I mean seriously, one hundred ton payload capacity an hour, 24/7? What kind of economic activity could possibly support that? Microgravity manufacturing might take hold eventually, but who knows how long from now? And further maned research might helpful, but who is going to pay for any of it?
This is what I would have been asking someone if they'd posted the piece I did recently on a better launch technology. I was surprised that no one called me on it. It certainly deserves an answer.
To start with, from my perspective, marketability shouldn't have anything to do with this at all in the first place. It's far too important for that. What we are talking about here is several, simultaneous needs that have to be addressed.
We first need to be finding every creative, long lead time endeavor we can, and be putting as many people as we can at work to do them. Weather that's creating the infrastructure for a hydrogen economy, the infrastructure to build floating cities, the infrastructure to build large fleets of hybrid dirigible blimp trains, the infrastructure for mass transit into earth orbit, or, preferably, all of them. The kinds of projects that leverage each other, and solutions to pressing problems we face now.
Then we need to start thinking about the kinds of automation infrastructure we'll require, out there, to do anything of any useful import. Especially if something down here suddenly trips a sequence of cascade events to really accelerate a lot feces hitting the fan, across large portions of the planet. And you can bet your ass that something, eventually, is going to occur that will suddenly make having even 100 tons an hour 24/7 look pathetically inadequate.
So, to do that we need a starting point and for lack of a better term we should call it Gateway City. And I do mean that it has to be a city sized project. It has to be that so every nation who contributes to its construction (via with resources, and or just labor) will get their reasonably large section with which to house those whom we will need to train for space operations, not to mention the need to provide housing, and entertainment for.
We will also need it to be a city because it will be, in effect, the port of entry for the planet as a whole. Which makes it doubly important that it be a city of the entire planet, cooperating in concert with the rest of the nations of the world, to equitably distribute not only what is on the Moon, but what it out and about in the rest of our solar system.
And that's right, I think this has to be built on the moon. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the size that would be required, but also because most of the materials needed to build it would be close at hand.
So how big ought we be talking? Nothing less than several miles in diameter, and several more miles than that in length, dug into the Moon's surface. Dome it over so light can get through, put a partially reflecting (on the inner glass surface), secondary barrier right at the hole's surface, and then rig whatever reflector satellites you have to so that, 12 hours on, and 12 hours off, a broad shaft of sunlight beams down the entire length of the city column (reflecting off of the bottom perhaps and re reflecting off of the two way mirror material of the secondary barrier). Providing, smaller, secondary light shafts along the outside circumference of the column might also prove useful for underground agriculture.
In any case, though, what you would have would be the living seed with which to begin the process of stepping off into the stars; a stepping off point that would allow everyone on Earth to have a piece of the action. And what action would we be talking about?
I'd like to think that it would be the shared action to begin building more habitats, of much greater scale, so we can begin to take the pressures of population off of our precious planet. But not just that. Science projects to dwarf even the imagination that created the Hubble telescope, or any of the deep probes we've sent out so far. We have to do this because another, perhaps more important, aspect of what the action is, is the need to provide a new sense of hope to people of all nations. A new sense of hope from a new frontier that everyone will have a chance to participate in if we do this right.
And just as sure as I am typing here, it is clear to me that we must also ditch Capitalism to have any chance at all of completing such an ambitious set of goals. Which makes what I've been talking about on this blog a package deal; hopefully a properly integrated package that will also address near term issues on the planet even as we keep our hopes and dreams lifted towards the stars. If we can start being an effort based economy, as opposed to a cost based one, we can do this. We just need to be on the same page together, as much as is possible, so that we can have that "shared vision" that makes Americans a force of nature.