PROJECT RAMA: TURNING ASTEROIDS INTO SPACESHIPSJune 24, 2016
I couldn't resist this story, even though this week has been largely taken up with geopolitical news. It was shared by Ms. M.W. and it's an example of the ssort of dreaming that is now taking place for the commercialization of space:
Note first of all that this is a serious plan beiing funded by a NASA grant:
A few decades from now, asteroids may be flying themselves to mining outposts in space, nobly sacrificing their abundant resources to help open the final frontier to humanity.
That's the vision of California-based company Made In Space, which was recently awarded NASA funding to investigate how to turn asteroids into giant, autonomous spacecraft.
The project, known as RAMA (Reconstituting Asteroids into Mechanical Automata), is part of Made In Space's long-term plan to enable space colonization by helping make off-Earth manufacturing efficient and economically viable. [How Asteroid Mining Could Work (Infographic)]
Arthur C. Clark fans will at least appreciate the reference to his RAMA series of science fiction novels. But now note what the project supposedly involves:
Made In Space's idea involves sending an advanced, robotic "Seed Craft" out to rendezvous with a succession of near-Earth asteroids in space.
The Seed Craft would harvest material from the space rocks, then use this feedstock to construct propulsion, navigation, energy-storage and other key systems onsite with the aid of 3D printing and other technologies. (Made In Space has considerable 3D-printing expertise; the company built the two 3D printers that were installed aboard the International Space Station in the past year and a half.)
Thus transformed into autonomous spacecraft, the asteroids could be programmed to fly to a mining station in Earth-moon space, or anywhere else they were needed. This approach would be much more efficient than launching a new capture probe (or probes) to every single space rock targeted for resource exploitation, Made In Space representatives said.
The converted asteroids wouldn't resemble the traditional idea of spacecraft, with rocket engines and complex electronic circuitry. Rather, everything would be mechanical and relatively primitive.
For example, the computer would be analog, akin, perhaps, to the Antikythera mechanism invented by the ancient Greeks to chart the motion of heavenly bodies, Dunn said. And the propulsion system might be some sort of catapult that launches boulders or other material off the asteroid in a controlled way, thereby pushing the space rock in the opposite direction (as described by Newton's Third Law of Motion), he added.
"At the end of the day, the thing that we want the asteroid to be is technology that has existed for a long time. The question is, 'Can we convert an asteroid into that technology at some point in the future?'" Dunn said. "We think the answer is yes."
In short, it's an example of "living off the land," space-style:
Still, making it happen will require significant advances in a number of areas, including in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) — the art of living off the land.
Three things intrigue me here, about the direction things seem to be taking: (1) the use of robots for first installation construction and (2) tthe use of "catapults" for simple propulsion mechanisms, and (3) the use of asteroids themselves as spaceships.
These three topics bring me to my high octane speculation of the day, for I cannot help but think that while the project's directors themselves may be thinking in relatively primitive terms, that NASA and the various echelons of the American deep state are not, and that they may be taking the scaffolding of such proojects and studies, and grafting entirely different ideas on them. Here's why: consider first the case of robots. There has been, ever since Eric Drexlers Engines of Creation which first familiarized the general public to nano-technology, to nano robots, the idea of engineering machines from the "ground up" as it were, molecule by molcecule. This would allow precision machining of a variety we could only dream of. Imagine nano-robots building a sophisticated living space and spaceship, in addition to being used for the actual processes of asteroid mining itself. This brings us to the second idea, robots, and propulsion. Imagine, for a moment, the use of nano-robots for the actual harvesting of resources for the creation of fuel for rockets, or even for more sophisticated types of reaction-propulsions systems.
Thus we arrive at the third component: the use of asteroids themselves as spaceships. I'm intrigued by the notion, not only from the standpoint of cost effectiveness, but other possible motivations for the idea. Cost effectiveness is a rather obvious consideration: why build an emmense space ship, when one can simply hollow out a micro-planet, fasten an engine to it, and have a rather large spaceship with a nice protective shell? Indeed, the idea has some precedent within serious scientific circles, ever since Russian astronomer Schklovskii proposed that the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos might be such objects. The idea gained traction, you'll recall, when the European Space Agency did radar tomography of the inside of Phobos and found what were apparently two large interior chambers, and that the Martian satellite was "outgassing." This led Richard C. Hoagland to argue and speculate that one might indeed be looking at some form of ancient spaceship. With Project RAMA, the idea seems to have some corroboration.
But my high octane speculations do not end here, for there might be other motivations for the idea. Indeed, we've seen news recently about aspects of the Russian asteroid detection system coming on line, and various proposals for asteroid defence, including the idea of "nudging" asteroids out of any potentially harmful orbit with the Earth, and this project would certainly be adaptable to that use. But there's another possibility that all this suggests too. Destroying asteroids is a difficult proposition, and hence, the idea of using asteroids may also have an unstated and implicit defensive or military purpose. After all, destroying a big rock would be more difficult than destroying a big(and much more expensive) large annd commpletely artificial spaceship.
And that, of course, raises the question of "defending against whom"?
See you on the flip side...