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Hypothetical situation on revolutionary technology

Posted by: Electrolyte - Sun Jul 18, 2004 10:30 am
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Hypothetical situation on revolutionary technology 
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Post Hypothetical situation on revolutionary technology   Posted on: Sun Jul 18, 2004 10:30 am
It may happen sooner or later. The holy grail of propulsion systems, something to get a ship into outer space and beyond, with plenty of energy to spare and no worries about weight. Something that would change spacetravel from another just another playtoy for the wealthy to the possibility for interplanetary travel and colonization for any person.

Granted that such a device is impossible now, and probably would remain so at least until quantum computers become a reality. But how about a hypothetical situation on the subject, just for fun.

Let's say a team does come up with such a device, and it's possible to use it to move enormous objects with it. Yet at the same time, let's say that it's positive potential is directly proportional to it's potential for misuse as a horrible weapon of some sort. Which considering the kind of energy that would be necessary, might not be that much of a leap.

This brings me to many questions which I would like to explore, chief of which is the legal status of such a propulsion system. Would it instantly be declared a weapon, and taken from private industry's grasp, or perhaps even 'persuaded' by the local government of said country to forget they ever developed such a thing? Can anybody see a patent for something with that much possibly destructive power being granted to a company? And how could you transport civilian would-be colonists to other planets if the assorted governments of the world have to worry about every individual on the ship possibly using the ship's drive to turn a city into a giant hole in the ground?

I can't see such a thing ever being licensed to private individuals for private use, and yet that's where I for one dearly hope will be the outcome of the push to space; private spaceyachts. But how can that even be possible when any technology a person can think of that would be feasible to conveniently take a person to and from planets is also powerful enough to destroy so much?

I fully expect that if we as a human race live that long, that this is the direction we're headed, and yet I can think of no clear answer to these questions. I would have it no other way, and yet these are questions that ought to be explored by the community if the community here believes that this is also where we're headed.


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Post    Posted on: Sun Jul 18, 2004 4:07 pm
Take an example: fusion drive. Not worth a dink for interstellar, but fabulous for interplanetary. ETA on this one is about ten to twenty years, max about 50. The capacity for a fusion drive's use as a weapon is directly proportional to the capacity for its use as starship drive. If you decide you don't like the dockmaster on a particular station, point your tailpipes at the station and slam the engines on full thrust. It's amazing what half a ton of superheated plasma can do to metal and plastic.

Of course, the capacity for use as a weapon of a hyperdrive or any other sort of spacewarp device is almost infinitely greater -- point it at a planet and presto-chango, instant black hole (just add extra mass to defer the nearly instant evaporation thereof due to Hawking radiation).

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Post    Posted on: Sun Jul 18, 2004 5:03 pm
Hello, Electrolyte,

the question of being a weapon or not a weapon in your examples is not a question of the drive or the spaceship - it's only a questionof use or abuse of it - remember the palestinian car bombs in the Middle East.

Another example comparable to those your'e speaking of are nuclear reactors as a source of electricity - they are private and they are allowed. But they are being controlled by public institutions and they are guarded to prevent abuse. And if there is an urgent reason to suppose abuse like in Iran there is a well known international institution to check wether there are signs of abuse at the reactor and its surroundings itself.

So there might be institutions controlling that kind of spacecrafts and drives you are considering. They might force the producers of drives as well as their users to provide significant possibilities for the institutions to shut down the dangerous drives if abuse is to be supposed or when the spacecraft has moved closer than a secure distance defined by the institutions.

There may be additional methods to control security and abuse known from air traffic and airports.

Last but not least - this may be a question interesting for Texan because laws are involved and because there may be seen a lack of law some day. That may be his chance to become a known space lawyer who may argue that his service requires space flights to be able to judge the situation of a case by experience.



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Post    Posted on: Fri Jul 23, 2004 9:59 pm
I have a theory about such things. And when I say "such things" I do so because there are countless other technologies that share this ethical ambiguity -- human cloning and AI just to name two off the top of my head.

My theory is simply this: someone is going to do it, regardless of the ethics involved. The reason we don't have hundreds of garage inventors coming up with nuclear-powered household devices has nothing to do with legalities or ethics. It has to do with the shear impractability of such an enterprise at the current time. But if they could, someone would.

The same is true, I think, with our hypothetical propulsion system. Even if all of the nations agreed to pass laws to ban our invention, [i]someone[i] would build it anyway. And in our situation, that someone could really say "to heck with your laws", right? Who is going to go after them to arrest them :lol: ?

So, Electrolyte, you have something specific in mind? :lol:

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Post    Posted on: Sat Jul 24, 2004 12:02 pm
Sure I do, but speculation is easy. And I'm no expert on such things.
Just a general observation that using powerful systems for movement means that if something goes horribly wrong that more people can get hurt.

Although one can hope that soon we'll develop something better than propellants. Something a little more efficient at defeating a field of gravity.
I sure hope they find the Higgs particle, after that point it might be possible to do just that, due to having an increased knowledge of the mechanism of gravity.


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Post    Posted on: Sat Jul 24, 2004 1:03 pm
Hello, JustMeKevin,

your theory is partly being worked out by the Theory of Property Rights in Economics - you mention Availability. Lack of Availability increases to "costs" of doing something bcause somthing has first to be made available. This is called Transaction Costs. If Availability is low Transactions Costs are high and interest in use or abuse of Property Rights is low.

