Industrialization of space: near-term prospects

Industrialization of space: near-term prospects

13 April 2017 13321

1982. Publication of the first article by the then ordinary engineer Anatoly Yunitskiy on the General Planetary Vehicle, which is the most ambitious embodiment of SkyWay technologies. The article in the April issue of “Inventor and Rationalizer” was published in the section “Right to imagination”, because in those years the concept of non-rocket space exploration was similar to Giordano Bruno’s statements. A lot of water has passed under the bridge and today GPV is a vital necessity and a recurring subject for the section “Actualities” in any thematic edition.

Futurologist Sergey Sibiryakov also speaks about it in detail in his Periscope channel (in Russian). Yunitskiy’s engineering school is a logical continuation of Tsiolkovsky’s teaching. The General Planetary Vehicle is the only project properly designed from the engineering viewpoint, the project that is capable to provide the opportunity for large-scale expansion of the Earth’s civilization into outer space. Space has inexhaustible resources that can bring industry and technology to a new stage of development. The launch of General Planetary Vehicle should be the basis for a new stage in the development of rocket astronautics. Transfer of industry into space will allow to spare the Earth from its harmful effects and provide the possibility to launch rockets without any harm to the environment and consumption of energy to overcome gravity. Spacecraft can be assembled directly in the orbit, where the entire necessary production base it will be developed. Opportunities for long-distance space flight appear. Space industrialization is not just dreams, but also the need of the day, which is being implemented by the SkyWay Group of Companies.

The immediate prospects for space industrialization are highlighted in the article by the General Designer of the SkyWay Group of Companies Anatoly Yunitskiy. It is released in the same “Inventor and Rationalizer” (in Russian) journal on April 12, 2017, on the Day of cosmonautics, 35 years after. We reproduce it in full:

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Engineer Anatoly Yunitskiy – author and general designer of  SpaceWay and SkyWay projects

Industrialization of space: near-term prospects

I am convinced that our civilization does not have and cannot have any other way to survive except for the transfer of industry into space. This belief does not leave me for nearly forty years and throughout all that time remains the main motive of everything I do. I managed to achieve much since the first publication on this subject published in 1982 in the magazine “Inventor and rationalizer”. I will have to do even more in the future. I know that I am going the right path, and I was never alone on it. However, if those, with whom I went and continue to go, will not be able to win over the decisive majority of the people on the planet, then this planet will have no future. Therefore, I urge all of you to treat everything that this article outlines with utmost care and seriousness. The stake is very high – the future of our entire human civilization.

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Fig. 1. Illustration to the publication in “Inventor and rationalizer”, No. 4, 1982. An overpass with Yunitskiy’s general planetary vehicle

Current state of affairs

Description of the catastrophic state of the environment, economy, politics and morality would be redundant here. The irregularity of the world order is obvious to everybody without it. An even more characteristic fact is that we almost cannot see a way out of the current situation. We have no place to hide, nowhere to run away and virtually nothing to hope for. In this situation, only the outer space remains a place of expectancy and the horizon where there is still a place for optimism, but even this optimism smacks of despair. Space exploration seems a one-way trip, a requiem to the civilization praising its greatness and disclosing its helplessness. The main chanter of this hopeless optimism Elon Musk has exhaustively expressed his basic mood: “I’d like to die on the Mars. Provided I do not crash down on the surface of the planet”.

Representatives of the scientific community and companies working in the space industry offer regularly something for the needs of the public. The greatest interest is aroused by such areas of their work as a transfer of settlements to the Earth’s orbit, construction of bases on the lunar surface, as well as the expansive exploration and terraforming of the Mars. The media take up these ideas enthusiastically and industry representatives do not get tired of providing them with some fresher things. One of them, the member of the British interplanetary society Jerry Stone stated in an interview to the “Independent” newspaper that in 20 years residential colonies would appear in the Earth’s orbit, where thousands of people would be able to live and work employed for the maintenance of solar batteries. According to Mr. Stone, technologies will advance during that period so far ahead that the humankind will not even need to deliver materials from the Earth. A substantial part of them will be mined on the Moon and nearby asteroids. 

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Fig. 2.

On March 14, 2017, Roscosmos began the selection of candidates to the cosmonaut team who should be the members of the expedition to the Moon in a new spaceship “Federation”, which is currently under a development stage. A manned mission to the Earth’s satellite is tentatively scheduled for 2030.

