To Mars and Beyond: on Becoming an Interplanetary Civilization

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Dani Eder

The Seed Factory Project,

6485 Rivertown Rd, Fairburn, GA, 30213


Abstract - Current national space programs are based on a limited vision: they go to one place at a time for science and national prestige. Missions have finite goals and end when they are reached, so they don't include full development of the destinations. Instead, most equipment and supplies come from Earth, which keeps costs high. Limited goals and high costs result in a poor benefit/cost ratio. We propose a broader goal of upgrading and extending civilization on Earth first, then full development of the entire Solar System, and eventually beyond it.
Our approach is based on self-expanding production systems that grow from a starter set of core machines (a seed factory). They make more of themselves first, using local energy and raw materials. They then make products for the full range of production, habitation, transport, and service industries. Each new location repeats the growth cycle, making products for local use, for the rest of society, and becoming economically self-supporting. Once developed, they send new starter sets to new locations. Locations are developed in logical progression from easier to harder and more distant. Accessing the unbounded physical space, materials, and energy resources beyond Earth provides much larger benefits. Since locations grow to support themselves, the net cost of such a program is only the initial start-up, and the benefit/cost ratio is high.

1.0 - Problems of Current Programs[edit]

When a nation or group of nations pursues government-funded space research and exploration, we traditionally call it a space program. The problems of current space programs include outdated assumptions, high cost, low returns, focus on single destinations, and not leveraging new knowledge and technology.

Outdated Assumptions

Sending humans to Mars is a current stated goal of the U.S. national space program (NASA Strategic Plan, 2014 pp 11-13), and considerable budget is being expended on that goal, primarily on the Space Launch System and Orion capsule. The program concept to reach this goal is directly descended from plans first made in the mid-20th Century, such as Von Braun, 1954. In the decades since, the technologies to be used have advanced, but the overall concept has not, for example NASA's Journey to Mars (Oct 2015). The "mission to Mars" approach includes a number of assumptions:

  • It is a round trip for the crew, from Earth to Mars and back, with limited duration on the Martian surface.
  • Because the number of missions is small and they are short, it is not economic to develop many local resources.
  • Most or all equipment and supplies are launched from Earth.
  • Mission crews have to accept high risk from radiation exposure, equipment failure, and lack of fallback positions, because of limited mission mass.

Alternate destinations like the Moon have similar limiting assumptions, and are considered in isolation from other missions.

High Cost

Government-funded and contractor-built space programs have little incentive on either side to finish promptly or keep costs under control. Government agencies want to continue their existence, but getting approval for new projects is hard. Contractors want to earn as much as possible, and winning new contracts by competitive bidding is uncertain. The incentives on both sides have led to underestimating cost to get initial funding approval. The tacit understanding is real costs will gradually be revealed as the work progresses. Spent funds deter cancellation as the full costs are revealed, because then those funds would be wasted for an unfinished project. This pattern avoids frequent approval for a new project or competing for new work, as project schedules are stretched to fit real cost to fixed annual budgets. The result a few big "can't fail" projects. Because they can't be allowed to fail, at the risk of losing funding or even the agencies' existence, the projects must be conservative, slowing progress.

Low Returns

In terms of exploration and science, a trip going to only one place on, for example, Mars, and bringing back perhaps a few hundred kg of samples, is not much return for the effort expended. Relatively short round trips do not allow for full exploration of the planet. Lack of time and infrastructure limits the exploration radius around a given landing site. Lack of refueling stations and reusable vehicles limits sample mass that can be returned to Earth, where the vast bulk of researchers and equipment can analyze them. If most items have to be launched from the deep gravity well of Earth, then delivery costs will be high, and increase linearly with the number of missions. Finally, high transport cost means you cannot afford the mass of adequate radiation shielding, backup vehicles, and spare parts and supplies. To minimize risk, what you do build must be lightweight and near-perfect, and thus expensive. Despite that, crew risk is still high. The combination of low return and high cost have stalled attempts to send people to Mars for decades. They are now moving forward, but very slowly.

Focus on Mars

Venus and Mars are the closest major planets. Venus was originally thought a suitable destination because of similarity of orbit, mass, and gravity. However it turned out to be very hot from a thick CO2 atmosphere. Mars then became the focus of human exploration by being the next most Earth-like and nearby destination. The focus on Earth-like conditions ignores the fact that even on Earth, most places require some technology to survive, and more of it to be comfortable and flourish. We need clothing, shelter, and agriculture, with their underlying technologies, in even the best places. Over most of the Earth we need more technology like ships (the oceans), planes, and snow crawlers (ice caps) to even get there, and more technology if you intend to stay. Mars or anywhere else in space also require technology to survive and flourish. But Mars does not require dramatically more than harsh places on Earth. For example the temperatures on Mars overlap those of cold places on Earth, such as Siberia and Antarctica. At the same time, Mars isn't less difficult than other locations in space. For example, transiting Mars' deep gravity well needs more work than high orbits near Earth, and the colder surface temperature and 80% lower solar flux require more equipment to compensate.

Focusing on Mars to the exclusion of everywhere else is thus a mistake. Mars is large and interesting, so we should definitely go there. But it is not the only interesting and useful place.

2.0 - New Program Concept[edit]

A new approach is needed that remedies the problems noted for current programs. It should be based on up-to-date knowledge of the Solar System and new technologies developed since the mid-20th century. It should explore and use all of the many places in the Solar System, not just Mars. That includes the orbital and interplanetary spaces between natural objects. Finally, it should have high science and economic returns for the effort expended, including direct returns to people on Earth. What follows is a summary of such an approach, and more details are found in the remainder of the report. This report is by no means a complete description or a final design. It is intended to propose new goals and methods, but much more work is needed.

