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Space Earth Mars

We Need To Build Industrial Zones In Space In Order To Save Earth, Says Jeff Bezos (cnbc.com) 306

Onstage at the Code Conference, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said that we have to start bringing parts of the industrial economy to space in order to "save Earth." Bezos also said that we must protect our planet, adding that we don't want to live in a retrograde world where "we have to freeze population growth." From the report: Bezos says tasks that require lots of energy shouldn't be handled on Earth. Instead, we should perform them in space, and that will happen within the next few hundred years. "Energy is limited here. In at least a few hundred years... all of our heavy industry will be moved off-planet," Bezos added. "Earth will be zoned residential and light industrial. You shouldn't be doing heavy energy on earth. We can build gigantic chip factories in space." Solar energy, for instance, is more practical for factories in space, he said. "We don't have to actually build them here," he said. "The Earth shades itself, [whereas] in space you can get solar power 24/7. ... The problem with other planets ... people will visit Mars, and we will settle Mars, and people should because it's cool, but for heavy industry, I would actually put it in space."
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We Need To Build Industrial Zones In Space In Order To Save Earth, Says Jeff Bezos

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  • Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2016 @02:15PM (#52227473) Homepage

    Raw materials.

    You've just increased their costs hundred-fold, even if manufacturing were "free", power were "free" and delivery back to Earth comes free courtesy of gravity.

    It's costs millions to put a few hundred kilos into orbit. Let alone getting it somewhere useful. And capturing, refining and using material already in space is basically 100% unproven at the moment - we've literally never done it and have no idea of the associated costs.

    • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2016 @02:24PM (#52227567) Journal

      And he has no idea how to dissipate the heat. The radiators will have to be many times larger than the machinery that does the work.

    • by xfizik ( 3491039 )
      Maybe that's the point? If you increase the cost of something while making that something mandatory (like legislate moving heavy industry in space) then someone will stand to make some serious cash.
      • Like the guy whose got a reusable rocket...
        • I think that's the direction Bezos is anticipating, or in the more broad sense, putting shit in orbit might get a lot cheaper in the future. Reusable rockets may very well just be the beginning. Afterwards...Space elevators? Who knows, the sky is the limit.

          One nice thing about space is you don't have to deal with NIMBY syndrome, so it may prove advantageous just for the fact that you don't have to ask, especially if you don't remain in orbit and don't put anything in Earth's path. Or even tidal lock it behi

          • Who knows, the sky is the limit.

            I see what you did there.

          • Space-NIMBY would be different than earth-NIMBY; but could actually be a great deal uglier. Space is big; but some orbits are a lot more useful than others, and at the velocities involved one dumbass having a satellite break up rather than being safely retired can be a real risk to everyone else trying to use the orbit that now has a bunch of extra debris flying around.

            Plus, anything suitably large and solid in orbit could potentially be de-orbited onto a deserving target below; and anything suitable for
          • The next question is what are you going to building in these industrial zones in space? Let's imagine for a moment that you decided that making CPUs was just too dirty for Earth and you were going to instead build a chip fab in space.

            The first question is, are you going to use existing fab technology or invent zero-g chip fab tech?

            Let's imagine you go the latter route first... That's going to be a huge chunk of change... And we haven't even started to talk about the facility in space you're going to be usi
      • Hey...you DON'T have to pay TAXES in space!!!

        ;)

        You think they're outsourcing to strange places on earth....wait till they can get into space where pretty much no one can claim you're in their tax jurisdiction!!!

        /me runs to patent this idea.....

    • Actually I was more intrigued by his suggestion that we should never freeze population growth. I'm not quite sure how he plans to do this with his plan. We might be able to increase the sustainable population limit using resources from space, although apart from the cost I doubt all the rocket launches required will hep the planet much. However that is just putting off the inevitable. Unless we figure out the technology required to get people off the planet and settle elsewhere we are going to hit a populat
      • by WarJolt ( 990309 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2016 @02:40PM (#52227745)

        Actually population growth freezes itself when you educate people. Look at Japan. Low immigration and low birthrate has lead to population decline.

