10 Future Technologies Useful for Space Colonization

10 Future Technologies Useful for Space Colonization

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We live in a new golden age of conventional  space exploration and travel. Through the   efforts of both private and governmental  entities constructing new launch systems   and continuing the development of old ones, at no  time in history has space been more accessible,   even to the point of tourism. And there have  been many other developments that are helping   to make space more open, from the potential of  cubesats to dramatically dropping launch costs,   it seems clear that we are in a second great space  age, or perhaps a resurgence of the original one It’s difficult to predict the ins and outs of  where this will lead over the next 50 years,   but there are visions ranging from  the colonization of the moon and Mars   to getting glimpses of the nearest star system  to us. So here are ten future, or underdeveloped   current technologies that should prove useful for  space exploration and eventually colonization. Number 10. Light Sails

There was a time, not that long ago, in fact,  where humans across the world made use of sails   to harness the wind to push ships across water.  Indeed, this was once and may someday again   be an engine of trade and economy with thousands  of vessels crossing between continents moving   goods ranging from tea to cheese, or just  about anything that could be preserved   long enough to make the trip which is just about  anything these days. Sailing, if a bit slow,   paid off in free energy to harness. And this is  also true for space. Sails in space can work.

There are actually two types of  sails that can be used in space.   The first is the solar sail. This is a sail  that uses the radiation coming off the sun   to push it forward. We’ve already experimented  with this in the form of the Ikaros spacecraft.   The advantage to this method is that it  requires only the sun’s light pressure to move.  

The disadvantage is that this is a very  slow form of propulsion as a result of light   pressure being very slight, but it is enough  to push the spacecraft along at usable speeds. The other form can be much more powerful. It’s  the beam sail, and operates by a laser mounted on   or in the vicinity of earth that pushes the sail  with a tightly focused laser beam. This option is   behind the breakthrough starshot initiative, where  light sails with small instrument packages could   be sent to the alpha centauri system to explore  it, conceivably within a human lifetime and   would mark the first time humans have ever been to  another star system. While slow, light sails offer   us the first realistic opportunity with today’s  technology to explore outside the solar system. Number 9. Nuclear Propulsion

The idea of using nuclear energy to power rockets  seems futuristic, Fusion energy is just around the   corner type of thing that will never happen, and  if it did it would come with inherent dangers.   But the reality is that while the latter  is true, nuclear rockets have been devised,   built and tested but never launched, going back  to the original ideas regarding it in the 1940’s.   And it’s been looked into  multiple countries, and still is.

While launching nuclear materials into space  on chemical rockets does come with its dangers,   they can be mitigated and indeed a number of  interplanetary probes launched over the years   have made use of the decay of plutonium ingots  for energy, when solar power wasn’t enough.   This includes the Voyager probes, which still  run to this day on the decay of plutonium   far away in the outer solar system and beyond.   So nuclear powered probes, or at least  a form of them, have already been used. But in the end the reason we didn’t make  more use of this technology in the past is   that it just wasn’t practical for what we were  doing. Chemical rockets have filled the niche,   and we just didn’t need to pursue this avenue.  But there is an advantage to using nuclear energy   for space missions, and that’s speed. You can get  anywhere in the solar system, and even conceivably  

another close by star system, at much faster  speeds than chemical rockets can produce.   Some of the best ideas here have been  concepts for a hybrid Mars mission   that launches on a conventional rocket, or  several and may be assembled in space, and then   uses nuclear thermal rocket technology to get to  Mars more rapidly than what we do conventionally. But again there’s always the question of safety  and launching nuclear material into space.  

Materials have gotten significantly better,  and it may be more safely done these days,   but there’s bound to be resistance to it.  But once it’s in space and outside of Earth’s   magnetosphere, then it ceases to be a problem  since space is a radioactive environment itself.   So it may well be that in the future nuclear  thermal propulsion may see its heyday.  