The Modern Solar System

The mid-20th century view of the Solar System was 9 planets and their moons, and not much else. This view is quite outdated and becoming more so each year. Near Earth Objects (NEOs) are those which come closer than 1.3 AU to the Sun, where 1 AU is the Earth's average solar distance. Mars' orbit ranges from 1.38 to 1.67 AU, so NEO's are "on the way there" in terms of solar distance. In Von Braun's time there were only 50-60 NEOs known. They were ignored as stepping stones because their orbit shapes and tilts were not ideal, and ways to exploit their resources were unknown. This has changed dramatically. As of the end of 2015 there are 13,600 known NEOs, and about 1500 more are found per year. 878 of these are 1 km or larger in size, and thus several billion tons or more each. The much greater number means more of them are in useful orbits, such as easy to reach from Earth or on the way to Mars. We now have very efficient electric propulsion and other technologies unknown in Von Braun's time. This makes it possible to reach these objects and work on them remotely. We have also done early research in how to mine these objects and make needed products from them. Using them as stepping stones to refuel and restock supplies would greatly reduce what you need to bring from Earth.

Figure 1.1 - Number of Known Solar System Objects 1995-2013

Beyond the nearby objects on the path to Mars, the total number of known objects in the Solar System has increased by a factor of 100 since the 1950's, from about 7,000 to 700,000, with rapid growth since the start of this century (Figure 1.1). Planets and their moons add 176 objects to the number of minor planets shown on the graph. Although the majority of known objects are in the Main Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter, many others are in orbits throughout the Solar System (see "Plots of the Solar System" at Minor Planet Center Lists and Plots).

As better telescopes are built, we will continue to find more objects at all distances. In particular, brightness decreases as the fourth power of distance from the Sun. That means our discoveries are strongly biased to nearby objects. Many of the objects discovered beyond Neptune, at 30-80 AU, have eccentric orbits. Eccentric objects are only found at the close end of their orbits, when they are bright enough to see. This indicates there are many more like them waiting to be found, but are currently in more distant parts of their orbits, or never come close to the Sun. The known dimensions of the Solar System have increased by 54 times since 1995, from 49.3 AU for Pluto to 2656 AU for the maximum distance of scattered object 2012 DR30, and this will likely continue to grow. The discovered bodies include several dwarf planets, so we expect the undiscovered population to include dozens more. We are constantly gaining more detailed knowledge of the history, composition, and geology of all Solar System objects. We expect this to continue, especially if we can mass-produce probes with efficient propulsion and refueling capability. Then we can visit many more than the handful of places per decade we do now. As we learn more about these objects, we can plan how to use them to our benefit.

The Sun is an immense energy resource, 21 trillion times what our civilization uses today. That energy streams in all directions, not just at the objects which orbit the Sun. While mining and building on the surface of objects is convenient, they typically gather half or less of the available solar energy. This is because of nighttime, geography, and in some cases atmospheres and eclipses from other bodies. It takes significant energy to move materials from the larger objects to open space, but once there, solar energy is available 100% of the time. Solar cells were only 6% efficient in the mid-20th century, so they were ignored in the original Mars mission concepts. Today they are up to 46% and continue to improve (see NREL PV Efficiency vs time). Using lightweight concentrating mirrors, they can be useful even in the outer Solar System. Where heat, rather than electricity, is needed, the mirrors can be used directly. The combination of large amounts of energy plus raw materials found all over the Solar System can serve as the base on which to build a different kind of program.

New Technologies

We want to incorporate modern technologies, and new and improved ones that can be developed in the near future. The more important ones include:

Seed Factories - These are a network of exponentially self-expanding production that uses computers, communications, automation, and robotics to help itself grow. Starter sets of core machines, known as Seed Factories, grow by three paths: making parts for additional copies of machines, making new types of machines not in the starter set, and making larger machines than the starter set. This growth increases production capacity and the range of products that can be made. The added machines include more power generation, mining, and materials processing, so the machines have enough resources to operate. The wider range of equipment also increases the percentage of local energy and materials that can be used. Some outside supplies of parts and materials will still be needed, and some human labor when tasks are too hard to automate. These decrease as the network of machines upgrades itself. When production at a given location matures, the factories build more starter sets and send them to new locations, repeating the growth process. This exponential growth highly leverages the initial cost of a starter set. It fundamentally changes the return/cost ratio for the better.

Locations and MakerNets - We refer to "locations" throughout this report. By that we mean a single type of environment, and production equipment and people close enough that they can work together, and trade physical items easily. In developed regions on Earth that might be a single metropolitan area. In less developed regions it might be smaller in size from lack of easy local transport. Equipment in a given location may be under different owners or control systems, but still coordinate electronically. The collection of all communicating participants forms a network, which we call a MakerNet, after the modern Maker community. The MakerNet then has multiple communicating nodes, each of which includes one or more machines, or people, who can do tasks. The MakerNet extends over multiple locations, since data transfer and remote control can operate over long distances at low cost. Physical transportation of people and supplies is not so easy, which is why we distinguish separate locations within the larger network.

Space Technologies - Technologies developed since Von Braun's time include electric propulsion, which is about ten times more efficient than chemical rockets, composite materials much stronger than plain metals like aluminum, and life-support systems using mechanical equipment or biology to produce and recycle supplies. Additional technologies, not specifically developed for space, include small and powerful computers and other electronics, robotics and automation, and high speed communications. There are many other space technologies whose development has lagged from lack of money and resources, or not enough scale to justify them. With the support of a MakerNet and seed factories we can get past those roadblocks. Some examples are ground-based accelerators and air-breathing engines for reaching orbit, and rotating systems for artificial gravity and orbit transfer.

Benefits to Earth

Existing space programs only consider science and exploration, and have limited budgets. Our approach is to go beyond these limitations, to include the full range of civilized activities, both on Earth and in space. For discussion purposes we will still refer to it as a program, with component phases and projects. But we do not expect it to be under centralized government direction. Instead it would include independent businesses operated for profit, public/private partnerships, incentive prizes, and other alternatives. Competition and profit incentives have often demonstrated faster and cheaper results, so we want to take advantage of them. If there is money to be made, there is a vast pool of capital available beyond agency budgets. The $323 billion in total space industry in 2014, eighteen times the NASA budget, demonstrates this. Our program is not just a space program. The laws of nature and how technology works are the same everywhere. Networks of exponentially self-expanding factories will therefore work on Earth too. The details of the operating environments, local raw materials, and energy sources may differ by location, but the underlying principles are the same.

