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posted by cmn32480 on Sunday January 24 2016, @12:24PM   Printer-friendly
from the time-to-invent-the-Botany-Bay dept.

The recent demonstrations of successful rocket recovery by Blue Origin and SpaceX herald a new era of space exploration and development. We can expect, as rocket stages routinely return for reuse from the fringes of space, that the cost of space travel will fall dramatically.

Some in the astronautics community would like to settle the Moon; others have their eyes set on Mars. Many would rather commit to the construction of solar power satellites, efforts to mine and/or divert Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs), or construct enormous cities in space such as the O'Neill Lagrange Point colonies.

But before we can begin any or all of these endeavors, we need to answer some fundamental questions regarding human life beyond the confines of our home planet. Will humans thrive under lunar or martian gravity? Can children be conceived in extraterrestrial environments? What is the safe threshold for human exposure to high-Z galactic cosmic rays (GCRs)?

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  • (Score: 1) by khallow on Monday January 25 2016, @02:20AM

    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Monday January 25 2016, @02:20AM (#294179) Journal
    I think the approach here will be that the factory can make everything it needs, aside perhaps from some low mass, high complexity stuff like CPU chips which can be stockpiled. Then not only do you avoid a lot of expensive shipping, you also can make more factories on the Moon rather than importing them from Earth. It allows you to scale up industry on the Moon without requiring a lot of expensive inputs from Earth.
  • (Score: 2) by GreatAuntAnesthesia on Monday January 25 2016, @11:17AM

    by GreatAuntAnesthesia (3275) on Monday January 25 2016, @11:17AM (#294284) Journal

    Yup. Also, I have a strong feeling that such efforts will go hand in hand with developments in 3D printing tech. It will be a hell of a lot easier to keep complex machines running when you can just drop a broken part into the recycling bin and have a brand new replacement fabbed (mostly) out of the old materials.

    Many people laugh at 3D printing and say that not everything will be 3D-printable, but I suspect that 20 years from now a hell of a lot of very complex and durable stuff will be. I'm not saying 3D printing will completely replace traditional manufacturing, but it will find its niches (space will be one such niche) and it will be highly disruptive. You'll probably end up with 2 tiers of production facilities:
    - Traditional ones on which are more efficient and can produce higher quality stuff at a low cost, but which are high maintenance (ie require the kind of high-precision parts & tools that can't be 3D printed.) These facilities will be found exclusively on Earth, at least to begin with.

    - Basic 3D printing-based facilities geared more towards easy maintenance. Both the machines it uses and the products it makes are more rough and ready than the high-spec stuff, but more readily replaced. This is the kind of thing you'll find in space.

    Therefore you will have two tiers of products:
    - High-precision, high-spec gear that relies on the top manufacturing tier. Better performance, but replacement parts have to come from traditional factories (ie Earth). Maintenance will require specialist skills and tools.
    - Lower tech products designed around 3D printing. Lower performance, less efficient, but far easier to maintain with easily-swappable parts.

    Oblig car metaphor: Modern cars require diagnostic software to plug into the ECU, specialist tools, precision-engineered parts, specific high-performance oils and all the rest of it. However a car designed 50 years ago is not as fast or efficient as a new one, but you can maintain it yourself with a set of spanners and a bucket of chip fat, and maybe even improvise spares from junk you find lying around in your garage. Which one would you want to be driving if you only had limited and expensive access to the supply chain that produces all the high-tech parts, tools, oils and whatnot?

    Therefore, to get from Earth to orbit you'll use the kind of ultra-efficient, super-shiny, high-precision, high-tech stuff we currently imagine for the future. Once you're up there though, you'll be immediately surrounded by cruder-looking gear that is more about ease of maintenance / replacement and redundancy.

    Maybe if you have a lot of resources (*cough*military*cough*) you'll be able to take the really expensive high-performance Earth-built stuff beyond LEO and keep it running there, but doing so will require a very expensive and potentially fragile chain of logistics stretching all the way back to the homeworld.

    BTW anyone else watching "The Expanse"? Just started it, loving it.

    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Monday January 25 2016, @11:21PM

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Monday January 25 2016, @11:21PM (#294662) Journal

      BTW anyone else watching "The Expanse"?

      No, but it sounds like a fascinating premise. One of the problems with science fiction has been either that the science fiction is commonly about dystopian or apocalyptic futures or rather unrealistic star trek futures. The Expanse seems to cover what would be an interesting time for us though it does appear to introduce alien tech as a deux ex machina.