Economic fuel for space exploration

Discussion in 'Astronomy, Exobiology, & Cosmology' started by defekkto, Aug 6, 2012.

  1. defekkto The Mexi-Canadian Registered Member

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    With the new mars rover in the headlines I started to think about the future of space exploration recently. The thing that annoys me is that people are so hungry for results that they are not willing to invest more in exploration without them, when the whole purpose of exploration is to find those results. There is a paradox going on in the space industry and it will take a revolutionary discovery to push through it. I really hope that the new mars rover finds something, anything at all of value to the human race which could fuel more funds towards exploration. There is the possibility that it could find traces of life on the barren planet, however I think that unless intelligent life is found, it wouldn't have that much of an impact on general society. I think the real hope lies in the rover finding something else, with economic value. If the rover were to find oil, natural gas, gold, or any other substance that we so desperately search for on our own planet, I think that it would be just what we need to stimulate a revolution in space exploration. Does anyone have any hypotheses as to what will happen and the impact it will have on our world?
     
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  3. youreyes amorphous ocean Valued Senior Member

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    people adapt to everything...even to aliens.
     
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  5. orcot Valued Senior Member

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  7. Edward M. Grant Registered Member

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    There are few things you could find in space which would be more economical to extract and return to Earth than just digging them out of the ground here. If you found gold on the Moon you could perhaps launch it to Earth with a mass driver, but then a) you'd have to invest at least tens of billions of dollars building said mass driver and b) you'd crash the price of gold if you found substantial amounts that could be mined efficiently. Helium-3 might be a good candidate, if we actually had fusion reactors which could burn Helium-3.

    Most near-term plans for asteroid mining seem to be based around bringing ice to Earth orbit where it can be used to create rocket fuel. But that rather relies on having enough rockets that need fuelling to pay for the cost of doing so.
     
  8. Buddha12 Valued Senior Member

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    I'd think that we have already been in a "space revolution" for over 50 years now. It has only been in the past 50 years that humans have gone into space, building space stations, exploring the moon and other celestial things that we are surrounded by. If you don't think that the past 50 years weren't "revolutionary" then I'd think your head is stuck in the sand and you should bring it out.
     
  9. orcot Valued Senior Member

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    In the link I've posted they give 3 motivational incentives where people spend a lot of money on being: 1 defense (this years US defense budget is greater then the sum of the total budget of NASA)); 2 promise of economical return; 3 praise of power (ego projects). Scientific fundings have been somewhat in this third category since the collapse of the USSR hopefully society will progress to a point where international projects gets more funding and if not either the private industry (space x) or more advance technology (skylon) could solve some of these problems.
     
  10. defekkto The Mexi-Canadian Registered Member

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    orcot: good link, Tyson makes a perfect example using lip balm to compare the cost of sending a satellite to Saturn. People freak out when they see the costs of space technology but it really isn't that much, especially in comparison to the amount spent in defense. I think the private industry is the future for space exploration since governments can't see beyond their useless territorial wars.

    Edward: Very good point about the costs of actually mining on another planet, but perhaps if it started to happen the costs would become more reasonable with technological advances. Pumping oil out of the Gulf of Mexico was unreasonable at one point... I don't see Helium-3 being a very efficient energy source but there could be other substances out there that we don't even know about that could help us, the only way to know is to explore right? When explorers reached America years ago they had no idea that they would find some of the things they ended up finding that changed the world.

    Buddha: Obviously space travel has revolutionized over the years, but I'm talking about a renewed and exponential interest in going further and finding more, because I feel like since the 'space race' ended things are not advancing nearly as fast as they were.
     
  11. Buddha12 Valued Senior Member

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    Advancing? You don't think that the space business isn't advancing? I really do not know where you come from but when human missions to Mars are already being planned and constructed, new missions to other celestial bodies are being developed as well as new more powerful space telescopes, I do not see your point at all. Since the end of the so called "space race" humanity has worked TOGETHER to build all of the newest space based components that have been put into space. Instead of competition humanity is trying its best to work toward a space for everyone not just one country or another for space is meant for all to explore not just select people who think they are the "chosen " ones.
     
  12. superstring01 Moderator

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    Finding oil on Mars won't make a bit of difference. The cost of sending it to earth is too cost preventative. Plus, we already have mega-trillions of tons of methane all over the solar system. We know right were it is and we aren't rushing to get it.

    Simply put, we won't be doing much manned exploration of the solar system for about another 30 years and with good reason: getting shit off the earth is too expensive. It's a waste of time. Given the exponential increasing results of robotic explorers (intelligence and physical capabilities) and the general weaknesses of humans (food, air, disease, general frailty), our dollars would better be invested in robotic exploration. By 2025 our robots will have every basic capability humans do. Based on the current growth of computer technology, by 2020 we will be building laptops with more computational ability than a human brain. That's quite a leap.

