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Manned interplanetary spacecraft from The Resources of the Solar System by Dr. R.C. Parkinson.

There is a need for disruptive visionaries and disruptive technologies in the process of developing a space based economy and in-space infrastructure. Individuals and technologies that break the rules of the political game, that change the landscape in favor of a more bountiful return on the investment required of such ventures.

In a chart from The Resources of the Solar System Dr. Parkinson outlines an expanding in-space economy for the year 2050: orbital construction of large scale solar power satellites requiring in-space and lunar surface infrastructure, space habitats, orbital fabrication and production facilities, and lunar surface resource mining and fabrication facilities. The SPS program circa 1981, proposed orbital solar power satellites to be fabricated on orbit, each satellite would consist of a solar array the size of Manhattan Island. This would require a massive surface to orbit transportation infrastructure and construction crews numbering 10,000 to be housed on orbit, see NASA Technical Memorandum 58238 Satellite Power System: Concept Development and Evaluation Program Volume VI1 -Space Transportation, PDF available here.

An effort on this scale would require enormous payloads in materials to be lofted to orbit: propellant, water and oxygen for habitat life support systems and consumables – all would need to be launched from the surface of the Earth. Producing some of the material needs on orbit would reduce costs.   

From Atomic Rocket’s: For most missions, almost half of the delta-V budget is used up in the first 160 kilometers or so, the lift-off from Terra's surface into Low Earth Orbit.  It takes about 7.6 km/s of delta V to lift-off into circular orbit. This is a mere 360 kilometers or so from the Terra's surface. For an additional 7.6 km/s, you can do a Hohmann with a marginal capture to the planet Saturn. This is towards the edge of the Solar system, at an average distance of 1,433,000,000 kilometers. This is the reason behind Heinlein's "halfway to anywhere" comment.

Once you start thinking about efforts on this scale ISRU becomes attractive, if you can harvest water ice from the surface of Callisto (or lunar polar ice, or ice from Deimos) you can use electrolysis to break it down, producing hydrogen and oxygen for propellant and for life support systems, and of course water. This is where Dr. Parkinson’s Lighter and Tanker comes in. Dr. Parkinson envisioned these vehicles as supertankers hauling what would be a valuable commodity, hydrogen, to depots in Mars and Earth orbit.

Once an endeavor on the scale of the SPS program is initiated an entire economy would grow in place around it, with side endeavors such as asteroid mining and planetary colonies, and of course, space tourism. Franchises would spring up to feed and entertain workers and the tourists. The larger the endeavor the more expansive these in-space industries become. Initial settlement of the eastern seaboard of the United States came in the form of commercial venture colonies, fishing, the fur trade, cotton and sugar were the valued commodities of the time. Of course all of the other specialized industries went along, metal smiths, ship builders, along with the fishermen and farmers, the hunters and trappers and their families. These endeavors become self-sustaining due to the growth of such economies. Today we are barely on the threshold of seeing this expansion, but the day will most certainly arrive when, as Arthur C. Clarke most famously said, whilst speaking on Orion nuclear pulse propulsion, very few men "will even be able to point to the part of the sky where Earth is."

In The Resources of the Solar System Dr. Parkinson’s economic development chart projects four manned interplanetary exploration missions per year involving sixty crew; two Earth crossing asteroid mining missions per year involving twenty-five crew; a large scale manned Callisto base, population 150, with electrolysis plants producing 6,950 metric tons of hydrogen per year, returning 220 metric tons hydrogen and 3,960 metric tons hydrogen to orbital propellant depots in Mars and Earth orbit respectively; a large scale Earth orbit and lunar surface based industry producing solar power satellites, and a growing Mars colony, population 1,200 – it’s an ambitious vision, proposing disruptive technology. The Resources of the Solar System expresses a vision for the future of humanity that is similar in concept and scale to my Orion’s Arm future history, and well in line with the ideas of Krafft Arnold Ehricke, Wernher von Braun, and Freeman Dyson.

Earth is a closed system, it has limited resources, but Earth’s solar system contains resources that could sustain human civilization for millions of years. Exploiting these resources will require more powerful propulsion systems than the limited energies realized by chemical propulsion alone. It will require disruptive technologies to enable payload masses that permit heavy shielding against galactic cosmic rays (GCR’s) and Solar Energetic Particles (SEPs) ; it will require propulsion systems capable of high velocity trajectories, shortening the duration of interplanetary flight, and thus the exposure time for crew. Transporting the necessary payloads of equipment and crew will require nuclear thermal and nuclear pulse propulsion – because these are systems that can accomplish these tasks and for which significant development work has already been accomplished.  

On Medium Ethan Siegel writes about how, for want of an RTG Philae went into the night before its time, read The Bittersweet Taste of Philae’s Limited Success.

Nuclear power is part of the answer to man’s energy needs here on Earth. At the dawn of the space age visionary thinkers, literally giants in terms of their intellectual contribution to civilization, men such as Krafft Arnold Ehricke, Wernher von Braun, and Freeman Dyson, envisioned how disruptive technologies such as nuclear propulsion could be applied to extend mankind’s reach throughout the solar system.

Update 11-25-2014: It was pointed out that I had neglected to apply a multilayer insulation (MLI) texture to the cryogenic tanks, at the tank ends and to the pressurization and recirculation pipes where this should be visible. Item corrected. Thanks to Dr. James Garry.

Suggested Articles and Videos:
A study of early manned Interplanetary Missions (1962) .

German rocket-propulsion engineer and advocate for space colonization Krafft Arnold Ehricke explains the responsibility of humanity to explore space and exploit the resources of the Solar System, in order to sustain the development of the species.

From The Space Review The Strange Contagion of a Dream

How space visionaries hijack governments to change the world, Brian Altmeyer explores how visionaries like Wernher von Braun and Elon Musk transform nationalized space programs, moving them beyond short-term limited-range goals to larger visions that shape the future.

In an excerpt from the BBC documentary To Mars by A-Bomb, Arthur C. Clarke and Freeman Dyson speak on the prospects for Orion nuclear pulse propulsion to open the solar system to mankind and pave the road to the future – also, rare flight-test footage of scaled nuclear pulse test articles: Orion Flight test footage.

I also highly recommend the entire seven-part documentary, part one here: To Mars by A-Bomb.   

As an example of where the vision of nationalized space programs has historically fallen short, read David S. F. Portree’s article on WIRED  NASA’s Integrated Program Plan “Maximum Rate” Traffic Model (1970).

Reference Links:

Surface to Orbit Boost
The Hefty First Step
In-situ Resource Utilization

Credit: Earth image courtesy NASA/JPL

Related Art:

Dr. R.C. Parkinson Interplanetary Spacecraft
Dr. R. C. Parkinson Space Tug
Lighter and Tanker
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November 23, 2014
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