Monday, December 19, 2011

Looking Into the Near Future

In SF, we tend to look a few hundred years into the future, and deal in starships and extrasolar worlds. I've always wanted to look out into the Solar System, the real estate of the Real Future, and I've been looking over George Friedman's shoulder, into his crystal ball, particularly his last two books, 'The Next Decade' and rereading 'The Next 100 Years' (they sound like the same book, but the difference of focus is key, and he looks more closely at Brazil in 'TND', a country I expect to see as a major space power), trying to come up with a new near future setting, one that doesn't involve hand-wavium and near-magic, but does involve the development of the Moon and the NEAs...
He thinks we will have to re-fight the cold war with Russia, in miniature, on more time... supporting Poland and Eastern Europe against a resurgent Russia, while Germany and Western Europe stays out of it. Later, Eastern Europe and Turkey would expand into the region, physically or at least economically dominating things, especially Turkey, whose time has come round again, thanks in part to the mess we have left in Iraq and the Arab Spring (too soon for GF to have added that to his speculations in 'The Next Decade', but I can read the tea leaves a little bit, too 8-).
Brazil, in South America, and Angola, in Africa, both have a special relationship (BrazAnga!). They are Portuguese-speaking countries, and Angola has cheap labor and resources Brazil needs as it reaches its internal limits and looks around to outsource some of its economy, like we did, to China and elsewhere, and which China in turn did to SE Asia. I think that maybe in the late 21st C, the US, which considers the Pacific to be its personal lake, at least from Hawaii back to the mainland, and the North Atlantic to be a 'pond', will acquiesce to Brazilian South Atlantic power. Turkey will be a regional naval power, from the Black Sea to the Persian Gulf, all places that the US is less and less interested in any more. India will probably be our proxy in the IO by the late 21st Century.
Coastal and South China will call the shots in the future, not Beijing. It is cruising for a bruising right now, crony capitalism on steroids, with bad debts at 25% to 40%, twice what Japan experienced in the 90's. The only question is how far it will fall apart, and how far the central government will go to crush dissent a generation after Tienamen Square.
By my musings, the US is still the big guy at the end of the 21st C, with a 1/4 Quadrillon dollars GNP, but the Gross World Product may be $1.5 to $2 Q at this point, because I'm sure everybody who can is growing just a little bit faster than the Big Dog, over a long time. Even if the GWP is $1 Quadrillion, no worries; that's still ~20 times what it is today, and it implies a new source of energy, probably offworld solar or He3, or both. For the US, we'll be fracking for natural gas and using more coal in the near future, and dealing with the environmental damage, as and when. Per-maybe-haps we'll come around to nukes in a can, and 'burn' up some of our nuclear waste before that ticking time bomb goes off; maybe. But at some point we will need to look up, and go up and out, to secure the new source of power we'll need in the next hundred years.
The numbers are pure fantasy, grounded in my imperfect understanding of what I've read and my prejudices, but they imply that all but one of the 'Next Five' will be in Eurasia- Turkey, India, (South) China, and Japan, all nicely balancing each other so that there is no dominant Eurasian power. Brazil is probably more troublesome, a South Atlantic power with a foothold in Africa, but Nigeria, South Africa and Argentina are available to oppose it, and Poland (which will lead Eastern Europe against Russia, get lots of goodies, but not all, after it falls apart, and protect a declining Western Europe by default), Iran, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines will serve as buffer states elsewhere. Australia will probably be looking for a friend, now and always, and we can keep her, if we play nice. Turkey controls much of the Middle East and as much of North Africa as it can, hemmed in by Poland, Nigeria and Iran, and rattling sabers with India.
What I've taken away from the two books looks like this- China and Russia crumble due to wars and internal troubles. Russia is dismembered and marginalized by Turkey and Eastern Europe; Japan gets Maritime Russia in the West as a protectorate. It also develops interests in coastal China, as does everybody else. As time goes on, Turkey and Japan become regional powers, offset by Poland, Eastern Europe, and Iran in the West and by India, China and United Korea in the East. Turkey probably guarantees Japan's access to Saudi oil for a little while longer, but everybody will be kicking the hydrocarbon habit eventually.
In the thirties Brazil is growing as a power across the South Atlantic in Angola and southern Africa. The US moves to oppose this through Argentina, South Africa and Nigeria, already a regional power and now beginning to really grow, industrially, the fruits of stability and investment in education and infrastructure is paying off in a take-off like Brazil now. It has a similar size population, but a long way to grow to catch up.
I have Brazil growing explosively in my spreadsheet, so it will look like a threat on our front door step, too close to ignore. The US will over-react, leading to a nazi-fication of Brazil in the media, and we will probably be preoccupied with the South Atlantic while Turkey is growing into a potential problem. GF has Turkey and Japan trying to develop spheres of interest in Eurasia, which the US will oppose, having seen off Russia and China as threats and we never want to see any one country dominating the 'world island', and becoming a threat to American power. If they ally and act together, as GF have them doing in 2050, they could achieve their goals, or just a likely get smacked down. The US would go to India, a resurgent and re-aligned China, and smaller regional powers like Poland, as counterweights, allies and proxies.
In the long run, just a gut feeling, but I think that Brazil and Japan will be space powers. I don't see Japan going away, but I do see it having another 'lost decade' if it does go down to defeat, as GF has them doing in the 2050 War. China, India, and Turkey, too, for I don't think you can grow in the last half of 21st Century without space power, either force or energy. Countries that don't go into space will eventually be marginalized, like Russia, and become either victims or quaint backwaters.
In 2050 the 'Big 4' are the USA, Japan and China, who have swapped places again, followed closely by Brazil. Again, these numbers are pure fabrication, but I can work with this. The US economy is three times as big as it is today, and the population is a third larger (there are about half a billion people in North America, just as the population of Europe has fallen towards half a billion). All three are about half as big as the US, and bigger, economically, than the USA is today, great powers with suborbital space planes, oh my. Turkey and India are not far behind; watching each other uneasily in Central Asia and the Indian Ocean, plus their combined weight is about equal to any of the preceding three. The next five economies after the US add up to nearly twice its economic power.
George Friedman doesn't address this, but I will. From this point on, space power and dominance becomes imperative. The US will still try to control the seas, as a great trading power, but in the last half of the 21st Century we might see the US making territorial claims on the Moon because it is the new high ground. As an American, I say- 'Sweet!' But as a human being, I say- 'Oh shit.'
My model has the US growing quickly in the 50s and 60s, fueled by cheap energy and lots of it, plus developing heavy orbital industry. China rides along, Japan turns aside for a little bit, and Brazil also loses its way for a while. Turkey and India both grow quickly, with Turkey growing into its empire and realizing untapped potential in a stabilized Middle East. India is still industrializing on the ground, but growing into space as well.
China pulls ahead of Japan again, Brazil powers up and gains on China, a long stern chase through the seventies and eighties. During this time, GF sees a crisis unfolding with Mexico and the borderland in the Southwest, so I throttle the American economy back a little. Seven decades from now it's ten times as big. As it is now, China's is nearly half as big, as is Brazil's. These two are no threat to each other and share enemies, plus a resentment of nearly a century of American power; its hubris and carelessness. They are both interested in space power, and may force some sort of concession. It's hard to imagine the balance of power system falling apart, but they might back each other against the USA, leading to a world of squabbling great powers that can make the former superpower back off.
Oh shit, squared.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Planetary Security

