Interplanetary SuperHighways, Momentum Exchangers and other marvels

My very personal selection of reports from the ASI Futuristic Workshop of Trieste 6/7 may 2002

by A. Autino

Follows a very personal selection of reports from the ASI Workshop. I precise that (i) presently we don't have all the papers and/or slides presented at the workshop (ii) my comments concern the speeches, not the papers (which I haven't read at all). My criteria are simply the following ones: I selected the speakers that tried to look at the sky, and not to the ground, firstly; as a second choice, I selected the speakers that seemed to take care about real living humans, and not about an abstract concept of humanity.

As to technologies, my personal concept of revolutionary technology is the following: a technology feasible now, able to favor an unexpected and huge step forward. To me, revolutionary is equal to transitory (or transcending). Concerning the current stand by situation, the title of revolutionary could be given only to a couple of items: a launch technology able to reduce the Earth to Orbit cost, and one able to reduce the costs of the space travel. Incidentally, the Workshop organizers raked a couple of items compliant with the above requirements: the Interplanetary SuperHighways and the Momentum Exchanger. The specific know-how of the above is indeed a couple of things to be told in details, at least at a first choice of terrestrial entrepreneurs. On another side, the Inflatable Technologies (Dr. Bernasconi's specific know-how) surely can assure a downsizing of the missions costs, starting quite now.

As far as philosophy and politics are concerned, the speech of Dr. Marco C. Bernasconi was the sole to approach what he calls "The Space Option" from the point of view of the Humanity's needs and Ethics in 21st century and later. His speech leads logically to understand that space is not an option, but - to say it with K. Ehricke - an imperative, if we want that Humanity can keep growing and evolving toward more ethics and freedom.

1st day (Present through 2025)

Wolfgang Seboldt (DLR) - " Light-Weight Structures in Space and DLR Program for Space Exploration "

Seboldt was the official speaker of DLR, the German Space Agency. In the first part of his speech, he presented the DLR's strategy, entitled to the Exploration of the Universe. Dr. Seboldt (that in the past was the chief of a study for the production of lunar oxygen) didn't hide his personal criticism toward what he explicitally called the bureaucratic direction of DLR: the strategy of next 25 years is fully equal to the one of the past 30 years. Not human missions, nor the Moon are in the DLR agenda: only robotic exploration of Mars. After his duty, Wolfgang passed to present his personal view, very much more interesting: GEO and Lagrange missions, Moon development, Mars outposts and settlements, Near Earth Asteroids, Solar Power from Space, Solar Sailing, and an outlook on longer time distance interstellar missions. An interesting new concept - space info-tainment - i.e. the information entertainment, was also mentioned as a possible bridge between science and commercial space. The cheap access to space is the key for the development of the commercial space, but - according to the major agencies startegies - it will not occur in next 20 years! The report also mentioned multifunctional gossamer satellites and the relevance of the inflatable technologies, as  a mean to reduce the costs of the space missions. About interstellar missions, Seboldt presented a clear table of different kinds of energies usability: liquid fuel would take 14 hours to accelerate at 500 km/s, expelling an amount of matter equal to the whole universe's matter! (not a very practice method :)). Electric Propulsion only works until a Sun is around. Nuclear Fusion would be better, antimatter would be the very best. In any case - concluded dr. Seboldt - if one wants to leave the Solar System, would be better to trace a root very near the Sun, in order to use its gravity and/or radiations (please forgive me for my scientific superficiality) as a very powerful slingshot.

Jacques Blamont (CNES) -  " CNES Strategies and Returns "

Prof. Blamont touched several very interesting matters. Nano-technologies, first of all, according to him, will be the driver of the next 20 years technologic progress. Reach of historic items, the speech also gave meaningful numbers and dates: the higher number of space missions is of the Russians, with 1668 Soyuz casts, in 1990 the word "IBM" was written using atoms, by means of an electronic microscope. And forecasts: in 15/20 years we will have nano-computers, and in 2030 the micro-computers will be as powerful as the man brain. Europe is highly interested in nanotechnologies: 3 billions Euro are presently invested by European private companies.  MEMS (Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems) will be a reality in few years, and such technologic fundamental steps will fully change the perspective of the human activities, space included. Pico-satellites, just big as a coffee cup, will change the telecommunication and Earth observing market.

Then the old scientist passed to show how to implement many small missions at a very low cost, using the "piggy back" concept and the gravitational best paths, even for Mars exploration missions. He put it very simple (so even an informatician as I am could understand :-): Ariane 5 has onboard a 215 kg unused trunk space, i.e. space for 8 micro-payloads. It would be enough to put such nice micro-machines on aunt Ariane, exploiting her synergy while she's going to GEO for a commercial purpose. Arian will leave them in a useful GEO orbit, where they patiently will wait the right moment to pass to a Lunar orbit with very few fuel expense (see also the dr. Lo's IPS - Inter-Planetary-Superhighway - concept); from the Lunar orbit they will wait the moment to reach the Mars orbit. On Mars they will perform a series of automated exploration and/or research tasks. Inflatable Rovers and Mars Airplanes were also mentioned. As a conclusion, Prof. Blamont proposed to use nano-technologies for a first very low cost exploration of the planets and also advocated that ESA should not only collaborate, but also start to compete with NASA.

