The Scientific Preparatory Academy for Cosmic Explorers started the 8th day of the 1st Space Retreat with a presentation by Alan Pritchard. Alan is the President, CEO, and Board Chairman of his one-man consulting company Zen Systems. His presentation was titled Reconnection: Bringing Space Down to Earth. It was a broad and holistic (as Alan likes to say) big-picture concept presentation.
Alan started by presenting the problems with the historical approach towards space. The historical space approach is
- Tech heavy
- Militaristic. Rockets were developed as weapons first and only later adapted for space.
- Antagonistic. Space developed from the Cold War as competition between nation-states. In the near future, China and India may also regard space as development based on competitive national pride.
- Exclusionist. Aside from the very rich and highly trained, most people don’t have the opportunity to go into space.
- Expansionist. Space has been regarded as expanding only a small part of Earth.
- Separate. Space is regarded as wholly separate from Earth.
For the last point of “Separate”, Alan presented a crudely drawn diagram of a magic boundary between space and not space. The present disadvantages of the current space approach include
- Unsustainable. Current spacecrafts are one-time use only.
- Expensive. This is due to two reasons. First, spacecrafts are unsustainable. Second, technology is often not shared between different nation-states.
- Messy. Space debris is created with no thought of the future.
- Stagnant. Space has become a place to just go up for a brief stay and then come right down to Earth. There’s little direction on where to go next.
Alan next presented the current approach towards space which though is better than the historical approach, still requires a lot of work. The current approach is
- Participatory (now includes private entrepreneurs)
- More public awareness
- Consolidationalist (building on what we know)
- Still separate
- Stagnant (still orbiting around Earth)
Thankfully, these attitudes are changing. For instance, the growth of suborbital space companies is blurring the line between space and not-space. However, space is still fragmented, expensive, fuzzy (lack of vision), and mostly “orbital” (going around in circles around Earth).
Current space benefits include information, money, technology, and material. There are variations between the positive benefits and the cost of each aspect of the space program. For instance, for money, considering that communication satellites (the greatest financial gains from space programs) need to be upgraded continually to handle ever greater loads and speed, the net returns is actually zero as estimated by Alan. For technology, Alan believes that Earth is sending more technology up into space to be developed than space is sending back down to Earth. For material, more material is going up than coming down.
The current picture needs some help in a number of ways including
- Tech-heavy with low tech return. This makes it difficult to justify space to “non-believers”.
- Separate. Space is considered out there. In reality, there are places on the Earth that is equally if not more difficult to reach but are not considered separate. For instance, exploring Earth’s deep oceans.
- Ad-hoc. There’s no roadmap or vision. National space programs often becomes a money sink with cancelled programs and delayed projects.
- Members club. There is a “not invented here syndrome” where instead of embracing new ideas, the older generation puts down young people with new ideas by telling them that they’re not experienced enough to come up with ideas that work. Old ideas continue to be used even if they are bad.
There are three questions that need to be answered for everyone:
- Why do we go?
- Who will go?
- How will we go?
Alan presented five different big-picture methods in addressing these issues. These are
- SpaceShip Earth
- In-situ solar power
- Spaceports and shuttles
1) Spaceship Earth
Let’s take all the things done in space and apply them to Earth. Earth after all is a spaceship too. For instance, use space habitation technologies to develop a sustainable population here on Earth. Alan wishes to develop a figure of merit for a sustainable population on Earth based on an average standard of living. He suggested watching two TED talks with opposing views on world population. One is called “The World is Full” and the other is called “Abundance” given by Peter Diamondis.
As Dr. Hyland has stressed, Alan agrees that modular self-sustaining habitats on Earth and elsewhere is a good idea. We can use low-tech ideas as well. For instance, a scientist who was designing houses for the moon and Mars discovered adobe houses which are very primitive and that can work in space. He merely quantified their advantages. There is now a company in California (calearth.org) called the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture which is designing these houses for Earth. Perhaps one day they can expand into space. Another example is using space life support systems for a closed recycling system on Earth.
3) In-situ Solar Power
Alan suggests making high-tech machinery that eats local silicon-rich resources and excretes solar panels. These high-tech designs with low-tech construction have been demonstrated to work before on Earth. For instance, there’s a company called Zambikes which grows bamboo and uses them to make bikes for people in Africa. These use local resources where metal is rare but bamboo is plentiful.
Huge terrestrial applications for solar power can be constructed in the desert, often similar to a hostile extraterrestrial environment. Antoine mentioned that biological power can also be looked into. For instance, there are now viruses that when shined light generates electricity.
Humanexus is a word that Alan coined which has yet to enter the dictionary. Perhaps it will catch on as a meme and make Alan famous. What humanexus means is a holistic approach combining technology with spirituality and other fields. Combine the hard technical side with the humanistic side. Breakthroughs these days often come from interactions of ideas and not just one extreme of an idea.
5) Spaceports and shuttles
Building an infrastructure is critically important. Building a transportation infrastructure along with a regulatory environment is very important for the future development.
Alan ended the presentation with a quote:
Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.