        • by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Wednesday June 01, 2016 @03:03PM (#52227969)

          Exactly. Population growth is not exponential, and never has been. Instead, it's logistic [wikipedia.org] with a limit at the carrying capacity. It only appeared exponential because we're only now starting to hit the inflection point, and because the carrying capacity itself has been increasing due to technology.

          • The main factors limiting population growth have little to do with carrying capacity. The biggest ones are education, access to birth control, and eliminating poverty. Wealthy, well educated countries tend to have the lowest birth rates, even though (being wealthy) they're the ones most capable of supporting a larger population.

        • by joh ( 27088 )

          And exactly this is the problem: Education isn't happening. In fact it is more and more treated as a bad thing.

          But you're right, education (and equal rights for women, and some social security) has proved to be the best birth control ever.

        • Actually population growth freezes itself when you educate people. Look at Japan. Low immigration and low birthrate has lead to population decline.

          Education is not the reason why Japan is experiencing a population growth freeze. Japanese means of production are incredibly female-unfriendly (I've been in Japan, I've seen it.) A woman gets the choice of either work or have babies. There is little infrastructure or services for affordable child care. Even with maternity leave, the system makes it impossible and costly for a married woman to go back to work.

          This is very unlike other developed countries.

          And what you seen then is that pretty much half o

    • It never occurred to you just exactly why there's a huge commercial race now to dramatically lower the cost per lb of getting things into orbit?

      Or the fact that space is LITERALLY littered with raw materials.

      • Or the fact that space is LITERALLY littered with raw materials.

        Manufacturing most plastics requires petroleum. You can't get that from an asteroid, it has to be lifted off the ground.

        • Or the fact that space is LITERALLY littered with raw materials.

          Manufacturing most plastics requires petroleum. You can't get that from an asteroid, it has to be lifted off the ground.

          You can manufacture plastic from carboniferous material; it doesn't have to be petroleum.

          You could get raw materials to make plastic from carbonaceous chondrites, I expect, if plastic is indeed high on the list of materials you need to make.

        • by joh ( 27088 )

          Petroleum is hydrogen and carbon. Both are abundant in space.

      • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2016 @02:44PM (#52227779) Journal

        Yup.

        Step 1: get launch costs down to 1/4 or so of what they are today. Ongoing, with multiple competitors. SpaceX aims for 10%.

        Step 2: drag a CHON asteroid into orbit, and make a fuel station through automated mining. We could start that project today, given the rapid advancement in automation. That brings down the cost of everything above LEO to something practical.

        Step 3: drag an aluminum asteroid into orbit. Heavy industry begins. Large reflectors make the power needs trivial (melting aluminum is easy in a solar furnace, when you start with 1300 kW/m^2 free). Aluminum foam panels let you build large structures in orbit with no heavy lifting.

        The rest is just toolchain - one step at a time figuring out how to make the next link nearly free in orbit. Not in my lifetime, sure, but in a few hundred years? Fairly straightforward.

      • by WarJolt ( 990309 )

        Two words: Space elevator. By the time any of this is feasible our understanding of physics and engineering must improve.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by ledow ( 319597 )

        Really? Littered?

        Anything organic? Pretty much no (trace amounts at best).
        Therefore petroleum, oils, etc. are out of the question.

        Metals? Not really. Again, apart from iron, it's more energy to find, capture and refine than it's worth.

        Useful gases? Chemicals? Apart from a couple of outliers, and again subject to discovering them in the mostly-vacuum of the solar system, not really.

        Although technically silicon chips are "made of rocks", you can't just pick up these things. And they are hard to find, e

        • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2016 @03:16PM (#52228111) Journal

          Anything organic? Pretty much no (trace amounts at best).
          Therefore petroleum, oils, etc. are out of the question.