A billion times more people live on Earth right now than in space, so their needs are much larger and more immediate. We would start by addressing the easier problems and working outwards to the more difficult ones. The first generations of seed factories would be in already developed areas, where self-built and self-owned automation can supplement or replace conventional jobs. These jobs have always been at risk from layoffs due to various economic and business reasons, and in the future may be permanently replaced by the same kind of automation technologies we intend to use. As owners of production, people can more securely meet their basic needs. They get the benefit of the output regardless of how many labor hours the automation eliminates. Because the production can mostly copy itself, it would be low cost to build. Since it is highly automated and uses renewable energy, it would also be low cost to operate.

The self-expansion and upgrade process can then be extended to less-developed regions, and allow them to bypass the fossil fuel stage of development and the problems it creates, while gaining the comforts, health, and safety of modern civilization. These self-expanding systems can be further extended to difficult and extreme locations on Earth that are currently unused or barely used. This would lessen scarcity of raw materials and also lower their costs, further lowering cost of operation. The expansion would be done with care to prevent new environmental side-effects. Although we follow a progression from easier to harder locations, we don't have to wait until a given type of location is completely developed before moving to the next category. Rather, the starting points are staggered in order of difficulty, and their development proceeds in parallel.

Expansion into Space

Economic and environmental reasons are enough motivation to develop the early generations of seed factories on Earth. But once sufficient progress and experience is gained, we can then move to a sequence of locations in space. We again start with the easier and nearby locations, then move to farther and more difficult ones. Each location builds up core production and resource extraction, then expands to other kinds of industries. Once built up enough, an existing location serves as a staging point for the next location, providing transportation and starter sets as needed. Locations vary in environment, raw materials, and energy resources. Therefore a trade network among space locations and the rest of civilization makes sense. Each location takes advantage of local conditions to supply what it can do best, and trades with others as needed. Through trade, locations can become economically self-supporting and not a cost sink for society.

Program Advantages

This new approach has a number of advantages:

  • It addresses the quite reasonable criticism of space programs in general, that there are problems here on Earth that need solving. We provide solutions to economic and environmental problems first before heading out to space.
  • Self-expanding automated production lowers the cost of rocket factories and launch sites. It also lowers how much you have to launch by making many things in space. The combined result is much cheaper space projects. Activities that are currently uneconomic can become viable.
  • In terms of science and exploration, the whole Solar System is better than one red planet, as interesting as Mars may be. Locations develop their local resources, so they can sustain long-term operations, rather than being limited to short term missions.
  • This is a much safer approach than isolated missions. A network of many locations will have backup supplies and equipment available, and they can be delivered more quickly. Automated and remote controlled systems can deliver quantities of supplies and equipment even before the first people get there. Lower production and delivery costs means more robust designs can be used, rather than squeezing out the last bit of mass to save on launch from Earth. Robust designs will have better safety margins, lowering crew risk. Bulk mined materials, either in raw form or processed to end products, can provide radiation shielding during long missions. Production capacity at the destination, such as the Martian surface, enables making spare parts and replacement supplies on the spot, relieving the long supply chain from Earth.

2.1 - Program Sequence[edit]

We divide the program into a number of phases and projects for several reasons. First, the phases have different scales of operation, or locations with different operating environments, raw materials, and energy resources. They will need different designs suited to them. Next, we intend each phase to economically justify itself, and provide revenue and benefits to support later phases. Trying to pay for everything at once would require too much funding. Third, new technologies will be needed, such as Seed Factories and improved space transport, so we need continuing R&D in addition to building in new locations. Lastly, while we can lay out a long terms program, we don't know what unexpected technologies will be invented in the future, or when. So it makes sense to concentrate our work on the early phases for now, and leave details of the later ones flexible until their time approaches.

Figure 2.1 - Program Phases vs Time.

In general, phases don't end, but rather build on previous ones and operate in parallel once started (Figure 2.1). For example, mature industrial factories will continue to operate once new locations are set up elsewhere. The phases have a logical sequence, where later steps generally depend on earlier ones. We have identified seven main ones numbered 0 to 6, shown in different colors, with a number of sub-phases indicated by an added letter (4A, 4B, 4C, ...).

Figure 2.2 - Sequence of program upgrade and expansion phases.

Figure 2.2 diagrams the logical relationship of phases. It does not show all their relationships, since that would make the diagram too complicated to read. Their general order is from easier to harder, and from local to more distant. Each phase typically involves multiple projects and locations. In many cases a location will evolve through different phases by expansion and upgrade. The phases are summarized in sections 2.2 and 2.3, and are described in more detail in sections 4 through 9 of this report.

2.2 - Phases 0 to 3: Earth Locations[edit]

Our program changes the goal from a specific destination, like a mission to Mars, to upgrading and extending civilization throughout the Solar System and beyond. We upgrade civilization on our own planet first, because we have large and immediate needs on Earth. The first four program phases therefore are started here. Much of our civilization is underdeveloped and unsustainable, and the vast majority of people will live here for many decades. Starting on Earth allows us to gain experience with technologies we will later use in space. It is easier and less expensive to apply them here, and they can produce economic benefits to sustain themselves. Our program widens participation from the U.S. national space program, or a joint effort of several national programs, to all of civilization. The NASA budget is about 0.025% of gross world product, and only part of that is devoted to exploration and science beyond Earth. By being more inclusive, we want to increase the available inputs to apply to the tasks, and make faster progress in the end. The first four phases are:

Phase 0: Research and Development - The first major phase performs research and development (R&D) for seed factory technology to be used on Earth, then later adapting it to space. It also develops transport, habitation, and service technologies as needed for the particular conditions of different locations. The R&D work is spread out in time according to which later phase the designs are needed for.

Phase 1: Starter Locations & Network - This phase builds the first seed factory equipment and begins the self-growth process. Phase 1 machines are typically small, for home and hobby use, which makes them affordable. Individual machines or small groups of them can be located where needed. A network of people or electronic links coordinate the machines to make items for each other, or build new network nodes. New locations start with partial equipment sets. Starter locations are therefore in already developed and populated areas which can supply whatever else is needed.

Phase 2: Distributed and Industrial Locations - One of the ways a seed factory can grow is to use existing machines to make parts for larger machines. This leads from home and hobby size, to small business, commercial, and industrial scale equipment and locations. At smaller scales it is feasible to gather the full range of factory machines in one place, and make a wide range of products. At larger scales, the equipment and their operators are more distributed and specialized, and serve larger markets.

