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## The sky's gone dark

Here's a technological question with philosophical side-effects that's been bugging me for the past few days ...

Today, the commercial exploitation of outer space appears to be a growth area. Barely a week goes by without a satellite launch somewhere on the planet. SpaceX has a gigantic order book and a contract to ferry astronauts to the ISS, probably starting in 2018; United Launch Alliance have a similar manned space taxi under development, and there are multiple competing projects under way to fill low earth orbit with constellations of hundreds of small data relay satellites to bring internet connectivity to the entire planet. For the first time since the 1960s it's beginning to look as if human activity beyond low earth orbit is a distinct possibility within the next decade.

But there's a fly in the ointment.

Kessler Syndrome, or collisional cascading, is a nightmare scenario for space activity. Proposed by NASA scientist Donald Kessler in 1978, it proposes that at a certain critical density, orbiting debris shed by satellites and launch vehicles will begin to impact on and shatter other satellites, producing a cascade of more debris, so that the probability of any given satellite being hit rises, leading to a chain reaction that effectively renders access to low earth orbit unacceptably hazardous.

This isn't just fantasy. There are an estimated 300,000 pieces of debris already in orbit; a satellite is destroyed every year by an impact event. Even a fleck of shed paint a tenth of a millimeter across carries as much kinetic energy as a rifle bullet when it's traveling at orbital velocity, and the majority of this crud is clustered in low orbit, with a secondary belt of bits in geosychronous orbit as well. The ISS carries patch kits in case of a micro-particle impact and periodically has to expend fuel to dodge dead satellites drifting into its orbit; on occasion the US space shuttles suffered windscreen impacts that necessitated ground repairs.

If a Kessler cascade erupts in low earth orbit, launching new satellites or manned spacecraft will become very hazardous, equivalent to running across a field under beaten fire from a machine gun with an infinite ammunition supply. Sooner or later you'll be hit. And the debris stays in orbit for a very long time, typically years to decades (centuries or millennia for the particles in higher orbits). Solar flares might mitigate the worst of the effect by causing the earth's ionosphere to bulge—it was added drag resulting from a solar event that took down Skylab prematurely in the 1970s—but it could still deny access to low orbit for long enough to kill the viability of any commercial launch business. And then there's the nightmare scenario: a Kessler cascade in geosynchronous orbit. The crud up there will take centuries to disperse, mostly due to radiation degradation and the solar wind gradually blowing it into higher orbits.

So here's my question.

Postulate a runaway Kessler syndrome kicks off around 2030, at a point when there are thousands of small comsats (and a couple of big space stations), ranging from very low orbits to a couple of thousand kilometers up. Human access to space is completely restricted; any launch at all becomes a game of Russian roulette. (You can't carry enough armor plating to protect a manned capsule against a Kesseler cascade—larger bits of debris, and by "large" I mean with masses in the 0.1-10 gram range—carry as much kinetic energy as an armor-piercing anti-tank projectile.) Unmanned satellites are possible, but risk adding to the cascade. So basically we completely lose access to orbit.

There are some proposals to mitigate the risk of Kessler Syndrome by using microsats to recover and deorbit larger bits of debris, and lasers to evaporate smaller particles, but let's ignore these for now: whether or not they work, they don't work unless we start using them before Kessler syndrome kicks in.

So, suppose that with the exception of already-on-orbit GPS clusters and high altitude comsats, we can't launch anything else for a century. What effect does it have on society and geopolitics when the sky goes dark?

1:

Obvious ones are loss of GPS and its impact on military capabilities and well, everything from shipping logistics to getting to your buddy's party these days

Loss of spy satellites with the resulting impact on intelligence - could theoretically be mitigated with spy drones stepping in for high altitude flights like in the cold war except

loss of communication satellites means ability to remote operate drones goes to shit; going to need either heavy autonomous capabilities or start deploying F-22s and using that variation on their radar suite that lets them act as a supersonic stealth AWACS so direct the fleet of drones. Either way, again, huge impact on military operations.

