Space colonisation logistics

Paul Raven @ 22-02-2011

Man, space really is back on the menu all of a sudden – an odd reaction, perhaps, considering that the Shuttle has now flown its last. But then again, the commercial space sector is making positive noises, and perhaps the general global sense of gloominess is pushing us to think beyond the confines of Mudball the First…

Psychology aside, if you’re planning to move up and out, you need a battleplan. Over at Lightspeed Magazine, Nicholas Wethington sets out a basic sequence: [Moon -> Mars -> Asteroids -> “Icies”]. Personally I’d have suggested [Orbitals -> Lagrange -> Moon / Asteroids -> Mars -> Outer System], though the Moon does have the advantage of all that radiation-absorbing regolith lying around.

Wethington wisely points out that water is one of your main essentials, wherever you want to go. Fortunately, it turns out that there’s a whole lot more water out there than we initially thought:

The numbers get to be striking, as Hauke Hussmann and colleagues show in a 2006 paper in Icarus. Start with Galileo, the mission to Jupiter that brought home how much we needed to modify our view of the giant planet’s moons. Galileo discovered secondary induced magnetic fields in the vicinity of Europa, Callisto and Ganymede, offering strong observational evidence for subsurface oceans on all three. The fields are thought to be generated by ions contained in the liquid water layer underneath the icy outer shells. Europa has, of course, become a prime target for future study re astrobiology thanks to the prospect of water combined with a possibly thin ice layer.

The Hussmann paper goes on to calculate interior structure models for medium-sized icy bodies in the outer Solar System, assuming thermal equilibrium between radiogenic heat produced by the core and the loss of heat through the ice shell. Now we really start expanding the picture: The paper shows that subsurface oceans are feasible not just on the now obvious case of Europa, but also on Rhea, Titania, Oberon, Triton and Pluto. A case can also be made for the Trans-Neptunian Objects 2003 UB313 , Sedna and 2004 DW.

Add that to the asteroids and comets, and there’s plenty of options… though none of them are exactly convenient to us at first.

Once we’re out there grabbing iceballs and digging resources out of odd-shaped rocks, we’ll need to stay in touch with one another – how else are we gonna broker the sale of our freshly-mined metals? Luckily Google’s Vint Cerf is on the case, ignoring the more mundane issue of address space on the terrestrial intertubes in favour of thinking about an interPlanetary internet [via SlashDot]:

We recognized as far back as 1998 that the traditional Internet design had implicit in it the assumption that there was good connectivity, and relatively low latency, whereas in a space environment, when you are talking at interplanetary distances, you have speed-of-light delays and those can be minutes to days. We need this new Bundle Protocol to overcome the latencies and all the disconnects that occur in space, from celestial motion [and from] orbiting satellites.

The Bundle Protocols are running onboard the International Space Station. They are running in a number of locations around the United States in the NASA labs and in academic environments. There’s a thing called the Bundle Bone, which is like the IPv6 backbone, that is linking a lot of these research activities to one another.


So during 2011, our initiative is to “space qualify” the interplanetary protocols in order to standardize them and make them available to all the space-faring countries. If they chose to adopt them, then potentially every spacecraft launched from that time on will be interwoven from a communications point of view. But perhaps more important, when the spacecraft have finished their primary missions, if they are still functionally operable — they have power, computer, communications — they can become nodes in an interplanetary backbone. So what can happen over time, is that we can literally grow an interplanetary network that can support both man and robotic exploration.

Obsolete sats as network nodes… an encouragingly frugal solution. And talking of frugal, if you’re planning to be in the first wave of outward migrations, you might want to snap up some cheap kit. Two used Soviet space-suits, one (presumably) careful owner each

Magazines2.0 – does print-on-demand spell doom for the news-stand?

Paul Raven @ 06-04-2009

magazines at the news-standIt’s no secret that a big part of the problem for science fiction magazines – and many other sorts of periodical publication – are the cost and logistical issues attached to printing and distributing the final product. You can buy the best fiction on the planet, hire the best columnists and artists… but if you can’t get that final product into the customer’s hands (or at least in front of their eyeballs), you’re going to struggle to sell copies. [image by Diane S Murphy]

Enter Hewlett Packard, who describe their new MagCloud service as “YouTube for magazines”. MagCloud has similarities to as well; basically, you upload your finished magazine as a PDF file, which MagCloud then lists in its catalogue for no charge. When a customer wants a copy, they log in, pay the cost… and get a printed version made especially for them.

Arch-fan (and Clarkesworld non-fiction editor) Cheryl Morgan can see a route ahead:

Where I do think that there is a potential business case is with small press magazines. The sales pitch would go something like this: yes, you can read it for free on the web; yes, you can download a PDF and print it yourself, but if you really want something glossy and physical then order it from MagCloud.

I’ll go one step further – there are server-side software engines that can be used to stitch together PDFs from HTML files, so you could allow your reader to custom-build a magazine to their own specifications from your stock of stories and articles, and then buy a unique printed version. If nothing else, it would mean you could avoid paying for a magazine which contained a story by an author whose work you just don’t enjoy.

Of course, as TechDirt points out MagCloud’s potential success is predicated on the assumption that interest in magazines among people tech-savvy enough to be aware of the service will continue for long enough for the business to grow (and, more importantly, for the currently prohibitive unit costs to fall)… and while I’m convinced that dead-tree books will last for a good few decades yet, I’m not so sure that the magazine format will have the same longevity.

What do you think? Would you be interested in a print version of sites like Futurismic – a story or two a month, a couple of essays and a sprinkling of blog posts selected from your favourite tags and search terms – or is the webzine at its best in its native non-physical environment?