production
- Orbital Platform(s) - These are one or more platforms that start by simple assembly of themselves from pre-made parts launched from Earth. They progress to assembling and fueling larger payloads, eventually adding production functions. The first platform would be in Low Earth Orbit, with later locations to be determined. They would start out mostly remote controlled from Earth, and add permanent crews once sufficient supplies and crew modules are in place.
- Orbital Mining - Replacing supplies from Earth with supplies extracted locally has an estimated 50:1 leverage on being able to do things in space sustainably. We consider three early mining candidates: air from the upper atmosphere via a compression scoop, human-made debris in Earth orbit, and natural Near Earth Asteroids.
Eventually we intend to study other production tasks like materials processing, parts fabrication, and growing food.
- 8.3 Near Earth Transport
- Electric Propulsion - This is another high leverage technology with about 10 times the fuel efficiency of conventional rockets. Options include electrostatic ion, microwave plasma, and electrodynamic. Large scale use of electric propulsion is necessary to enable orbital mining and other space activities effectively. Although the efficiency gain is large, the thrust levels are relatively low.
- Chemical Propulsion - The high thrust provided by chemical propulsion is still needed for some near Earth tasks. These include landing on the Moon, and crew transport through the Earth's radiation belt. Once in a shielded habitat or transfer vehicle the higher efficiency electric propulsion is preferred.
- Skyhook - This is a practical form of space elevator which can be built with existing materials by only spanning about 20% of the Earth's gravity well. It rotates, which provides artificial gravity for the crew, and a velocity difference above and below its orbit. Compared to a non-rotating elevator it is much shorter, and so less exposed to meteoroid damage. Rather than needing to climb a very long cable, you need only ride for half a rotation and then let go to reach higher orbits. The Skyhook is built incrementally when traffic can support it. It helps build itself by lowering the required velocity of an Earth-to-Orbit vehicle, thus increasing payload. The increased payload can be used to carry more Skyhook hardware. Propulsion is still needed on a Skyhook to deliver net cargo upwards, but the effect is to replace part of the chemical rocket velocity by higher efficiency electric propulsion.
- 8.4 Distant Space
Expansion beyond Near Earth locations is expected to be in later phases of the program, so is not well defined yet. We can describe some general concepts, which may change as more work is done. The Skyhook can only partially span the Earth's gravity well, but can span a larger part or all of the Moon's and Mars' gravity wells. One in a high Earth orbit can be used to inject into interplanetary transfer orbits. In gravity wells this allows you to replace chemical propulsion with more efficient electric propulsion. For transfer orbits it allows faster trip times and less exposure for crews. Carbonaceous asteroids can supply the materials for carbon fiber to build the Skyhooks. A network of Skyhooks provides easy access to all inner Solar system destinations.
Asteroid material at first provides simple radiation shielding for crew habitats. As processing and production is developed, an increasing range of fuel, oxygen, metals, and more complex products are made via advanced production methods. At first, all the starter equipment is brought from Earth or previous locations. The need for this goes down until only rare materials or hard to make items need to be delivered. The location makes surplus items beyond its own needs, which pays for the things it cannot make itself. Thus it becomes self-supporting and a part of the general civilization. Development of the Moon, Mars, and the larger asteroids in the Main Belt follows the same progression.