[ExI] Thoughts on Space based solar power (Dyson & habitat costs)

hkhenson hkhenson at rogers.com
Sat Nov 22 15:21:12 UTC 2008

At 06:28 AM 11/22/2008, you wrote:
>hkhenson wrote:
>>Freeman Dyson killed people doing space habitats on their 
>>own.  Read the chapter in Disturbing the Universe on Pilgrims, 
>>Saints and Spacemen.  In short Dyson made the case that going into 
>>space was 10,000 times to expensive.
>Looking at that chapter again right now, writing around 1979, Dyson 
>said the price of homesteading the asteroids was potentially 
>comparable per person to the colonization of North America by 
>European (from O'Neill's figures).
>You are correct in that he brings up a figure of $96 billion for a 
>first "Island One" taken from O'Neill's work and says it is "a 
>preposterously large amount of money to spend on any single 
>enterprise" and then goes on to say it would have to be a government 
>project as a "superhygenic welfare state"; presumably the figure 
>would be closer to $250 billion in today's dollars with inflation 
>(guesstimate). And that is per person, as you say, in the range of 
>10000X what the other ventures were for small numbers of people.

I don't have the book in front of me, but the factor that soured the 
chances of "spacemen" going out like former colonizations was the 
transport cost.  Dyson estimated the cost of the former colonization 
efforts and got a number that amounted to 2 year's income.  $100 
billion for 1000 people would be $100 million each.  I have broken it 
out as we need some combination of reducing the transport cost into 
space by a hundred and to be 100 times richer.

There is no physical reason going into space has to be expensive.  An 
elevator will lift cargo and people to GEO for 15 cents a kg (on 
penny/kWh power).

>Dyson does say at the end of the chapter he expects the costs would 
>be in the middle.
>I'm not going to disagree with you about the politics of the time or 
>Freeman Dyson's role in that (I just don't know).  It's true to my 
>knowledge that Freeman Dyson can put down in a disrespectful(?) way 
>the people who would occupy the first space habitats (though he 
>would say the same thing about the early European pioneers). But I 
>can't say he is completely wrong about that either or completely 
>right. As a child of immigrants, I can say any sort of first 
>generation immigrant is often leaving their home for, at the very 
>least, complex social reasons (often for reasons of war or bad economic times).
>Still, even if everyone interpreted Freeman Dyson's writing in the 
>way you suggest, is he is to blame for all of the public's lack of 
>imagination or Congress' (especially Senator Proxmire's) lack of imagination?
>   http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/print/5296
>"To build Mass Driver II would require more funding, but before NASA 
>could approve it, Wisconsin senator William Proxmire got wind of 
>O'Neill's space colonies idea. Famed for his "Golden Fleece" awards 
>for government spending he deemed wasteful, Proxmire went on 
>television to proclaim "not another penny for this nutty fantasy." 
>NASA quickly pulled the plug on all its space colonies projects, 
>including the Mass Driver."
>Senator Proxmire seems to have been more of a stumbling block in 
>many ways (or NASA's lack of backbone then).
>But I do know that around 1984 Gerry O'Neill called *me* a dreamer 
>:-) for suggesting to him a push for self-replicating space habitats 
>instead of his idea of a slow economic expansion into space based 
>around capitalist ideology. A big effort then and we might have had 
>then by now. Instead, I gave *him* money. :-) And it is clear that 
>Gerry O'Neill's writings do take capitalism as a given, and while he 
>talks in "2081" of abundance, he really doesn't go very far down 
>that road of what the possibilities are. If a space habitat can 
>mostly self-replicate (as a "clanking replicator"),
>   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-replicating_machine
>   http://www.3dreplicators.com/
>the initial cost can be a one time investment for endless space 
>habitats. Further, one could possibly construct and launch a 
>self-replicating seed factory to the moon for maybe in the 
>neighborhood of a billion or so dollars (launch plus construction) 
>-- if we knew how to make one. The thing is, we don't know how to 
>make one yet. This 1980 document is still the best we have in some 
>ways, and it is very incomplete:
>   "Advanced Automation for Space Missions"
>   http://www.islandone.org/MMSG/aasm/
>Obviously, people have done stuff since, but how much further along 
>are the public and free versions of designs?

Google for RapRep.

>Once you have an automated infrastructure in space, say, on the 
>Moon, it could in theory even ship spacecraft (and even SPS energy 
>:-) to Earth for ferrying people from Earth up to space. Although we 
>don't need that.

Oil is down around $50/bbl.  Do you expect it to stay there?

>But, in any case, we are just now spending about $3000 billion on a 
>counterproductive war in Iraq. And about a trillion dollars has been 
>allocated so far for a "bailout" which is apparently going to 
>questionable ends. So there is lots of money sloshing around in the 
>USA for ideological reasons. Who would notice $250 billion more at 
>this point? :-)
>Also, a flow into foundations of $55 trillion is expected over the 
>next few decades:
>   http://news.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/04/20/1313223
>That is two hundred times what it would take using only 1970s 
>technology. A couple percent of charity can't go to giving humanity 
>a new dream?
>And TV watching is consuming 2,000 Wikipedias per year:
>   http://tech.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/04/27/1422258
>So there is plenty of spare mental capacity.
>Maybe things were different in the 1970s, but least *today*, no one 
>should seriously suggest the absence of money or time for R&D and 
>deployment is the problem for making either Spaceship Earth 
>(Sustainability) or Space habitats work for everyone, even at the 
>same time. It comes down to issues like ideology and imagination, 
>not "resources".
>$250 billion for a first space settlement is only a tiny fraction of 
>these financial flows. And even millions of person-years of design 
>effort is a small fraction of the idle capacity of humanity over the 
>next decade. What is stopping us now, if anything? I'd suggest 
>nothing is stopping us except Newtons First law of motion: "Unless 
>acted upon by an outside force, a body at rest tends to stay at 
>rest, and a body in motion tends to stay in motion.".

Well, if you know how to get the body moving, don't keep it to yourself.


>--Paul Fernhout
>extropy-chat mailing list
>extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org

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