Space Energy and Terrestrial Transport Systems

by Adriano Autino

Which Energy policy for Europe of the 21 century? 

Soliicited by Adelia Bertetto, and to answer to a questionnaire of the European Union about energy and transport systems, we try to make some considerations and to hazard some ideas. I state in advance that, while on the energy matter a discussion and an articulated elaboration are going on among the neo-austronautical-umanists (see the other pages in this reportage), as far as the transport systems (topic closely interlaced with the one of energy) I do not exclude that some processing worthy of interest can exist, but not still minimally discussed neither compared. What we introduce here, therefore, in matter of transports, is little more that intuitions, or an attempt to coniugate the development requirements of humanity and our concept of individual freedom of movement. All the above in the current epochal conjuncture - tremendous for the potentialities of progress and for the dangers of annihilation of the civilization - that we are living.  

The questionnaire of EU (you can ask us for it if you are interested) has, towards the energy and transports topic, an approach limited to the European borders. It places some question marks about the usefullness and opportunity of the fiscality and of the state aids, and it takes for granted the philosophical picture of the so-called sustainability. Moreover, this is the current level of the political debate, in which the antistataliste critics are reflected, but the presence of a critics to the sustainability concepts is still not perceived. This last was up to now discussed, for what we know, only in the neo-austronautical-umanist context. 

The segment of the energy, in Italy and in many countries, is still held by public companies, and bears a troubled process of privatization. More than to abstract (and utopian) private or publics models, the energy policy should orient itself on some fundamental requirements of excellence, most of all in favor of the customers. The customers, infact, should not be in any way penalized, neither by the irremovable bureaucracies and their privileges, neither by "revolutionary furies", running the risk to destroy the existing systems having nothing better to put at their place. Requirements are at least the following ones:  

  1. To assure the needed energy to the technological development, most of all in the fields that can create new economy and open new markets and new frontiers (space colonization, colonization and exploitation of "difficult" areas of the planet, like deserts, colonization of the sea).  
  2. To assure the energy at low cost, needed to the emerging countries, for their quick industrial and electronic development (they will not have necessarily to repeat, if we help them, the stages of the industrial revolution in the times and with the devastating impact already experienced by the West post-industrial societies). 
  3. To assure the energy needed in order to develop peace economies in areas of permanent conflict, and also to offer territorial alternatives to populations characterized by chronic ethnic-religious conflicts (taking into account that, next to the ethnic and religious motivations, such conflicts are feeded by economic, energetic nd resources motivations, as an example the water). 
  4. To assure the energy at low cost needed in order to allow the oucasters to enter the market, with very low capital investment, in all areas (pre-industrial, industrial, electronic). 
  5. To assure a true freedom of individual movement, at low cost, for all the inhabitants of the planet, so that a truly free global market can develop, reach and fecund of new initiatives and enterprises.  
  6. To make the feasible steps in order to develop new energetic draws, finally emancipating the development of the civilization from the draw tied to the extraction and working of hydrocarbons (very much heavy, nowadays, from many points of view, not only ecological).

Even from the above few hints, it is evident that the useful approach goes well over the European borders. This would not prevent, however, the European Union, if it had the political will, to adopt such approach as its own strategy. The point is, in fact, to decide to develop or not the necessary technologies. Once the technologies will be available, the producer enterprises will be able to make them available to all the interested customers. It seems to me totally logic and reasonable that this happens also thanks to fiscal aids and encouragements from part of the European Government. We, new-humanists, are libertarian and supporters of the self-government, but we do not expect a sudden self-extinction of the state, while credible private initiatives are still lacking, and we don't see at the horizon any enterprise, able to collect the necessary financial resources and human skills. We incline, rather, for a reasonable transition program, able to transform the current fiscal system, generic and opaque, in a system of thematic taxes and sponsorships. Such process could start by rendering the energetic enterprise completely transparent, and allows who wishes it to invest in it, taking back its right return. 

First of all two decisive cultural steps are necessary. We must ask to the countries, and the multinational energy manufacturers (read: oil), to think abouth themselves now as energy suppliers, and no more only as oil suppliers. We must ask they, therefore, to invest part of the enormous accumulated patrimonies in research and evolution of their know-how. By the way: the know-how accumulated in wells drilling and in subsoil prospectings should absolutely not to be forgotten: they will be many profits for mining enterprises on other planets of the solar system. By the way, if coal or oil were found on Mars, it would be the inconfutabile test of the existence of organic life on that planet in the past! I suggest therefore to the oil tankers - in their interest! - to hurry up on such road, that's also the only way they can keep the position of acquired leadership, and not to be swept up from political-environmental crises, of which we already had worthy skirmishes, worth of the maximum attention. The second cultural step (but it is maybe the first one) is the one to break off the ideological cage of the closed world. As soon as we enter the order of ideas to use energetic resources generated outside of our planet, all the forecast figures change of sign, and from the earthly " red " they pass suddendly to the... "black" of the deep space! (this was said without implications for "red" or "black" sympathies in political or ideological field... :-)).

The realization of the two listed cultural steps will carry also, as a most important corollario, to the end of the strong lobbystic opposition made by  the oil products producers versus the development of alternative draws (namely: the hydrogen motor, available from tens of years, and blocked by  the interest of they-lords).

