All Astronautical Evolution posts in 2016:

Elon Musk and Mars: Looking for a Snowball Effect (Oct.)

The Citizens’ Debate on Space for Europe (Sept.)

Creating a self-sustaining desert civilisation: Aridopolis (Aug.)

Lecture by Professor Wörner: United Space in Europe (July)

Brexit! Thoughts on the UK Referendum Result (July)

The Pillar versus the Pyramid (June)

The Way Forward (May)

Manned Spaceflight Statistics (April)

When Will Jan Wörner Get His Moon Village? (March)

Interstellar Travel and Straw Men (Jan.)

A Strategic Goal for Humanity on Earth and in Space in 2061 (Jan.)

Back to 2015:

Britain Takes the Wrong Approach to Manned Spaceflight (Dec.)

New in 2020:

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AE posts:

2022: What’s to do on Mars?…

2021: New space company Planetopolis…

2020: Cruising in Space…

2019: The Doomsday Fallacy, SpaceX successes…

2018: I, Starship, atheism versus religion, the Copernican principle…

2017: Mars, Supercivilisations, METI…

2016: Stragegic goal for manned spaceflight…

2015: The Pluto Controversy, Mars, SETI…

2014: Skylon, the Great Space Debate, exponential growth, the Fermi “paradox”…

2013: Manned spaceflight, sustainability, the Singularity, Voyager 1, philosophy, ET…

2012: Bulgakov vs. Clarke, starships, the Doomsday Argument…

2011: Manned spaceflight, evolution, worldships, battle for the future…

2010: Views on progress, the Great Sociology Dust-Up…

Chronological index

Subject index

General essays:

Index to essaysincluding:

Talk presented to students at the International Space University, May 2016

Basic concepts of Astronautical Evolution

Options for Growth and Sustainability

Mars on the Interstellar Roadmap (2015)

The Great Sociology Debate (2011)

Building Selenopolis (2008)


Issue 126, 1 June 2016 – 47th Apollo Anniversary Year

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The Pillar versus the Pyramid

Cartoon 1: the pillar

The cartoons presented at the ESA workshop

I drew these cartoons for my presentation at the European Space Agency’s Exploration Workshop at Edinburgh in January 2007. I still think they make a good point, despite the fact that ESA was clearly not paying attention.

My argument was that the traditional space architecture would be unstable and liable to collapse at any time. Thus one single space station, followed by one single Moon base, followed by one single Mars base. This is the pillar (first cartoon).

Of course a space agency would justify the pillar architecture by pointing out that they would have neither the need nor the funds to operate more than one space station. In fact they would be more likely to want to scrap the orbital station in order to free up funds for going to the Moon, and scrap any presence on the Moon in order to be able to afford Mars.

In other words, they would assume that only government scientists have any business spending time in space.

Cartoon 2: the pyramid

A stable, sustainable architecture, by contrast, would require a pyramid architecture (second cartoon). Starting, for example, with the objective of having ten people on the surface of Mars in a given year (around the year 2030, I speculated), there should be at one and the same time:

Thus at each level a diverse and economically self-sustaining economy for space travel needs to be in place to provide the basis for the next level.

In order to set this architecture up, I made four recommendations to ESA:

I supported these points with reference to the history of aviation. In the late 1940s, 45 years after the first aeroplane flights by the Wright brothers, the world’s airlines carried over 20 million passengers per year. But during the year 2006, 45 years after Yuri Gagarin, only 28 people flew into space. Now, of course, the number flying annually has fallen further and is down to half of what it was a decade ago (see the space statistics for 1961 to 2015).

I mentioned spaceplanes because of the work being done at both Bristol Spaceplanes and Reaction Engines in the UK, as well as work done in the 1980s to 1990s in Germany on the Sänger II, based on Eugen Sänger’s designs. But, as we are now beginning to see, for a first step towards reusability a vertical launch rocket with return to Earth capability may also be effective.

Obviously space solar power was then and still is now a controversial topic. But I was amazed then (and still am now) that space agencies have made not the slightest attempt to cash in on the anthropogenic global warming / clean energy meme by proposing to build prototype space power satellites.

Whether or not those satellites would ever have led to an economic power source for Earth is not the issue; after all, exploration of the Moon and Mars was not expected to lead to any economic application either. So in my view the agencies missed a golden opportunity to increase their funding and power and at the same time their political legitimacy and public image.

Reviewing my four recommendations now, nearly ten years on, they still seem to me to be as relevant as they were. Yet there’s no sign of them either in ESA’s current programmes or in its Lunar Village proposal.

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