Editor’s Note: The U.S. Transhumanist Party / Transhuman Party (USTP) publishes this article by Nikolay Agapov to advance the goals of Section XVII of the USTP Platform, which states that “The United States Transhumanist Party holds that present and future societies should take all reasonable measures to embrace and fund space travel, not only for the spirit of adventure and to gain knowledge by exploring the universe, but as an ultimate safeguard to its citizens and transhumanity should planet Earth become uninhabitable or be destroyed.” The construction of a highly economical infrastructure project such as the Agapov Orbital Lift would greatly reduce the costs of space travel and thus enable rapid exploration and development of space for the benefit of humankind and all sentient entities – thus also accelerating our transition into the next era of our civilization. As of this time, the USTP has not yet endorsed a Presidential candidate but welcomes activity from all of our Presidential Primary candidates to advance the USTP Platform.
~ Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman, United States Transhumanist Party / Transhuman Party, June 23, 2019
This article is primarily about the value to society of an industrial space elevator; which I believe could have already been built using a small fraction of the resources that have been spent on space tourism for a select few individuals. But before we begin, I would like to take a moment to talk about how “Space Age” goals do correlate quite strongly with the goals of “Digital Democracy” and the strengthening of your middle class more generally, that are described in Mr. Johannon Ben Zion’s “Futurist New Deal” platform as a candidate seeking the Presidential nomination of the Transhumanist Party. I have been previously described in an interview for this site as an “Open-Source Business Developer,” a term which is not a direct translation of the phrase that I used in the Russian interview, but it does describe this underlying commonality fairly well. By using “network technology” and allowing a larger group of peers to participate in the space industry, we’ll create a system that is making better use of the funds and resources that it has allocated and perhaps more importantly, one that can and will evolve as a matter of course to serve humankind.
This open yet technocratic principle is also very well understood when it comes to more decentralized and more representative forms of government, and the funding of social programs that support the middle class, whether they are funded in the present day by largely public means or in the near-future by public-private partnerships.
In a great many economies with post-industrial elements including Russia – although it is quite far from the strongest of economies – it is widely believed that the birth rate is “dangerously low.” So much so that future generations of adults, working people, are said to have to provide for far too many retirees – the idea being that this can lead to an economic crisis. To avoid the crisis of an aging population, developed economies are actively attempting to assist young families. In particular, the Russian government has provided many types of additional social services to young families that are not so widely available in the United States – for example, “Family Paid Leave”, “Universal Healthcare Services”, and other measures designed to encourage these vital family activities.
I believe that concerns about “under-population” are not entirely rooted in reality; the main problem that people who fear this population bust express is that the population of older people or pensioners, is becoming much larger than the population of young people, and while in 20th-century technology terms that would lead to a shortage of labor, we now live in the 21st century. Their fears do not take into account the ways in which all of our societies are moving towards full automation; a circumstance that is negating and will continue to negate these generational problems. However, the larger spirit and implementation of this partly fear-based set of policies is correct. Society and the economy flourish when people are free in their time and resources to pursue family life and small businesses; and these things are very strongly represented in the economic policies of the “Futurist New Deal”.
In Russia, the government is also concerned about a lack of human development and lower productivity. At a recent open press conference, the Russian president announced a program for a sharp increase in overall labor productivity. Achieving this rapid growth in production is possible only through a massive influx of small, private enterprises, but they must have a high level of automation and be able to quickly recoup the funds invested in them and develop rapidly both in quantitative and qualitative terms. For this industries-wide sea-change to occur, you first need to create a conducive environment for all entrepreneurs. A democratization of laws and government is necessary for this purpose; but the Russian government in some ways continues to follow a strategy of rigid central planning and economic development through large state projects that have a high price and long implementation periods; this failing itself tends to make these modernization programs which are occurring under government control a rather dubious institution.
At the same time, Russia has a weak civil society and relatively low economic literacy, which do not foster developing entrepreneurial communities at the grassroots level – those not dependent on the government. I think that developing decentralized production in Russia, as well as in many developing countries, is easier through collaboration with innovators in the United States. The first networks of decentralized industry are more likely to appear in the United States, Western Europe, and China. After that, they will begin to transfer the rights to use their intellectual property worldwide, for a percentage of the profits. This is similar to the way 20th-century franchises have tended to work.
Beginning to make these barest kinds of preparations for the economic health of a society, it is not so dissimilar from focusing on better and more discrete goals in the world of near-earth development. Just as moving away from the rhetoric of “austerity” or nationalism allows you to identify problem areas more clearly, and correct them; the colonization of space by more collaborative efforts on the part of users – with more industrial and less fanciful goals in mind – will be a truly great boon to humankind.
I have begun to create social networks such as my “People of the Space-Era” and various working groups to this end; and I hope that the people of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, perhaps one of the most technologically literate cohorts in the world, will see and promote the value of this “open-source” approach.
Imagine if a new continent here on Earth were discovered and, rather than create trade networks with that continent, those responsible for dealings with this new land opted to take a lot of “selfies” there instead – and do little else. As the public, you might rightly ask yourselves when it would be an appropriate time to begin to engage in more practical expeditions. The simple fact is that an information society, any post-industrial society should be making better use of our connectivity and our technology than we are.