Phase 3: Difficult and Extreme Locations - Our current civilization is actually quite limited, even on Earth. The urban, forest, and farm land we use in any significant way amounts to only 13.5% of the planet's surface. The remainder are oceans, deserts, and ice caps that are only traveled through or barely used. Of the part we use, mostly it is a thin surface veneer. The world's biosphere plus the human built environment averages about 25 kg/m^2, versus the Earth's total mass to area of 11.71 billion kg/m^2. At the density of water, our civilization amounts to a 2.5 cm (1 inch) thick layer across the planet's surface. If we only consider the fraction of the planet we use, the layer is thickened by 7.4 times to 18.5 cm (7.3 inches).
The perceived scarcity of resources is thus an illusion, because we are restricted to using 2 billionths of the planet's mass and one ten-thousandth of the available energy flow. In a literal sense we are only scratching the surface of our own planet. When we consider the whole of the Solar System, the available resources increase by hundreds of times more mass than the Earth, and two billion times more energy than falls on it. This gives a resource/current use ratios of 250 billion in mass and 20 trillion in energy. In particular, the vastly higher energy would allow reprocessing and reusing what we consider waste products today. Scarcity would not a problem if we learn to use the vast untapped resources that exist.
Phase 3 begins extending civilization to the parts of the Earth we currently don't use much, or at all. They are not used now partly because the environment conditions are more difficult. Automation and remote control allows our machines to operate where it is not feasible for people to stay. Self-expanding production allows building affordable habitats in places we currently don't live. A major direction for expansion is vertically, to access resources beyond the fairly thin layer we use now. We can expand the total area we use by 7.4 times, but height can be increased hundreds of meters both up and down, a factor of over 3000 times more.

2.3 - Phases 4-6: Space Locations[edit]

The later part of our program is expansion into space. It is based on the experience gained in the earlier phases on how to build and operate seed factories which grow into larger and more mature networks. It is also based on the larger production capacity in Phase 2. This capacity enables building rocket factories, launch sites, and other space hardware needed to reach orbit. Finally, the experience working in remote and hostile environments in Phase 3 can be applied to the remote and hostile environments of space. At a civilization level we gain the much larger physical space, energy, and raw materials resources beyond Earth. We can offload industry to space, and thus protect the Earth's environment. We can also decrease societal risks by, for example, diverting hazardous asteroids, or excess solar energy to reduce overheating the planet.

As in the earlier phases, we follow a step-by-step approach: extracting local resources, building up core production, diversifying industries, then sending starter sets to the next locations. Locations become physically and economically self-supporting, allowing moving forward to new ones. The three later phases are:

Phase 4: Orbital Locations - Locations in this phase share being in orbit rather than on the surface or closely bound to a planet or the Moon. The sub-phases progress from lower to higher Earth orbits, then in distance from the Sun from inner to outermost. The main local raw materials in orbit are from asteroids and other small bodies, but we can import additional material from Earth, the Moon, and other places. We can also mine a limited amount of the Earth's upper atmosphere and the "debris belt" of discarded space hardware. Solar energy is abundantly available in the closer regions, but other solutions become more important in the farther ones.

Phase 5: Planetary System Locations - These locations are tied by gravity to the Moon and major planets, or on their surfaces and those of their moons. The sub-phases again progress in distance from the Moon to the outer gas giants. Although orbital and planetary locations share features like vacuum or atmospheres we can't breath, they differ in having significant gravity wells or surface gravity, and in having night or time in shadow from the Sun. These differences require different designs, and thus why we place them in a separate phase. We get to Mars in this phase, but by permanent exploration and development rather than a few short missions.

Phase 6: Interstellar Locations - Interstellar includes the space between stars and locations bound to other stars. We include it as the last major phase of extending civilization. It is mostly speculative because it is far away in time, and much new technology will likely be developed by then. We see no reason to stop the expansion of civilization just because we reach the edge of our Solar System, so we include this phase as a long range goal.

3.0 - Seed Factory Technology[edit]

Our program depends heavily on the concept of self-expanding production from starter sets (seed factories), so it deserves some explanation. More details can be found in the Seed Factories wikibook, and information about the Seed Factory Project, which is attempting to develop the technology.

Tools and Growth - Humans have always been able to use tools to make more tools. This goes as far back as the Paleolithic, 2.6 million years ago, when hammerstones were used to flake other stones to produce an assortment of tools. In modern times we use metal-cutting machine tools to make more machine tools, plus make all the other kinds of machines used to make other products. What is new about a seed factory is the starter set of machines is purposely designed to work together, and to make more equipment to expand itself. This includes supplying energy and raw materials to operate. The expansion uses three methods:

  • Replication - making copies of existing parts and machines,
  • Diversification - making parts for new machines not in the current set, and
  • Scaling - making different size parts (usually larger) than the current set.

A relatively small starter set can then grow to produce a wide range and large quantity of products. That includes new starter sets. A starter set may not be able to copy most of its own parts at first, because it lacks the right machines to do so. After following a planned growth sequence, though, it can. The plans for the later machines can be stored electronically with the starter set, and via automation and robotics the seed factory can follow these plans and upgrade itself.

Seed Factories vs Self-Replication - We refer to this idea as a seed factory rather than a self-replicating machine. First, a number of different materials and production processes are needed. These are best carried out by separate machines designed for each task. For expanded production levels, the set of machines will be commercial building size, and therefore similar in size to traditional factories. The starter set can be much smaller, so we think of it as the seed from which a factory grows, in the same way a plant seed grows into the mature biological plant. Second, seed factories are generally not fully self-replicating, while growing or in their mature state. So it is not correct to refer to them that way. While growing they lack all the right machines to fully copy themselves. Even when mature, there are likely to be locally rare materials or hard to make items. These are more efficient to get from elsewhere in civilization.

Traditional factories had to house all the equipment and people to one place, because it was the only way to coordinate the work. With modern computers, networks, and software this is no longer required. We can coordinate machines in different places, and people can operate them remotely. So when we refer to a "factory", the machines may still be located in one place for efficiency, but they don't have to be - they may be partly or entirely distributed. What's important in the concept of a factory is that the equipment and people work together on a regular basis to make a desired set of products.