          Entire asteroids made of CHON, some quite nearby. Given the atoms and power, you can make the chains as long as you like. And solar power is quite something in space.

          Aluminum is a very useful metal for building stuff out of in space. Again, entire asteroids of the stuff are available, some nearby. The energy to refine the Al is almost free, since a solar furnace works nicely (eventually you have arbitrarily-sized polished aluminum reflectors to work with).

          Silicon chips are the longest toolchain known to man, plus just about the highest value-to-mass ratio - no reason to ever do that in orbit. But heavy industry? Makes perfect sense.

      • by harrkev ( 623093 )

        Or the fact that space is LITERALLY littered with raw materials.

        Oh really? Where? In near earth orbit, there are no other materials except for other satellites. The closest source of raw materials in space is the moon, and that is not exactly an economical place to get anything from.

        Asteroids are rich in minerals, but getting there take on the order of years, and nobody has figured out the logistics yet.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    • by Altus ( 1034 )

      Presumably, if you are manufacturing in space you are also mining on asteroids instead of digging up our planet, still, this is not a simple answer to all our problems

    • Raw materials.

      Raw materials could presumably be acquired from sources in space-- there are millions of asteroids, including tens of thousands of Near Earth objects, which have relatively low delta-V requirements to bring to orbital locations.

    • by drnb ( 2434720 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2016 @02:34PM (#52227675)
      In the 1960s rockets landing on their tail and being reused was science fiction, unproven, and its associated costs unknown. 50 years later its doable and its costs known and its the less expensive tech.

      Bezos specified he's talking about a hundred or more years in the future. In fifty years we went from aircraft that were little more than wooden/canvas structures with engines to landing on the moon. We are already landing on asteroids, already doing long range commercial analysis, ... We already know how to mine the water and do quite useful stuff with it (drinking, breathing O2, H2+O2 for fuel, ...). Other simple and available organic compounds also have quite well known processes and uses.

      The missing pieces are largely matters of engineering not scientific understanding, and the engineering often not far removed from today's capabilities. And the economics of it all is largely a matter of scale. Apollo 11 bringing back a bag of rocks is like building Intel's i7 CPU fab and only building 100 CPUs. Those CPUs are awfully damn expensive. Now start doing things at scale and quantity as Bezos is talking about. And also as Bezos discusses, be sure to factor in the external costs of that earth bound manufacturing, particular health and environmental costs when your make comparisons, not simply the cost of the goods sold.
    • by lazarus ( 2879 )

      The moon. All the benefits he mentions plus lots of raw materials and it's almost free to dump things into Earth's gravity well and send them to the "customer". Bezos just wants to sell more rocket launches.

      He's right that the Earth should be residential and light industrial. The moon should be used for energy-heavy industries, though, not space.

    • by mlts ( 1038732 )

      Unless he has some way of deploying a space elevator or otherwise dealing with the issue of gravity wells, not to mention escape velocity going up and reentry going down, it is a nice fantasy, but it will take a lot of government focus and resources, and with the disinterest of Western governments to do any projects bigger than a building or two, the only country I can even see being able to do this would be China, perhaps Russia.

      Of course, this is assuming that Kessler Syndrome doesn't go into full swing,

      • Governments are irrelevant. Space industry worldwide is $324 billion/yr, and NASA represents 5.5% of that. Most of the 1250 active satellites in orbit are commercial.

        And efficient transport to and from orbit is quite possible, but not the simplistic space elevator concept that is usually described in the media. That's based on Tsiolkovsky's original 1895 *thought experiment*, which isn't anything like a proper engineering design. The fact is the Earth's gravity well is too deep to span with a single cab

    • by Kinthelt ( 96845 )

      Delivery back to Earth from orbit is not free. It takes energy to de-orbit. Nowhere near as much as getting *into* orbit, true, but it is still not a zero cost.

    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      That's actually soluble. Space is full of raw materials, and for some of the a Lunar catapult would work.

      Going from a bunch of lumps of rock to finished industrial materials, however, is a big job, so he's not talking about any small project. He's talking about an industrial combine larger than the auto industry. I'm sure that it could be made to work, once you got it built and debugged, but the building and debugging is not a small or simple job.

      I'm rather sure this could be extremely profitable in the

    • How is this +5 insightful? It's just plain dumb. Have you never heard of asteroid mining? You don't bring up all the raw materials from Earth, you get them from asteroids or the Moon. Bringing them up from Earth would be stupid. Anyone who's been paying any attention at all to these kinds of proposals for the past few years would already know this.

    • I assume that this factory-in-the-sky plan also involves mining asteroids or something; but even if that is the case the cost of shipping would seem to make earth orbit about the worst possible place for heavy industry.

      Reentry is free; unless you actually want the product to survive, in which case it becomes nontrivial; and if either the ingredients, the process, or the product(or all of the above) are noxious enough that you don't want to produce them on earth, you also don't want transports full of the
    • Apparently no one told Jeff how much energy it takes just to lift a tiny amount of cargo into space, much less the tons of raw metals and other materials that you would need for industrial operations.

      • Can you say "asteroid"? Did you know that asteroids are made out of metals? And carbon and hydrogen and silicon and a lot of thnigs needed to, well, make things?

        And did you know we kept those "asteroids" in space? There are, in fact tens of thousands of them. Including a fair number that come pretty close to Earth (one passed between Earth and Luna a while back, for example)....

      • Re:Really? (Score:4, Informative)

        by DanielRavenNest ( 107550 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2016 @05:21PM (#52229095)

        Bezos runs a rocket company (besides Amazon.com). I'm sure he has people who can tell him to 3 significant figures how much energy is needed. I can too, 31.273 MJ/kg. I do space systems engineering, and it's one of the basic facts you learn. At wholesale electric rates, that comes to $0.43/kg, about what I pay for a bag of potatoes. The fact that current launch prices are at least 3,800 times higher just means *we're doing it wrong* and are terribly inefficient at it.

        > the tons of raw metals and other materials that you would need for industrial operations.

        Those tons are already in space, on the Moon and nearby asteroids. There is plenty of solar energy in orbit to process those materials. And you can bootstrap industry via the Seed Factory concept (http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Seed_Factories). That's where you send a starter set of machines, and use them to make *more* machines out of local materials already in space. Once your production capacity is big enough, you start making products for sale.

  • by scatbomb ( 1099255 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2016 @02:16PM (#52227487)
    His ignorance of how solar works is pretty apparent from what he's saying. The flux of photons in space is about 1/3 more than than on earth (1366W/sq. meter in space vs 1000W/sq. meter on earth). Woopee. So you'd be willing to build factories and solar farms IN SPACE to get slightly more power? Nevermind that it will be thousands of times more expensive to put them in space; the radiation in space quickly renders all but the most expensive solar options non-functional in less than a year. This is a very stupid idea.
    • The flux of photons in space is about 1/3 more than than on earth (1366W/sq. meter in space vs 1000W/sq. meter on earth).

      Not at night which, to be fair, was his point.

    • by OmniGeek ( 72743 )

      Solar power in orbit actually isn't as bad an option as you may think; you simply have to go about it a bit differently. True, PV cells degrade form radiation exposure (as will any electronics used), but you can easily deploy several acres of really cheap mirrors made of aluminized Mylar film to concentrate sunlight on, say, a bimetallic thermopile (generates DC power from junctions of dissimilar metals at different temperatures, simple to make and totally radiation-hard) or a Stirling-cycle or steam-driven

      • by jeffb (2.718) ( 1189693 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2016 @02:43PM (#52227769)

        The thing is, while dissipating energy from your cold junctions on Earth is dead easy -- convection, conduction, evaporation into the atmosphere -- the only option you have in space is radiation. And that translates into enormous fields of radiating surfaces, probably with channels to carry some sort of working fluid, and shading from the Sun. It's not going to be as easy as you imply.

