Research Goals for the next 5, 10, and 20 years:
a proposal for Space Studies Institute
© 1993 Peter Kokh, SSI Senior Associate
Space Studies Institute must find ways to fill its purposes in a decidedly adverse climate. Local and isolated exceptions proving the rule, the international, national, and most individual economic situations remain stagnant, if not in continued decline. To restrict our options further, it would seem that a great many of the talented and dedicated people of the sort the Institute might hope to enlist in our various projects and efforts have come out of the eighties already over-committed and weary in their extra-occupational activities.
The work of the Institute must continue. Nor can we congratulate ourselves if we succeed in maintaining current levels of activity in traditional areas of endeavor. Since its inception SSI has taken a number of helpful stabs at the "Critical Path Homework Backlog". But these accomplishments, even adding in the results of those projects currently underway or under consideration, will not be nearly enough to put together a "Critical Mass" of Space Frontier Enabling "Know-How". Achieving this latter has to be our bottom line purpose.
To this end, the Institute needs to
- expand its membership base
- further develop its membership categories and opportunities to make a contribution
- develop new ways for associates to organize to produce results
- widen its access to funds and explore various avenues of indirect or 'piggyback' financing
- broaden and deepen the scope of its investigations beyond the hardware and processing concerns that have for the most part preoccupied us up through the present.
The form-function link clues to how and where to expand the membership base of Institute Associates, their result--oriented organization in projects and teams and the Institute's access to funding sources lie in the expansion of the breadth and depth and scope of what we are trying to accomplish. This proposal for Institute research goals over the next 5, 10, and 20 years starts here.
EXPANDING THE SSI ENABLING STRUCTURE
SPACells: While continuing our recruitment of additional Associates and Senior Associates through personal contact, we must expand the "SSI Enabling Structure" beyond the circle of mutually isolated individuals this method has proven capable of recruiting in the past. And we must identify means to encourage cooperative projects other than that of the biannual Conference. We need to find ways to recruit individuals and where feasible and appropriate to organize them into (project) teams or "SPACells" (Space Path Acceleration Cells) in three key arenas.
INDUSTRY SPACells. These can be encouraged to form in key industries, within industrial R&D facilities where interested current or potential associates have both the needed expertise and the required access to R&D equipment, laboratories, and other facilities to pursue relevant investigations, on a free-time basis if necessary, or through incorporation into the existing research and development projects and programs of their employers. Such SPACells can consist of teams of cooperating or at least communicating individuals in such obvious industries as iron and steel, aluminum, glass, ceramics, and concrete; energy, fuels, energy storage, fuel cells, and propulsion; mining and resource recovery; seed companies, agricultural by-products, petrochemicals; and in numerous less obvious industries. (Hardly any industry will not have a counterpart on the space frontier.)
UNIVERSITY SPACells. We can attempt to establish teams a) in institutions already involved in NASA Space Grant Consortia and CCDSs, and b) in institutions _not_ already unproductively predisposed by exposure to "NASA-Culture" but strong in key target areas such as: industrial design, chemistry and chemical engineering, mining technologies, physics (energy and materials science), electrical engineering and computing, experimental agriculture, medicine (rehabilitation, sports medicine etc.), architecture (extreme environments, modular design and construction), civil engineering (transportation infrastructure), etc.
MAGNIFIERS OF SSI'S "GROSS INSTITUTE PRODUCT" [GIP]
Associate Doctoral Programs. The Institute should make an initial effort to determine which of its Associates are involved in doctoral programs. It is possible that a significant portion of the SSI "study" agenda can be farmed out to such individuals as subject matter for doctoral theses. Membership and renewal forms as well as fundraising mailers should be redesigned to keep track of such human resources on a continuing basis. Recruitment of Associates should be especially attentive to persons in new fields of investigation that we need to incorporate in an overall plan to develop a Critical Mass of Settlement Enabling Know How.
