Upward Bound Launch Loop Video
2017 June 1, by Isaac Arthur and Colleagues
First, though I wasn't contacted by I.A. beforehand, I'm happy with the video. Thank you to the team!
The video isn't perfect; there are minor errors and invalid extraneous ideas, but it is well prepared and a very good starting explanation for a lay audience. The launch loop evolves as new technologies develop and new ideas emerge; real costs will drop, though the cost in inflated dollars will rise, so no video will remain up to date. That's what wiki websites are for.
For more questions, search the website, and look at the Q/A at the bottom of the page.
If you want to help, contact me via email. Don't call; my hearing sucks. I want you to put in the effort to find a valid email address. That small effort filters out the worst time-wasters. Extra bonus points if your terse email points at your own website with your ideas and questions so others can share with us.
Read this first. You don't have to agree with it, but understand why you don't. If you can't read, don't expect me to read your email.
Help is defined as you working on an important problem and producing results. I have very limited time, I can't help you with your problems or invent busywork for the unskilled and unmotivated.
- 1) Learn to read technical literature. Yes, it's hard for me, too. Kill your TV, cancel your Facebook account, make the effort.
- 2) Mathematics, Numerical Programming, Physics, Materials, Electronic and Mechanical Engineering.
- 3) Make things that work. Write programs that calculate valid and testable numbers. Write readable documents.
- 4) Learn Linux or BSD.
I prefer to work via email and website and papers, in English.
In particular, right now I could use help with OpenACC or CUDA programming for numerical calculations on nVidia math coprocessors. There are some big calculations to do. I use Linux (particularly, Fermilab's "Scientific Linux" clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux ).
- Perhaps Mathematica can do them, but that depends on a steady flow of money and time for upgrades to Wolfram and Microsoft/Apple and hardware makers just to keep the capability alive. Long ago, I bought a copy of Macsyma for this, with support; they went out of business soon after, and I lost my investment in money and time. Open source isn't perfect, but it can't be taken away like that.
I am particularly inclined to work with young engineers from India and China, because these ancient-yet-young cultures are where 80% of the next generation's brightest new inventors will come from. I don't exclude US/EU and others, but most young people from the rich West don't work very hard and don't take care of themselves. I would rather invest my time in ambitious and hard-working young people who will immediately multiply it, however humble or exotic their beginnings.
No, I can't help you find a graduate school or a job or a green card. See the definition of "help" above. If you are not clever enough to help yourself and others, you are not clever enough to help with launchloop.
The video mentions superconductors. Not a good idea. Superconductors can make high magnetic fields with little electric power loss, but superconductivity is a "fragile" state and easily disrupted by fast field changes, temperature changes, welding errors, cosmic rays, and gremlins. A superconducting magnet can't push more flux than an iron/copper magnet through a saturated iron core. A hypothetical superconducting rotor cannot be cooled - black body radiation is proportional to T⁴, so cooling the rotor from 400K to 80K means it can dissipate 625x less power.
Superconductors are complicated; I did my graduate school research on them, and they haven't gotten any simpler. Suggest superconductors to me as a solution for anything (besides measuring quantum interference) and I will assume you are inexperienced and not helpful. Make a commercially successful product with superconductors, and I'll be glad to learn from you.
Costs: the $2B estimate is old, and mostly a "sum of ignorance"; it doesn't include mistakes, pensions, and toilet paper for the bathrooms. The main cost is the power plants that drive the loop, and I've never built a floating gigawatt power plant so I have no idea what one will cost 20 years from now.
Land anchor: Nope. Where there is land, there are shrapnel-sensitive citizens, missile-toting bandits, and interfering governments. We will work with all governments, making favorites means making enemies. The ocean is international; that adds complications, but is a barrier to other problems. Probable first location, 8 degrees south, 120 degrees west in the equatorial Pacific.
Mostly, vastly greater demand for launch. The entire world launches less than 1000 tonnes into orbit per year. A minimum-sized launch loop can launch 1000 tonnes in three hours, and we will need at least three launch loops (and preferably many) so that one or two failures or maintenance downtimes don't stop operations. Space tourism is not a market, merely a way to kill rich wastrels until parents, heirs and trustees organize to stop them. Nope, we need products that help 7 billion people here on Earth. I want launch loop to end global poverty. If you can help with that, contact me.
Power Storage Loops will develop the technology. Harvested power like solar and wind happen in the wrong places at the wrong times, and destabilize the electric power grid. That might please frack-gas producers like T. Boone Pickens, but it damages the environment and the economy. Power loop farms can cheaply and efficiently store terawatt-days of power, and share power between continents. Power storage loops can mitigate the demand swings that enriched Enron at the expense of prudent utilities and customers. When we've developed this capability, we will have both the power source and the high speed rotor technology for launch loops. Solve the power storage problem, and your prize is the solar system.
Server Sky will eventually turn billions of the world's poorest into rich sources of ideas and intellectual creativity; we will need a world of talent to harvest a solar system of opportunity. But first, server sky arrays operating in radar mode will track every particle of space debris that can threaten launch loops, guide vehicles to their destinations, and provide the micrometer-scale positioning information needed to stabilize the launch loop. When server sky expands to provide terawatts of computation and someday grid power to the Earth, it be an excellent customer for launch services, and grow into the space solar power source that powers a vast, low cost expansion of launch capability.
A maniacal focus on the profitable (that is, not subsidized) satisfaction of real human needs. Yes, exploring the universe is a human need. Now, make it practical and profitable for a 7 year old Ugandan schoolgirl to participate; subsidies should pay for her schoolbooks and teacher. Wrack your brain and plumb the depths of your soul; how can you use launch loop to make this happen? That schoolgirl's great grandchildren will explore the stars, together with yours. Dream together with her.
Cost? No clue. Power storage loops will be built first, with vast economies of scale emerging. Like rockets, much of the operating cost will be range insurance; we will launch eastward over Peru, a failed loop may throw some pieces there, though they will be designed to fragment on re-entry. Peru and Ecuador will be the closest support bases, and an array of launch loops will employ millions (operations, manufacturing, payload), so tje benefits will greatly exceed the risks, though as usual they will not be distributed fairly. I hope launch becomes cheap enough that ill-treated citizens can emmigrate (like my ancestors) and become la astronauta. Shipping lane blockage: While a loop is connected together and spun up to speed (a month or two) it will float just under the surface and block 25 degrees of longitude across the Pacific, probably at 8 degrees south of the equator, due south of San Diego. Going around will add a few percent extra sea miles for ships travelling between the US west coast and Antarctica, or between Peru and Asia, but that is a very tiny fraction of global shipping. There are no "sea lanes" through the area. Play with the "measure distance" function on Google maps, across the Pacific; there are no large destination pairs on opposite sides of this empty stretch of the Pacific. When dozens of scaled-up Launch Loops are built there, they will move as much cargo the largest container ports in China; that will revitalize the global economy, and fill the cargo ships. The problem will not be going around, but channelling all the traffic to some very busy floating container docks.