Operations and Functions - A growing collection of machines requires raw materials and energy to operate. If you are in an already developed area, you can start by delivering the materials and power from outside sources. If you are in an undeveloped area, or for economic reasons, you can build your own mining and processing equipment to get materials. You can also build your own renewable energy sources, such as wind turbines and solar collectors. We don't expect to obtain 100% of materials locally, some will be too scarce or hard to extract. Those can be obtained from elsewhere, in exchange for products your machines can produce. We also don't expect 100% automation at current levels of industrial technology. Therefore some people will be needed to operate the factory, and do the tasks only they can do. People can either be physically present in person, or control equipment remotely.

The basic functions of a self-expanding factory include:

  • Control of operations - collecting data and sending commands to the various machines.
  • Supply power - this includes electricity, thermal heating, and other sources.
  • Extract materials - mining and harvesting raw materials.
  • Process materials - converting raw materials to usable inventory.
  • Fabricate parts - use inventory stock to produce finished parts.
  • Store inventory - house inventory in various stages of production, plus house the factory machines.
  • Assemble elements - use finished parts to produce completed products.
  • Grow organics - such as food and timber. These grow themselves, so are separate from previous functions.

The full set of functions may not be present in the starter set, but can be added one at a time as the factory upgrades. In order to grow, the collection of machines has to make new parts faster than old ones wear out, and supply more than enough energy and materials to keep operating as it grows.

4.0 - Research and Development (R&D) Phase[edit]

R&D Goals - Our program starts with R&D because we are using a new way to organize production (seed factories), and will need new hardware for particular environments. We number this as Phase 0 because it supplies technology and designs, but building new locations is not the main purpose, like it is for later phases. We may need to build the places we do the R&D work, but at first we can likely find existing ones. Incidental production will happen as part of testing. We may use some of the production technology we develop internally to support the R&D work. But these are secondary to the main goal: to output final designs for later phases to use. We want our program to be the most benefit to the most people. Therefore we plan to open-source the designs, so that anyone can use and improve on them. Individual machines, factories, and the products they produce, would be separately owned, either privately or institutionally. Since R&D is the first program phase, it can't evolve from previous ones. Instead it must start with conventional buildings, tools, machines, design methods, and skills.

The R&D Phase may develop new methods and technologies to use for itself in the course of working towards later phase designs. An example is "resource accounting", which tracks all the inputs and outputs of a production system the way financial accounting tracks money. In order for production to be functional and sustainable, it has to account for all inputs needed to operate and all process wastes, preferably recyclable or usable elsewhere. Early R&D work would happen in conventional office and manufacturing space. Testing for unique environments may more easily be done in those environments than building simulators. The R&D locations may then expand elsewhere as needed.

Production by R&D Phase - Despite not being the main goal, the R&D Phase may produce a substantial amount of items. It may make some products for sale, to help fund itself. It may also produce some products as a consequence of testing prototype equipment. Finally it may use production outputs internally to help expand and upgrade the R&D equipment. Final designs developed during R&D should have a long operating life if they are to be useful. Therefore prototypes built during development should last longer than the time needed to test them. Prototypes with remaining useful lives can be sold to fund further R&D, or delivered to other locations or later phases to use. Lastly, the R&D phase may produce some final versions of equipment for starter sets (seeds). These starter sets are then used by later phases.

R&D Tasks and Projects - The R&D Phase is functionally divided according to the later phases the designs are needed for. Items needed for multiple phases are assigned to the first phase they are needed in. Later phases start at different times. The R&D work for each phase is therefore started far enough ahead that the designs are ready when needed. Since new designs are likely needed even for the last phase, R&D work will continue for the whole life of the program. In addition to original designs created for a particular phase, we expect technology to make progress outside our program. So improved designs using better technology may be created later. The growth of locations, and unique conditions found there, may require design updates, new hardware models, and customization. Lastly, we expect feedback from units as they get used in later phases, suggesting improvements. All of these are reasons to continue the R&D process.

The R&D work is grouped into projects according to the technologies being developed or type of end use. So far we have initiated the Seed Factory Project to develop designs for self-expanding factories. Future projects may involve items like ocean mining platforms or interplanetary tugs. Those would be for later phases, so we have not identified specific projects for them yet. There is a lot of science and technology work happening elsewhere in civilization. We do not expect to duplicate that work, but use their results where it makes sense, and contribute back our own results to the general fund of knowledge.

5.0 - Moderate Locations[edit]

After the R&D phase starts providing final designs, and the first generation of equipment is built, the core growth processes of self-expansion and upgrade stays the same in all later phases. However that equipment must be adapted to the local environment, raw materials, and energy resources, and desired final products also adapted to local needs. So we have multiple later phases of the program to account for all these differences. We start with the easiest environment conditions, which we call "Moderate". This includes a temperature range, but also moderate values for a number of other environment conditions. Moderate locations include the range of conditions where most people currently live. They also include locations that are actually inhabited and developed to some degree, so that people, supplies, and transportation are available to get started. These are the easiest conditions to build the first factories in. Three phases are planned for moderate conditions, mainly distinguished by scale of outputs: starter, distributed, and industrial.

5.1 - Phase 1: Starter Locations and Network[edit]

Goals - The main goals of this phase are (1) provide outputs for personal use, (2) to develop experience building and expanding locations, and (1) develop networking between locations so they can work together. A MakerNet of nodes and locations will be used in all later phases. The reasons include (1) not all locations have the same raw materials and energy sources available, (2) individuals and groups who own and operate a node have variable skills and interests, and may not want to travel far to work on items, (3) physical space, utilities, safety, and legal limits may divide the work done at given nodes. Makernets can trade physical items as needed, and coordinate their work electronically, to complete larger or more complicated projects.

Growth Process - New locations may start with conventional tools and equipment, but would gradually upgrade as designs for self-production and expansion become available from the R&D Phase. Later locations have the benefit of more designs being available, and can therefore build or acquire more complete starter sets right away. The trade network would grow as more nodes and locations are built. Equipment for this phase is designed for personal scale hobby and home use outputs. This puts them in reach of ordinary people or small groups. Their duty cycle (percentage of time in operation) is less than full time, and the equipment is smaller and less expensive. Groups of people can afford a number of these smaller items, and house them in space they already have or can build or rent without too much difficulty. Like other parts of the program, people's skills and the equipment they work with are not intended to reach a static end point, but to grow and develop over time.