The plans of the American businessman Elon Musk, founder of Space X – the Company manufacturing space equipment, who previously announced a program of colonizing the Mars, are no less ambitious. Under this program, Mr. Musk hopes to create an autonomous settlement on the red planet that would consist of millions of residents and would be fully self-sufficient.

Such ideas of space exploration do not contain anything fundamentally new and are in their essence the reincarnation of the projects known for quite some time, ever since K. Tsiolkovsky. These ideas were not implemented due to various reasons, the main of which are the lack of necessary technology, primarily geospace transport appropriate for the goals and objectives posed, and the overall high cost of the programs. We can recall as examples the orbital cities by O’Neill, the projects Longshot, Horizon, Lunex, Mars One and others. Today the idea of space exploration and research is taking on the second “breath” and is becoming quite a popular trend not only among the scientific community, but also among futurologists and enthusiasts.

However, we should not forget that since the end of the massive space race between the USSR and the USA in 1975 no significant developments in the field of space exploration occurred. The world space astronautics was basically adrift and its activity was limited to satellite launching and maintenance of existing ISS. Let us consider what prevents man today to freely surf the cosmic expanse.

Ineffectiveness of rocket use

First, the lack of required engines that can provide the desired speed to the spacecraft. The fastest unmanned spacecraft among all the launched ones to date is the space probe Helios-2, which reached the speed of 252,792 km/h. The probe was launched on January 15, 1976 to study the solar processes. It has completed its mission in the early 1980-ies, but it remains on an elliptical orbit around the Sun. Moving with such a high speed, it would take us at least 19,000 years to reach the closest neighbor star of the Earth. Therefore, expeditions at such speeds are absolutely futile even to the edges of the Solar system. The only thing that can expect the crew is the death in the old age.

Second, space navigation systems are at an extremely low level of development. The basic network used for communication aboard the absolute majority of the spacecraft is the Deep Space Network. It is able to operate efficiently only at relatively small distances from the Earth and cannot be used for long-range flights. Though radio waves move at the speed of light, transmission of signals to the deep space still takes hours. Of course, navigating by the stars, it is possible to define and adjust the route of a flight, but they are too far to tell at what particular point you are staying.

Third, most importantly, the carrier rockets vital to fly up from the Earth have extremely low efficiency and they are environmentally extremely dangerous. For example, if we take into account all the flight and pre-flight costs and energy losses, the efficiency factor of the rocket is less than one percent, which is much worse than in the archaic locomotive. In addition, it has long been estimated that a total of 80 launches of heavy rockets of “Space Shuttle” type a year can destroy the ozone layer of the planet completely. It sounds like a paradox, but the maximum possible performance of the world rocket-space complex is currently less than a thousand tons of cargo per year, which is at the level of performance of one earthly cart with a pair of sturdy horses. It is with incredibly high cost of transportation ― the delivery of each ton of cargo into the orbit costs about $ 10 million.

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Fig. 3.

The only way that space travel could be realized in the foreseeable future is the creation of a colony-spaceship, which can remain on the move for dozens, hundreds and even thousands of years. Such a spaceship must be built in space using space materials. During the journey, the first inhabitants of the expedition will grow old and die, and their descendants will continue the journey. However, even with this logic of organizing space flights, there are unresolved technological issues: creation of artificial gravity onboard the spaceship, lack of closed-cycle life support systems and protection from cosmic radiation among the most important ones. Even if these problems are solved in the near future, the space colonizers will face one more, equally important problem: it is impossible to launch a spaceship of this scale from the Earth’s surface, therefore, the only option left is its assembly at the near-Earth orbit. However, the humanity still has no other way to deliver a payload into space, except for a rocket. Even the Space X project, making visible success towards cheaper space transportation, is based on modernized Intercontinental ballistic missiles that delivered astronauts into space as far back as in the 1960-ies.

In other words, the dreams of space travels will remain just dreams as long as the humankind does not solve the fundamental problem of aeronautics, specifically ― discovering a new way to explore the near-Earth space. Otherwise, the use of jet engines in the space industry can lead to environmental disaster and irreversible changes in the ozone layer of the planet. In such a situation there will be simply no one left to fly to distant planets.