Basically I'd guess at 2008 but less stable - instead of a credit freeze impeding ability to do business, it will be a freeze in supply chains. The geopolitical instability that flows from the upending of the global trade network will have far fewer eyes on it so can spin out in different and more extreme directions before the hegemonic power structure (HPS) can step in (eg invasion/annexation of Ukraine), and the ability of the HPS to do so will be curtailed in that military and paramilitary action is heavily restricted

2:

Sounds like the premise of Seveneves. Assuming nobody comes up with a way to fix it (send up (or down) something that sprays gas that slows orbits), it all depends on how dependent society is on LEO and/or GSO in 2030. Assuming 2030 isn't more different from now as 2015 is from 2000, we just look at what we use space for now. But that leads right into how current uses are planned to ramp up, ie we can't make the 2030 is to 2015 as 2015 is to 2000 assumption. All this stuff that's supposed to depend on GPS (self driving cars etc...) will stop working. Depending on how dependent the cutting edge types are on that stuff the consequences could be dire. How about passenger jets? They'll be grounded until they can be retrofitted. It won't happen fast enough to catch anybody mid Atlantic, or mid highway, but it will drive them back into the 20th century. Also satellite TV will go down. But also the developing world is expecting to start using satellite coms for stuff the developed world uses cables for. So they'll lose internet and phone service in Lagos. Dreams of space migration will be postponed, but eventually somebody will come up with a solution so they can be resumed. The second order effects now. What happens when we have to go back to 20th century air travel or car travel, or maybe just give up on them because of the approaching glacier of glaciers receding (railroads and clippers, 19th century now? Much of civilization is predicated on forward progress, like a shark. Can it pivot without pain? Who really thinks so? Contracting economies get more zero sum, more feudal...

3:

Note I'm assuming that the remaining GPS clusters and comsats get immediately top prioritized, leaving most of the demand for those features the same as if every thing was gone - its off limits, and what remains is fragmented between a few players who may or may not share, and if they do may not necessarily do so in the most efficient manner

4:

If I understand things correctly, you don't just get ONE Kessler event, you get one per height-inclination pair. If so, this means total blockage is quite improbable, but dodging becomes rather expensive. Also, aren't orbits at a high inclination to the equator unstable because of varying gravitational effects from the moon + highly increased drag from even fractional fragments of atmosphere?

Also, if you had two such events at the same height, what would happen at the points where their orbits crossed? This, it seems to me, would increase the drag, and increase the fragmentation.

I think that Kessler events automatically tend to result in planetary ring systems, but I've got no idea of the time scale.

My first thought, however, is that launches up through the polar axis shouldn't be very affected. It's just a lot more expensive.

5:

This is a social problem more than a technological one. Honestly, I can't think of anything up in the sky whose function absolutely couldn't be replicated with ground- or aviation-based workarounds. Lay a bunch of fiberoptic cable, launch a bunch of balloons, and install a bunch of land-based radio beacons for navigation and you've got most of it covered. However, those workarounds would be expensive, less reliable, and probably only be effective in certain areas.

So the real question is, is your society willing and able to do that? If you live in Europe, maybe. If you live in the U.S. under President Sanders, maybe. If you live in the U.S. under President Cruz, probably not. If you live in the 2030 equivalent of Syria (which may still be Syria), definitely not. Right now enterprising people in countries that lack infrastructure can use the orbital infrastructure to make up for it because it means being able to bypass their own governments. That would end, and essentially you could have very large parts of the world that live like North Korea and we wouldn't know because the news couldn't get out.

6:

No, you get just one Kessler event, because each collision of which there will be more and more, releases a cloud of debris with sufficiently spread angular momentum that a very short time into the cascade, access to space is effectively denied.

It's worth noticing that in the initial part of the cascade, access to airspace may also be denied: For some months it might rain down with so much of the bigger junk that it makes commercial jet-travel too risky - world wide.

I think the main impact of the Kessler event will be optical.

There is a whole slew of antisocial practices which are currently only kept in check by optical surveillance and the Kessler event would essentially take us back to U2/SR71 days.

Pretty much anything else up there can be realistically worked around: Fiber instead of comsats, LORAN instead of GPS/GNSS, coastal radio augmented by buoys for SAR etc.

But there is no realistic way to replace the services of LandSat and friends.

Do the math on solar-powered drones and it just doesn't add up because altitude matters a LOT for line of sight.

7:

The orbital junk issue is one that has been largely ignored until now. However, it is not impossible to fix, at least at reasonably low altitude. It goes like this:

Develop a relatively small (few hundred kg) satellite with a system inside it that creates a large (50-100m) sphere of foamed plastic - and launch this thing into a retrograde orbit to the one you want to clear.