Number 8. Space Elevators The idea of a space elevator in speculative  science fiction is typically one connecting   earth’s surface to an orbiting station essentially  by lowering a cable, and using another cable and   counterweight to balance the system and hold it  stable. This would allow the transfer of materials   from the ground to the space station easily,  and cheaply, without the need for a rocket.   In principle, this would allow for the transfer of  massive amounts of materials into space that could   be turned into giant space stations, O’neill  cylinders of unprecedented size, and so on. Such a system could even be built to recover  much of the energy put into lifting it,   as gravity pulled it’s carriage back  down to earth. This was the concept  

behind the space elevator in Arthur C.  Clarke’s novel The Fountains of Paradise.   But there’s always been a serious problem  with the space elevator idea. We didn’t have   a suitable material in which to build one. We  need far more than steel to hold this together. Now we do have a material that can do it in  principle, using carbon nanotubes or similar   technology for the tether, but this material  has so far proven not very easy to make,   you basically have to do it atom by atom still.  And even if you did get enough material for the   elevator, there’s always the question of  calamities here on earth, human or natural,   destroying the space elevator. And that in a  nutshell is why we don’t have space elevators.   But maybe someday, with enough development.

But there is another option that may come onto the  table, even if we never build one here on earth.   That is the idea of space elevators on much  lower gravity bodies like the Moon and Mars.   Here the conditions are different,  especially in regards to lower gravity.  

The stationary orbits for both these worlds are  much lower due to the lower gravity, and as a   result you don’t need as long of a tether for a  space elevator. As a result, this could be done   with materials we already have. But at the same  time, they’d still likely need to be manufactured   on the moon or Mars. This could look like mining  the moons of Mars, perhaps even completely to   get them out of the way and for their carbon and  metals, or even using phobos as a counterweight. The moon is even easier on the materials issue,  but it doesn’t rotate fast, so an elevator must   use the L1 lagrangian point to balance out the  gravitational forces, if you run out a much, much   longer tether pointing towards earth in comparison  to the other tether anchored to the moon.  

This has the added benefit of not only being  able to raise and lower materials to the surface,   but also shortens the distance needed to travel  from earth to get to the top of the tether.   Again the problems, calamities and such and  and even the very nature of where we live   actually make this one one of those scarce  potential human technologies where earth may   never see this technology,  but the moon and Mars may. Number 7. Skyhooks This is a sort of variation on the idea  of a space elevator, though there are key   differences in how they can be used. While a space  elevator can be said to be a type of skyhook,  

these variant ideas of skyhooks are different  in that they do not anchor to a planet.   The main use for the variations of the skyhook  idea are to essentially gain speed for spacecraft   without the need to carry more fuel to  accelerate it out to its destination.   You still need a launch vehicle, and you need  faster launch systems than we use currently,   but you do gain efficiency with skyhooks, the  main variations being one that sits stationary   in orbit of a planet, and one that  rotates while it orbits the planet. Skyhooks also use the concept of a tether,  where you have a cable and a counterweight   around a center of gravity. The spacecraft in  question would dock at the bottom of the tether,   essentially ride it upward like an elevator into  space, reach the top and gain an advantage of   increased speed. If this whole tether is rotating  like a slingshot, then it can work even better   and catapult a star ship at even greater speeds.  Experiments with tethers have been done in space,  

and because you’re dealing with an object in  space as opposed to something anchored to earth,   it’s more doable with current materials. But the  trick is in docking with the bottom of the tether. Here the tether can only get so close to earth,  if you dip it into the atmosphere the bottom will   burn up. So you have to keep it from dipping too  deeply. That means your spacecraft wishing to gain   advantage of the tether has to rendezvous with it  very fast, and at very high precision or it will   miss it. That can be done, we do some very precise  things in space already, but we’d need to do a   significant amount of research and development on  hypersonic space planes that can accomplish this.  

The other concern is that the tether will  transfer its momentum to these spacecraft   and have to be maintenanced to keep it at  the right speed, requiring the development   of advanced stationkeeping of a type a  bit further than what we currently do   and also the capture of incoming vehicles  imparting momentum to the tether.   But in the end, the advantages offered by skyhooks  do seem to form a niche we may use some day,   especially in regards to our colonization  of Mars and other places. Once again,   the circumstances of Mars, should we found a  colony there, would make this very useful indeed. Number 6. Rail Guns and Mass Drivers This technology is something that isn’t  in the future, it’s already here and has   been for a very long time. The idea of  moving something using electromagnetism   is something we take advantage of extensively,  and have since the age of electricity began.  

If you turn on a fan, you’re using electricity to  move something. This also applies to accelerating   a projectile, and extensive research has been put  into developing rail guns to replace things like   old school chemical naval guns. There is a huge  advantage to that, despite development challenges,   which is safety so long as you aren’t on the  receiving end. There is no explosive magazine  

on a ship equipped with these, which was the  demise of many warships throughout history. But there is a very extensive use for this  technology in regards to space travel.   Here the concept is typically termed a  mass driver, or some variation thereof.   And how you use it really depends on what you want  to use it for. Firing mined metals off the surface   of an asteroid is a different use than launching  humans to the moon with one of these things.   For humans, you have to make sure the humans  inside the craft can handle the g forces.  