        • The thing is, while dissipating energy from your cold junctions on Earth is dead easy -- convection, conduction, evaporation into the atmosphere -- the only option you have in space is radiation.

          The only way to make space factories practical would be via a space elevator, otherwise getting raw materials up and finished goods down reliably would be extremely cost prohibitive. An elevator would provide plenty of surface area for radiation and circulation of coolant fluid back down to the ground, where the excess heat could be used as an energy source. Don't ask me how to build such an elevator though; that's above my pay grade.

      • Solar power in orbit actually isn't as bad an option as you may think; you simply have to go about it a bit differently. True, PV cells degrade form radiation exposure (as will any electronics used), but you can easily deploy several acres of really cheap mirrors made of aluminized Mylar film to concentrate sunlight on, say, a bimetallic thermopile (generates DC power from junctions of dissimilar metals at different temperatures, simple to make and totally radiation-hard)

        Yes, this is known as a thermoelectric generator. The problem with these, however, is that their efficiency is very low-- about 5%

        or a Stirling-cycle or steam-driven generator

        Stirling generators are indeed more efficient. Nevertheless, you'd probably do better just using solar cells-- concentrators are not as simple as you suggest, and the added pointing requirements for concentrator systems, along with questions about the long-term reliability of generators using moving parts, probably mean that you want to keep the Stirling and Brayton converters f

  • by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2016 @02:17PM (#52227503) Homepage Journal

    Economics: Population growth is tied to scarcity. New technology reduces scarcity--when you scale up, you eventually stop adding 10% more human labor time (wages!) for 10% more e.g. food, and start adding 20% for 10% growth, and stuff gets expensive, and we lose the capacity to produce everything to scale with population--and that means population can grow without experiencing downward pressure. Freezing population growth would play all kinds of hell on the monetary system, and isn't a viable option for *many* reasons; it's also an economic behavior tied to technology.

    Energy argument: Solar energy in space still would require massive collectors; the cost and scale of labor to put them up there, assemble them, maintain them, and operate them would be huge, incurring immense costs. It's really easy to pipe billions of barrels of oil into a building and burn them; it's really hard to collect that much sunlight. This argument holds true mostly for large-scale, high-consumption factories: a steel mill in space won't have any notable output capacity unless it's stationed on a dyson sphere with power cables run to it.

    This guy doesn't realize he's talking about hundreds of megawatts here, entire power stations for single factories.

    • Within the next 1000 years, the current economic pattern will inevitably be turned on its head.

      Either: population growth stops, and the whole growing economy model falls apart.

      Or: population continues growing by moving off planet, and the entire connected economy thing falls apart as transport costs become significant again.

      If the population continues growing at even 1% per year for the next 1000 years, 1.01^1000 = x21,000 growth, or 147 trillion people by 3016.

      • population continues growing by moving off planet, and the entire connected economy thing falls apart as transport costs become significant again.

        Population moving off-planet will spur population growth. This will occur when both off-planet transportation and off-planet food access (production in space, production on mars, or shipping from earth to space colonies) become cheap, not the other way around.

      • by Lennie ( 16154 )

        Not sure why you'd want to look at over such a long period of time. Because current prediction are that the population will top at 10, we are currently over 7. 'peak children' has already happened.

    • Economics: Population growth is tied to scarcity.

      Uh, yes, I suppose. Population growth is negatively tied to prosperity: the more prosperous people are, the fewer children they have. (This effect is known as the "demographic transition,") So, if you by "scarcity" you mean "poverty," then yes, you could say population growth is tied (negatively) to scarcity.

      I can't make much sense of the rest of your argument, but if you're arguing that increasing prosperity caused by space manufacturing will reduce population growth, ok, that makes sense.

      • Population growth is negatively tied to prosperity: the more prosperous people are, the fewer children they have.

        Look at population versus technology [divergingmarkets.com].

        What you're not making sense of is this: if poor people breed like rats, we need more food to feed them. At a point, we run out of nice, fertile land; instead of just *farming*, we also have to pour on more fertilizer and more irrigation. That means going and finding more people to make the chemicals and to produce energy--more money. Less food comes out of that land, so you need to do this over more land, with more farmers. So instead of 2,000 human labor-hours t

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      Freezing population growth would play all kinds of hell on the monetary system

      Actually population growth is pretty much frozen in all first world economies [wikipedia.org]. It's consistently the poorest countries that have the most explosive population growth, because we've given them just enough food and medicines to make their kids grow up but not so much that two kids is enough, better to have five kids support you when they become adults. And a generation from now all those five kids want help for their five kids each, the number of poor people escalates faster than the rich can pull them out of

    • This guy doesn't realize he's talking about hundreds of megawatts here, entire power stations for single factories.

      No. He realizes the challenges ahead, and he is talking from the point of view of projecting work in terms of decades, not just years. Add 5 decades of dedicated work, and these problems are solvable.

      This is what critics are missing. Bezos (and people like him) are making a decades-long bet. They are not taking about this shit with the idea of cashing in the next calendar year or at the turn of the next quarter.

      Within the span of 10 years, of course, the problems are impossibly expensive and technica

  • >> we don't want to live in a retrograde world where "we have to freeze population growth.

    We're already at a point where the more educated/affluent you are, the fewer kids you have. Why is the converse so bad?
    • Freeze population growth? I presume that you are aware that many religions want their followers to go forth and multiply.
      • >> many religions want their followers to go forth and multiply

        Find me a successful religion that DOESN'T reward parents for carpeting the earth with their indoctrinated offspring.
    • Fewer kids, but not zero population growth.

      • >> Fewer kids, but not zero population growth.

        No, not zero. Most affluent populations are at NEGATIVE population growth, dropping down to 2.0 or less (where the replacement rate is about 2.1-2.3) when GDP hit $30K per capita.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Income_and_fertility
    • Population growth has already gone negative in most advanced countries. The only ones who still have growing populations, such as the USA, do so because of immigration, and would be negative if there was no immigration, because deaths would outpace births. It's even slowing in less developed countries, too. Even India's population will probably peak sometime in the next half century, and probably at a lower point than current estimates expect, because population estimates have tended to be way too high - go
  • While I am generally in favor of establishing an orbital industrial base, the mention of orbiting "heavy industry" seems a bit strange. The high cost of lifting material into orbit, even with reduced-cost reusable boosters, would seem to rule out any industry where the term "heavy" equates to "raw materials that weigh a lot."

    Don't expect to see, say, metals refining or glassmaking in orbit until we can access the asteroid belt's raw materials; we're far more likely to see industries with a high value-to-mas

    • by clodney ( 778910 )

      Don't expect to see, say, metals refining or glassmaking in orbit until we can access the asteroid belt's raw materials; we're far more likely to see industries with a high value-to-mass ratio, like semiconductor fabrication (which the article does mention), that can take best advantage of really hard vacuum, near-total lack of particulate contamination, and the ability to create extremely vibration-free environments. For my money, semiconductor fabrication is probably the killer app for space-based industrialization.

      I would have thought that vibration-free environments would be very hard to achieve in space, because you can't anchor things really solidly. Won't vibrations in one part of the structure just propagate everywhere and take much longer to damp down than they would on earth?

  • I don't even (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sax Russell 5449D29A ( 4449961 ) <sax.russell@protonmail.com> on Wednesday June 01, 2016 @02:22PM (#52227551)

    I can't begin to understand why someone would seriously suggest something so ridiculous. After we have a fully working space tether, sure. Before that, absolutely not.

    • He did say a few hundred years - you don't think we'll have a tether by then?

    • Laying the economic argument for the importance of developing a space tether, perhaps?

    • Ya, lets just make a space tether without any sort of end game usage for it. Or did I miss the part where he says we need to do this, but absolutely can't involve a space tether.
    • I can't begin to understand why someone would seriously suggest something so ridiculous. After we have a fully working space tether, sure. Before that, absolutely not.