Equipment may be physically distributed, or grouped into clusters on one property, such as a community workshop (Makerspace) or small scale production cooperative. Individual nodes may not grow once built, but the network as a whole is intended to gradually add more prototypes and new final designs, copy existing items, and eventually scale them to larger (and sometimes smaller) sizes. As the network expands and upgrades itself, it can produce more items internally for further upgrades, and more end products for network members to use. Production items can be logically grouped into (1) tools and machines intended to make more tools and machines, (2) items intended for production but not for making more equipment, such as a sawmill or greenhouse, and (3) end products to be used, like furniture or food.

Examples of starter machines include a 1x2 meter bridge mill, with replaceable heads and bits so it can perform different tasks, and a 15 kW solar furnace with replaceable focus targets. It can then directly heat items in a crucible, or generate steam for an electric generator. Starter machines are designed for flexibility rather than maximum efficiency and speed. That way a small set can do a variety of jobs at lower starting cost. Later equipment, built with the help of the starter set, can be dedicated to single tasks and be more efficient at them. Starter machines may be supplied as finished and ready to operate, as kits with some level of user-bought supplies, or purely as plans and instructions.

5.2 - Phase 2A: Distributed Locations[edit]

Goals - The goals of this phase are (1) increased scale of nodes and locations, and (2) relief of job insecurity and displacement by automation. As Phase 1 locations build more and larger equipment, some of them will move beyond hobby and home use, towards small business and commercial activity. This is characterized by part or full time operation, and selling products outside the network. The larger scale and higher duty cycle will require new designs for those purposes. When running a business, speed and efficiency become more important, so the designs are optimized to do particular tasks well. This results in a larger collection of more specialized equipment. Skills and training also become more specialized and take longer to learn. Particular nodes will tend to do a few things well, and trade for other things they need. A comprehensive large node (general purpose workshop or factory) that does many kinds of things is still possible in this phase, but less common.

Economic Security - In our current civilization, the separation of ownership and labor results in the problem of job insecurity. The owners of a for-profit business have the incentive to remove workers as soon as possible, to save on labor costs. The removal may be due to lower production and sales, or changes in business methods and technology that require less labor or different skills. When a person or group has built and expanded their own equipment and business, the owners and workers are the same people. They don't have the same incentive to remove themselves. To the extent they make things for their own use, production would remain constant. If sales decrease, they can work less on the original business, and build or buy into others to make up the difference. Automation is a threat to conventional jobs by requiring less labor. But owners who use the same automation for themselves are not threatened with unemployment. Rather they just work less time or more efficiently.

Diversification - Business and commercial scale operation is not limited to production only, but can also serve the full range of habitation, transport, and service industries. For example, a restaurant is a service business, but the building, furniture, and equipment must first be manufactured. So the logical progression is from core machines that can make more machines for expansion, then producing end products like building materials and furniture, and finally industries that don't produce items, but use them to operate. People can end up as owners in non-production industries by first building or buying a share of core production. They use that production to make or trade for what's needed in the other industries. Alternately they can start out working for others in their chosen industry, and buy or trade for ownership shares. By diversifying to other industries, self-owned production can integrate with the rest of civilization and be self-supporting.

5.3 - Phase 2B: Industrial Locations[edit]

Goals - The main goal of this phase is to reach the most efficient production capacity by additional growth in scale and specialization. Industrial locations are in the same kind of developed areas and moderate environment as Phase 2A Distributed Locations, so we group them together under Phase 2.

Growth and Specialization - Industrial nodes can evolve from distributed small business or commercial nodes by continuing self-expansion. They can also be built as new nodes of the final size, where the equipment is supplied by existing parts of the network. In that case, supplying the larger equipment and space to house them will likely need outside capital, because individuals or a small group typically won't have enough funds. Gradual evolution from a smaller size by self-production would not require as much, or any, outside funding. Providing the larger work spaces with larger input and output flows will tend to limit industrial locations to fewer products. For example, if you are processing scrap metal on an industrial scale into new metal stock, it helps to be near a rail line to transport the scrap and the finished metal. The more products, factory space, and specialized needs you have, the less likely you will find one big location that can satisfy all of them.

The larger production scale means more customers for the products, or larger scale customers. The market area for a node will likely reach beyond a single location, to a region or even world-wide. Since outputs are sold to a wide range of customers at greater distances, transport capacity becomes more important in this phase. A narrow product range and large scale markets means demand can be more variable from general economic circumstances or competition. Distributed finance and ownership makes sense in this case. Demand may be low for a particular product, but may be high for something else. In a distributed portfolio these tend to average out. Owners can then reassign their labor and equipment as needed to meet the higher demand products. The overall network has a high capacity to recycle and self-produce what it needs. Thus modifying equipment to meet changing needs is easier to do. This is a somewhat different business model than passive investors, workers, and managers in between. It more a network of active owner-operators who can change the mix of what they own and what they produce as needed.

Like distributed locations, industrial ones can serve the full range of industry types. A combination of industrial, distributed, and starter scale industries can meet most of the needs that people have. If they own their own equipment, or shares in them, because they collectively built and grew them themselves, those needs are met securely, despite higher levels of automation.

6.0 - Other Earth Locations[edit]

Goal - The main goal of this phase is a better quality of life through sustainable development. The Earth's population is growing, and most people want a developed lifestyle, which uses more physical resources and energy. But the Earth is already being stressed by human impact on the environment, and future growth will only increase the stress. One way out of this dilemma is to provide abundant renewable energy using highly automated production. Such production makes more of itself exponentially, including more power sources. Renewable energy will have much less impact on the planet's heat balance. Large amounts of energy would allow increased reprocessing of wastes, and extraction from lower grade ores or even common rock and ocean water. Rapid expansion enables bringing the rest of the world up to developed levels faster, and automation lowers the relative costs of products, energy, and materials.