Life Associates. The current Associate and Senior Associate membership program levels should be evolved to maximize the potential contribution of those most committed to the Institute's goals no matter what their current level of discretionary income. A "LIFE ASSOCIATE" program would solicit continued and rather painless financial contribution by "tithing" certain "new" personal income categories. The new Life Associate would pledge to forward 10% of all future income tax refunds, net wage or salary increases, post-inflation liquid capital gains, liquid inheritances, lottery or gambling winnings, etc. S/he would further pledge to write or rewrite his/her will to ensure a 10% gift to SSI of his/her final personal estate. Monies received by the Institute under the Life Associate plan would be used to set up an endowment fund. Monies so contributed during the working lifetime of Life Associates would go irrevocably to SSI. But during a Life Associate's retirement years, interest earned from earlier contributions could be returned to the Life Associate on request, the principal remaining with SSI to be eventually further increased by the final estate tithe. This plan is very flexible and automatically tailored to the rising and/or falling personal economic fortunes of each individual. Legally, such an agreement would be unilaterally revocable at any time.
Competitions. Some research goals of the Institute may be supported at reduced direct cost to the Institute by the means of competitions (as opposed to outright grant awards), competition seed money coming from cosponsors on at least a matching basis. This would be especially appropriate in areas where so little has been done that free wide-ranging brainstorming by many individuals and groups could be more productive than any individual, focused study.
Farming out. Another way to conduct research projects at reduced cost to the Institute is to "farm out" suitable projects to outside groups eager to make a contribution, SSI retaining supervisory, or at least advisory, oversight.
Spin-up. Every Institute research investigation should be "creatively brainstormed" for potential profit-making terrestrial applications that may attract entrepreneurial pre-development. Here SSI supported investigation of lunar-appropriate building materials processing comes to mind. "SPIN-UP" ventures in glass composites, cast basalts, and self-bonded ceramics could result in "debugging" such suitable "starter" lunar industries so that they are ready to "hit the ground running" in a "just-in-time" fashion. For example, glass composites could be pioneered in an enterprise to design, produce, and market upscale furniture whose initial high cost may not necessarily be a marketing liability. Given this experience, diversification could follow into architectural products, vehicle body panels, tankage, pipe and conduit, etc. In general, we must make every effort to find low cost ways to follow up seminal laboratory proofs of concept with practical demonstrations. And spin-up ventures are a uniquely suitable way to accomplish this..
Assistance. Technical assistance to such enterprise starts is in the Institute's long-term interest. Actual facilitation of initial venture capital support, when possible, could over time foster a self-sustaining "spin-up" sector economy through a carefully designed royalty payback program. However, SSI must avoid putting its own assets at risk.
BBS. The Institute could further support the realization of its project goals with a dedicated electronic bulletin board system. This BBS would
- operate as a clearing house for activities in projects at various phases and stages of conception through completion
- feature a classified ads section (help, expertise, joint ventures wanted; help, materials, tools, resources, partnership etc. available)
- hold periodic online discussions and brainstorming sessions aimed at getting new projects started and easing existing projects past hurdles, delays, other hitches
- be organized into Sections (materials, propulsion, biospherics and agriculture, enterprise, funding, etc.), Projects (e.g. iron-oxygen propulsion, composite matrix development, lunar-appropriate fuel cell design, etc.) and SPACells.
EARLY STUDIES TO REAFFIRM AND/OR ADJUST BASIC OPERATING ASSUMPTIONS
IN THE FIRST FIVE YEAR PERIOD, a series of studies should be undertaken, which at most involve computer simulations but not expensive laboratory research. Some of these are vital to keeping us on track. Others will hopefully have the result of ensuring well-targeted support by the various space advocacy groups. While SSI is not in the business of public advocacy, the Institute must be in the business of developing sounder studies upon which more effective public support can be built. There follow some examples.
Economic Case for Mars Study. A Study aimed at developing what economic rationale there might be for opening Mars and/or Phobos-Deimos. This study would serve to cast any public Moon-Mars debate in the terms it should be cast. The effect will be to favor a Moon PhD scenario over a Mars or a Mars PhD one.