      How ironic. Sax Russell, the collection of hyperintelligent mice of Mars, says we shouldn't start space industry until after we build a space elevator.

  • ... who always followed the mantra that growing a business is more important than making it profitable. So in his world, there cannot possibly be limits of growth just because earth has limited surface/resources, and just because bringing things into space is extremely expensive (and usually costs more energy than that thing could harvest in space).

    To any reasonable person, of course, his opinion is total bullshit.

    • Lots of people will listen to a man with $59B net worth.

    • ... who always followed the mantra that growing a business is more important than making it profitable. So in his world, there cannot possibly be limits of growth just because earth has limited surface/resources, and just because bringing things into space is extremely expensive (and usually costs more energy than that thing could harvest in space).

      To any reasonable person, of course, his opinion is total bullshit.

      Reasonable people do not build empires or dominating enterprises. Bezos/Amazon fit that description.

    • by DanielRavenNest ( 107550 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2016 @06:07PM (#52229339)

      > and usually costs more energy than that thing could harvest in space).

      That's incorrect. The Falcon 9 rocket has a liftoff mass of 550,000. Their website says it is 96% rocket, and 4% payload. So 24 units of rocket per unit of payload. The combustion energy of the fuel is 13 MJ/kg, and the embodied energy of the rocket hardware is in the same range. So about 312 MJ/kg is required to get the payload into orbit. 1 kg of modern space solar panels produce 175 Watts, and they last >15 years in low orbit. Duty cycle is 60% in low orbit due to the Earth's shadow. So they produce 31,556,925 seconds/year x 15 years x 60% x 175 Watts/kg = 49.7 GJ/kg. That's 160 times their launch energy. That's why satellites almost universally use solar panels instead of fuel cells or some other power source.

  • ... all of our heavy industry will be moved off-planet," ...

    Yes, because smelting steel in zero-gravity will be lots of fun and can be powered 100% with solar. Not to mention the easy access to all the raw materials in Earth orbit.

  • Some of you are concentrating on the lack of resources necessary for heavy industry. That's not really the problem. There are a ton of resources in space - lots of them in asteroid belts that are not in a gravity well, it's the lack of people that's a problem.

    Even assuming we built a robot factory up there to build more robots to run the heavy industry, we would need so many people that commuting costs becomes cost prohibitive.

    The only way it works is if the people live in space, then we end up with famili

  • that would never have been if their creators had listened to all of the armchair inventors on /.
  • by Pseudonymous Powers ( 4097097 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2016 @02:41PM (#52227761)

    Elon Musk wants us to build human colonies on Mars. Jeff Bezos has a slightly more measured take.

    I don't think the author of the article understands what "measured" means.

    People criticize the colonization of Mars as unrealistic, but most of those plans involve making things destined for Martian consumption on Mars itself and using martian materials. Say what you will about Mars, but it's a whole planet. There's always building materials within easy reach, if you're not too picky about their specific composition

    But as others have noted, Bezos's plan pretty much presupposes that every raw material that goes into every orbital factory has had a rocket strapped to it at some point, to bring it either from the surface of the Earth or from somewhere else in the solar system. That's got to be a hell of a freight charge.

    So no, I don't think Bezos did a whole lot of "measurement" before opining on things. It's called talking out of your ass. I do it, you do it, everybody does it. The right thing to do is just to ignore it, even when a billionaire does it.

  • So, Amazon will move from drone delivery to lobbing your packages down from orbit. "Package vaporized in re-entry" will be added to the refund options.
  • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2016 @02:50PM (#52227847)

    We do have a habit of ruining the Earth's ecosystem in order to get access to raw minerals, so in this regard, Mr. Bezos is correct. However, it should be noted that we are already destroying the ecosystem with our chemical fuel power sources and discarded products. If we really want to save the Earth, we should 1) focus on moving away from chemical power sources to electromagnetic power sources and 2) reprocessing and recycling 100% of things that have been discarded (including sewage).