Expansion to New Locations - Providing the increased raw materials and energy will require access to more difficult and remote locations. New designs and methods will be needed, beyond those used in moderate areas, so a new program phase is started, and additional R&D is needed to support it. Phase 3 covers the expansion to areas that are thinly or completely uninhabited and undeveloped, or that have difficult or extreme local environments. These conditions are a matter of degree, rather than absolutes with a clear dividing line. We list them below and define the "normal" (moderate) range as those the middle 90% of current civilization occupies. Difficult and extreme conditions are then significantly above or below the moderate range. These conditions then make it harder build things and support people. If at least one of the eleven parameters is well beyond the moderate range, then the whole region is assigned to the higher categories. Extreme locations can be hostile to people living and working there. They will tend to use more remote-control and automated operations, instead of trying to build controlled environments for people to be in.

We want to preserve the Earth's total environment, and the parts that are still in a natural state. So developing the difficult and extreme locations must be done with an eye to sustainability, renewable energy, and environmental impact. An example would be building offshore fisheries to replace wild fish catches. The latter are putting a strain on the ocean food chain, so it is desirable to minimize that impact. But the fisheries must consider all their inputs and outputs in a total system approach, so we don't get unintended side-effects.

Growth Process - The mechanics of developing these locations is the similar to the earlier Moderate ones and the later ones in space. Since these areas are undeveloped, they can't rely on local supplies and utilities while growing from a starter set. Therefore finished equipment is sent from previous locations to start basic functions like mining and producing energy. This equipment, together with seed factory machines, then expand themselves to full production capacity. They then build out non-production industries and supply whatever products and services are needed for local use. Trade with the rest of civilization is built up to make the locations self-supporting economically. Finally these other Earth locations help in seeding new locations beyond Earth. This includes the experience gained in working in harder conditions and remotely, and producing physical items and energy from places that start out completely undeveloped.

6.1 - Phase 3A: Difficult Earth Locations[edit]

We define "Moderate" as conditions where the middle 90% of the Earth's population lives, with 5% at the upper or lower ends of a given parameter. This definition is somewhat arbitrary, but we think reasonable from a design standpoint. The "Difficult" environments are then those that are at least 10% beyond the moderate range in at least one parameter. 10% is measured either linearly or as logarithmic factor, depending how wide the normal range is. The moderate and difficult ranges for the various parameters are as follows:

  • Temperature - This is measured by winter average daily lows and summer average daily highs. The moderate range is 260-310K (-13 to 37C). A given location is likely to exceed either the high or low limit, but not both. The difficult range is therefore below 255K (-18C) or above 315K (42C). Examples of difficult locations from temperature include Chelyabinsk, Russia, where average winter lows are -19C, and Death Valley, California, where summer highs are up to 47C. The low limits are more likely to be reached at high altitudes and latitudes. The high limit is more likely to be reached deep underground, because the Earth's internal temperature rises 25 Kelvin/Celsius on average per kilometer of depth.
  • Water Supply - This is measured by fresh water supply in meters or tons/m^2 per year from rain, rivers, snow, ice, moisture condensation, and underground flows. Salt water or underground aquifers are not included. The former isn't drinkable without desalination, and aquifers are not a sustainable resource if they are drawn faster than they are replenished. The moderate range is 0.25 to 2.5 meters/year. Since this is a large range, we use a logarithmic scale, and define difficult as 26% below or above the moderate limits, or <0.185 and >3.15 meters/year. The world's drier deserts fall below the 18.5 cm rainfall level, and places like the east coast of Nicaragua exceed the 315 cm upper limit on rainfall. Too much water is difficult because it can cause problems like flooding, erosion, and decay.
  • Atmosphere Pressure - This is measured by average local air pressure in kiloPascals (kPa). For reference, standard sea-level pressure is 101.325 kPa (14.696 psi). The moderate range is assumed to be from 80-100 kPa (near sea-level to 2000 meters altitude) Difficult pressures are below 70kPa (2750 meters altitude) or above 110 kPa (750 meters below sea-level). These correspond to high mountains or plateaus, and deep underground at low altitudes, since the lowest surface elevation is -413 meters. Low pressures and rapid changes in pressure can cause medical problems for people, so it imposes a need for controlled pressure where people are. Effects on equipment are mostly minor in this range.
  • Ground Pressure - This is the ground/soil strength at the surface, or surrounding water or rock pressure below the surface, in MegaPascals (MPa). These affect the design of structures, and values that are too low or too high become difficult. For reference, average household floors are designed for 0.275 MPa loads. The moderate range is 0.25 to 2.0 MPa. Difficult conditions are then below 0.19 MPa or above 2.5 MPa. The high limit is reached at ocean depths of 250 meters, and underground at depths of 100 meters in average rock. High surrounding pressures require closed containers to lower them for people, or support structures to prevent collapse. The low limit is reached in open waters (zero strength), fine sand or moist clay (low strengths). Low ground strength requires larger building foundations, or floating construction in the case of open waters
  • Energy Supply - This is measured by average energy supply from renewable natural sources in W/m^2. Wind and solar are available in most places, and are rapidly renewable. Ocean thermal and geothermal are widely available if you go deep enough, but take long periods to renew once depleted, so we only count their renewal rate, not the stored energy. Sources like hydroelectric or tidal may not be available everywhere, but counted if they are. Fossil fuels are not sustainable because of finite supply and the waste products they produce. Biofuels may be produced sustainably. Fuels for nuclear fission and fusion (which is still being developed) are in large enough supply to be considered sustainable but require mining or separation. They can be used to produce energy, but we don't count their contribution in W/m^2. Low energy supply is difficult because it is needed to run all the industries that make up civilization. If it is not available locally, it must be imported by methods like fuel delivery or power lines. High levels of energy supply are not considered difficult. The range of energy flux is roughly 150 to 900 W/m^2 on Earth, so a difficult low value is 125 W/m^2. Any significant depth below the surface is cut off from wind and solar sources, and are likely to be difficult on this parameter.
  • Gravity Level - This is mainly one of the conditions for space environments. On and near the Earth's surface it does not vary by more than 10% unless you are in a centrifuge or an extremely high speed vehicle, so there are no natural places on Earth beyond moderate conditions. Low gravity causes biological problems for people, and may for animals and plants. High gravity is difficult to work in for people, and requires extra structural support.
  • Radiation Dose - This is measured by unprotected background radiation in milliSeivert (mSv)/year. Industrial exposure, such as to medical imaging staff, or from mining, using, and disposing of radioactive materials, is not considered an environment condition. But such exposure needs its own designs for safety and shielding. Natural background radiation varies by location, according to altitude, magnetic field, and what materials are in the ground below. In most places on Earth it varies from 1 to 13 mSv/year. A few locations have high radiation levels from concentrations of radioactive elements and their decay products, up to 135 mSv/yr. People have lived in such locations for many generations, with no apparent ill effects. Since adaption may have occurred for long-term residents, we will be conservative and consider high radiation levels a hazard to the general population. Levels above 17 mSv/year would be considered difficult. Depending on sources, they might require shielding, sealing, or air circulation. Low radiation levels are not considered hazardous, so background levels below 1 mSv/year are not considered difficult. Note that the human body contains some radioactive elements naturally, so there is no zero background level. Even the highest natural radiation levels on Earth are not significant for equipment design.
  • Ping Time - This is the round-trip communication delay to the next nearest 5% of population, in seconds or milliseconds (ms). Long delays create difficulty in voice communications or real-time remote control, and slow down any computer network-based activity. There is no lower limit for this parameter, since short ping times are not a difficult condition. On or near the Earth's surface we consider ping times above 100 milliseconds to be difficult, as this much delay starts to be noticeable to people. There are few locations that have such high values to reach 5% of the remaining world. The 5% value is because you can choose to do things like remote control from reasonably nearby, and not from the farthest place on Earth. This parameter becomes more important in space, since the speed of light limits operations to within 15,000 km to stay under 100 ms. That only reaches moderately high Earth orbit, and most of space is far beyond that distance.
  • Travel Time - This is the maximum one-way normal travel time for people, to reach the nearest 5% of other people. Travel time for cargo is assumed to be proportional to that for people. High travel times makes it more difficult and expensive to bring in people with special skills, or necessary parts and materials. Dense populations can be reached in 5 hours or less. Most of the world's populated areas can be reached within 48 hours, so we set this as the upper limit for moderate (developed) travel. The worst case travel time is 10-20 days for parts of Tibet and ocean locations distant from any airports, requiring ship travel to reach. Very low travel times are not a difficulty, so we set no lower limit for this parameter. We will thus define difficult travel as needing more than 2.5 days to reach.
  • Stay Time - This is the average stay time per person per location, in years. People stay in the same location if they live and sleep there the majority of the time, and make trips to other locations less than half the time. Short stay times are more difficult because of increased transportation needs and staff turnover. The short times may be caused by a harsh environment, lack of habitation and services, or the location is simply undesirable. It can also be caused by a rapidly growing population lowering the average residence time. In that case, the difficulty is caused by having to rapidly build new habitation and services. Long stay times are not considered difficult, and their upper limit is the human lifespan. Rapidly growing areas provide the shortest average times on Earth, 7 years if normal turnover is added to growth. Since the upper bound is ~70 years, we will set the difficult limit at 25% below the shortest average, at 5 years. Examples where such low values occur are mining and construction camps in remote locations.
  • Transport Energy - This is the total energy to reach a location from the nearest 5% of population, by the most efficient method, in MegaJoules per kilogram (MJ/kg). For reference, 3.6 MJ = 1 kiloWatt-hour of electricity. This includes kinetic, potential, and frictional energy. High transport energy is difficult because of increased need for transport equipment and their higher cost of operation. On Earth, potential and kinetic energy of transport are generally low, and friction dominates. Rail and water transport are currently the most efficient bulk methods, and range from 0.225 to 2.25 MJ/kg between densely and sparsely populated areas. Low transport energy is not considered difficult, but values above 2.85 MJ/kg are. Such values can occur when rail and water transport are not available, and thus part of the trip must be by less efficient methods. They can also occur when there is a lot of altitude change on the route, increasing frictional losses so as not to exceed speed limits.

