Thursday, November 6, 2014

How to achieve human settlement of space -- from NSS to ASD to OSDTP and nonterrestrial materials

For many years, the space movement in Washington – including the National Space Society – was represented in Congress by an organization called the “Space Exploration Alliance,” which tended to be a spokesman for myopic efforts to raid the federal treasury without much concern about how to do the best we can for the grand vision of humanity really settling space. Do we really just want want a bigger collection of baseball cars of people who have touched the surface of the moon, o9r an expansion of “banana republic” kinds of narrow eocnomicd activities in space? Is tghere any chance of humans REALLY expanding into space, developing a solid eocnmic base which make sense without subsidy, and can grow economically without relying on a growth in spending by governments on earth?

Charles Miller, an activist with the Space Frontier Foundation, approached me one day, as I am formally the Executive Vice President for Policy of the National Space Society (at least until the lawyers and the big lobbyists catch up with me, as they have tried to squash him at times). He said: “Why don’t SFF and NSS get together and start a new alliance, an alliance for space development (ASD), to focus on the economic DEVELOPMENT of space? And why don’t we set up new sets of Congressional visits organized around that theme?” I strongly supported that idea and discussed it with the executive committee of NSS. They approved it… but I do not yet know whether the kinds of formal structures they have in place will really live up to the larger need and hope. There are still lots of folks who think that the job of a lobbyist is to instruct constituents on exactly which lone items should be supported in their institutions, without wasting time on why or on where we are headed in the bigger picture.

In any event, at the start, I proposed the following declaration to be the charter for such an alliance, if it ever really materializes as envisioned, and to guide constituents to talk about whatever part of the vision they feel most called to discuss with their representatives in Congress:

Proposed Declaration Defining the new Alliance for Space Development (ASD)

            Paul J. Werbos, 2014

ASD plans to develop, adapt and change a wide variety of position papers, in response to opportunities which come and go. But these specific opportunities will all be within the more fundamental goals of the organization.

The Alliance is dedicated to unifying the efforts of many groups towards one overriding goal, which guides all else: to achieve the economically sustainable human settlement of space. We don't oppose OTHER values on space and earth, but we agree to focus on trying to get to this one, to make it work. We know it is a difficult goal, but that makes it all the more important to focus our efforts and our consciousness to make it happen. This is the one unconditional commitment of ASD.

Why do we want humans in space? For the same reason we want humans on earth. As sane human beings, we will always fight for the survival and growth of humanity, both on earth and in space. We are fully aware of the many obstacles, challenges and risks to human survival and growth, both on earth and in space, but we will never hide from these challenges and will never forget the real bottom line.

To achieve this goal, we will support activities aimed at building the four pillars which our hopes here rest on:

1. NEW MARKETS from space to earth, large enough and tricky enough to create"multiplier" effects beyond what the existing applications in space provide. Space "tourism"  (which is sometimes just recreation and sometimes more serious) and energy from space are the two obvious possibilities, but we are open to others, such as higher levels of communication capabilities to bring better internet capabilities to the poorest people on earth. Whatever the risks in these markets, we need to do the best we can to open up the full potential of the new markets, both through changed regulation and technology development. That's a top priority.

2. ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY will also be crucial to making space activities sustainable, affordable and profitable on a larger scale. Most urgent is the development of new technology to allow reusable access to space at minimum marginal) cost, designed with foresight, looking ahead to the hope of large launch volumes to serve new markets. DARPA's XS-1 project is a unique shining light in this space, but earlier projects at the height of the cold war (like Science dawn, RASV and TAV)  developed low-cost technology still essential to the possibilities before us. ASD will not advocate who develops this technology -- new space, old space or governments. Rather, it will try to provide encouragement and support for any player ready to do the serious advanced technology work. In addition to access to space, better technology for transportation beyond low earth orbit is also essential, and other elements of crucial economic infrastructure to improve cost-effectiveness of all efforts in space, even to the end of the solar system and beyond.  ASD will advocate upgrading almost ALL government space activities to take more time but do things right, at lower cost, by allocating effort to advanced technology development to do the mission better.

