Elon Musk will save the world!

Okay, the title is a bit click-baity

What I mean is that spaceX is building a space launching platform that is orders-of-magnitude more advanced then any other system (starship), and it looks like they will succeed.

Now, I don’t really care for Elon Musk as a person, I’m generally on the “tax rich people significantly more”, and (in reference to my title) spaceX has many more skilled engineers than Elon Musk.

That said, I think starship is critical to becoming carbon neutral. As Bezos has pointed out (and I hate to agree with real-life Lex Luthor), we need to get heavy industry off the planet, and so far it appears that starship is the ONLY platform even close to being able to achieve this.

Of course, there are MANY steps needed to go from starship → get heavy industry off the planet. Including significant advancement in how to operate heavy industry in orbit, and significant regulation to make orbital industry worth it. (Of course, the worrying bit to me is that this will take FAR more time to achieve then we have available given the rate of climate change).

I guess I have two debate topics:

  1. What do you think about mat conclusion: that we must get heavy industry off the planet, and starship is the only platform remotely capable of doing so?

  2. If you agree (or theoretically were to agree) with point 1, does this affect your opinion (if you have one) on taxing the rich? That is, SpaceX has thoroughly demonstrated how one multi-billionaire visionary can easily outpace the technological development of every nationally funded space program, and if we are forced to rely upon incompetent politicians to fund the right technology then we’ll never reach carbon neutrality.

(note, I’m not arguing AGAINST taxing the rich significantly more. I’m trying to figure out my own opinions on whether or not incompetent politicians or selfish billionaires should have power. I’m not crazy about either option).

What kind of industry are you talking about? Where are the raw materials for this industry going to come from? Where are the products of this industry going to be used or consumed?

The idea of getting any significant amount of heavy industry off the planet is so nonsensical that I don’t even know where to start.

Raw materials and fuel?
Energy for heavy industry in space?
Zero gravity manufacturing?
Getting the products back to earth?

… just a few points off the top of my head.

How about greener manufacturing processes? Seems a lot easier, and a lot cheaper.

Musk hasn’t achieved anything that “nationally funded space programs” haven’t already been doing for 60+ years. He’s not a visionary - he’s just a stoner with inherited enough blood emerald money to indulge his “Dude, what if there was a hotel in space?” idle musings, and the constant hero-worship directed at him just makes me glad that he can never ever run for president.

See this Bloomberg article (We’re Never Going to Mine the Asteroid Belt) to touch on a few of the issues.


Yeah, I think the idea that moving manufacturing off planet is the key to solving climate change is, using the technical term, batshit insane.

Elon Musk will save the billionaires, not the world. See the movie Elysium. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1535108/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

There are lots of industries we could build in space, like those fancy almost-0-loss fiber optic cables. Most of the raw materials we would need could be gotten in space - for example, a space station is mostly metal and glass, and both aluminum and silica are common on the moon.

But, that’s all years and years away, and is industry that we’d use IN ADDITION to earth-bound manufacturing. In other words, it’s not a solution to global warming, and it will come online far too late to help with that anyways.

In what way will it be better to manufacture these in space?

DISCLAIMER: IANAPhysicist, I just think this stuff is cool and have read up on it.


Basically, the atoms that make up the cable have to crystallize the right way, but on Earth gravity messes that process up and causes clumps that break up the light as it travels through the cable. The process is still good enough that these cables are used in lasers and other high-tech equipment, but on the scale of cables running along the sea floor from one side of the world to the other, these losses compound, and you end up needing to use expensive signal repeaters along the route.

But if you make the fiber in a microgravity environment you can avoid the clumps, and the crystals form correctly all the way through.

They’ve apparently successfully produced small amounts of this cable on the ISS already. They are also working on ways to do this on Earth, for example with a centrifuge, but apparently this is quite challenging, to the point that space based manufacturing is potentially viable (it helps that extremely high purity cables have astronomical per-pound costs, which is exactly what you need for viable space industries right now).

Emphasis mine

So now we’ve added “mine the Moon and lift the raw materials” to the complications of the operation …

Yeah, but that’s much, MUCH easier than bringing the materials up from Earth. Getting to orbit on a giant rocky planet with a decently thick atmosphere is ludicrously hard. Getting into orbit from the moon, by comparison, is easy.

Getting into orbit around Earth requires climbing past the thick atmosphere while fighting gravity, then accelerating to a ludicrously fast speed of around 8 km per second.

By comparison, to orbit the moon, you just need to aim away from mountains and get to a much more modest 2 km per second.

So yes, putting enough aluminum, silica, or oxygen to run a space industry in orbit would likely require us to bring up raw materials from the moon or from asteroids, not from Earth. For the same dV budget it takes to reach orbit, you could get almost anywhere in the solar system, especially if we’re dealing with cargo that can take its sweet time traveling, making use of gravity assists, etc. So it makes little sense to base our entire space industry around bringing heavy raw materials up from Earth surface.*

I DO think that the fact that once you have some industry in space it is much easier to make more will mean that things will eventually snowball, and we’ll go from no space manufacturing to lots of space manufacturing quickly, once we pass the tipping point.

But by that same token, that tipping point is going to be pretty hard and time consuming to reach, and in no way will space industry help us with the much more immediate issue of global warming.

*By the way, that’s why I think Elon Musk is foolish to focus on Mars so much. The last thing we want to do once we finally reach space is plop ourselves down another gravity well.

Thank you all for the responses.
I’m not really sure how to do cites correctly, so please forgive me.

Musk hasn’t achieved anything that “nationally funded space programs” haven’t already been doing for 60+ years. He’s not a visionary - he’s just a stoner with inherited enough blood emerald money to indulge his “Dude, what if there was a hotel in space?” idle musings, and the constant hero-worship directed at him just makes me glad that he can never ever run for president.

I think this is very technologically naive. Firstly, I care far more about what SpaceX has accomplished than Musk. I’m no fan of the man himself, but SpaceX has accomplished a great deal. The Falcon 9 rocket, for example, was a huge step forward for the industry. Before it was produced it was believed that propulsive landing was impossible. Now, because of SpaceX’s tremendous advancements, propulsive landing is almost becoming normal. This is a huge step forward, as it is allowing space travel to become MUCH cheaper and less materially wasteful. On top of this, the Falcon Heavy rocket is the largest currently operational. Starship will be the largest rocket ever produced. Even larger than the Saturn V. Despite its insane size, Starship will also be one of the cheapest rockets available due to its full and rapid re-usability. There are even (possibly ludicrous) estimates that a spaceship launch could eventually be as low as 2 million. Even if this is off by an order of magnitude it is ridiculously cheap. This is a total game-changer for the space industry.

Finally, your shots at Elon make no sense. Calling him a stoner is bigoted. What does it matter if someone smokes weed if it isn’t hurting him or anyone else? Why would you compare him to the president? Obviously Musk shouldn’t be president any more than Biden should make electric cars.

I think a reasonable* example for a heavy industry in space is steel production, which is responsible for up to 9% of global Co2 emissions. Of course improvements in technology can seriously reduce this, apparently up to 90% (The World Counts).

*by reasonable I mean that it is a good example of a destructive heavy industry, is representative of the difficulties of putting something in space, and the main raw material (iron) exists in vast quantities in space.

However, a 90% improvement in Co2 emission is insanely depressing. As I strongly suspect that even 90% improvement is no where near good enough. As we need to improve far more than just Co2 emission, but all ecological damage done by steel production (including land use, heat emission, etc…)

We already use 1.6 times the resources each year that the earth produces, and this is getting worse quicker. Not only is the population continuing to rise (fortunately more slowly), but far worse is that impoverished countries are becoming richer (worse in the sense of ecological impact). As population rises and gets richer we will need every more efficient industrial processes. However, there is a very strict limit of how efficient any process will be, we can’t make energy from nothing. Thus, there will come a point, probably not too far off I think, were it is impossible to live sustainably solely on one planet. (Ecological Footprint - Global Footprint Network)

My point is that, while I totally agree that moving heavy industry off-planet is bat-shit insane, we simply have no choice. As our species grows it will be physically impossible to live sustainably solely on one planet. Furthermore, looking at the tremendous gains we already need to make right now, this point seems to me to be very soon. One can only improve something by 90% so many times.

It’s much, much, MUCH easier to run the necessary infrastructure on Earth. Creating and operating that infrastructure on the Moon is ludicrously hard. And it will require many, many launches from Earth, so any environmental benefits will have a long, long payback time, or possibly never break even, unless Moon based manufacturing grows to be independent and repairs and replacements don’t require even more Earth launches.

Even the best case scenario of making some niche materials in zero g is barely less of a pipe dream than “we need to move polluting industry to space!”.

You are completely missing the point. It’s not “bat shit insane” as in “it’ll be very hard to do”, it is “bat shit insane” as in “it’s impossible to reduce pollution that way”. It’d be far easier to cover the Sahara with solar panels and electrify all Earth based industries. And that wouldn’t even require new technology.

I’m not sure if you actually read my post. I said the same thing, that this has absolutely nothing to do with stopping global warming or saving the environment. And also, that this will take a very long time to come about because until we get to the tipping point where we’re manufacturing anything heavy in situ, growth will be slow, but it will require quote a bit of growth to have already happened to reach that tipping point.

Literally nothing you said disagrees with what post said.

In 2020, the world produced 1,864,000,000 metric tonnes of steel.

You really think anything like that is going to be produced yearly somewhere in space, and sent down to earth? :rofl:

Just for a start, how many million people would you have to have in self-sustaining space colonies to do it?

Creating greener industries on earth will be about 1,864,000,000 times easier, cheaper, and more effective, and won’t take many centuries to accomplish. It’s also reasonably possible, not in the realms of fantasy.

I apologize for maintaining a connection with the actual topic of this thread when replying to your irrelevant tangent, but the opening sentence of my post clearly disagrees strongly with this one from the post it was replying to

Maybe you intended that to only refer to the required energy, fine. Colonization of space in the far future is beside the point of the OP anyway, so I’ll stop participating in the tangent.

I’m not just referring to the amount of energy needed, I’m referring to everything - life support, etc. It would be easier to provide life support to miners on the moon than it would be to bring raw materials for industry up from Earth. Not because life support on the moon is such an easy, already solved problem - but because getting to orbit at all, much less with any significant weight, is mind bogglingly hard.

I don’t see how it’s off topic to point out that since getting to orbit is so hard, the idea suggested by the OP - moving all industry to space - is not feasible, today OR in the distant future, unless you ALSO get all your raw materials from space. That means we won’t just have factories pop up in space over the next few decades until all of our industry is up there - it means that there’s a tipping point (when resources can be acquired in space) after which space industry is possible and can grow, but before which industrial development of space is almost impossible, limited to niche industries, and very slow to develop.

Since that tipping point is going to be so hard to get to, and even if we focus on it will take ages to accomplish anyways, arguing that space industry is going to save us from global warming is foolish.

You are severely underestimated the challenges of supporting miners on the moon.