Pieces of debris hit this thing. If they are small pieces, the foam ball is slowed down slightly while the debris remains inside. Alternatively, the piece of debris is slowed down by friction and may well deorbit fairly soon afterwards.

At some opportune time, if the sweeper hasn't de-orbited already (remembering that being of low density it is affected a great deal by friction) then fire retros to deorbit it - and the sphere itself, complete with a few thousand loose bolts/urine bags/scraps of wire/whatever, burns up with no effect except, possibly, a bright fireball and a shower of shooting stars.

8:

No satellites also means no weather satellites, which will probably drive back weather forcasts to the 1960s. That could mean some problems with food production.

Kessler syndrome was also the outcome of Gravity.

9:

You replace a lot of satellite coverage by using high attitude robotic aircraft and balloons. What you would miss is the big picture, environmental or cultural infrastructure on the large scale as you wouldn't be able to take images high enough to show it.

Paul

10:

Thinking of life down here on Earth, if such an event happens after self driving cars become commonplace - there's going to be a sudden rise in the casualty rate though road traffic accidents and people who have relied upon the tech to drive them for so long have to suddenly drive themselves (assuming the cars by this point have a manual option).

Likewise public transportation networks (if they still exist and haven't been replaced by fleets of self driving vehicles) will become stretched. (to a degree that makes present day rush hour chaos seem serene)

Back end logistical networks will be effected in the same way, leading to loss of vital services and shortages.

Basically anything that moves will be unable to rely on consistent GPS, and the way things seem to be developing at present, we are going to have a dramatic increase in things that move over the coming years. (delivery drones being just the tip of an autonomous iceberg!)

11:

LORAN and DECCA were around before GPS and while sets were expensive then, that technology is staggeringly simple compared to now. So we'd see a proliferation of infrastructure like phone network towers that are also GPS beacons taking the role of the satellites. Shore stations for maritime applications with hugely tall towers for high accuracy at line-of-sight frequencies in coastal waters and, as per the old days, shortwave for over-the-horizon capability.

Long-flying, solar powered drones and blimps for comms network nodes constrained by increasing frequency (and severity) of severe weather events. Autonomous vehicles would still be totally viable, but the infrastructure to run them may become more expensive to maintain. There's a threshold to that I guess, where the utility is realised before the change to infrastructure is needed.

12:

After the consequences of telecoms disruption I expect that stratalite technology will receive crash funding. Broader consequences...wouldn't ICBMs be affected? If long range nuclear missiles suddenly became non viable there could be a lot of political tension, that and a rush to fund super sonic, long range bombers.

13:

Almost no effects from the POV of ordinary people.
We lose GPS, but inertial guidance and mobile phone towers are good enough to replace it.
Comms satellites? Fibre is better.

And if we really want to clear near Earth orbit we could do it with super-HAARP heating and bouncing the ionosphere upwards to massively increase drag. It was, after all, one of the HAARP research projects for an ABM shield.

14:

Assuming there's no clearance, and no Seventeves catastrophe like blowing up the moon, I guess we're most likely looking at something in LEO since there's a lot more that's been happening there. Geosynchronous orbits are relatively emptier because although there's a quite a lot of stuff up there it's basically only stuff we've deliberately put there because it's relatively hard to get there.

After that, it becomes guess work. Assuming the debris cloud isn't too radio-opaque a lot of GPS-type stuff probably works. We might need to programme receivers to look for more signals and so on, it might not be so convenient, but it will probably still work. Adding new satellites of course, to that network will be an issue. How often do they break down or get old and go out of service? I guess we'll see a gradual decline rather than an instant failure and if they last long enough maybe it will survive past the worst of it so it can be restored again. You might be able to risk punching through LEO to repair one... it will be a risk but will the rewards be enough?

Stuff into LEO will be a nightmare. You can't stay there for any length of time. Things like the ISS will be goners. There won't be a zero-G industry. Trips to Mars and the Moon will probably be off the drawing board, the extra risk will be just too high. Anything in the spy industry will go. Telecoms satellites will go. Hubble and the like will go. But we'll adjust to those things I think. Pipe it through fibre optic cables and so on maybe, for the civilian operations.

I think what will really suffer will be space science. Ground-based observatories will be stuffed. Orbital observatories will be knocked down. Can't launch the likes of Voyager, Mars Explorer, Pilae etc.