Lwas increase Transaction Costs of abuse and reduce Availability of Freedem to abuse. But distance really does the same - time of production too.



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Post    Posted on: Sat Jul 24, 2004 3:53 pm
Ekkehard Augustin wrote:
Your theory is partly being worked out by the Theory of Property Rights in Economics


EXCELLENT. I had no idea there was a name for my thoughts. *heh* most of my thoughts are nameless :?

Electrolyte wrote:
Sure I do, but speculation is easy. And I'm no expert on such things.
Just a general observation that using powerful systems for movement means that if something goes horribly wrong that more people can get hurt.


No, I meant (tongue-in-cheek, of course!) if you had anyone in particular you were evisioning at the business end of our theoretical propulsion system. An ex-lover or old boss, perhaps 8) . Seriously though, I think your observation is definitely correct. And I most definitely share your hope that something first will be discovered that will be safe and clean.

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Post    Posted on: Sun Jul 25, 2004 3:49 pm
Has anyone read John Varley's latest novel, Red Thunder? Essential reading for anyone who comes up with a weapons grade propulsion invention!

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Post    Posted on: Sun Jul 25, 2004 4:13 pm
heh, we're talking about fusion drives being banned.... i think i can guess the first group to build one of them illegally. it'd be a perfect escape route for a rich drug lord. the cops find you, you jump in your ship and take off for somewhere far away (near in space terms)- the moon for example. it'd be impossible to catch you, or to shoot you down, and anyone who tried to come after you could be fried with your drive. hell, you could probably destroy all the sattelites over the remote area you wanted to land on once you're ready to return so no one'll be able to find you.

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Post    Posted on: Sun Jul 25, 2004 4:52 pm
I suppose very unlikely that fusion drives would be banned some day - there are and there have been to much governmental investment in research of construction of fusion reactors as a power source in the last twenty or thirty years.

And as one of the german astronauts in his book described the most efficient and most likely fusion drive it won't be comparable to any fusion bomb.

I suppose the fusion reactor to become possible in the nearby future and when it's achieved there will be the fusion drive too quickly.



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Post    Posted on: Sun Jul 25, 2004 11:58 pm
Space vehicle construction takes place on Earth at the moment. Every piece of hardware has to be lifted into orbit via chemical rockets and that has always been the main stumbling block with safety and payload.

But supposely in the distant future, we have manufacturing facilities off-planet, say the far side of the moon? The worries about polluting the Earth's atmosphere if a nuclear rocket fails is zero. :twisted:

Many of the exotic/high energy propulsion systems we talk/dream can then be tested in the safe confinement of space without worries of the fall out effect/destruction to significant populations should there be a complete failure of any containment system. (cept the manufacturing/testing/engineering community).


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Post    Posted on: Fri Aug 13, 2004 2:34 pm
Once we have a decent setup of orbital shipyards, building ships that will never touch a planet's surface (on purpose...) will not be hard. Such ships could then carry landers, which handle the orbit-to-dirtside and vice-versa of the work. The first such ships would likely be comparable to a space station with engines, but with better structural integrity to withstand acceleration.

Such a ship could easily be nuclear-powered, and indeed, it would make sense to have it that way: Nuclear fission power plants require very little in the way of fuel or parts exchange to provide energy, and current nuclear propulsion thoughts center on using a separate reaction mass for it, such as for example water. Heat water with reactor - shoot water out of nozzle - move forward.

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Post    Posted on: Fri Aug 13, 2004 3:38 pm
Simple solution if the reactor could be used as a weapon: Let the military be the sole source of engineers for it.

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Post    Posted on: Sat Aug 14, 2004 7:31 am
Hello, Cadet,

each nuclear bomb - wether that of Hiroshima, the H2-fusion-bomb or the neutron-bomb - is destructing its environment as near as a few kilometers.

Nuclear drives doing that would be nonsense - drives mustn't destroy anything. So they never can be weapons or used as weapons. That's impossible by itself, by the nature of this kind of drives. They or more exactly some of their elements might be used as weapons that way that nuclear material might be used as a weapon right now . simply by its radiation. A single gran of plutonium placed in a shop is sufficient to be a mighty weapon. The threat to do so might be sufficient

That fusion drive considered as the only working fusion drive by Ulf Merbold is based on small capsules shot into a chamber and then igneted as very very small fusion bombs. They are not able to destroy the chamber or its walls - they contamine it by radiation, yes, but they don't destroy. If they would be used as weapons their effect would be restricted to meters.

And you cannot make one normal fusion bomb of several such capsules I suppose.



Dipl.-Volkswirt (bdvb) Augustin (Political Economist)

EDIT: To correct me - the german astronaut who considered the fusion drive was Ulrich Walter and not Ulf Merbold.


Last edited by Ekkehard Augustin on Wed Aug 18, 2004 1:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post    Posted on: Sat Aug 14, 2004 4:20 pm
The question was of a theoretical drive system, not any known to man. As for the fusion drive proposed: That's ridiculous. You'd need pure fusion bombs if you wanted that to work, plus you can't contain a nuclear explosion using magnetics. Also, small H-bomb is an oxymoron. The whole point of a thermonuclear weapon is a bigger boom. Lastly, plutonium is only useful as part of a bomb, it wouldn't be used in a nuclear drive.

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