Some of these parameters change with time, due to technology and development. For example, parts of Alaska were difficult to reach when the only available transport was by dogsled. Once small airplanes and a network of landing fields for them were built, it became less difficult. It may be a specific goal to upgrade a location to less difficult conditions, but we define their status for phases and R&D by the pre-existing conditions that have to be dealt with.

6.2 - Phase 3B: Extreme Earth Locations[edit]

We define extreme locations as an additional 10% beyond the difficult range. This is again in linear or logarithmic amounts, depending on the span of moderate conditions most people live under. The more extreme parameters will need further design modifications, and therefore supporting R&D to develop those. We define no upper bound on how extreme things can get, they are only limited by the natural environment and general state of civilization. The parameter values are:

  • Temperature - average daily lows below 250K (-23C) or average daily highs above 320K (47C). The lows might be found in Antarctica or at high altitudes. The highs are found deep underground or in the hottest deserts.
  • Water Supply - The lower range is less than 0.12 meters/year (4.75 inches), which is a very dry desert. The upper range is more than 3.8 meters/year, which is found in the wettest rain forests.
  • Atmosphere Pressure - The extreme ranges are below 70 kPa or above 120 kPa, which correspond to altitudes above about 5500 meters or below -1600 meters. These correspond to high mountain tops and deep underground.
  • Ground Pressure - The ranges are below 0.12 MPa or above 3 MPa. These correspond to soft clay or open water at the low end, and depths of 300 meters in water and 120 meters in rock.
  • Energy Supply - The low range is below 90 W/m^2 from wind and solar, which is mainly encountered below the surface. High values of energy supply are not a difficulty.
  • Gravity Level - This parameter does not vary by more than a few percent on Earth, so extreme conditions more than 20% beyond normal do not occur.
  • Radiation Dose - The extreme range is more than 21 mSV/year, which occurs in some natural high radiation areas, or if spending a lot of time (>25%) at high altitude over the magnetic poles, where cosmic radiation can come down vertically.
  • Ping Time - The range for extreme ping time is more than 125 ms round trip. This is nearly around the world at the speed of light, so accessing 5% of the population only takes this long if the communications route is very indirect, slow, or unavailable.
  • Travel Time - The range for extreme travel time is more than 3 days to reach. This is found only in very remote areas without conventional transportation.
  • Stay Time - The lower range is average stay times below 3 years 4 months, which mainly would be found in temporary work locations.
  • Transport Energy - The upper range for extreme transport energy is above 3.5 MJ/kg. This is reached mainly when inefficient transportation has to be used.

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