And if you want to build a doomsday scenario behind that, wait until just after the Kessler event, then have a dinosaur killer come at the Earth, we're meant to be due for one, why not in 2035 in this time line?

15:

Solar powered drones/balloons can take over some observational, communications relay, and positioning system roles. As noted above individual units won't have nearly the coverage you can get from a satellite, but they look to be cheaper than satellites too. The Aquila communications relay plane that Facebook is working on is supposed to be able to reach 90,000 feet, whereas the most violent tropical storms reach to about 75,000 feet. Whether storms could actually crash them depends on how much altitude the units can keep during nighttime glide-down.

It would still be painful losing the sort of big-picture images you can get from weather satellites. It could also destabilize relations between geopolitical rivals as routine visual monitoring of territory with working air defenses is no longer possible.

Except in areas of low population density -- including rural Nigeria but not Lagos -- terrestrial fiber optic cables have already mostly taken over long distance data traffic. So I'm not worried about disruption of communications for the vast majority of civilians.

16:

So basically we completely lose access to orbit.

You are exaggerating the problem. Seriously, do you imagine Kessler Syndrome as every single inch of near-Earth space covered in debris, like in WALL-E?

17:

NOTE: loss of GPS isn't an immediate problem -- GPS sats are in high, interestingly inclined orbits, way above LEO. The real problem will be loss of launch capability (so GPS degrades over a period of years) and loss of global phone/internet coverage. Also: No more altitude spy sats AND NO WEATHER SATS. after about 5-15 years we lose the ability too spot CMEs heading our way, which is terrible news if you posit an electronics based society running into a Carrington Event without warning.

18:

WRONG.

see above. (Also expect to see a revival of LORAN for airliners, augmented by modern INS.)

19:

Kessler will make it more difficult to access orbits, but we're nowhere near close to being an impenetrable curtain.

The most problematic is the geosync orbit, but it's the easiest to clean up since pretty much everything is close to the equatorial orbit. An ion engine tug can fairly easily match orbits with dead satellites and collect them.

And then we have higher orbits - lots of satellites can live there just fine. In particular: GPS sats, weather satellites, TV broadcast.

20:

Also, I'm disappointed by how many of you are ignoring the question; that are the social effects? (Hint: global broadband access suddenly crashes and its back to what land lines are remaining to carry the backhaul in the developed world -- where such things exist. In places with less infrastructure it's going to be grim ...)

21:

Dammit. I've got work to do, but someone on the internet is wrong.

Briefly, most of the comments so far (with @RDSouth as an excellent exception, with an honorable mention to @Hisham), while informed and thoughtful, neglect the systems aspect of this. Lost or impaired capabilities are largely treated in isolation.

This approach doesn't address OGH's question too effectively. Systems consequences - basically, knock-on effects kicking off other knock-on effects kicking off other knock-on effects, and so on, until stable patterns reemerge - would completely eclipse concerns about specific military or logistical systems.

If Earth in 2030 is as dependent on satellite services as seems likely, it would not just be a matter of downshifting to pre-satellite technology.

First, much of that pre-satellite technology would need more of a ramp-up time than the problem-in-isolation analysis would suggest. It would take longer and cost more. We eagerly discard older, more expensive technologies as high-tech alternatives become available, leaving existing stocks, infrastructure, and skills to rot. Reconstituting those older technological ecologies would be startlingly difficult in many cases.

Second, and much more importantly, those dratted knock-on effects would pretty much guarantee the world would be a raging mess in short order. Logistics is far too critical to the economy of the flattened, just-in-time world. Props to @Mister_DK for

...2008 but less stable - instead of a credit freeze impeding ability to do business, it will be a freeze in supply chains. The geopolitical instability that flows from the upending of the global trade network will have far fewer eyes on it...

although I think he's underestimating the impact of "a freeze in supply chains". It isn't a question of keeping an eye on trouble spots. It's much worse than that. How long can any region on Earth (I don't even say "country") keep running smoothly when the stuff you need stops showing up? Gasoline? Medicine? Food?

Many people would argue that there are remediations that will easily forestall that crisis situation. Yes, there are. You are correct as far as it goes.

The problem with the Kessler cascade is that it would happen too quickly. Neither governments not nongovernmental entities would have the time to respond effectively, before the ability to implement those remediations is diminished. It becomes a receding horizons problem.