I obsess about manned space travel, going to other worlds in the solar system for fun and profit, but one thing is really short-sighted; why aren't we doing more about falling rocks? One small comet or asteroid could take out a city, wreck a country or a continent, and a large enough bit of celestial bad news could end us as a civilization or a species.

Proof of large impacts is available nearly every night, when we look up at the moon. The round shapes of certain seas and bays is proof on the globe which we all live, work and play on, that such things can happen, have happened, and certainly will happen again.

We shouldn't send people into space just because a few of us would sell our souls for the privilege. No, we should be sending manned crews, right now, to the Near Earth Asteroids, to know our enemy, to figure out how to move space rock, or gravel, or nasty ices of methane, ammonia and water. These are things we need to do because it is prudent to prepare for the worst, because we are capable of doing something about the threat, and because we really need to stop thinking that one small world, the third rock from the sun, is all there is to the universe. We need to go outside of ourselves again, like we did during the Apollo missions, when we went to another world, however briefly.

Let Go

A guy is learning how to shoot with a bow, and his teacher tells him to draw the arrow back in one fluid motion, aim, and- "When you let go, let your anger go with it."

I liked that... every formal martial art, and most of the informal ones, have certain philosophies of force. I do not think that it is any less moral to assert yourself in preemptive self-defence, or in a measured display or use of force, than it is to go to the store and buy hamburger. In the one case, you have imposed your will on another, to prevent the other from imposing their will upon you. In the case of the hamburger, you have hired a killing, for food. The death of an animal was reacquired, so you could eat; 'death is the high cost of living.'