Frontier Hydroponics vs. Geoponics Study. A Study aimed at revealing the points at which "geoponics" makes more economic sense in a space frontier situation than hydroponics. Agricultural and/or CELSS research has not been a traditional concern of SSI. Yet none of us would hesitate for a moment to proclaim its importance. It is important for SSI to realize that all professional-level research now being conducted assumes that hydroponics is the way to go. This does make sense as long as one assumes we will continue to be operating out of constricted made-on-Earth volume-expensive habitat modules indefinitely - the NASA assumption. But the Institute's historic viewpoint is just the opposite, that we will quickly be operating in more spacious environments built economically from lunar materials and other NTMs. Without ourselves getting into the agricultural-biological line of research, the Institute can do much to reverse this present unproductive tilt by supporting the study proposed above. To be considered in such a study is the mass of the housing structures, the degree to which regolith may need to be pretreated in the process of moving it from the surface to the interior of agricultural modules (e.g. possibly sifting out the fine powder which may promote water-logging, and/or transforming some of the glass spherules into ion-transfer-friendly zeolites by heat treatment, etc.), and the economics of using what nutrients are present in regolith as opposed to importing all nutrients, not just lunar-deficient ones. This study will also support the work of advocate groups trying to get the public and media to "think settlement, not outpost". It does appear that only some plants are hydroponics-friendly. And certainly, historic post-O'Neill conceptions of space habitat environments have included geoponic as well as hydroponic farming.
Atmospheric Mix Study. A Study aimed at getting a better handle on tolerable oxygen-percentage enriched, nitrogen- and overall pressure- reduced atmospheres. Attention must be given health (including deleterious effects of too much oxygen), fire-danger (although given the nature of lunar-sourceable manufacturing materials our familiar combustible-rich product mix will be absent); and agricultural and biospheric effects. The results of this study will affect architectural planning, agricultural planning, and the magnitude of need to outsource the nitrogen supply from non-lunar sources. This is just as vital a design factor for space settlements made largely of lunar materials as it is a design factor for lunar surface settlements themselves. Such economically optimized atmospheric mixtures will need to be determined before we get too far into designing space frontier biospheres.
Practical Range Limits of Teleoperations Study. We should expand recent experimentation using 2-3 second time delays so that we have some better-than-conjectural idea of how practical a method teleoperation might be in accessing resources in Earth-approaching asteroids. Much of the fascination with such resources in some circles within and outside of the Institute is marked by some naivete about such practical considerations.
Gravity "Standard" Study. Historic uncritical support for the 1-G "Earth normal" gravity standard as a design factor may impose unnecessarily high engineering, construction, and financial thresholds for the building of space settlement megastructures. A Critical Path to demonstration of the benign (or non-benign) effects of indefinite stays in 1/6th G environments for human physiology and general health should be determined and advocated. If the lower lunar-standard gravity passes such simulation tests, its application to space settlement environments could lead to the building of smaller and/or more lightweight structures at a considerably earlier epoch, and in greater numbers.
Settlement "Inflation" Study. Those parameters need to be identified that will determine the economic justification of expanding quickly from tended outpost to permanently occupied base to outright genuine settlement. This study needs to be in terms of committing both personnel and capital equipment. To be included in the study are assumptions about what portion of the supporting work load can be done by teleoperation (many bureaucratic and administrative chores, to be sure, teaching, counseling, etc.), to what extent junior and senior population sectors can be productively optimized and "self-justifying" in net productivity terms, and trial assumptions about what portion of population growth should be realized by immigration as opposed to fertility. At stake is our ability to get the public, the media, Congress, the Administration, and even ourselves to think "settlement" not "outpost". We must not be blind to the possibility that the prevailing mentality is the most likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
ALSO IN THE FIRST FIVE YEAR TIME FRAME, the Institute should continue its work with "appropriate starter industries" such as glass composites, cast, fused, and sintered regolith products, and sintered and other raw native iron products. Specifically:
Glass Matrix Formula Research. The terrestrial flux option (importing lead or PbO to the Moon) must be confined to a pump-priming function aimed at possible co-manufacture on site of some of the capital equipment installation needed to process a glass matrix frit with an all-lunar formula. In this respect, the current research seems to be an unproductive dead end. Terrestrially supportable ideal matrix formulae must be set aside. Instead, laboratory research should be initiated along alternative, admittedly less ideal lines, for example with glasses high in sodium and/or potassium. While not considered fluxes on Earth, these elements may be all we have to work with on the Moon, and it may prove to be enough. We need to know. The results are prerequisite to any follow on research on mining processes needed to supply the needed ingredients and on processing and fabrication methods.