- Anais Nin
After a short 5-minute break, Erik Unger presented a visually stunning presentation on Aerospace Software. He first talked a little about his own background which was quite moving. He became interested in space and flying since his father was a pilot while his mother was a physics teacher. He spent much of his early childhood both actually flying and flying flight simulators which he loved. Slowly, his interest drifted from flying and space towards 3D software. While he was writing articles for a German magazine on 3D software, he ended up getting a job. He only stayed there for three months before he quit to do freelance work. Afterwards, he spent some time in Australia working for a video game company.
However, several years ago, he became quite unhappy and undertook some personal development. Through this, he realized that going back to his roots is important. The interests in space and flying have never left him. Now, Erik is going to space conferences and events to understand the space field and figure out where his expertise can help. He is a very good programmer who has experience in 11 programming languages and have made everything except enterprise software.
Erik next presented a few impressive videos which showcased work that he has done. The first one was a video game called The Show made in Germany. The second one was the game of the movie Space Chimps made when he was in Australia. Erik also showed a screenshot of his own game engine called Next Reality Engine. It’s not very good but it was a good exercise for him. He currently has a few projects and plans a few more projects relevant to space and flying including
- Planned: Web software of flying over a Martian landscape. Nowadays, web technology has reached the point where 3D technology is possible. This will be better than Google Mars.
- Planned: Web software for mission planning and a mission dashboard to organize the mission.
- Planned: A software for scientific data logging.
- Current: Telepresence software, especially one with first person view (FPV). Eric has built two UAVs which he unfortunately could not show in reality but did present a nice photo. One UAV is optimized for lifting capacity and can lift 5 kg. The other UAV is optimized for price and only costs $150 to build. Eric is working with a friend to build the UAVs for helping to find people in avalanches. These UAVs can do the job much faster and with no danger to people. Eric estimates that he can build one with 8 rotors at a cost of $10-15K which can carry a man for 2-3 minutes. Unfortunately, with current battery limitations, it’ll only last 2-3 minutes.
- Current: Videos for Liftport Group. Michael Lain, who founded Liftport Group, raised a remarkable ~$110K in Kickstarter for his idea of building a space elevator on the moon. He was completely overwhelmed by all the emails and forum messages from people around the world interested in the project. With such funding and interest, the Liftport Group decided that the first project will be a robot climbing up or down a 2 km tower. They estimate that the real project will cost $800M but they want to first do a one year feasibility study at a cost of $3M. Eric Unger and an Austrian artist teamed up to make an amazing 3D video of the launch and operation of the lunar space elevator for promotion purposes.
- Current: Ground station visualization software. This will be open source and available in web. It can be used for a wide variety of projects which Eric discussed in greater detail.
6) Ground Station Visualization Software
One project that will use the ground station software is the Polares Paspartout. This is a project of the Austrian Space Forum which plans to launch a high altitude balloon flying up to 35 km with the mission objective of confirming an Indian university’s claim that unidentifiable extraterrestrial lifeforms are up in the stratosphere. The first test launch is planned for April with a real launch later this year.
Another two projects are the Archimedes and Miriam-2 which are projects of the German Mars Society and the Military University of Munich. For Archimedes, it is a Mars atmospheric reentry ballute. For Miriam-2, it is a 4 meter ballute project for Earth reentry.
Then, there is Mur.sat which is a space art project. It’s a nanosat that will do art in space. It will detect micrometeorids and artists can use it in various ways. It will also have a red button that says if you’re an alien, press it. (sat.mur.at)
Finally, there is the startup California company Interorbital which wants to launch several tiny nanosats called TubeSats in a tube. This rocket is specifically designed to launch these nanosats. The TubeSats will be in space for three months before coming back down. These Tubesats are relatively cheap and costs only $8125 for each one. They’ll launch from Tonga given Tonga has a treaty with the US for use of its space.
7) Space Education
A final project Erik will like to do is create a Space & Science Park in Austria. He is very inspired by the DLR School Lab which currently exists in Germany that showcases DLR space tech to school kids. This Space & Science Park will offer kids and adults the chance to experience space and physics first hand through
- virtual reality
- augmented reality
- fun physics experiments
- permanent indoor simulated moon and Mars surface
- obstacle course for robots
These two phenomenal presentations are downloadable here. Please excuse the fact that Eric’s videos cannot be seen in the pdf file.
Alan Pritchard – Space Homesteading
Erik Unger – Aerospace Software
There are several videos which Erik included in his presentation available here soon.
After the informal presentations, we ended the day by going to Playa de Las Americas. I spent some good time there with Alan and Desh while Virgil, Antoine, and Erik drifted away to walk on their own. The Romanians Dragos and Iulia somehow drifted apart earlier and went their own ways. After relaxing on the beach with Alan and Desh and occasionally checking out the fine scenes in front of us, we watched the sunset while carrying a long conversation. We then stopped at a cafe and talked some more on interesting stories of our lives. I got back around 10pm and decided to update this blog. In the meantime, we have several fine gentlemen (Virgil, Dragos, Erik, and Alan) around my bed having another pleasant chat, promulgating the spirit of the SPACE Retreat.