The L5 Development Group New Research Opportunities

FKE Space Program

New Research Opportunities


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 .  Once a colony is established as a self-sufficient community in space, a revolutionary set of laboratory environments will become available. While the possibilities for research are truly unlimited, there are several areas of particular interest to FKE that will be actively pursued by the firm. The more prominent ones are briefly discussed below:

Nuclear fusion

Although nuclear fusion research is currently being conducted by a number of groups around the world, none of them have achieved a successful system. By removing most of the influences of gravity on the experiments, a fusion laboratory in orbit could potentially build a reactor capable of sustaining a controlled and usable source of power before ground-based experimentation has come to fruition. Working in conjunction with other researchers, keeping abreast of their developments, and pursuing independent directions, our plan is to search for a viable reactor design that can be adapted for use both in space and on planetary surfaces. If this effort is successful, it will not only be used to supplement the solar power plants beaming energy from the sky to Earth's power grids, but will also make possible development of facilities at locations so far removed from the Sun that solar power is not a workable resource. A large colony on one of Saturn's moons, for example, would have difficulty supplying its energy needs from the Sun. A fusion power plant, however, would be a most attractive source of energy.

Energy is the lifeblood of civilization. Expensive energy sabotages the plans of small firms and large governments alike, while abundant energy yields growth and prosperity. The world has enjoyed a period of relatively inexpensive, and readily available, energy for many years. However, as our increasing numbers are using those supplies, and as stockpiles dwindle, the possibility of a worldwide energy crisis is looming in the future. Fossil fuels not only are in limited supply, but dump huge volumes of pollutants into the atmosphere as they are used. Nuclear fission of uranium and plutonium offers the advantage of not distributing its wastes across the countryside, but the wastes produced are so dangerous that large numbers of people feel it is a technology not worth the risks it presents. Solar power, while promising as an inexpensive, abundant resource, is unreliable in many areas, as clouds obscure the sun large parts of the year. In addition, the sun never shines at night, and when it does shine, the energy supplied is so diffuse that practical collection on the scale needed to support today's level of civilization is probably not possible. There is, however, an alternative being developed which promises to alleviate most of the problems, if not all of them, experienced by other power generation systems: construction of fusion power plants. Using a non-radioactive fuel, through a controlled nuclear reaction to produce a non-radioactive byproduct and energy, this method represents a clean, safe way to supply the world's energy needs for a long time to come. It's major drawback, however, is that we haven't figured out how to do it yet. Many institutions, and several nations, are working on developing a fusion power plant, but none have succeeded, or actually even come close. FKE is also planning to investigate fusion power, especially if the reactor could be made small and light enough to enable its use to drive a spacecraft's electric motors to launch from the Earth's surface.

As an interesting side benefit, the helium produced by the fusion power plants could be used to build airships and dirigibles, and provide luxurious cruises throughout the world, much as the ocean liners of today do. An advantage such craft would enjoy, however, is that they are not restricted to ocean travel: They could dock at inland ports as well, opening new doors to some of the trade now exclusively reserved for ocean side cities.

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Antimatter research

Antimatter, which is composed of particles with characteristics opposite of the ones that make up our world, cannot exist in contact with normal matter, since the two annihilate each other in an almost instantaneous conversion to energy. Compared with current ground-based facilities, the high vacuum and low gravity of space-based laboratories will provide a much more conducive environment for the exciting research into the properties and handling of antimatter. This holds the promise not only of gaining a better understanding of the universe we live in, but could also give us a rocket fuel the likes of which have never been seen before, except in fiction: So much energy could be stored in a spacecraft's fuel tanks that it could stand in one spot above a planet without needing to be in orbit. Vessels potentially no larger than an automobile could be used to travel between Earth and its Moon, taking off from and landing directly onto the planetary surfaces, without requiring other boosters. Spacecraft could also travel much faster, reducing trip times between distant parts of the Solar System to workable levels: weeks, or even days, rather than months and years. It's hard to predict what could be done with controlled antimatter, since nearly all of the studies that have been done to date have been theoretical research. By establishing an antimatter research facility in space, we will initially open vast new areas of pure scientific knowledge, and ultimately, potential commercial uses that cannot be conceived today because of our limited experience.

An exciting new area of scientific research is into the world of antimatter, in which all of the subatomic particles have the opposite characteristics of those that make up our normal world. Because it is a direct opposite, antimatter is unable to exist in contact with normal matter, the two annihilate each other in an almost instantaneous conversion to energy. Why is this exciting? It holds the promise not only of gaining a better understanding of the universe we live in, but could also give us a rocket fuel the likes of which we have never seen before: So much energy could be stored in a spacecraft's fuel tanks that it could stand in one spot above the Earth, without having to be in orbit. The spacecraft could also travel much faster, reducing trip times between distant parts of the solar system to workable levels: weeks, or even days, rather than months and years. There is a tremendous potential for advancement in working with antimatter, and its interaction with matter, and it is an area of research FKE intends to pursue. Since it is such a dangerous type of experimentation, however, the firm does not plan a full scale development of the technology until the work can be done in space. Constructing an orbiting antimatter manufacturing facility is quite foreseeable, though, to supply future spacecraft the fuel that enables their fantastic voyages to the far reaches of the known universe, and beyond.