This essentially eliminates any conventional gun,  as early science fiction envisioned, rather a very   long launch system, 50 kilometers or so, to gently  accelerate the manned spacecraft to speeds needed   to get into space. The advantage here again is  that while your construction needs to be enormous,   so does a highway, so we already do things on  this scale. And you save costs here, but again   the more practical use is in space and involves  transferring raw materials into space from the   surfaces of worlds, especially if you need to  put them into orbit from the surface of earth. Number 5. Spacedocks One use for launching raw materials from earth  is the construction of space stations, but also   spacecraft. We are limited right now in just  how large of components we can send into space,  

to then build things like the international  space station which required multiple launches   from several countries over a period of years  to build it to the size that it is, which isn’t   that big in comparison to what we could build  in space. But building in space from materials   and components launched from earth is something we  have successfully done on an international scale,   and it’s something we can expand on using some  of the technologies mentioned on this list.   One of the things this would plausibly allow  for however is the construction of space docks   and star ships in orbit of enormous size,  much like those envisioned in star trek. One thing that has hampered exploratory  space missions is the dual problem of   energy availability and the weight  of a spacecraft along with its size.   Take the James Webb space telescope, it had  to weigh a certain limit and go no further,   but it also had to fit inside of a predetermined  fairing on a rocket, which played into the   decision to launch it on an Ariane 5 rocket  because it has one of the largest fairings   out there. Even still, Webb has to operate on  the total energy supplied by its solar cells,  

and it had to unfold itself in space in  a sort of space craft version of origami. All of this could be eliminated  if you had two things. One,   better energy generation methods in space. This  may come in the form of compact fusion reactors,   which while they are being developed,  they’re not there yet. But if we get them,  

then we will have all the power we could possibly  want for missions into space The second is   available size, there is no limit to the size of  something you can build in space within reason,   allowing for enormous spacecraft that could look  more like moving cities in space than Voyager II. This opens up the eventual world of generational  starships that can travel to other star systems   at slow speed over generations of humans, or  very long lived humans through life extension.   It also would allow for probes of a  type we can’t yet even dream to build,   such as giant self-replicating probes sent  across the galaxy. Once the limits of being   able to construct objects in space expands,  so do the possibilities of what we can do. Number 4. O’Neill Cylinders  and Giant McKendree Cylinders

As with the space elevators, the biggest challenge  we face is in the materials that are needed to   create them. They barely exist, in the form of  carbon nanotubes which are very difficult to make,   but offer a glimpse into a future of ultra-strong  materials that make our currently very strong   materials like kevlar seem pale in comparison.  It’s even possible, and some foresee this,   that carbon nanotube technology might be the  strongest material anyone in the universe can   reasonably make, so far as known chemistry  is concerned. Whether this is true or not,   or if we can ever make carbon nanotube materials  on an industrial scale remains to be seen. But say for a moment that we can, and these  materials are our future. This opens up a  

very interesting possibility above and beyond a  space elevator. Rather it allows for a true, space   nation in every sense of the word. Before we get  to that, we have to cover the basics of a specific   type of space habitat. That of the O’Neill  Cylinder, first envisioned by Gerard K. O’Neill,   along with variations thereof. This is a habitat  that produces a kind of artificial gravity through  

centrifugal force that in principle would allow  for a somewhat earth-like existence for anyone   wishing to live in one. We could hypothetically  build these now with current materials,   but only up to a certain size. We can make one  of very large size, but there comes a limit. But O’Neill Cylinders give us a way  to go beyond a mere space station,   which can also be spun to simulate gravity. Rather  we can have a self-enclosed space city, perhaps   sitting at a lagrange point, or a group of said  cities where people can work and live in space.  

And while this idea may not be too far in  our future, or at least some form of it,   the idea can be scaled up with the  right developments in materials. And here we get into human megastructures. This  variation of O’Neill’s idea is called a McKendree   cylinder, and through the use of carbon nanotube  technology it can be constructed in principle on   a titanic scale. It too would rotate and produce  artificial gravity, or rather a gravity analogue,   and could be built on the order of  hundreds of kilometers in radius,   but thousands as far as length. In fact,  you can hypothetically outdo all but the   very largest countries on earth in land mass and  support hypothetically billions of people with   large-scale agriculture driven by transparent  areas of the cylinder allowing sunlight in,   or conceivably using solar power  to provide artificial lighting.

