What is the “Robotosphere”?

In my previous article I talked about robotic space manufacturing and mining. I’d like to go into more detail on that. If you didn’t read my last article, basically I was saying that we are going to hit a resource crunch and the only way that we can even hope to continue our level of growth and consumption is to start harvesting the solar, gas, and mineral resources that lie beyond the boundary of our atmosphere.

 

So how do we do this? In the old days (60s, 70s), the popular vision of space travel was that there would be a lot of people living off-world, pounding jackhammers into asteroids or what have you. The truth is that people are (surprise!) not very well adapted to living in space, so to send them up just to mine rocks is a tremendous waste of resources in living quarters, food, and mental capacity.

 

A rendering I created for Liftport, showing a Lunar Elevator from orbit.

A rendering I created for Liftport, showing a Lunar Elevator from orbit.

Instead, the more efficient route is what some have called the “robotosphere”, a permanent network of robotic vehicles that mine, refine, and ship raw materials from all over the solar system back to Earth and other off-world human colonies. What we’re talking about is a robot ecosystem, where there are not only robots to mine the rocks, etc, but also repair and manufacture those robots.

 

We’re already starting to see the first step of this technology, if you’ve heard about the Made in Space 3D printer that is currently undergoing testing on the International Space Station. In the future, these 3D printers will be automated, producing new robots and parts for existing ones. In fact, I posit that we will see factory satellites that are almost totally automated except for perhaps a skeleton crew of human workers, to repair those tricky problems that a machine can’t quite grasp.

Looking further into the future, those same factory satellites could be deployed in orbit around stellar bodies, like the moon. Liftport is researching a moon-based space elevator, and with that we could have very cost-effective lunar mining operations. Picture this; robotic rovers on Luna’s surface mine aluminum and oxygen, sending that back up to an orbiting factory satellite. On Earth, designers create 3D models of lunar habitats, and “email” those designs to the factory satellite, which then produces the robots that would be required to construct them. These robots land on the surface of the moon and begin to manufacture our new off-world homes for us, ready to move in.

But how do we get there? These same satellites would be able to produce spaceships for us – we won’t need another Saturn V to get to the moon; all we need is a Dragon capsule to get us to an orbiting station. This station will pull raw resources from across the solar system, fed by robotic supply lines and staffed by the minimum amount of personnel aside from potential colonists. With those resources, we no longer have to carry our entire ship into orbit; all of that extra room can be allocated to resources that can’t be found in space (foodstuffs, personnel, highly refined circuits and electronics, etc). Instead, we will have migrant ships, carrying us from one planetary body to another, designed to be built, live, and die in the void between worlds.

 

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