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Gravity

One of the most powerful forces readily identifiable in common existence is that of gravity. In spite of our comprehension of its effects and our ability to measure those effects, we still know very little about how gravity works, of what its cause is. By removing ourselves from a high-gravity environment on Earth to a low-gravity environment in orbit, we will potentially be in a better position to determine the cause of gravity. If we are able to gain that knowledge, it would open a vast number of possibilities, such as using "gravity drives" to power spacecraft, artificial gravity within spacecraft without a need for rotating the vessels, or even providing increased or decreased gravity in a controlled manner on planetary surfaces. By itself, this last item holds a tremendous potential: Hospitals could suspend burn victims over their beds to allow faster healing, valuable property could be held in place without bolting or chaining it down, and comfortable work sites could be constructed on the surface of giant planets such as Jupiter or Saturn, where human researchers could study the environment and expect to survive the crushing gravity encountered there. Without the knowledge of the source of gravity, however, none of these things are easily accomplished. The potential benefits from determining the cause of gravity are sufficient that we consider this to be a priority research item.

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Faster-than-light communication

Here on Earth, we seldom run into situations outside development laboratories where we cannot send signals fast enough from one point to another. The problem we encounter, rather, is being able to send data at a sufficient rate, which is a completely different problem. In space, however, being limited to signaling at the speed of light will prove to be a problem in less time than most people realize. The signal delay between a person on Earth communicating with another on the Moon, or between the colonies at L-5 and one of those places, is approximately one and a half seconds each way. Conversations will be dotted with three second delays, since once the first person stops talking, it will be a second and a half before the listener knows it and starts to speak, and an equal delay before the returning words get back. Beyond the nuisance of sporadic conversations, there is also a tremendous control problem for remotely operated equipment: Insert a three second delay between sending commands from the controlling station and when the results of those commands start to be observed, and a potentially disastrous situation arises. Living with these delays is something we will have to do and compensate for in the foreseeable future. They will also quickly become such an inconvenience that even the most tolerant of us are convinced that we need something better. And we haven't even gone past the Moon yet. The only reasonable answer to the problem is development of a faster-than-light communication system. According to current scientific theories, however, such a feat is impossible. Rather than simply accepting such a fate as gospel, we plan to pursue research to either find a way around the limitations of Einsteinian relativity, or to disprove the theory, and achieve the faster-than-light communication needed for successful exploitation of the possibilities opened through space travel. (As a side note, I will point out that it was once believed that traveling in an airplane at velocities above the speed of sound would render conversation impossible. The theory proposed that a speaker's words would be unable to overcome the speed of the aircraft to travel from the rear sections of the plane forward. The fallacy of that theory is now quite obvious to all.)

Here on Earth, we seldom run into situations outside development laboratories where we cannot send signals fast enough from one point to another. The problem we encounter, rather, is being able to send data at a sufficient rate, which is a completely different problem. In space, however, being limited to signaling at the speed of light will prove to be a problem in less time than most people realize. The signal delay between a person on Earth communicating with another on the Moon, or between the colonies and one of those places, is approximately one and a half seconds each way. The conversations will be dotted with three second delays, because, once the first party stops talking, it will be a second and a half before the listener knows it and starts speaking, and an equal delay before the returning words get back. Living with these delays is something we have to do for the foreseeable future, but they will quickly become such an inconvenience that even the most tolerant of us are convinced of the need for something better. And we won't even have gone past the Moon yet.

The only reasonable answer to this problem is being able to send signals at a velocity greater than the speed of light. According to the currently accepted scientific theories, however, such a feat is impossible. Rather than accepting such a fate, FKE plans to pursue research to either find away around the apparent limitations described by Einsteinian relativity, or to disprove the theory, and achieve the faster than light communication needed for successful exploitation of the possibilities opened through space travel.

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Aging research, memory technology

Through longer lives, skilled people can hope to be more of an influence on the world they live in. Their world would also be able to benefit from the use of the skills such people have. Very few people feel that they have enough time in their lives to do everything they want to, and longer lives would reduce the suffering of missed opportunities, since more opportunities could be found to replace the ones lost. Research into the aging process, how to halt it, and perhaps even how to reverse it, is a realm whose intangible benefits could very easily outweigh the tangible efforts invested.

Having a better memory enables a creative person to more efficiently use their thoughts. Quite possibly, one key to a better memory is being able to organize what we have more effectively. Computers have the potential to be great tools for organizational work, interfacing them directly with a human brain, however, is a job far bigger than anything we have ever accomplished. This is an area of research that holds the potential of tremendous benefits for mankind, and is bound to bring results that will grow in utility as they are developed.

These two humanitarian subjects are probably the farthest from its primary goal that FKE will deviate during its development of the space colonies. Their possible benefits, it is felt, are great enough to justify the diversion of resources necessary to make some gains in the fields. However, if a choice has to be made between the two programs, it will be the space movement which is given the company's full support, because the firm's entire future is based on the successful deployment of space colonies.

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An ever-expanding horizon

Space based laboratories will bring unique research opportunities. From those efforts, we foresee benefits that are scarcely predictable, and conceivably as valuable as all of the other results of our space exploration and development combined. In recognition of this fact, FKE will spend significant parts of its profits on pure scientific research, confident that the investment will be repaid.


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