- File Size: 4385 KB
- Print Length: 241 pages
- Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1493577573
- Publisher: Shoebox Publishing (October 24, 2013)
- Publication Date: October 24, 2013
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00G6TAOX2
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Not Enabled
- Lending: Enabled
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- #462 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Science > Astronomy & Space Science > Aeronautics & Astronautics
- #905 in Books > Engineering & Transportation > Engineering > Aerospace > Astronautics & Space Flight
- #2129 in Books > Science & Math > Astronomy & Space Science > Aeronautics & Astronautics
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StarTram: The New Race to Space Kindle Edition
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StarTram 2 (levitating the launch tube 20 miles with superconductive magnetic repulsion) is wild but feasible physics. This will make space tourism and eventual space settlement really feasible. Basically safer, too -- this "low road to space" will claim far fewer lives than rockets have: the SpaceShipTwo pilot is only the latest in a long series of disasters including the whole crew of 2 of 131 total US Space Shuttle flights.
The technical papers in the rest of the book are great if you are interested in space exploration. However, I think the military angle is the other really crucial part, and it merits a lot of discussion. If any country tries to build StarTram1 alone and without scrutiny, it will be nuked. I'm not kidding. StarTram 1 could cheaply lift 10,000 kinetic-kill weapons in a few weeks: telephone pole-sized metal "rods from God" that could strike any target on Earth at near-orbital speed, delivering the equivalent of a 400-kiloton nuclear missile at far less cost and with no feasible defense. Any country or alliance that does that will rule the world for centuries -- a realistic "Hunger Games" scenario. I disagree with the authors that the most likely defense would be filling likely orbits with debris. The world was here before, in the MAD (Mutually-Assured Destruction) decades of the Cold War. Unmonitored StarTram puts every nuclear weapon on Earth in "Use it or lose it" mode. Democracies and dictatorships alike may choose to launch their missiles to their targets rather than be enslaved. The "low road to space" may be good, but the LOW (Launch On Warning) road in nuclear deterrence this implies is terrible -- one false alarm away from disaster.
We need to build StarTram 1 now to fix global warming, but it must be controlled so the whole world can believe doesn't threaten them. This means space development needs to be open in a way few human activities before have been. Think how the NSA subverted the world infrastructure of PC computers and be afraid. Think how science and scholarship have been open for hundreds of years, and how free/open-source software and even hardware are open to scrutiny worldwide today, and have some hope. I think StarTram is the most hopeful and challenging development of the past several decades. Pay attention to this book!
StarTram is a gigantic upgrade, turned almost 90 degrees on its head, of what Tesla-founder Elon Musk proposed with his Hyperloop train concept, which would have connected San Francisco and Los Angeles via extremely fast magnetically-levitating trains. In the StarTram concept, a giant tunnel is bored into the earth, outfitted with magnetic surrounds, and then spaceships are launched as out of a slingshot into space. This drastically reduces the cost to launch cargo into space, the main barrier presently to humans developing a robust extra-Earth economy.
Powell, Pellegrino and Maise then explore what might happen if we did develop StarTram. They discuss a bright future - which is founded upon Space-based Solar Power. They extensively discuss SSP, which is the beaming down of electricity to Earth by massive orbital solar panels, with technical explanations and diagrams. Using their launch system, SSP could be made cheap and ubiquitous. This would help reduce our damage to the climate and Earth's ecosystems, as well as dramatically raising living standards in the developing world. Once the Earth's economy and climate is stabilized, the Moon (for tourism), Mars (colonies), Jupiter (for fusion fuel), and beyond could be explored in a variety of ways, using new spaceship designs which the authors meticulously document.
The authors then look at what could go wrong. They are not unrealistic - they warn that we are rapidly destroying the Earth under business-as-usual policies. They also posit the idea of a Dark Future in which one evil government gets access to Spacetram first and uses it to create space-based missiles, hanging in orbit like Swords of Damocles over their rivals, which are much more powerful and immediate than conventional weaponry. In this future, "Big Brother" creates a totalitarian world government in which there is no personal freedom.
I was not convinced by the idea of the Dark Future. Land-based nuclear weapons would still exist on the Earth's service and could still be used any government trying to dominate using space-based missiles.
Lastly, the authors discussed the potential for interstellar exploration. I had read with fascination some years ago their concept of the Valkyrie spaceship - a small craft powered by antimatter reactions that could theoretically reach 90% light speed, and enable us to reach Alpha Centauri in about 5 years. To their credit, the authors admit that they were wrong, and that the technical requirements for creating antimatter and protecting a spacecraft from its effects are so great as to render such a craft virtually impossible. However, they then dismiss some other potential interstellar spacecraft ideas (for example, Project Orion), as unlikely, implying that humanity is stuck in our solar system and will never colonize other star systems.
I do not agree with this relative pessimism about interstellar exploration being limited to robotic probes - if a space-based economy develops, as these authors clearly hope, then we cannot predict what further advances will follow. It is plausible that we might develop either massive spaceships (Worldships), or smaller craft which can travel to nearby stars in 50-100 year time-frames. With future advances in longevity, medicine, and the integration between man and machine, it cannot be predicted whether or how we might make such a journey. After all, someone looking at apes a few millions years ago would not have predicted how they would evolve into human beings and create ships to explore new worlds.
Have said these things, this is a fantastic book that I was very excited to read. The authors' excitement and enthusiasm for their subject matter is palpable, and you get a lot of value for the money. The topics covered include space-ship design concepts, interstellar explorations, whether aliens exist and whether we should reveal ourselves to them, climate change, space-based solar power engineering concepts, and many more. Any sci-fi buff could spend 2-3 days lost in this book's concepts, which in the future may or may not remain science fiction.