I don't know how to fight, and yet I think that everybody should be taught the basics, for confidence and self-defense, if for no other reason. I know, within me, there is a vicious, blood-thirsty thing which wants to see my enemies messily dead, wants revenge in kind, and more, wants to escalate. It scares the hell out of me, and I know that I would be a better human being if I was to deal with that, one fine day.

That's what I want; not saints, but better human beings. Ones inclined to mercy, justice, benign self-interest, faith, hope, and charity. All of our better angels, and none of the demons with which we must wrestle for our souls.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

New Years' Musings

I'm a little early, but I was thinking today about how my writing year has gone. I've made no big story sales; I'm grateful to the two people who bought a story over on Smashwords, but I'm going nowhere fast...

Last year, I had a bit of success with getting nearly a dozen short bits published on Everyday Weirdness. I also got a story on Tales of World War Z, and then a few more. This year, I've had a bit more success with ToWWZ- 'Lifeboat Captains' got a lot of praise, and I'm writing sequels, eventually, but I still need to figure some things out, I guess.

It helps to have goals, achieveable, measurable goals. To that end-
  1. I will make myself write my 500 words every day, and 5K words every week!
  2. I will finish a story every week!
  3. I will finish one of my poor step-child novel-interrupises, starting with 'Barbara Wednesdays' Treasure' by my birthday in April.
  4. I will revise and collect some of my stories, my Tales of the Conservancy.
  5. I will finish 'The Unknown Fantasy Kingdom' as a novella and get it up as an ebook, somewhere, by summer.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

6th Part of my 73 part conquest of the solar system!

A 1,000 meter Solar Power Bubble would generate 10 MW of power, roughly 12 hours a day. My earlier estimates are 11.1 million kg of bubble, for about $33M. Per StarTram, I need my mass-driver up at 22 km altitude, where air density, mass and potential buoyancy has halved four times, to 1/16th, so the air in the 1 km SPB masses about 40 million kg. We need to heat the air up a lot more, but it's already cold at that altitude, and since there's less of it to heat, we can afford to divert power into heating the air, beyond the passive amount we've been counting on. We need to heat the air up, on average, by 90 degrees C, from around 270 K (probably less; -3 C is ~27 degrees F). Even if we are dealing with 96 degrees, divided by sixteen, and multiplied by ten, we only have to come up with the equivalent of 60 degrees worth of heat, whereas the 100 meter SPB needed 73 degrees. Thermal mass, and the heaviness of same, is probably more important.

I'm going to wave my hands some more about the mass of the mass driver. I really can't see it adding more than a few thousand tonnes per km, but I could be wrong... the thing is going to stick out like a sore thumb in thermal, is all! These things only really make sense as remote power generation, communications and space launch platforms for microsats, which I expect to be the norm. $100M is too much, if someone can provide orbital launch services from a spaceplane first-stage, or a high-altitude aerostat. A demonstration mass driver, 300 km long, launching at 60 m/s^2, would cost over ten billion dollars, and still need a kicker stage to get it from 6 km/s to orbit...

36 GWhr of power per day. A 3 tonne orbiter to 6,000 m/s is 108 billion joules, 30 MWhr of electricity. We can do 1200 of these a day, 50 an hour, one every 72 seconds, or 30 per hour during the daytime hours, every 36 seconds. Six gees is high, especially with working parts, rocket engines that must fire to get the orbiter safely into orbit. But we should be able to put a tonne of payload on orbit at a time, and reuse the orbiters, or cannibalize them for spare parts.

The best thing would be to not have to get the orbiter all the way to orbital velocity, using hypersonic skyhooks. The center of mass is in a higher, slower orbit, with the lower end at 100 to 200 km altitude. The high end is moving too fast for it's altitude, and objects released from there go into escape trajectories. The lower end of the tether experiences about half a gee of acceleration, a little over 4 meters, and the outer tether is under roughly the same, outward, drag. An electromagnetic motor, powered remotely by SPB or by solar power in orbit, pushes against the Earth's magnetic field, making up the losses from cargo going up and out.

If we already have the skyhook, we can lower the acceleration by half to 30 m/s^2 on passenger flights, increase the launch time but reduce the velocity, and then use on-board thrusters to accelerate to match the 6 kps of the lower end of the skyhook. Or we could double the length of the mass driver, and double the through-put, too. Each launch takes twice as long, 200 seconds, under half the acceleration for twice the distance. But we could double the cargo capacity of an orbiter which is going up to the skyhook, and have a few passengers in each 3 tonne orbiter, which returns and deploys a para-wing to land, perhaps even under power.