When the first flights into space began, people enthusiastically waited for the first experiments to be followed up by larger-scale developments or innovations, such as those aimed at the practical and permanent venture into space by our species; and all the while hoping for inexpensive reusable rockets, or these fundamentally different ”rocketless” means of space transport to be developed. They waited with bated breath for the first extraterrestrial technological centers to be built, and after them the first extraterrestrial industrial enterprises should have surely followed. People waited for humanity to start taking real steps towards becoming a space civilization. Sadly the nation-states concerned used their astronauts only to maintain their standing in public opinion, and these state space programs remained at an earlier stage of research and experimentation.
If our society wants to move into the Space Age, it is time for all of us to take the initiative. Team up to work on new global programs such as the development of new industries based on digital production, consisting of miniature factories capable of making their own replacements to accelerate industrial growth on Earth. And later, in space, such micro-factories will themselves “multiply”, and build an array of near-earth industrial infrastructure, without the onerous costs associated with high-speed travel, operating on principles of development and economic efficiency. Today it is possible to develop on Earth the beginnings of a society on a truly cosmic scale, through the tenacity of many of you space-travel-minded people. These ways of thinking and ultimately this way of life must be adapted to the conditions of a functional space civilization, not tailored to narrower nationalistic or “creative” ends. The most innovative supporters of space expansion must take on these roles as coordinators to create earth-based industrial and entrepreneurial networks vital to this development of new programs for the industrialization of space.
Such initiative would lead to far broader and more robust sets of satellites which would improve the experiences of today’s device and IOT (Internet of Things) users and revolutionize this sadly untapped field of solar energy – which is inexhaustible and eco-friendly. The development of cosmic mineral resources, the most valuable of these being precious metals and rare earth elements will be supplied to earth with ease. Perhaps of less value, but still market-changing, those many resources that serve in the construction of consumer orbital enterprises and transport systems, and of course the more widespread industrial use of 3-D printing, minimizing the need for expensive cargo delivery from the ground, will become more commonplace in near-earth and earthbound building.
It is indeed possible to suppose that a decentralized civil society which is still overseen by “good-faith” public coordinators could also actively prepare better for the colonization of space than we are preparing today. For this to happen, the participation of nation-states directly is not needed, and even large capital investments would not be absolutely required; the network world of agile “citizen scientists” itself will become the best source of capital and resources. We need only initiative and personal energy to move past these 20th-century constraints.
One of the projects of these new rocketless transport systems, which I propose that we implement, is the “Agapov Orbital Lift” (A.O.L.). The A.O.L. is a simplified version of the space elevator which will remain in geosynchronous orbit but will not be secured to the ground by a tether. This design is relied upon, as it is far more effective than the “Stationary Space Elevator” which has a cable that reaches the earth. For the A.O.L. to work, there is a need for some rocketry, as the lower end of the cable will fly above the ground at a height of low orbit, but at a speed below the earth escape velocity of today’s rockets, at 1 – 3 kilometers per second. The A.O.L, unlike competitor lifts, will be able to immediately give us tremendous breakthroughs in the modernization of space transport. This project is technically feasible since the earth connection cable is not needed, and so additional materials science innovations such as nanotubes or graphene tape need not be made a contingency of the first-generation A.O.L. Suffice it to say that materials such as carbon fiber, “Kevlar,” “Vectran,” or other polyethylene materials of a high degree of polymerization will be strong enough to suit these ends. These existing materials-science innovations are already wholly mastered by industrial producers, are widely commercially available, and have a cost that is not exorbitantly high for near-earth development.
Waiting for one particular breakthrough is just not worth it when high-strength materials of many kinds are constantly being produced and improved upon, and as we mentioned at some length in our interview, the A.O.L. will also be upgraded many times in the course of its productive life. At certain intervals, older tethers, battered by space debris, will need to be replaced with newer, stronger, and longer ones made with more durable materials. And so, in the course of operation, the A.O.L. system of lifts will in short order be transformed into a stationary one, an achievement which itself would allow for the complete abandonment of missiles in near-earth travel.
The counterweight to the A.O.L. will be the International Space Station (ISS), as its life as a space-science laboratory comes to an end. And as part of the elevator, the station will be able to continue its multifaceted work in an exciting new capacity as a component of a revolutionary transport system. The ISS as counterweight to the elevator would be an appropriation of 100 billion dollars in existing space infrastructure, and its use will couple state space agencies with private firms in a timeless public-private partnership. In addition, the ISS as part of the orbital elevator will be able to work as a technological platform for mounting satellites and various useful space objects, from relatively light payloads delivered to it by cables from suborbital flight. In doing so we will be responsible for the beginning of true space production.