Asteroid Processing Research. The recovery of volatiles from carbonaceous chondrite type Earth-approaching asteroids is vital. It would be foolish to count too heavily on sourcing all the volatile needs of a lunar settlement, let alone of space settlements, on conjectured lunar polar permashade deposits, or on scavenged volatiles from routine regolith moving construction activities, not even from wholesale helium-3 mining operations. While such sources may all be crucial, the volume of volatiles needed to support large scale space settlement as well as lunar settlement will outstrip such pump-priming supplies. Here we are better positioned than for lunar regolith-based research as the availability of carbonaceous chondrite samples is relatively much greater, and less conservatively guarded.
Greatly Expanded Regolith Processing Research. The scope of this SSI-supported research must be expanded without further delay beyond the handful of elements present in parts per hundred. Pure iron, pure aluminum, and pure titanium are not useful "engineering metals". We need to identify which candidate alloying ingredients present in parts per thousand can be produced and at what penalty in capital equipment tonnage, in order to build up a stable of serviceable alloys upon which to pyramid a diversified lunar and space industrial complex The alternative is to be trapped in a caricature of the "Flintstone Age".
Appropriate Iron-working Technology Research. Sintered metal technology can be applied to the raw native iron fines recoverable from regolith for the price of a magnet. The process is of real but severely limited utility. It is important both to maximize the early usefulness and versatility of this technology and at the same time to be realistic about its ability to serve as a cornerstone of lunar settlement industry. Other, potentially more versatile iron-working technologies must be explored if we hope thereby to reduce the tonnage of capital equipment that must be imported to the Moon by manufacturing on site structural components for which high performance characteristics are not a design imperative.
WITHIN A 10 YEAR TIME FRAME, more involved and advanced research can be undertaken in these areas.
Glass Composite Facility Design. In glass composite research, we need to both identify and engineer the most feasible production facility for glass matrix frits of all-lunar composition, maximizing the design of the first module capital equipment package that needs to be placed on the Moon. We must then also design second generation added production lines, for which portions of the equipment needed can be produced by the first line. At the same time we can be experimenting on Earth with quality enhancement of the product and with its design and fabrication possibilities using terrestrially sourced glass-glass composites of identical chemical composition.
Engineering Metals Production Strategy. In iron and steel, aluminum, titanium, and magnesium, we need to design the needed capital equipment to produce serviceable alloys. Ranking these in terms of the capital import tonnage penalties, we can begin to prioritize these sectors of settlement industry and start to rationally plan the pyramid of industrial diversification. Such grounded planning is a prerequisite to development of maximized import-export strategies to support the most rapid possible progress toward settlement economic self-sufficiency.
Gas Scavenging Demonstration. The availability of volatiles from indigenous sources through regolith gas scavenging is an essential party to any such industrial diversification plan. Hydrogen, Helium 3 and 4, Carbon, Nitrogen, Neon and other noble gasses are the treasures in question. To this end, the design and demonstration of equipment to harvest such soil gas reserves should be a high priority.
Minimizing Outleg Transportation Costs. Whether the "Cheap Access To Space" promise of single stage to orbit technology has been realized or not, mission scenarios which minimize LEO to Luna transportation costs should have a high priority. Early lunar silane production facilities need to be designed. Beyond that, conceptual studies of engines that can burn all lunar fuel combinations (oxygen and iron and/or aluminum, etc.) should be pursued so long as there is hope that engineering obstacles can be overcome. The prize is not only the lowering of lunar export overhead costs, but also the lowering, through the use of LEO-refuelling depots, of the cost of importing needed equipment and personnel from Earth.
Fuel Cell Redesigns. Designs of hydrogen-oxygen fuel cells should be pursued that incorporate a greater mass fraction of components that can be locally manufactured on the Moon by early settlement industry, or in space, also incorporating components in part sourced from asteroidal materials.
In Situ Architectural "Language" Development. Once the likely repertoire of early settlement building materials has been identified, design of architectural and other elements should be pursued to make best use of the characteristics of these materials. Minimal import mass production lines must be designed and engineered for each desired item.