Additionally, plans for space expansion bring about a moral challenge, which an American science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson has described in the following way: “People think that if we have messed up the Earth, we can always go to the Mars or to the stars. It is detrimental”.

General Planetary Vehicle

Oddly enough, the solution to major problems in modern cosmonautics existed for a long time now: in the 70-ies, I proposed a project of the non-rocket geospace transport system ― the General Planetary Vehicle (GPV) capable to promptly bring out a huge amount of payload into the near-Earth orbit.

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Fig. 4. Industrial cosmic ring of the planet (the thin thread is the GPV during ascent/descent)

The first publication about this project with the heading “Interchange, space, ring” appeared in the magazine “Inventor and rationalizer” in 1982. The idea aroused a great interest at the international level. I became a member of the USSR Federation of cosmonautics. Then in 1987 I made a report “Life ring of the planet” at the International Soviet-American seminar, held in the Soviet Peace Committee in Moscow. A year later I organized the First International scientific and technical conference “Non-rocket industrialization of space: problems, ideas, projects” that has brought together about 500 participants from all over the world in my homeland, the city of Gomel. The main event at the conference was my report “Principles of creating an optimal transport system for industrial exploration of near-Earth outer space”. The report substantiated the conditions that define the industrialization of space as an inevitable stage of our civilization’s development. Based on four physical conservation laws (of energy, momentum, etc.), the criteria were given and a systematic search for the optimal geospace transport that meets these criteria was conducted.

According to the results of the conference and on commission of the USSR Federation of cosmonautics, the film studio “Belarusfilm” has produced a documentary “To the sky by wheel” about the inventor Anatoly Yunitskiy and the results of the conference. In 1989 the film was shown in cinemas of the USSR, as well as abroad – in English.

Then the results of 18 years of research were summarized and, after the collapse of the USSR, when the interest to space declined worldwide, I published a scientific monograph “String transport systems: on Earth and in space” in 1995.

The basis of the proposed program of industrial space exploration is the most spectacular engineering structure on the planet for the entire history of civilization – a toroidal design with the length of 40 thousand kilometers and the diameter of more than 12 thousand kilometers with the cross-section size of only 2-3 meters – the General Planetary Vehicle.

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Fig. 5. GPV at the time of the rise to near-space 

The General Planetary Vehicle (GPV) or SpaceWay (“Cosmic way” – the project is being developed currently under this name) is a ring arranged at the equator of the Earth (or parallel to the equator) consisting of separate segments, connected with two longitudinal channels isolated from the outside, in which vacuum is maintained. Inside the channels there are two linear (belt-type) rotor-flywheels, covering the planet and held by the system of electric magnets, assembled on the principle of magnetic levitation, which are the rotors of the gigantic electric motor, capable to operate in generator mode.

The SpaceWay ring is located on a specially equipped overpass encircling the planet and passing by land and water (on special underwater pontoons). By using an external energy source, one of the linear rotors located inside the ring accelerates along the channel and, respectively, spins around the planet up to the speed exceeding the first cosmic velocity at the sea level. Due to the centrifugal force, every meter of the rotor (when reaching the first cosmic velocity) balances its weight at first, and then tends to rise upwards, providing lift force.

In the initial condition, the ring is fixed on the overpass along its entire length. After releasing the clamps, every meter the GPV begins to rise up relatively to the center of the planet, that is to increase its radius and, respectively, its length. The design of linear parts of the ring (casing of vacuum channels, linear motors, belt rotors) allows them to increase their length by 1.57% at every 100 km of elevation above the Earth’s surface. After the exit from the dense layers of the atmosphere, the rotor is transformed to the generator mode and the generated electric power is used to accelerate the second rotor in the opposite direction. As a result, the SpaceWay body with the payload placed in it (or on it) starts not only to rise (extend) upwards into space, escaping the Earth’s gravitational pit, but to rotate around the planet until it reaches the first cosmic velocity at the specified height. The height, which this gigantic geo-space vehicle will reach and at which its ring stabilizes, is determined by the excess of initial kinetic energy of the rotor and the possibilities of lengthening (stretching) on the rings.

