Monday, June 12, 2017

Engineering: Kardashev Style

          By Brian Orlotti

A new series of YouTube videos portraying a well-rendered vision of future human space exploration is making impressive viewer numbers.

Graphic c/o Fraser Cain.

As outlined the June 8th, 2017 Fraser Cain video "Construction Tips from a Type 2 Engineer - Part 1: Collaboration with Isaac Arthur," and its same day sequel, "Tips from Kardashev 2 Engineers, part 2," the series tells a story, from the perspective of future engineers, of humanity’s transformation into a solar system-spanning civilization.

In Part 1,  ‘practical’ construction tips are discussed as well as key questions such as ‘How did we extract energy and resources from the Moon, planets and even gas giants of the Solar System?’ as well as ‘How did we shift around and dismantle the worlds to provide the raw resources of our civilization?

Part 2 examines the potential mega-engineering projects civilizations may tackle on their way to achieving Kardashev Type 2 status, such as artificial magnetospheres, mining and disassembling comets, asteroids, and even entire planets, as well as harvesting the Sun itself.

The videos are a collaboration between futurist Issac Arthur and Fraser Cain, publisher of space and astronomy news site Universe Today. The two videos were funded via Patreon. Arthur and Cain asked the Patreon community to brainstorm ideas, with Patreon member Gannon Huiting’s idea being chosen for their collaboration.

The video’s striking visuals were created by artists Jakub Grygier, Kevin Gill and Sergio Botero, comprising both custom imagery and animations as well as NASA photos. Audio and music included "We Roam the Stars" by Lombus, "Dark Future - Staring Through pt 1" by AJ Prasad and "A Memory of Earth" by Markus Junnikkala.

According to the video’s narrative, Humanity’s ability to settle the Solar System was spurred by the harvesting of helium 3 from the Moon. This isotope of helium, rare on Earth but more abundant on the Moon, changed everything by enabling the construction of fusion reactors which release no neutrons, enabling them to be used on bases or starships with minimal shielding.

Eventually, lunar helium-3 was depleted but other sources across the Solar System were tapped, like the regolith (dirt) of Mercury, various moons and asteroids and the atmospheres of the gas giant planets (i.e Uranus and Neptune).

One of the videos’ main points was that asteroids and small moons, rather than planets with deep gravity wells, provide an ideal source of raw materials for space construction. These asteroids also enabled humanity to kickstart space-based infrastructure (solar arrays, asteroid habitats) by providing an income stream from vast deposits of precious metals. In addition, these asteroids and moons often contained water in the form of ice, vital to creating life-sustaining habitats in space, as well as fuel for spaceships.

The video’s narrative goes on to say that while these sources offer plentiful supplies for early infrastructure efforts but not enough for major projects like terraforming Mars or creating many artificial habitats. The video then delves mining comets and large moons in the outer solar system. Later the narrative moves into more esoteric realms such as moving planets and building Dyson swarms.

Examining such future scenarios as shown in these videos may appear fanciful and frivolous to some. However, as new technologies and economics that are now opening the space frontier enable more possibilities, such speculation will help humanity decide on where to direct its efforts as well as what shape its future form will take.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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