So, Charlie: big fun answer. A Kessler cascade would be uncomfortably like the Stars Coming Right...

22:

Global broadband access will in no wise be impacted (so to speak) by a Kessler cascade. Inmarsat users in yurts and on cargo ships will be, but the overwhelming majority of civilian broadband traffic travels via terrestrial links of various kinds.

The high-tech Western militaries would be significantly impacted - out-of-theater drone operations would no longer be possible, as well as all the other comms and sensors (including imagery and sigint, as mentioned earlier) which depend upon satellite data transmission.

Ian Tregillis' _Something More Than Night_ takes place in a world in which a Kessler cascade took place . . . but one of a very different nature than is being discussed here. He choked a bit on the ending, but I still recommend it highly.

23:

Step 1: launch a bunch of small objects in orbits to intersect with and deorbit (and deorbit themselves) any sufficiently large chunk of debris. All I need to do here is impart enough kinetic energy (in the opposite direction) that neither object in the collision has sufficient velocity to maintain orbit. Note that this does not need to be survivable by either- I'm declaring everything garbage. So the deorbiter can be as stupid and cheap (not counting launch costs) as a piece of rock. The deorbiter doesn't even need to start with enough momentum to maintain orbit- it can be suborbital, so long as it gets high enough to intersect with the debris.

Thinking about it, it doesn't need to want to be a rocket itself- I'm thinking of rail guns floated by high altitude balloons. Note that the balloons are still in the atmosphere, and so are safe- but they can get up to 20+ miles up, and above most of the pesky atmosphere, so small (1KG) dumb projectiles could be launched from there up into low earth orbit.

Once we've cleared LEO, we can use that as a toe hold to clear out higher orbits.

24:

[I include submarine cables in 'terrestrial', btw.]

25:

All you need to scrag anything in LEO is a sounding rocket full of roofing nails and a decent orbital dynamics calculation program.

26:

Did you set up this scenario just so that we can sit in a circle and fantasise about the SR-71 making a come-back?

Hmmm, if very low orbit is saturated enough, inter-continental ballistic missiles and perhaps even long-range submarine-based ballistic missiles might become useless, which would entail a return of the bomber as a backbone of nuclear deterrence. Depending on how much you would want to have a swift second strike, we would be looking at a revival of ludicrous programmes such as the XB-70 Valkyrie.

Overall, reminds me of "Missile Gap": subtly changing the environment so that some exotic technology of our world becomes the mainstream (ground effect crafts in "Missile gap", weirdo ships and blimps in "To Your Scattered Bodies Go", etc).

27:

ICBMs, SLBMs, and FOBS mostly follow trajectories between anticipated combatants which probably wouldn't be impaired. SLBMs, especially, as they're mobile (ASW becomes even more important).

And of course, blasting paths where necessary (after all, in a strategic nuclear exchange, EMP is a given) is also a possibility.

The various flavors of cruise missiles would be utilized, so no renaissance of manned strategic bombers - which exist in Western militaries only as a revenue engine for defense contractors, as even a B-2 or medium-term follow-on really isn't survivable against a near-peer adversary.

28:

Socially the effect on mentality might be a soft version of what happens in "The City and the Stars": the idea of space travel becomes impossible because space is prohibitively hostile.

Might not be very much of a change from now, where the idea of space travel becomes impossible because space is prohibitively expensive and we have to spend all the money on indulging the filthy-rich what remains on a Camus-like foreign policy (killing Arabs for no discernible reason like in "The Stranger").

29:

Social and geopolitical ...

With the Internet being exclusively terrestrial, governments are able to control information flows across their borders. The Great Firewall of China remains effective, authoritarian governments around the world are able to implement similar controls. Dissent is stifled.

In people's day-to-day lives, not much changes. There are terrestrial alternatives to GPS, and comsats are almost obsolete anyway. Weather forecasting becomes more costly and unexpected cyclones/hurricanes may cause more damage than otherwise.

In rich/developed countries, Greens use Space Pollution as the prime example of what happens when we listen to the tech-heads and military types. No non-Greens listen, much, because no-one had much tangible connection to space anyway.

In physics, cosmology quickly becomes a dead end (Hubble and Kepler are destroyed) before we figure out anything about dark matter/dark energy and the discipline focusses on mostly empty theorising. Physics in general becomes a backwater in the sciences.