    So, then -- for now -- we can send robots further and cheaper than human flights and gain the same relative results. The net affect is: we get to visit more places because we don't have to spend lots of money on sending food, water, air and backup supplies in case of failure. A manned mission of Mars will cost on the order of half a trillion dollars and there are massive risks. Robotic mission to Mars do get more expensive, but that's because we are packing more into the rovers. But the costs are still pretty low: under $5 billion a pop. Within a decade the ESA, Russia, China, Brazil, India and Japan will also be sending probes all over the solar system. It's like that Japan, Brazil, Canada, USA, Australia and the ESA (and a few others) will begin unifying their investment capital into one program (it's already happening now). The net affect will be more advanced robotic missions, better results, more missions total.

    Then, sometime around 2040 (or so) we may begin planning a manned mission. We'll have to wait until really strong nanotubes to build a fuel-saving space elevator. But by then, it will be just for ego as our robots will be delivering far more accurate, far more penetrating results than any manned mission could. They will -- after all -- be employing logical capabilities that outstrip any combination of human beings. By 2040 consider that a single laptop equivilent computer will have exabytes of storage, process in like base four (instead of binary) in 1 megabit chips at speeds exceeding exaflops. It will have every known contingency stored in his memory and be able to pre-calculate trillions of known possibilities before even landing. On being in whatever environment (say, the Oceans of Europa), it will be able to self repair and explore based on priorities that it discovers without any input from human beings.

    ~String
     
  13. defekkto The Mexi-Canadian Registered Member

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    I highly doubt that, it's not impossible but I think that is an overly optimistic outlook. I never said that investment has to be in sending humans into space... Robots are much better explorers, and complain substantially less. The reason I'm saying that things aren't looking like they're advancing as much in space exploration is because really we haven't done much in the last years that really changes our perception of the universe. We are at an age where everyone wants answers quickly but much of astrophysics is speculation and emerging theories. These are the things that space exploration could answer, but the universe is really huge and we have to advance much quicker then we are to be able to even start to answer questions of the sort. So maybe I should just re-word my conclusion... we are constantly advancing and that's good, but we need to do more and create more public interest in order to make it a priority.
     
  14. tantalus Registered Senior Member

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    The costs of building, launching, landing, mining and then lauching again off the surface of mars would be far more expensive than the value of anything that could be collected. Of all things water (fuel) may have the greatest value in space.
    Mining asteroids, in theory, may become economically viable in our lifetime. The key difference is that they have little gravitational force compared to a planet and the equipment can simply float off once finished. You dont need the expensive launching equipment used to propel rockets into space off the Earth's surface. Consider the below article on the prospects of asteriod mining and the involvement of private investment, a key aspect of future space activity.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17827347
     
  15. defekkto The Mexi-Canadian Registered Member

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    It's all stuff beyond our technological reach right now. Mining asteroids is not a viable option yet either, but I suppose it will be easier to begin there then mining off a planet. In the end though, with new technology, really anything is possible it's just a matter of the demand being high enough to encourage the development of technology and plans to acquire what we need.
     
  16. orcot Valued Senior Member

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    getting to space is still the biggest issue, things (for mannend space flight) might change when we can get a single stage to orbit (stto) like the skylon. As it should drop the cost of kg/orbit drasticly.
     
  17. Edward M. Grant Registered Member

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    The problem with Skylon is that the development cost is enormous and the cost to orbit is about the same as SpaceX claim they can achieve once they're able to reuse their Falcon rocket stages. SpaceX can build up to that reusable system over time because the expendable version was cheap to develop and is already low cost compared to the alternatives, but Skylon can't.
     
  18. orcot Valued Senior Member

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    the development costs of space x's falcon 1,2 and the dragon (together) was 800 million, the skylons development costs are 12 billion whilst cheaper cost a kg to orbit is the ultimate goal it's good that there are several programs developing technology. Technicaly space x and skylon are hard to compare because space x makes space rockets and skylon makes spaceplanes.
    Whilst space x is most definitly cheaper in development it's able to get as cheap as it is because of the construction process, Skylons sabre engine however is a technological masterpiece. Ultimatly a combination of developing better hardware and the ability to construct them cheaply will reduce the costs
     
  19. Edward M. Grant Registered Member

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    No, SpaceX makes rockets and capsules that fly in space and the Skylon side of Reaction Engines makes research programs.

    The people at Reaction Engines seem smart and there were a lot of clever features in the Skylon design when I first went to a talk about it nearly twenty years ago, but there's a reason why they're still making research programs while SpaceX is actually in space. No-one has $12,000,000,000 to invest in an unproven spacecraft design, particularly when the history of advanced spacecraft development shows the real cost could well end up as twice the estimates.

    It's like the Wright Brothers trying to convince investors to give them money to build a 707 in 1912... far too expensive and far too much of a technical risk compared to incremental improvements in existing technology.
     
  20. orcot Valued Senior Member

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    Still I hope that the skylon will be operational in 2022 And that a airbreathing reusable spacecraft has the potential to become something great.
     
  21. peters Registered Senior Member

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    Shirley, if it takes 600 years for a round trip to the near galaxies, universal exploration would appear near impossible for humanity. Even near light speed travel reveals a similar result. Because we need to be there instantly, I believe, the knowledge of instant travel will come from CERN [or similar] and not Mars. Then we won't need rocket fuel and we'll construct our elements for materials as needed [rather than destroy the planets as we go, with mining.] One major quantum breakthrough will feed many, if not all sciences in the future. Am I in the wrong thread?
     

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