Colonising Space/print

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Some people wonder what is the point of heading off into space when we have a wonderful planet to live on that provides all of our needs, and rather usefully has an atmosphere that we can breathe...

One reason is survival. At the moment we have all our eggs in one basket here on Earth. If nothing else, space colonization will be an insurance policy that will allow life to survive on other spaceships should something catastrophic happen to Spaceship Earth.

It is also the next great step for life inhabiting a new environment and spreading itself ever wider - something it has been doing for the past 3.7 billion years. Freed from scarcity, Man tends to look for interesting challenges and ways to extend his horizons. What greater adventure could there be than extending life beyond our home planet and reaching out into the stars?

On a more pragmatic note, the resources in space of energy, material and living space are effectively unlimited. This will allow our civilisation to constantly expand while taking the burden off the Earth. Just as the New World held the promise of abundant gold and land to settlers of the Americas, space is a frontier filled with unfathomable wealth of all kinds. Simultaneously, it holds the best promise to help ensure our survival, and the most interesting way to extend our reach. It should be a top priority.

Open design making space truly accessible

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Accessing space has been a difficult business – it is expensive and if everything is not exactly right, catastrophic failure results. The only likely way to overcome these issues and make space accessible to a wide number of people is to make it completely open and collaborative. The plans, designs and processes need to be totally transparent, and anyone with the necessary expertise, motivation and imagination should have the opportunity to contribute. These people will be the force to actually make it happen.

Making the colonisation of space a truly global collaborative process is an amazing opportunity to bring people and cultures together. Not a project of any one nation but a project of humanity with contributions from everywhere. The culture of openness is also the perfect way to start the spread of life away from Earth - it is the right attitude and the best way for people to get the most out of each other. When people want to convey what we can accomplish as a species, the standard symbol is the Apollo moon landings; there is no field like space exploration for people to come together, co-operate and accomplish amazing things.

Space exploration under the auspices of governments has proven too inefficient and expensive. Under government control, the cost of launch has been $5-15k per kilogram. This cost does not come from materials, or fuel, or anything else inherent in the technology; it comes from the inefficiency and expense of a development pipeline that requires every part to be built and inspected by hand.

Spaceflight done by a commercial organisation is 4-10 times cheaper than an equivalent government-funded mission[1]. But open hardware is often 4-20 times cheaper than commercial equivalents. If open collaboration could achieve the same radical reduction in the cost of rockets that it has in 3D printing, electroencephalography, DNA sequencing and other areas, space would become accessible to all and it would mark the beginning of humanity's era as a spacefaring race.

Commercial reasons alone are not the right basis for colonising space and the lesser efficiency of that model over an open culture would likely only ever make it a niche activity with potential for conflict. It is due to the lack of commercial viability that no-one has left low-earth orbit since the Apollo program. But open culture does not need to revolve around conventional economics.

There have been fewer than 500 manned spaceflights in human history, largely because of the prohibitive cost. Radically cheaper spaceflight will allow us to fly thousands of spaceflights a year. This is the only way to accrue the knowledge needed to make launches reliable.

Ultimately the possibility of space colonisation is a matter of energy, material, information and intelligence — and all four are in reality massively abundant.

Space resources

Resources within the solar system are mind-blowingly huge both in terms of energy and matter. There are planets, many moons and uncountable asteroids and comets.

In space the sun is always shining and there is no atmosphere to attenuates it glare. Solar power is the obvious way to go in, at least in the inner solar system. Either photo-voltaic for electrical power or solar furnaces for material processing.

Creating habitable places for people to live in this ultimately harsh environment is a matter of engineering – see advanced automation.


Space habitats

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Creating large space habitats requires the kind of technology described in the section on advanced automation.

There are many places that we could locate these habitats, especially near Earth. 35px-More_large.png

Access to space

We now have access to space using rockets although this is still expensive (over $5000 per pound of material launched[2]) and the failure rate is quite high. This severely limits what we can do in space; it is the main obstacle to space solar power and the colonisation of space. So far, we have only dipped our toes, if we want to really dive in we have to make spaceflight cheap and reliable.

It may be that using abundant solar energy and seawater and advanced automation, mature rocket technologies like liquid-fuelled rockets actually end up becoming cheap and common-place, perhaps in conjunction with solid-rocket boosters like the Space Shuttle uses that employ metal fuels and inorganic oxidizers made from common elements.

Skylon single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) hybrid air-breathing/rocket space-plane designed to carry 40 tonnes of cargo or 40 passengers to low earth orbit

However many alternative and interesting launch systems are thought to be technically (or at least theoretically) feasible ranging from single stage to orbit hybrid air-breathing/rocket space-planes (SSTOs), electromagnetic and balloon platform launch assist to more exotic space fountains, launch loops and geosynchronous space elevators. It may be that launch strategies that can have their power systems decoupled from the propellant/propulsion systems and installed on the ground may end up being more economical and efficient in terms of energy expended per unit weight lofted into space.

Information on these alternative launch methods are covered in more detail in this WP article 11px-Wikipedia_logo.jpg.

Leaving earth with the right attitude

If mankind colonises space enabled by a programme based upon free and open-source-style collaboration, it would be an iconic example for future generations living away from Earth, in terms of encouraging co-operation and resource sharing. These human-centric principles may help reduce the chances of purely self-serving forms of commercialism being dominant in their culture and might lessen the likelihood of conflicts arising from aggressive, exclusionist groups that might otherwise be more common.

If we do successfully colonise space, it is likely that eventually more of humanity will exist off the Earth than on it, so helping to set the right tone for these future colonies is a significant issue.


John young - space is a dangerous business but so is staying on earth (find actual words!)


Earth cradle



Is Earth's surface really place for...

George Mallory:

The first question which you will ask and which I must try to answer is this, "What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?" and my answer must at once be, "It is no use." There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It's no use.

So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for.



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Gratuitous image of the Orion Nebula


General space advocacy organisations

Open-source space organisations and projects

  • CosmosCode - "Open Source Software Development for Space Exploration" from NASA's Ames Research Centery
  • Copenhagen Suborbitals & [3], a low-budget open-source project to put a man in space (these guys really are putting their welding torches where their mouth is...)
  • Open Luna - attempting open-source lunar expeditions, initially robotic-based
  • Team FREDNET - "a group of scientists, technologists, and engineers who are using their combined talents to create a timely and elegant solution to win the Google Lunar X PRIZE"
  • - sustainable living in space using free and open source technology.
  • Anansi Spaceworks is at the early stages of attempting to use open source principles to develop space technology