3. NONTERRESTRIAL materials are another basic pillar of humanity's hope for self-sustaining economic growth in space. This will take more time than the initial development of new markets, but it is an essential requirement which we must meet sooner or later. We have no interest in putting boots on the moon -- but we do have an interest in rational steps as part of a strategy to get real economic value form the moon and from the asteroids, and eventually Mars. The economics history of earth tells us that the best strategy is not to develop just one source of materials, but all of them, starting with what is easiest to get to,, and planning to phase the key decision making into market systems as they become able to take over.

4. HUMAN ABILITY to live and work in space, in the long term, is the fourth and final fundamental pillar of human settlement, and an other basic commitment. To make this real, we agree, at a minimum, that human presence in space should remain continuous and permanent, initially through ISS but through larger, expanded systems in the future, without any retreat.

For more on space solar power, see, and my article on SSP in Ad Astra, summer 2014.
For more detail on some of these points, see my response (slightly edited) to the open request for comments from Tom Kalil of OSTP:

Dear Dr. Kalil and friends, 
On October 14, you quoted Phillip Metzger as saying: “If we want to create a robust civilization in our solar system, more of the energy, raw materials and equipment that we use in space has to come from space.” Then you ask how to do it. My friends and I believe we can help a lot in answering that question.  I attach two samples of aspects we have looked at.

First, let me thank you for posing such an important question. In many, many areas of science and technology, people waste huge amounts of money in efforts which do not keep returning to the big questions of what we are really trying to do. The US space program has certainly experienced a lot of that. While we did not communicate as well as Dr. Metzger this time, some of us have advocated exactly the same idea, and spent many years tying together some of the things which need to be tied together. We have lots and lots of backup material on all the points.  There is a lot of crucial (even urgent) work needed which has fallen between the cracks, due to myopic players in the game. 
Second, though I am not representing NSF in this email,  I have worked there for 25 years now and learned a lot about the key technologies. You probably know about the collaborations of Mike Roco and Bill Bainbridge (who is under open attack from Lamar Smith). Bill edited a special issue of Futures in 2009, and asked me for an article which addresses your question in a more detailed, analytical way: P. Werbos, Towards a Rational Strategy for the Human Settlement of Space, Futures, Volume 41, Issue 8, October 2009. Since this was work of a government employee, I was able to legally post it on the web:
We have looked intensively at all four “markets” in the one-pager. One of special interest is space solar power (SSP). A new design paradigm has arisen, based on Japanese funding and a one-time NASA project, which in my view has really serious potential. I say that as one of the directors of the NSF program in Energy, Power, Controls and Networks, with a prior background building energy econometric models and continuing involvement in activities such as the IEEE-USA energy policy committee, and others. Attached is a draft report on renewable energy research, highlighting SSP as one of four key options; this is not the official view of NSF, but since I wrote it and you are in the government I figure you entitled to full access. By the way, one of the things we should do, in an ideal world here, is add an item to Richard Voyles’ NRI solicitation using this SSP ALPHA assembly as a testbed challenge, perhaps  funding a preliminary effort to tighten up and refine the challenge. Dr. Abdul Kalam, former President of India, flew to the NSS annual meeting last year, and argued very hard for a new international effort to develop that technology, which he sees as very essential to the needs of India and other developing nations; we lost touch when he went on the campaign trail for Narendra Modi, but from OSTP the opportunity still exists. Of course, SSP would be an important energy source for use in space as well as to earth.
Most urgent of all, in my view, is the need for more effective work on lower cost access to space, as in the IEEE-USA position paper on that challenge. There is hope of bipartisan action there, given the strong support by people affiliated with the Marshall Institute and others more aligned with the Administration.

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