The Way to K-II

No. Not the mountain in the Himalayas. Kardashev II Civilization status – a civilization using the energy output of its star. Earth intercepts just 2.2 billionths of the Sun’s energy and presently we use ~1/10,000th of what Earth receives. Thus the plateau of K-II seems a long way off. However we could boot-strap our way there by developing an automated space economy. And the first step isn’t huge.

Philip Metzger and Robert Mueller have both been busy developing a Map of the way to K-II via quasi-self-replicating robotics on the Moon.

Here’s Phil’s 2011 100 YSS Presentation: Nature’s Way of Making Audacious Space Projects Viable
Abstract

Building a starship within the next 100 years is an audacious goal. To be successful, we need sustained funding that may be difficult to maintain in the face of economic challenges that are poised to arise during these next 100 years. Our species’ civilization has only recently reached the classification as (approximately) Type-I on the Kardashev scale; that is, we have spread out from one small locality to become a global species mastering the energy and resources of an entire planet. In the process we discovered the profound truth that the two-dimensional surface of our world is not flat, but has positive curvature and is closed so that its area and resources are finite. It should come as no surprise to a Type I civilization when its planet’s resources dwindle; how could they not? Yet we have gone year by year, government by government, making little investment for the time when civilization becomes violent in the unwelcome contractions that must follow, when we are forced too late into the inevitable choice: to remain and diminish on an unhappy world; or to expand into the only dimension remaining perpendicularly outward from the surface into space. Then some day we may become a Type-II civilization, mastering the resources of an entire solar system. Our species cannot continue as we have on this planet for another 100 years. Doubtless it falls on us today, the very time we intended to start building a starship, to make the late choice. We wished this century to be filled with enlightenment and adventure; it could be an age of desperation and war. What a time to begin an audacious project in space! How will we maintain consistent funding for the next 100 years? Fortunately, saving a civilization, mastering a solar system, and doing other great things like building starships amount to mostly the same set of tasks. Recognizing what we must be about during the next 100 years will make it possible to do them all.

He presents a stark choice and though it’s based an arguably finite resource base, the road to freedom surely lies with not being restricted to one planet.

Metzger, Mueller and their NASA colleagues have submitted a technical paper to the “Journal of Aerospace Engineering”:

Affordable, Rapid Bootstrapping of Space Industry and Solar System Civilization

Abstract:

Advances in robotics and additive manufacturing have become game?changing for the prospects of space industry. It has become feasible to bootstrap a self-sustaining, self-expanding industry at reasonably low cost. Simple modeling was developed to identify the main parameters of successful bootstrapping. This indicates that bootstrapping can be achieved with as little as 12 metric tons (MT) landed on the Moon during a period of about 20 years. The equipment will be teleoperated and then transitioned to full autonomy so the industry can spread to the asteroid belt and beyond. The strategy begins with a sub-replicating system and evolves it toward full self-sustainability (full closure) via an in situ technology spiral. The industry grows exponentially due to the free real estate, energy, and material resources of space. The mass of industrial assets at the end of bootstrapping will be 156 MT with 60 humanoid robots, or as high as 40,000 MT with as many as 100,000 humanoid robots if faster manufacturing is supported by launching a total of 41 MT to the Moon. Within another few decades with no further investment, it can have millions of times the industrial capacity of the United States. Modeling over wide parameter ranges indicates this is reasonable, but further analysis is needed. This industry promises to revolutionize the human condition.

Robert Mueller presented on the Plan at several different meetings, his presentation slides being available here:

Robotic, Self-Sustaining Architecture to Utilize Resources and Enable Human Expansion Throughout the Solar System

I got in touch with Phil and will hopefully have more to discuss in Part II of this blog post.

One Reply to “The Way to K-II”

  1. Hi, Adam. I do wish we could educate the Americans in the SI system of units. I keep on seeing them referring to masses in megatesla (MT), which are not units of mass, but of magnetic flux density. Metric tons are simply written: tonnes; my guide to the metric system allows a lower-case t for tonnes, but as I have not seen it used in print I think engineering authors are better advised to write it as the word tonnes.

    The idea of a self-replicating system on the Moon is some way from reality yet. My understanding is that there’ll be a long learning curve required before we are adept at processing raw materials in a dusty vacuum and in low or microgravity conditions. Yes it will revolutionise the human condition, but it certainly won’t happen overnight. The real key to space, in my opinion, is Skylon, which will enable access to orbit and beyond at low enough cost and high enough reliability that we can embark on that learning curve!

    Stephen
    Oxford, UK