Utility Infrastructure Choices. Design of lunar utility infrastructure items that can be most heavily supported by local manufacture or co-manufacture should be a priority.
Mass Driver III Redesign. A design for a second unit Mass Driver should be pursued to maximize the mass fraction of its components that can be locally built rather than imported, so that the cost of adding additional units is much reduced. If the deployment of the initial unit can be delayed until early industries come on line in order to itself realize such a design maximization, all the better.
Lunar Prospector II. Techniques of remote Earth-based or lunar-orbit based detection of unique and strategic lunar resources such as lavatubes and ore-rich Sudbury-like "astroblemes" should be developed, and missions to use them should be defined and in some stage of development.
Comet Resource Recovery Study. Brainstorming ways to "wildcat" comatose comets should be underway.
Terrestrial Energy Market Study. As to Solar Power Satellites, the time may be ripe for studies of the relative market size of the developing Third World "urban tropics" where 80% of the world's population will live, vis-a-vis the developed nation market.
Lagrange Probes. The Institute should promote the design of a pair of "Census-taker" probes to the Earth-Sun L4,5 lagrangian co-orbital fields to identify, classify, and assess conjectured asteroidal resources there. The design of a low budget probe to quantify and qualify dust clouds in the Earth-Moon L4 and L5 areas could also be d farmed out.
RESEARCH AND STUDIES IN THE 20 YEAR TIME FRAME will build upon the studies, research, and technology demonstrations that have preceded. With all the above as a foundation, the Institute would be poised to pursue the following:
Lunar/Space Industrial Diversification Strategy. The Institute needs to develop a plan that will yield accelerated growth on the lunar frontier and support earliest and most extensive construction of solar power satellites and associated space settlements. A step in this plan will define which components needed for space construction are most appropriately manufactured in space from raw unprocessed lunar materials, and which are most appropriately manufactured on the Moon for value-added mass driver as well as rocket delivered exports to space construction sites.
Lunar Settlement Site Short List. Identification of desireable characteristics for lunar settlement sites should receive attention early on. As the various studies and research efforts that bear upon the question progress, actual site ranking and assessment is likely to shift. By the 20 year time frame we should know enough to pick a short list of most promising sites with confidence and perhaps to sketch the economic geography basis of a multi-site lunar settlement economy, incorporating the complementary contributions of early accessed asteroidal resources, etc.
A Lunar-appropriate Industrial Design Center. The identification and prioritization of lunar manufacturing product lines should be advanced, incorporating an industrial design philosophy that makes maximum mass-fraction use of components that are appropriate for early lunar industry and minimum-mass-fraction use of components that must yet be imported from manufacturers on Earth. To this end, a lunar-appropriate Industiral Design Center should be launched possibly in affiliation with International Space University. Those items which must be shipped from Earth should be compatibly designed according to the same philosophy with high mass-fraction components made of materials exotic to the Moon so that these can eventually be cannibalized and replaced with lunar made substitutes.
In Situ Construction Equipment Design. Architectural languages using the full range of early settlement producible building materials should be well developed. Such building systems will realize the greatest feasible savings in construction costs for the epoch. But we need to design and engineer practical low-mass highly automated equipment that will make in situ construction a reality. This effort can start with the simple tasks of site preparation and shielding emplacement.
The Sequence of Study and Research. Later research must build upon the results of earlier work. Thus it becomes important to tackle early on that work upon which other work depends. We cannot be so confident of positive results to earlier efforts that the shape of later research can be foreseen in much detail. As Institute-supported efforts continue, new avenues of study and research will suggest themselves, and some of those foreseen earlier will prove to be spurious.
The Work-load Crescendo. The volume of work will increase rather than decrease, and we must be vigilant for opportunities to continue to grow the Institute's "Enabling Structure".
A Crude Sketch and the High Frontier Vision. The above proposal is presented as a crude sketch of how Institute efforts might unfold. There are sure to be disappointments, equally sure to be pleasant surprises. Our faith in the ultimate vision of humanity's place in the solar system at large is what continues to drive the Institute and its Associates.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 7, 1993
NOTE: The suggestions in this paper, while solicited by a senior SSI Board Member, have been totally ignored by the Institute, which continues to drift, apparently having lost its way and its vision. - PK
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