    If we manage these two things, the Earth will have been mostly saved and we can shift more focus toward geoengineering and external mineral sources. That is how the Earth could be saved.

  • ...except for the energy you're expending to get all your equipment and raw materials into orbit.

    Of course, we could, someday, harvest most of our raw materials from comets and asteroids. Sure, I'd love to see this in my lifetime. I'm not optimistic, though.

    • by EvilSS ( 557649 )

      ...except for the energy you're expending to get all your equipment and raw materials into orbit.

      Of course, we could, someday, harvest most of our raw materials from comets and asteroids. Sure, I'd love to see this in my lifetime. I'm not optimistic, though.

      You plan to live the several hundred years he was talking about? That's ambitious.

  • if we want to save the planet earth, more scientists, less billionaires.
  • This reminds me of an old SNL skit. Johnny Canal [nbc.com].

  • by Quantus347 ( 1220456 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2016 @03:05PM (#52228003)
    My first reaction was that this was ridiculous, but on second thought the concept itself is not actually all that wrong. It simply relies on a very specific barrier that has not been overcome yet: Gravity. Industrial endeavors of any kind are all very heavy, and current launch methods are all horribly inefficient [wikipedia.org](the best currently is the Ariane 5 at a little under 39% payload/vehicle weight, but it's still more or less a one-use/disposable vehicle). So for industry of any scale the cost of actually getting the necessary equipment far outweighs, massively outweighs, dare I say it, even ASTRONOMICALLY outweighs any savings you'd have from doing the work in space with a Zero-G environment and 24-hour solar power available (both very real but not immense savings). There is a reason that the International Space Station is the single most expensive object ever created by mankind [gizmocrazed.com](at $157 billion it comes in at more than 6 times the cost of the #2 object, the Itaipu Dam).

    That being said, if we can manage to get a cheap method of reacting orbit, the primary barrier would be circumvented and it would make all kinds of sense to migrate such things to orbit. As the OP suggested, energy is abundant (both from solar sources and from various theoretical designs of orbital tethers tapping electrostatic energy in the atmosphere or electrodynamic magnetic harvesting. [aiaa.org] At that point the Zero-G environment would make large scale industrial and manufacturing endeavors much easier, especially if you can accept the idea that by that time the bulk of the raw materials would be harvested from non-terrestrial sources like asteroids, comets, and meteoroids.

    Currently the most promising concept on tap seems to be the Orbital Space Elevator. [wikipedia.org] We have basically all the fundamental technologies required with the advent of Carbon Nanotubes (as opposed to more theoretical solutions involving gravity manipulation, for example). It has come down largely to a manufacturing challenge of creating the 22 mile cable required, when currently nothing longer than about one meter has been achieved.
  • Earth has become a very small and limited place. Space is full of raw materials and energy, limitless amounts of them. It's definitely the new frontier and going to other places when the place they were was used up and overpopulated is exactly what people did since millions of years and what caused our species to spread over all the planet. Everyone who thinks that we will be limited to this rock just has no idea.

    Look at this if you have a few minutes: http://www.bradshawfoundation.... [bradshawfoundation.com]

  • I was about to come here to disagree with Bezos, partly about his arguing with the caricature of Musk's position strawmanned by the press. ...but you all have a huge misconception that must be addressed:

    1) Getting to space need not be ridiculously expensive, and no, I'm not talking about a tether.
    Reusable rockets running on methane (or hydrogen) and oxygen can be quite efficient. Natural gas happens to be the cheapest form of energy on the planet right now, but we can also synthesize it using electricity. A

  • Translation: We broke Earth, so let's move on to screw up the rest of the universe.

"Kill the Wabbit, Kill the Wabbit, Kill the Wabbit!" -- Looney Tunes, "What's Opera Doc?" (1957, Chuck Jones)

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