I don't really see the demand for this thing, beyond tourists to the lower end of the skyhook, who then go up to an orbital hotel at midpoint/midway station, for a spectacular view of the Earth. Say about twelve flights per day, eighty per week, four thousand a year, mostly for a few thousand tourists, a few hundred scientists, engineers and space workers going up and coming back down a few times a year... $10 billion plus for that works out to $2.5 million per flight, for the first year, plus operating costs, then just operating costs. If you need it to pay for itself and replace itself inside of 5 years, that's $4 billion a year and $1 million per flight, $1,000 per kg or $1/2 million per seat, assuming each orbiter is a two-seater, or a three-seater with one pilot (and the 'pilot' is most likely a company man, dead-heading while the computer flies).

These are expensive propositions, but if this thing takes off, the cost goes down, the more the cheaper it gets. At five percent of capacity and twenty thousand launches per year, that's $200/kg and $100,000 per seat. I think we could get there in five years, at which point the thing can afford to operate at cost, and prices fall, use soars... well, probably. Is thirty to sixty thousand tourists in the first five years reasonable? Not really. Eventually, but not soon. Even with 500 tourists, and as many added every year for ten years, that's less than 28,000 in that time, more likely and more reasonable.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Catching Moon Dust for Fun and Profit

Alright, I was playing around with an old idea again, something Paul Birch talked about with his Orbital Ring System and Kingsbury also elaborated on for his LEO port in one of his novels, 'Moon Goddess and The Son' (talk about the future not being what it once was- that dates back to the Eighties and had a number of assumptions that went away along with the end of the Cold War!)

Falling Moon rock, kicked out of the lunar gravity well and dropped down to Earth is moving at just under escape velocity, or about 11 kilometers per second. A kilogram @ 11,000 meters/s^2 has 121 million joules of energy, or about 33 kilowatt hours worth of electricity- a dollars worth @ $.03/kWhr. If we already had a mass driver on the edge of the atmosphere, which is to say, either an Orbital Ring System, a Lofstrom Launch Loop, or a Forward Fountain Bridge reaching up to space (so you see, the idea has been around, and reinvented constantly! 8-), we could have the worlds' tallest dam going... if we already had the ORS/LLL/FFB or any of the other things that would make cheap access to space and developing the Solar System possible.


I did work out an orbital ring system, purely back-of-the-envelope, based on a 16 KPS matter-stream dyanmicly supporting three times as much stuff- the containment for the mass-beam/matter-stream, orbiters  and cargo, passengers and spaceport infrastructure. At 12 tonnes per kilometer, and a 100 miles/160 km altitude, that would be just under half a millon tonnes of megastructure. A bridge on the edge of space, with ladders hanging down to let us climb up to heaven, hook a ride on some very fast matter and accelerate escape velocity. Outgoing traffic, infalling mass, a mass transit system to make the poor old Space Shuttle look like a joke...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

December 1st, and NaNoWriMo is over...

I haven't been writing in my blog, and I'd like to do something about that, so I'm going to try to write at least a little something every day in December... I said 'try', but there is 'do or do not', dongma? 8-P

I feel strangely like I should be doing something... oh yeah, this is National Novel Finishing Month! Or December, whichever! Thanks for the support, and now I'm going to get back to the things I led slide for a month; the unfinished space opera story, the Oscars 2011 assignment I have due next Sunday (whatever that was 8-), the next story for ToWWZ, turning Barbara Wednesday's Treasure into a novella, oh, and figuring what I'm going to do with my nano, which is either half a novella or the bare bones of a novel, with great big holes, tons of revision, characters that need to refocused, two or more redundant characters that need to be combined, etc.

Funny how 'Just write!' got me to 'Whoa, now what?' It ain't such a bad place to be, but, honestly, if I get my 500 words, or 700 words, tonight, and then goof off, watch Burn Notice, that'll be nice.

BTW, I realized today that I wrote 21K words about spaceships without a single alien... I don't think I chose to do that consciously, although it may have been influenced by Firefly in a way, and Joss Whedon's Space Western didn't have any 'noids or freaky starfish aliens. I gots to write me a first contact yarn, right about... now! 8-P

Time to go in search of the elusive frosty and then maybe I'll go to bed early- or per-maybe-haps I'll work on 'The Man Who Would Build Spaceships' and then to bed. Anything could happen...