Unloading of SpaceWay is done into a fixed orbital infrastructure located in the plane of the equator at an altitude of several hundred kilometers. All heavy industries of the Earth will be located in this orbit ― plants, factories, workshops, power plants, chemical plants, metallurgy, etc., as well as the orbital settlements of humans servicing these industries ― scientists, engineers, technologists, mechanical engineers, aerospace engineers, etc. Landing of SpaceWay is performed in the same logic as the takeoff, but in reverse order.

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Fig. 6. GPV docking with the element of the stationary orbital industrial and residential infrastructure 

For one flight (!), the GPV is able to deliver about 10 million tons of various cargo1 and 10 million passengers2. За год система сможет выходить в космос до 100 раз.

SpaceWay will reduce the cost of geospace transportation by more than a thousand times ― to several thousand dollars per ton of cargo.

This ecologically clean self-supporting geospatial vehicle running solely on electric power will allow to actually implement the industrialization of near-space and provide the transfer of all industries harmful to the terrestrial biosphere beyond the planet creating them again in the near-Earth orbit. This will immediately open access to fundamentally new technologies through the use of unique space possibilities unavailable on Earth: weightlessness, high vacuum, ultra-low and ultra-high temperatures, inexhaustible sources of energy and resources including mineral and spatial ones. Great opportunities also open in the field of information and energy communications. The removal of the industry alien to the planet beyond its limits will dramatically improve our common environment, our common home – the Earth’s biosphere, especially in the industrial regions, without any limitation of output growth.

Almost all engineering solutions applied in the project are widely known, tested in practice and implemented at present in the industry. For the past 40 years, the project has been repeatedly examined and proven by design methods. It is fully justified technically and economically and can be implemented with possibilities and resources available today for the economy of even one country, such as the USA, China or Russia.

Today the humanity has everything needed to implement the project:

1. Finance: about 1.5 trillion dollars are needed, that is 2-3 annual military budgets of the   United States;

2. Metal: we need about 100 million tons, the same amount of steel as it is melted in the world for a couple of weeks or as much as it is spent for several months to produce cars;

3. Concrete: about 10 million cubic meters is sufficient, that is about the same volume as it was used for the construction of a single dam at Sayano-Shushenskaya HPP in Russia;

4.Electrical power: power consumption of the GPV (for the above volume of geospace transportation) will be about 100 million kilowatts, which is comparable with the power of a single heavy carrier rocket of the “Space Shuttle” type, or is less than 5% of the total capacity of power plants in the world3.  

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Fig. 7. SpaсeWay overpass combined with SkyWay overpass

The project implementation period will be about 15 years taking into account socio-political, scientific-research, experimental-design, project-survey and construction-installation works.

Such global geospace program will allow to unite all the developed countries of the world with common goals and objectives, as well as to involve them in financing of this ambitious project meant to save humanity.

The fourth and fifth transport and infrastructure revolution

Relocation of the production into space will inevitably entail fundamental changes in the way of economy management on the planet. In particular, it involves the transformation of the surface transport infrastructure that already has a solution in the framework of the engineering school, which I lead. During the time since the announcement of the GPV idea, we have done much work on the study of the operation of transport systems on Earth. The result was the creation of the concept for a new type of such systems, called String transport. Currently, this type of transport that meets the requirements of the world order of the near future is already being introduced on the market under the brandname SkyWay.

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Fig. 8. SkyWay overpass – cargo, high-speed and urban versions of rolling stock

In the most general terms, the SkyWay transport system looks like a network of visually lightweight routes in the elevated design comparatively affordable due to the low material intensity. The traffic of vehicles is carried out on string rails of special design fixed between the anchor and carrying lightweight intermediate supports at the height of one meter above the ground or more. Electric vehicles equipped with steel wheels perform transportation of passengers and cargo. They work in a fully-automated mode and their speed can reach 500 km/h under regular conditions and up to 1,250 km/h on sections of the Skyway rail track laid in special tunnels with the rarefied atmosphere ― forevacuum.

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Fig. 9. Tests of rolling stock at SkyWay test site (town of Maryina Gorka, Belarus, winter 2016)

The location of transport infrastructure elements above the ground surface (the “second level”) ensures an unprecedented level of security both for passengers and for other road users and significantly reduces capital construction costs in comparison with the existing modes of transport.