Martin W. Lo (JPL) -  " The Interplanetary SuperHighway and the Development of Space "

Our Solar System is interconnected by a vast system of tunnels and passageways called "The Interplanetary SuperHighways (IPS)". Loosely speaking, IPS is the family of invariant manifolds generated by the Lagrange points of all the planets and moons in the Solar System. Materials of life may have been brought to Earth via the IPS. IPS can be used for ultra-low-energy missions. I don't know if I am able to say it in poor words, but I will try, even running the risk to say some drivel: to me it is more important that many people can catch the importance of such a concept, than to be scientifically faultless. Some user of TdF could remember an editorial of some years ago, where I spoke about a telecommunication satellite that run out of the good orbit, and the technicians drove it to the useful GEO orbit by means of a tour around the Moon. In that article I spoke about a category of things that people does not expect, being everyone used to think that all is more difficult and expensive in space: things that in space are easier and cheaper than on Earth. Transportation - in the space void and in the Solar System gravitational environment - is one of those things: that telecom satellite was able to run around the Moon using just a small quantity of fuel targeted to the asset control (just think about the implications of such apparently small fact!). If that path around the Moon was the small passage discovered by Pierino to reach the marmalade without Mum can notice it, IPS is how humanity can travel through the Solar System using the Lagrange Libration Points, and the "gravitational tubes" (please the scientist reading this article forgive me :)) which result from the interactions of the LLPs of all the bodies rotating in the system. In practice, to travel the whole Solar System without moving or, at least, using a very very little amount of energy. Of course the time variable is the worse aspect, but a lot of things don't have rush, when a regular cyclic delivery system will be settled...

To learn more see (Issue 2)

2nd day (Beyond 2025)

Robert Cassanova (NIAC) - " Visions of the Future in Aeronautics and Space "

Cassanova presented a long list of very exciting technologic developments, many of them concern the human space travel. For a new-humanist and/or a small space entrepreneur as I am, really interested to the human space activities, it was like for a child to enter a toys shop! The only small detail is that from Cassanova's speech it was not possible to understand which topics are - though very sophisticated - science fiction dreams, and which ones are realistic and feasible during this century. A tethered interplanetary transportation system was presented, the Momentum Exchanger: a rotating cable (centered in orbit) clasps a cargo in the atmosphere and launches it to the Moon. Up to the low clasp point the cargo can be brought by an airplane, when the cargo arrives to the Moon's orbit, it can be clasped by another Momentum Exchanger. Cassanova also touched the following items: Ultrafast Laser-Driven Plasma for Space Propulsion, Space Elevators, Mini-Magnetospheric Plasma Propulsion System, Self-Transforming Robotic Explorers; Plants genetic modify for space environments; Planetary Exploration Bio-Mimetics (we saw a movie about nice robotic birds, that make near ground explorations tours, going back to the rover to refuel their electric batteries); Nuclear Engines to explore the Juppiter atmosphere; Global Weather Control Systems, and other mirabilia. A new concept of Chamaleon Space Suite, with temperature full control, high protection vs. radiations and many other revolutionary functions was also presented. In order not to rise too much enthusiasm for the human space travel, Cassanova warned that to protect humans vs. radiations is a very complex problems. That's how NASA takes care about us: "Stay at home, comfortably sitting in your armchair, and let our robots go there and see at your place...".

To see more you can visit:

Giuseppe O. Longo (Trieste University) - " Homo Technologicus Comes of Age: an Ongoing Evolution  "

Prof. Longo starts from the electronic revolution (a topic on which I like to reason from time to time :-)) to make an anthropologic survey of our behaviours, both on social and personal aspects. He foresee a time in which technology (and Electronics in particular) will no more only influence the human behaviour from exterior, but will definitely enter the human body, giving birth to the bio-technological evolution. The Longo's vision reaches to a super-organism (or gestalt) composed by the whole humanity connected by a network (the Internet was the first embryo). Very interesting vision, one of the few of the Workshop including Man in the loop and deeply speculating on the technologic evolution. Even if I strongly disagree about at least two points. First, if humanity on Earth is to become a one only gestalt, please book me on the first interstellar mission! Second, prof. Longo does not escape the so-called sustainable development philosophy, in fact he does not take care about the humanity right to grow, but unfortunately he is not the only one! While NASA wants to give as a movie-space for our fun, prof. Longo, very much more sophisticated, proposed the cognitive space, as a substitute of the real physical space.

At this point (even because some speakers mentioned the famous concept of the demographic steadiness as a very reasonable goal) a simple question came to my mind: dear sirs, if you don't recognize the humanity's right to grow, what do you really want to do in space? But I didn't ask this question to the chairmen.

Marco C. Bernasconi (Technologies of the Frontier) - "Is Technology the Limiting Factor for Implementing the Space Option? "

 [014.AA.TDF.1/2002 - 18.05.2002]