In my previous interview with Presidential candidate Johannon Ben Zion, we discussed a figure of between 100 and 500 million dollars for the building of a first-generation, highly-automated industrial space elevator. I understand that many of your readers are skeptical of this design and these figures, and at the risk of repeating myself from earlier in this article, I will say here again what I did not say in that shorter interview published June 12th, which is that the success of such a project could hinge on the “network effects,” the user-generated efforts in numerous interworking systems of networked organizations which are capable of consolidating the work product of industrial enterprises and small entrepreneurs on earth for the implementation of large-scale programs for the industrialization of space. We must spearhead this construction ourselves in order to turn the entire world industry into a springboard for the colonization of the solar system and not limit this to individual government agencies or scattered and not fully realized private space firms. In short, on this quality of being “Open-Source”, which is again not the exact wording that I preferred to use in the original Russian interview, that phrasing certainly does get to the heart of the way in which this kind of effort should be different from previous private or public space-faring attempts.
Even in the weeks since that interview was conducted, new discoveries of underground resources on the Moon have been made, I believe that had previous lunar expeditions been more focused on making use of these resources, we would already have the industrial infrastructure between our planet and our Moon to be safely excavating these kinds of materials.
It would be unfair to describe private space industry as unconcerned with these improvements; incredible breakthroughs have been made in recent decades toward streamlining space-faring processes, making them cheaper and cleaner. That said, I believe that almost all of the people working in this business have a fixation with rockets and an almost total lack of interest in the equally practical transport systems that I have described. If these engineers really believe that the focus of space travel is to stick pretty flags in piles of dirt, or engage in publicity stunts where people who are famous solely for being wealthy celebrate their success by enjoying zero gravity for a few hours – my advice is that they should pursue another line of work because these “accomplishments” are not of such great value as we have been led to believe.
My design for a space elevator is meant to be a transition, using the existing infrastructure now in low-earth orbit to create a lift system capable of slow but steady industrial growth – within 3 to 5 years – using the kinds of robotics that industry has taken for granted for a few decades. To achieve this some adjustments will need to be made to the International Space Station so that its orbit is better positioned to support this lift system. When you consider the hundred or more billion dollars that have been spent on space stations which are now decommissioned, and I would argue have always been underutilized, the choice not to build a space elevator from them seems to me, frankly, a silly one. The very important point in this design, which I have already iterated but that was sadly not included in the truncated first interview, is that this spacelift will not reach completely to Earth, and vehicles will be required to shuttle payloads up to that point. But as the cost of operating these vehicles will be much lower – as the high speeds required of rockets today to escape Earth’s gravity will not be necessary, the A.O.L. will nonetheless be of great value to industry.
There is no question in my mind that this tether design, which incorporates a few different interworking ultra-strong polymer blends, all of which are currently in widespread industrial use, will suffice for our materials needs. And I should point out once again, and it has been said many times before, that by first constructing this industrial lift, we will then very soon be able to build out its infrastructure and create parallel lift structures that will quickly improve industrial, and presumably consumer, uses.
With greater interest after significant return on investment from these industrial undertakings, we will very quickly see that this initial design was well worth the effort. I hope that the lack of focus on space tourism in our first-generation A.O.L. design will be seen by potential investors as an asset to both consumers and industry in the long-term.
It is not just nostalgia for my youth that drives my interest in this repurposing of existing space infrastructure like the International Space Station; we should give the ISS a second life; this is the best way to continue the work begun by those 20th-century visionaries who first sought to propel our civilization beyond our atmosphere. These state-sponsored space administrations and the public-private partnerships which today exist in service to space travel and research are not enough to undertake this repurposing. We need our “open-source” public efforts to become a kind of popular fascination, like the one seen in the 1950s “space race.” However, even the number of users currently contributing to the SETI app would be an excellent start to collaborative design and build efforts that would benefit our repurposing and tether-building efforts.
Such seeds of public fascination in an enterprise can direct public initiatives, both investment and intellectual capital into enterprises no less interesting and potentially far more vital than the some of the mechanisms of today’s Silicon Valley-style capitalism. Furthermore, this will give us a new arena for the development of information technology businesses in conjunction with these new generations of networks and satellite communications, which will make high-speed Internet far more accessible to the entire planet and will overwhelmingly strengthen the global information space of mankind, moving global civilization ever closer to the realization of a true “noosphere.”
Finally, I would reiterate that the focus on the cost of an industrial space lift should not be on the hundreds of millions of dollars in the initial outlay – but rather on the many trillions of dollars that could be generated by making this bold step. The A.O.L. transport infrastructure will confer great economic effects by the creation of a global industry in near-earth development; and just as on land, where railways and ports do not always bring the largest of profits, yet they do underpin the life of entirely greater industries and regions, so will millions of inhabitants benefit by industries developing out into the many hundreds of billions of dollars.
I hope that you will all leave this conversation with a somewhat clearer idea of the purpose and design of my industrial space lift, the “Agapov Orbital Lift”, and as well will consider endorsing Mr. Ben Zion and the “Futurist New Deal;” I believe that the architects of this plan truly do have your best interests as techno-optimists at heart.
Editor’s Note: The U.S. Transhumanist Party / Transhuman Party (USTP) has not yet, as of this publication, endorsed a candidate for U.S. President. Therefore, the statement in the last sentence above by Mr. Agapov should be considered to be his personal opinion only at this time. Readers can view the profiles of all USTP Presidential Primary candidates and make informed decisions regarding which candidate(s) and which of their proposals to support.