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Fig. 10. Transfer station from urban line to high-speed SkyWay line

Special attention should be paid to the environmental component of the SkyWay technology. Implementation of the string transport provides the possibility of environmentally sound use of existing territories as an elevated string track does not damage the terrain, does not affect the biogeocenose. It does not destruct the fertile soil, the vegetation, does not prevent the flow of groundwater, movement of people, domestic and wild animals, operation of agricultural and other machinery. In addition, it considerably reduces the amount of harmful emissions into the atmosphere due to the use of a traction electric drive.

Its another significant advantage is that SkyWay systems provide the possibility of combining the track structure and supports with overhead and cable power lines and communication lines – wire, fiber-optic, radio relay, cellular ones. As a result, the existing network for transmission of information and energy can be combined with the networks of transport communications with maximum efficiency. Supports of SkyWay transport systems will also serve as the basis for wind and solar generators, whereby the system will be able to generate in the future more energy than it will consume. If we are talking about using hydrocarbon fuel for energy supply, in this case the energy system of string routes can join thermal power plants with greenhouses, which will be supplied with carbon dioxide and heat necessary for plant life. Due to this, the system opens up the prospects for development of agriculture in the regions, not fit for it today and much more.

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Fig. 11. General view of integrated complex (version) – urban suspended (on the “second level”) and high-speed mounted (on the “third level”) lines

Dozens of millions of kilometers of SkyWay4 routes in the global transportation and communication network constructed on the planet in the XXI century with the participation of the entire international community will be structured in a single energy, information and transport-infrastructure network Transnet. It will transform the global economy and consolidate the leadership of the country-developer of the technology for decades to come.

Thus, the fourth transport and infrastructure revolution will take place. The previous three were:

1) a network of roads designed for pedestrians and horse-drawn transport created during many centuries;

2) the railway network created within two centuries;

3) the global network of motor-roads that completely superseded horse-drawn vehicles and was created in the XX century.

The new transportation and infrastructure network, to the creation of which my engineering school and the company headed by me are striving, is meant to become the true foundation of the world economy, the analogue of a man’s healthy blood-vascular system, without which neither the whole body nor separate organs or cells may be healthy.

The type of land discharged from heavy industry and traditional transport 

Once the efficient, safe and environmentally friendly SkyWay routes are built on the entire planet and the SpaceWay vehicle integrated with these routes begin to provide transportation of cargo and people to the near-space, a strong aerospace industry will develop in near-Earth orbit. It will be primarily solar power industry based on simple and low-cost principles. It will happen within the first 10–15 years after the launch of GPV. In the wake of growing geospatial industry, its terrestrial component, primarily environmentally hazardous one, will be decreasing. The new vacant lands, including those occupied today by motor-roads and railways5, will be restored with ancient landscapes of fertile soil, not contaminated by industrial waste, pesticides, herbicides, mineral fertilizers and other industrial dirt.

The restoration of the landscapes and soils will occur around power plants of the new generation. The basis of the technologies for natural ecosystems recovery will be the solar energy stored by plants millions of years ago and turned into coal. Everything that came out from coal was once a plant, an organic chemical and elemental composition, which was formed from that ancient soil, from where, in fact, we all came from. This energy and vegetative mass will be returned in full volume (not partially, as it is happening now) to the place, from which they came out, back “home” ― into the soil.

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Fig. 12. SkyWay port on sea shelf

The new power plants should be created based on existing coal-fired power plants with a ready infrastructure for the delivery and grinding of coal. Solid fuels – brown coal, slate stones, regular coal, – have a dark color, because once they were plants and after millions of years of transformations in the bowels of the earth consist essentially of humus only. It is the humus that attributes that black color and it gives fertility to the soil6. Humus can be extracted from coal with the help of soil microorganisms and with the addition of another balanced organic material, ash and all other waste including the one that flies out of the chimney7. Thus, “environmentally hazardous waste” will be transformed into natural (not artificial) humus.

A part of the produced humus should be used to enrich the soil8, and the other part can be sold to almost every country in the world in billions of tons per year for a thousand dollars per ton. It will be more expensive than oil, more demanded than oil, safer than oil, and it will not destroy the Nature, it will restore its ancient natural landscape. In addition, this can bring even more billions of dollars than oil. That is to say – a socially oriented business. Let us make money on the know-how to preserve the nature, improve the planet, fauna and flora, and, at the same time, us, the beloved. And with a “side product” – that we shall get at no cost – we will provide a decent future for our children and grandchildren.

Anatoly Yunitsky