This could allow for a perfect living  space, where everything is managed so well   that things like crop failures, weather  – though this thing would be so huge as   to create it’s own weather that would  need to be controlled – all fall to the   wayside to have perhaps the ultimate  in stability for human civilization.   There are engineering concerns for sure, many  of which would need to be identified and solved   while such a thing was being constructed, but in  its most rudimentary form it could be designed in   counter rotating halves that would control the  station's orientation. Such a structure could   persist indefinitely with maintenance, and become  a kind of artificial populated moon of sorts   better suited for human habitation from  the start than the natural moon is. 

Of course this comes with risks. Such a  thing could easily also become a death star,   it’s inhabitants and their emperor holding  earth hostage with their space laser as they   make unreasonable demands on earth’s donut supply.  Or vice versa as we build a space laser and point   it towards them every time the perfect steel  ball bearing prices get a bit too high for our   tastes. Such an idea, if power sources, fueling  and true self-sufficiency could ever be achieved,   could even serve as the basis of  a generational starship as has   been depicted in science fiction and colonize a  star system that happened to be passing nearby. 

You could then play with such an idea and  envision a kind of Camper RV Park Milky Way   where cylinders of various alien cultures  form settlements around suitable stars.   If the neighbors prove less than tolerable,  say some really radio loud aliens next door   confounding your astronomical observations, you  could use the cylinder as a sort of RV and move   to the next suitable star system in hopes of  better amenities and more peace and quiet. Or   to flip it around, the alien RV cylinders see the  humans coming, and all vacate before we get there   leaving us forever thinking we are alone,  or at the very least the formulation of   the alien camper paradox. We should see  more of these parked around but we don’t,   yet we see ‘em pass by on the highway with  not so much as a single friendly wave. Number 3. Artificial Magnetospheres

One of the major problems, among many, with the  idea of colonizing the inner planets of the solar   system is the lack of an appreciable  magnetic field at both Venus and Mars.   Earth’s magnetic field is extremely important  for maintaining the conditions of this world   and its habitability. Our magnetic  field protects us from the solar wind,   which would otherwise strip off earth’s  atmosphere and creating a magnetosphere at   Mars would be crucial for truly terraforming  that planet, if that is indeed possible. But the dynamo action of the earth’s interior that  generates its magnetic field is absent at Mars,   and due to Mars interior being  cooler, and that’s irreversible   for anyone other than perhaps a  supercivilization. But the creation   of a natural magnetic field is neither the most  practical way, nor is it even necessary. It is  

possible to create an artificial magnetic  field for Mars, and for that matter Venus. There are actually several ways to do it. To  create a partial magnetic field, or a weak one,   you can do it from orbit or the ground using  magnetic field generating equipment. But a more   powerful option would be to generate charged  particles from the moon phobos to create a   kind of particle torus around Mars. But there  may be an even more comprehensive way to do it.

The idea goes like this, if you can put a  magnetic field in between the sun and Mars,   that should be sufficient in getting  the planet to start terraforming itself.   By blocking the action of the sun, Mars’  atmosphere will start to thicken and warm.   If you can do that and maintain it long term, you  can potentially get Mars’ atmosphere sufficiently   thick as to not be immediately fatal if you were  to step out of a habitat without a spacesuit.

It won’t be earth, and there is some question over  just how thick you can get Mars’ atmosphere given   recent discoveries that dropped the amount  of carbon dioxide locked up at its poles,   but you can start the process of making it  at least a little more friendly to humans.   More importantly perhaps is making it more  friendly towards plants, more on that in a bit.   Venus on the other hand would eventually need such  a magnetic field, but it’s atmosphere is already   thick and hot. There the better option to start  the terraforming process would be to block the  

light of the sun with a shield to start cooling  things down. With technology that exists today,   we can in principle already dramatically alter  Venus and Mars if we were inclined to do so. Number 2 Compact Fusion Reactors We often view future power sources in space  in the sense of Dyson Swarms or spheres   that can collect the entire energy of a star, or  most of it, and convert it into useable energy.   This makes sense in one respect, stars produce  massive amounts of free energy for the taking.   But at the same time such far future  technologies may be unfeasable   from both an engineering and a cost perspective  when there is something much easier to do that   can generate vast amounts of energy using the most  common materials in the universe such as hydrogen.