We should finally take note of a practically limitless energetic draw: the solar energy in space, that can be collected in high orbit (SPS - Solar Power from Space) or on the Moon (LPS - Lunar Power System), and transmitted to Earth in form of microwaves. Once on earth, such energy can be in part transmitted through power lines, in part stored as hydrogen. In some fifteen years the whole planet (and not only Europe) will forget to have had energetic problems and the greenhouse effect. The ones having the courage to first pursue such strategy will place themselves in pole position, an enormous market advantage. For their nature, both the SPS and the LPS have moreover the enormous value to arrange the local initiative with the global initiative: once installed a space solar power central, it can supply energy to all the regions of the planet! If Europe would seriously adopt such approach, it would give the highest example, in matter of humanitarism and aid to the poor countries, supplying energy at low cost for all the requirements above listed: a cultural contribution very different, vs. the bombs and embargos over Iraq and Kosovo! 

Moreover, the development of the SPS-LPS will give a strong impulse to the space technologies oriented to Austronautics, in particular the downsizing of the earth-to-orbit cost, by developing reusable launchers SSTO (Single Stage To Orbit), as valid alternatives to the shuttle, by now heavy, old and expensive (that NASA seems aimed to use for other 20 years). The building of garrisoned and maintained orbital and lunar power plants would quickly carry, beyond to a Space To Earth (STE) market, to the development of a Space To Space (STS) market, consequent to the further development of the frontier in the geo-lunar space. The development, no more hindered, of the hydrogen motor, would set to zero the polluting emissions. Also will be set to zero the polluting emissions due to the current coal and diesel oil plants (technologies that, instead, will be massively used by China and from other emerging countries, in lack of valid low cost alternatives, with devastating effects for the environment).  

The development of the space solar power could finally lead pragmatically to an agreement the advocates of Kyoto (UE) with the ones that, nowadays, does not want to speak about reducing the CO2 emissions (USA). 

Those people who complain the high starting costs of such energetic draw (due to the current cost of the space technologies) and think it is "premature" please reflect on the following:

  1. The use of a source that we can consider limitless, and that flows since billions years in space, in amounts infinitely higher than our needs for millenia to come, would put the end word to the need of energy saving.  
  2. The enormous impulse that this simple fact would give to the economic development would repay many times the made investments, for how much high they can today appear, in very few time, once that the energetic draw was under way and steady. 
  3. The cost of the austronautical technologies today is artificially kept high, because the space market is still 90% public, in which the committments are decided by the governmental entourage, and assigned with political-lobbystic criteria. 
  4. The earnings of such "fat cows" market are not re-invested, as it would be logical to hope, in greater reliability and safety of the systems, but most times wasted in tons of written paper, that nobody uses. 
  5. With the development of a free space market the project and development costs would not have reason to be higher than the current ones in the market of the industrial automation (that they are today even too low).

It is therefore surely worth to invest, in such epic enterprise, calling many free individuals to join their own forces, in order to contribute to its realization.  

The terrestrial transport systems 

Being available abundant and clean energy, and being drastically decreased the polluting gases emission, the only relevant problem that would remain, maybe increased, in a phase of great economic expansion, it is the jam of the traffic ways. But this is a rationalization problem. We try, also for the earthling transport systems (earthling means what it travels on the ground, in the sea and before the limit of atmosphere), to define some to requirements:

  1. To increase, and not to penalize, the freedom of movement and the individual means of transport.  
  2. To decrease, and not to increase, the bureaucracy and the control on the movements of the citizens.  
  3. To rationalize the ways of traffic and the transport systems.  
  4. To use as much as possible the travel time, allowing the travellers not to be for the greater part of the time engaged in driving, but also to stop when they like, to visit localities along the way even if they did not planned it, or to work. 
  5. To improve the safety standards. 

In order to pursue the above objectives, the search should be addressed toward systems of assembling-disassembling of transportation units according to the needs, synthesis between railroad and freeway. For instance:  

  1. I move from my small country to the high-rail-way by my single unit (evolution of the car concept).  
  2. In high-rail-way I go up with my unit on a self-moving road or my unit is assembled in a train of connected units.  
  3. Once the destination city is reached my vehicle is gradually shunted on self-moving lanes or trains of connected units up to the last terminal of the system. 
  4. From the terminal to the final destination I move again by my single unit, disassembled and returned to be a single vehicle.  

Likewise, on the same innovative cue, it could be thought to the integration of single units in aerial and marine transport systems: think about the greater freedom, comforts and safety if you will have available your own single transport unit after an aerial travel, and if you can transport your  luggage on your own single unit, instead of being obliged to entrust it to hands not always careful and honest. A comfort and freedom similar to the one that today is experienced using a ferry-boat, on which one can embark itself with own car.

The EU Questionnaire terminates with a question about "how to evolve toward a system of sustainable energetic supply". The sustainability -- philosophical cage in which we wanted to close ourselves, aimed to  expiate supposed "sins" against nature -- is a not-problem, if we consider world opened, in the context of a cosmic ecology, and not closed like an egg shell that we do not succeed (or we are afraid) to break.  

We are very interested to the topic of the space transports, obviously, but this is another chapter.

[AA - TDF 2/2001 - 06/05/2001]

[The English version was revised by Ben Croxford]

See also, in in this number: