February 14, 2011

Population limits of the earth and the solar system factoring in improved technology

Optimized O’Neill/Glaser Model for Human Population of Space and its Impact on Survival Probabilities Starting
the program of colonizing the solar system with smaller habitats (64 – 2000 persons) results in peak costs that are reduced by about 75 percent and one third reduction in time for financial break even (year 25 for the optimized model).

Two contemporary issues foretell a shift from our historical Earth based industrial economy and habitation to a solar system based society. The first is the limits to Earth’s carrying capacity, that is the maximum number of people that the Earth can support before a catastrophic impact to the health of the planet and human species occurs. The simple example of carrying capacity is that of a bacterial colony in a Petri dish with a limited amount of nutrient. The colony experiences exponential population growth until the carrying capacity is reached after which catastrophic depopulation often results. Estimates of the Earth’s carrying capacity vary between 14 and 40 billion people. Although at current population growth rates we may have over a century before we reach Earth’s carrying limit our influence on climate and resources on the planetary scale is becoming scientifically established. The second issue is the exponential growth of knowledge and technological power. The exponential growth of technology interacts with the exponential growth of population in a manner that is unique to a highly intelligent species. Thus, the predicted consequences (world famines etc.) of the limits to growth have been largely avoided due to technological advances. However, at the mid twentieth century a critical coincidence occurred in these two trends – humanity obtained the technological ability to extinguish life on the planetary scale (by nuclear, chemical, biological means) and attained the ability to expand human life beyond Earth. This paper examines an optimized O’Neill/Glaser model (O’Neill 1975; Curreri 2007; Detweiler and Curreri 2008) for the economic human population of space. Critical to this model is the utilization of extraterrestrial resources, solar power and spaced based labor. A simple statistical analysis is then performed which predicts the robustness of a single planet based technological society versus that of multiple world (independent habitats) society.



Concurrently we gained the technological power for people to leave the planet, as was illustrated by landing men on the moon. It was quickly realized (O’Neill, 1975) that by utilizing extraterrestrial materials and energy that we also had the ability to colonize space. NASA studies (Johnson and Holbrow, 1977) confirmed that it was technically possible to build large vista space habitats in free space, essentially anywhere in the solar system (out to the asteroid belt if only solar power were used) with up to about 4 million people in each. In O’Neill’s habitat model the space citizens would live on the inside surfaces of radiation shielded spheres, cylinders, or torus’s which would be rotated to provide Earth normal gravity. The prohibitive Earth launch costs for these massive structures could be off set by using lunar and asteroid materials. Construction of (Glaser, 1974) space solar power satellites by the space colonists would make the project economically viable. Economic break even for the O’Neill-Glaser model was calculated to be about 35 years after which very large profits would be incurred. The result would have been a solar powered Earth and millions of people living in space by the beginning of the twenty first century.

In this paper a simple model is suggested to analyze the risk of self induced extinction with continued growth in technological power for single and multiple habitat.

Recently the O’Neill-Glaser model was recalculated (Detweiler and Curreri, 2008) to find the financially optimum habitat size. For simplicity only the habitat size was changed and the financial costs of money and energy updated, while keeping the original 1975 technological assumptions. In order to make the model financially viable the workers must live in space, space resources must be utilized and the community must build Space Solar Power Satellites, SSPS. A net present value plot showing the original calculations (Johnson and Holbrow, 1977) building 10,000 person torus habitats compared to calculations for the habitat size that optimizes costs. Starting the program with smaller habitats (64 – 2000 persons) results in peak costs that are reduced by about 75 percent and one third reduction in time for financial break even (year 25 for the optimized model).


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