This is of course fusion energy, which  also happens to be what powers stars.   And, we’re not that far from useful fusion energy  for power generation, though the idea has been one   marred by slow development. Even today, the  biggest efforts in developing fusion involve   huge facilities like Iter that wouldn’t lend  themselves well to being launched into space.  

But that’s where the concept  of compact fusion comes in. There are several projects afoot to develop  fusion reactors that would produce on the   order of a hundred megawatts of energy, yet be  the size of a bus, and launchable into space   to build things like giant spacedocks and  o’neill cylinders with no shortage of energy   available. And this is one area where there  could be a wildcard. It’s possible through   the current projects looking into it, that we  may end up with compact fusion reactors before   we have full on large scale fusion power  plants. There is some reason to suspect that   a breakthrough could happen here, and fusion  energy simply appears earlier than expected,   as a kind of reversal of the trend that’s  been going since the nuclear age began.   There are no guarantees of this, of course,  but the landscape of fusion energy has   changed and now looks somewhat different  than it did just a decade ago. We shall see.

But regardless, it probably is the  future and with widespread fusion energy,   and plenty of hydrogen and other potential  fuels in the solar system to work with,   it may be that the idea of Dyson swarms on a large  scale may never come to fruition simply because   they’re not needed. This may also be why when  we look into space, we don’t see any convincing   evidence of those technologies, even though they  should be readily detectable as technosignatures. Number 1 Genetic Manipulation for Space Nothing, and I mean nothing, on this planet  is truly adapted for living in space.   Everything here evolved here, in this  environment. And while some species such  

as tardigrades and certain microbes can survive  in space, at least for a time, it’s a different   thing whether they can do well and reproduce  as successfully as they do here on earth.   As a result, anything we do in space that  involves biology whether it’s a space walk or   to try to grow food, almost always requires us  to basically bring earth’s atmosphere with us.   And, to date, we also have to bring the nutrients,  soil and water to grow food. And while there are   some options for growing food in the soil of  Mars, it’s pretty chemically hostile and would   at the very least require washing with local  water from Mars before you can grow anything. But at the same time, we can already genetically  modify crops for various purposes here on earth,   and there’s no reason why existing plants  here on earth can’t be modified to do   better in a Martian environment, at least a partly  terraformed one, or in a habitat. But the idea of  

genetically modifying crops can be taken a step  further. How about genetically modified humans? Humans, or any animal for that matter, can be  genetically modified to also do better in a   Martian environment. Adaptations to lower gravity,  more efficient lungs, vision better suited for   dimmer light, and so on can all be envisioned  as better for a Martian environment, though   they would often preclude any return to Earth.  These genetically modified humans would truly  

be Martians, even though they hadn’t originally  evolved there. And it could also be said that a   better reproduction system in an environment such  as Mars might be cloning, or custom genetics,   to ensure the best level of adaptation in such  artificial circumstances. But, as with anything,   whether humans actually choose to do this remains  to be seen. But therein is another question. If we decide to go full on machine civilization  and upload ourselves into a consciousness cloud   of some sort, then we can colonize just  about anything. The line between robotic and   personal exploration of the solar system becomes  indistinct. If one could load their mind into a  

robotic body, then Mars would be a simple place  to explore in the face of exploring the surface   of Europa, or perhaps even sky diving in the upper  atmosphere of a gas giant and uploading one’s self   back to the consciousness cloud at the very last  moment before the robotic body is destroyed.   That would make for a very strange future  indeed, especially in regards to vacations. Thanks for listening! I am futurist and science  fiction author John Michael Godier Currently   worried about uplifted O’Neill cylinder  agricultural crops. Think of modified   corn that has an overall sense of wellbeing  and positivity and feels great about itself.   It’s totally okay with being eaten, at least until  a human walks by and everything goes off the rails   as this video has at several points. So you walk  past a corn field in the O’Neill Cylinder and  

the normally happy corn takes on a dark flair  and every ear whispers in unison memento mori,   the end comes to us all to stoically remind  us we are every bit as mortal as corn.   I’d say Grab the butter. But then you come  up against the idea of corn immortality,   I think I’ll just leave that one right there  and be sure to check out my books at your   favorite online book retailer and subscribe to my  channels for regular, in-depth explorations into   the interesting, weird and unknown aspects  of this amazing universe in which we live.

2022-01-22 18:00

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