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Blog Series: Countering misconceptions in space journalism

As a lover of all things space I enjoy reading a wide variety of perspectives. The more different the origin, the more likely I am to learn something new! Even in articles which contain errors or elements of confusion, there’s still a good chance that I’ll encounter a new way of thinking about an issue. This is important. Space is hard, and it’s also hard to reason about. Humans often prefer reasoning by analogy, but with very few exceptions, reasoning by analogy in space is always wrong. So we need to find other ways to reason about space systems, architectures, … Continue reading Blog Series: Countering misconceptions in space journalism

Starlink packet routing

Part of my series countering common misconceptions in space journalism. This blog is a follow on to my original post on Starlink. Starlink is an emerging high performance satellite-based internet routing network developed by SpaceX. Its ultimate purpose is to become the de-facto internet backbone provider, connect billions more people to the internet, and revolutionize access to space. The usual disclaimers apply. I have no relevant inside knowledge of Starlink operations. I’m not an expert in networking, and unlike Starlink’s staff I haven’t spent years working only on this problem. In fact, I’m usually deeply confused at the best of … Continue reading Starlink packet routing

Progression of space industrialization

Part of my series on common misconceptions in space journalism. Also, an update of sorts to my post on industrializing Mars. Ever since SpaceX publicly announced their overarching mission to build a self-sustaining city on Mars, countless articles have been written about all sorts of related things. In many ways, this whole blog series is a reflection of this explosion of common media interest. Relatively few articles go so far as to dive into (literally) the nuts and bolts, and fewer still give any useful insights into the process. Industrializing is really difficult. In August 2020 Starship SN5 has just … Continue reading Progression of space industrialization

Book reviews

Notes on some books I’ve read in the relatively recent past. I’m happy to hear recommendations for more books or views, but my “to read” list currently grows about twice as fast as it shrinks. Might contain spoilers. Mars “Voyage” Stephen Baxter (1996). Alternate history of Apollo hardware going to Mars. I found 80% of it great and 20% of it tough going, so I haven’t reread it. “Moving Mars” Greg Bear (1993). Great read. Lots of really beautiful ideas. “How We’ll Live on Mars” Stephen Petranek (2015). Far be it for me to criticize short books e-published on Amazon … Continue reading Book reviews

Case Study: Iceland

This is an excerpt from my book on Mars industrialization. It goes into a lot of detail on how we can think about the interaction between hostile environments and technological sustainability. Why Iceland? Iceland is an apt analogy for a potential Mars city, and a useful way to think about self-sufficiency. Today, Iceland enjoys a high standard of living and is a popular tourist destination famed for its natural beauty. It has a population of about 335,000 and a GDP per capita of about US$60,000. Naturally, it is highly dependent on a range of imports, exporting mainly aluminium and fish. … Continue reading Case Study: Iceland

Failure

I received a recent timely reminder that a long-planned blog, this one, I had yet to write. Many many blog spirits lurk in the great beyond waiting for inspiration or structure. Once I understand how they might go, I write them down. This blog is on failure, specifically, personal failure. It is inspired by this CV of failure. It may seem that by advertising my screw ups, I’m quietly projecting calm confidence in my non-failures, which can be reviewed on my LinkedIn. This is not the case. While I have enjoyed a modicum of success at times, my personal recollection … Continue reading Failure

Australian energy policy: no vision too small

Let’s talk about Australia’s energy policy failure. At a time when most of the developed world has woken up to the facts that a) fossil fuels are really bad for people and the environment and b) fossil fuels are more expensive than non-polluting alternatives, the Australian federal government policy continues to shovel enormous subsidies at our failing fossil fuel industry. Yes, that’s right. Despite having enormous reserves of oil, coal, and gas, a modern(ish) banking sector, and the best solar resource on Earth, Australia continues to operate some of the oldest, most polluting power stations on Earth while enduring some … Continue reading Australian energy policy: no vision too small

Building the Mars Industrial Coalition

Part of my series on countering common misconceptions in space journalism. In popular representations of space exploration, space ship models often get a decal logo slapped on as a finishing touch. It could be the NASA worm or meatball, or product placement, or a fictional megacorporation. What these depictions miss is the harsh reality of developing new systems and actually putting them into production. Manufacturing is really really hard. JPL is quite good at Mars rovers now, and it still takes thousands of people years to build a single one! In this series I’ve talked at some length about Moon … Continue reading Building the Mars Industrial Coalition

Starting the Mars Base

Part of my series on countering common misconceptions in space journalism. This blog grew out of several fascinating discussions with Dr Margarita Marinova, a former SpaceX Senior Mars and Vehicle Systems Development Engineer who has also published several fascinating papers on terraforming. As all good conversations do, it began with a question: How to start out the city on Mars? I’ve written at length about working on Mars, Mars architecture, and Mars exploration systems. I’ve even written a book about industrializing Mars, which focuses on sustaining exponential growth of the city. But it’s still necessary to transition from Mars’ current … Continue reading Starting the Mars Base

A quick note on airships

It’s not called a Zeppelin unless it comes from the Zeppelin region of Germany, otherwise it’s just a sparkling airship. I have spent a lot of time writing about building cities on Mars , and I would like to reassure my readers that I have been thinking about other ways to more or less rapidly consume a fortune. Let’s talk about airships. Yes, they’re hulking behemoths with no real uses and a horrifying safety record. But aside from that, how would you like to get from place to place in a stately fashion? Why cram yourself into a COVID-infested tube … Continue reading A quick note on airships

The Program 2020

As in, Get With The Program, or Where the World Economy is Going. An update on my earlier post on the topic. Muscle power was the only source of mechanical work until the industrial revolution. Steam engines created copious mechanical power to operate pumps, mills, and vehicles that wasn’t derived from mammalian metabolism. From 1948 until 1973, world per capita energy consumption grew at 7% per year. 7% annual energy growth means billions of humans being lifted from the poverty of pre-industrial subsistence agriculture. Between 1973 and 2013, global investment in energy-intensive industry and commensurate growth of wealth was hampered … Continue reading The Program 2020