Transformative Technologies

Transformative Technologies

The primary goal of the TVIW symposium, The Power of Synergy, was to generate a new vision and integrated plan for development and economic use of outer space within a decade. Courageous leadership with an inspired national team is the vital key. The resulting new jobs, infrastructure industries, and major fiscal growth will insure that the United States continues and expands its traditional roles of creating great innovative futures for the world.

Implementation of the Apollo moonshot depended upon creation of a new Government administrative Agency. In the 1960s, the newly formed NASA unified the best elements of existing government and business functions; and it still enjoys the greatest popularity of any government agency. In 2018, NASA announced a new cooperative technology development effort with DOE. Our TVIW symposium plans to show how inspired multi-agency cooperation can enable breakthrough technology decisions and accelerate space exploration. ARPA-E can play a significant catalytic role.

We believe that “The Power of Synergy” described the vital catalytic element that must be applied. Hugely important concepts and technologies already exist that can be combined in new ways, where the sum becomes much more than the parts. Diverse under-exploited technologies can be marshaled together to greatly accelerate human progress in space while – serendipitously — promoting on Earth greatly enhanced national security, fiscal growth, infrastructure improvement, and human engagement. Thus the TVIW October symposium will endeavor to generate a roadmap for synergy and technology superiority that will make U.S. space development the hallmark of inspired innovative leadership.

Described below are examples of seven technologies and concepts that can initiate transformative progress. Most have high Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs), not requiring decades to implement. Further, all key materials, nuclear fuels, components, and applications can be designed, produced, and industrialized in Oak Ridge and Huntsville facilities, leading to significant local and national economic gains.

  1. High Impulse Nuclear Propulsion – A huge step forward in compact nuclear reactor design was proved by DARPA in the $330 Million Timberwind Program from 1988 to 2003. It remains the most advanced candidate technology for space propulsion. Upper stage nuclear rockets (i.e. used only in space) can enable human trips to Mars in thirty days rather than multiple years. Nuclear propulsion is also vital for capture and engineering of small (10 meter diameter) near earth asteroids (NEA) that can facilitate space habitats safe from solar and cosmic radiation. Space solar power and other major industries will be rapidly enabled.

  1. Fiber Optic High Energy Lasers – Key to efficient wireless power transmission and proven by DARPA for near-term applications, this very mature, high-efficiency technology can lead directly to megawatt-class power beaming capabilities for space power and propulsion. Laser light sails are a fundamentally crucial application extending to interstellar propulsion.

  1. High Temperature Superconductors – This technology will radically transform all types of electrical applications when fully exploited. It has been developed for thirty years at ORNL and is ready for many game-changing implementations. For example, Magnetically Inflated Cable (MIC) technology can enable very large, low weight and rigid space structures for solar concentrators. This can implement capture of 10-meter diameter near-earth asteroids to lunar orbits, where they can be robotically engineered to solve radiation shielding and artificial gravity problems for human travel.

  1. Large Scale 3-D Printing – ORNL and its innovative manufacturing spin-offs are world leaders in this vital new technology. There are direct links to in-space manufacturing possibilities using readily available regolith materials on the moon and asteroids.

  1. Self-Replicating Von Neumann Machines – This concept will be a vital component to expedite robotic space habitat engineering and large-scale production capabilities on the moon, Mars, and asteroids. Hierarchal Von Neumann machines are an important next-generation spin-off: Very small machines can build ever-larger machines using ambient materials and solar energy. Ever larger and more fiscally powerful space industries will result.

  1. Solar Power Satellites – Formerly regarded as “pie in the sky,” space solar power with microwave or laser power beaming to the Earth, moon, or planets is now a real possibility. Persuasive concepts already exist for in-space production and deployment of all of the components. Combining the above notions of small asteroid capture for raw materials and Von Neumann machines for ever expanding production capabilities, concepts are viable for totally pollution-free, open-ended supplies of solar energy anywhere in the space out to the orbit of Mars.

  1. Lightweight Large Aperture Optics — The above MIC technology leads directly to the possibility of building enormous optical telescopes in space at orders of magnitude lower cost than present ground-based technology. Interferometer arrays of kilometer diameter telescopes will enable imaging and physical diagnostics of earth-like planets around nearby stars. The search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) will be greatly augmented. Perhaps most importantly, the science of cosmology will be massively advanced toward ultimate understanding of the origin and destiny of our universe.

Realization of even a fraction of these technologies and concepts will open limitless horizons for human enterprise and accomplishment in space. This promising outcome depends upon rapid exploitation of transformative technologies focused on human development of outer-space resources, actually having near-term propitious consequences for worldwide stabilization. Naysayers contend that no significant fraction of the population will leave the Earth, so that claims that this is an important effort are specious. However, the history of the growth of the US refutes this contention by analogy. The percentage of the US population that left the comforts of the East Coast was very small; but the effects of having an open frontier were practically, psychologically and culturally very significant: The open frontier provided vast new resources and opportunities. Historians cite the open frontier as a major factor in US cultural development as an adventurous, individualistic, creative society. Opening space for full-scale development will provide the same.

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