Our mission is to study if we can become a space faring civilization 

What's the long term roadmap to space?

Shall we become one day a true space faring civilization? And what does this mean exactly anyway? When it comes to our long-term future, the best we can do is to define scenarios and study their respective likelihood. In most cases, we must admit that it’s much easier to do negative than positive predictions. In other words, we believe we can assess with a fairly high level of confidence that specific scenarios will certainly remain in the domain of science-fiction.

This should help us not wasting precious resources in directions that are unlikely to succeed in the long term. By quantifying hard limits and realistic boundaries of possible scenarios to space, we can hopefully influence academics and decision makers to avoid dead ends and focus on the most promising ideas.

To expand into space, we are studying three main areas, which we think will have a huge impact on our ability to become a space faring civilization:

        1) Energy

        2) Space economy

        3) Artificial Intelligence

 

On-going topics of research

Even if we achieve carbon emission neutrality and other sustainability goals, the overall size of Earth's global economy is facing an upper limit purely due to energy and thermodynamic factors. Our results indicate that for a 2% annual GDP growth, the upper limit will be reached at best within a few centuries, even in favorable scenarios where new energy sources such as fusion power are deployed on a massive scale. We conclude that unless GDP can be largely decoupled from energy consumption, thermodynamics will put a hard cap on the size of Earth’s economy. Further economic growth would necessary require expanding economic activities into space. We briefly explore the impact of a geoengineering mitigation strategy and show that it does not change fundamentally our conclusion.

You can download our research paper here

For the two largest sources of renewable energy (solar photovoltaic and onshore wind), land-use availability is the most important factor with the largest uncertainty and less well established in literature. By analyzing the influence of economic development and population density, we conclude that current renewable energy development is largely driven by geopolitical factors. Both current installed capacities are far from reaching their upper limits, but onshore wind is already facing more land constraints than solar PV. To get to their full potentials, a significant hydrogen export market will need to emerge due to a structural geographic imbalance between renewable energy potential and final consumption destination. Energy loss from this export market is for the first time considered to refine the upper limits of existing studies on this topic. We find a global combined potential of 1775 EJ per year. However, this result requires to dedicate more than 5% of total land on Earth to solar and wind energy generation, which will put a lot of pressure on land availability. 

You can download our research paper here

Although astronaut has often been put in the spotlight in the history of space exploration, manned missions are extremely costly and risky, making robotic missions the default approach for most space programs. However, two-way latencies from around 3 seconds for the Moon to up to 40 minutes for Mars, limits the efficiency of robotic operations on the ground. In this study, we compare the productivity of low-latency teleoperations conducted by astronauts orbiting the planetary body, with higher latency missions operated directly from Earth. Assuming that humans need to be at least twice as productive as robots to justify the risk to send them in space, it is found that  for a 10 ton robot on the planetary surface, low-latency teleoperations would have to be 8 times more productive than high latency for the Moon and 15 times more productive for Mars. If the mass of the robot on the ground is smaller, the productivity gain requirements increase drastically. These results suggest that low-latency teleoperations might be limited to narrow use cases.

You can download our research paper here

Mineral resources are available in limited quantities on Earth and will become more difficult to extract in the future. Space mining offers new prospects to extract the necessary resources to serve the needs of Earth’s economy. Some near-Earth asteroids (NEA) are believed to contain high value metals with attractive grades compared to Earth’s surface. In particular, Platinum which benefits from attractive market price and size, is often seen as one the best cases for asteroid mining. However, most existing studies have not put enough focus on throughput rate of ore processing, which is key to assess the overall viability of the project.

This study finds out that a minimum platinum selling price over 70,000 € per kg is required. This is significantly above current and historical market values of platinum, but still in the same order of magnitude. Analyzing this result in the context of likely future decreasing costs of space transportation, asteroid mining could therefore be seen as attractive in a context where platinum market price increases toward its historical heights and above.

However, in-situ processing equipment is limited to 1 ton for 25 tons launched from low Earth orbit. Based on state-of-the-art processing machines used by the mining industry on Earth, this last constraint appears to be unrealistic to obtain in-situ pure platinum from asteroid regolith.

As a result, we take into account a more comprehensive processing equipment and the fact that the output obtained from the in-situ processing is not pure platinum but just a higher concentration aggregate. With these additional constraints, the required platinum wholesale price has to increase by 3 orders of magnitude to around 25 M€ per kg. Given such a price gap, we conclude that a large asteroid mining venture aiming at Earth market is very unlikely, even over a 100-year time horizon.

You can download our research paper here.

Hardware and energy constraints for Artificial General Intelligence

Thanks to the progress achieved in machine learning, AI made a comeback in the last 10 years, Based on those successes, some people are convinced that Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) will be achieved in the coming decades or at least within this century. Others claim that when it comes to true AGI, we have done very little progress in the last 70 years and that it might be even be possible with a non-biological approach.

This project is looking at the end of Moore’s law and what could replace it.

Quantifying the energy required to make Mars atmosphere more suitable

Mars is today an incredibly hostile place for humans. In those circumstances, it’s hard to foreseen even in the long term, a human presence beyond an Antarctica-style scientific outpost. To make Mars somewhat attractive for a larger human settlement, the local conditions will need to massively improve, starting with the atmosphere. To achieve that, two methods have been proposed: bottom-up (using Mars in situ resources) or top-down (bringing resources from space).

This project compares the two methods from an energy requirement standpoint, with a focus on the top-down approach. Duration and cost of such a project are also estimated at high level.

ZENON Research 

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