Overall there is a ... congealing, a loss of social mobility, a slowing of progress on scientific and economic matters, and a slow regression to authoritarianism in politics.

30:

Robert Charles Wilson's Spin had a similar space-access-denied component though it was a mysterious alien bubble rather than Kessler syndrome that sealed Earth from space. In the book a company developing long endurance UAVs reaps a huge windfall from the loss of satellites, though that's not the main thrust of the story. 10 years later there are enough companies actually pursuing that sort of UAV that it seems unlikely any one of them could quickly ride Kessler syndrome to the Fortune 100.

31:

The intro to Freespace 2 captured it quite nicely.

32:

Yeah, long-duration heliostats linked in relays would be a major priority, especially for the Western militaries.

Since the ChiComs don't have decent C3ISTAR and aren't likely to have it anytime soon, sweeping LEO is likely their first move if they decide to kick up their heels.

33:

You do realize that right now Chinese internet access is overwhelmingly via terrestrial cables, right? Bypassing the Great Firewall involves tricks to avoid the censor logic, not a separate physical layer. Unless you're a foreigner paying through the nose to get a trickle of data through Iridium, I guess.

34:

Lose spy sats and you lose verification when it comes to strategic arms treaties. You also lose early warning.

Expect land based ICBMs and launch on warning to come back into fashion.

35:

Nonsense. Anything which impedes 'globalization' is a net defeat for the various forms of creeping (and leaping) authoritarianism.

Great powers muddled along quite nicely prior to 1957. You greatly exaggerate the importance of space-based assets and greatly undervalue mid-20th-Century tech. Given that the absolute peak of human civilizational achievement was around 1974 or thereabouts, mid-TwenCen augmented by modern electronics, materials science, aerospace tech, et. al. would do just fine.

36:

Expect Safeguard writ large to come back into fashion - which is a good thing, as all a useful ABM system needs to do is sufficiently attrit a first strike eto raise the odds of a minimum-capability second-strike force to ride it out and remain operational.

37:

What does Chinese civilian Internet access (or impediments thereto) have to do with C3ISTAR?

38:

Yes, I do. Note that I said "remains effective".

In the counterfactual to Charlie's hypothesis, Elon Musk (or someone else) succeeds in launching about a hundred cheap low-orbit micro-satellites that provide Internet access to anyone with a pizza-box receiver, anywhere in the world. In that, expected, scenario, government firewalls become useless.

39:

The social impact would be less noticeable in the developed world.

GPS has popped up a few times in comments. GPS (and EGNOS, Glonass, Beidou, Galileo) satellites have a planned service life of around 15 years, but a constellation would still give a good enough signal for 30 years. It is worth noting that GPS isn't actually very good - nowhere near accurate to enough to tell you what side of the road you're on, even with EGNOS.

The developed world could quite easily develop a ground-based system. Smart meters (for electricity and gas) are a great way of doing this - millions of little boxes in a fixed position squirting out a signal from time to time. You don't even need them to tell you the time, there are so many of them that you can navigate by doppler comparison.

Weather forecasting would suffer, but a lot of this could be overcome with ultra high altitude balloons.

Comms is one of the areas that I think would be least affected. Satellite TV and comms were a great mid-late 20th century idea. Now they suffer from too much lag/too little bandwidth.

From a dystopian angle, just to please Charlie, it would give any totalitarian government a lot more control over its people. To get signals in or out of the country would require wires which can be cut, radio signals from outside which can be disrupted on the borders, or overflying balloons which can be shot down.

A lot of the things we currently do in space are done because it is cheaper, not better. Satellite imagery isn't very good, but is cheaper than flying over the entire world every 12 hours. Comm sats provide slow and expensive comms, but they provide them to islands with 10k residents in the middle of an ocean.

40:

I agree with others who really don't see this scenario hitting broadband access in a way that could be called a crash, which as noted is mostly carried via undersea cable.

Adding low-warning suddenness to the scenario changes things from an infrastructure perspective. Switching to Loran-D (for digital, hnur hnur) certainly couldn't be instantaneous and there would be economic follow-on and higher order effects. A sudden uptake in demand for somewhat more skilled navigation officers in the merchant marine, too, and it's certainly possible to see that skillset as relatively rare in another 15 years. Shipmasters in senior roles now would have been trained, but in another 15 years perhaps not. I guess I'm saying - if you took out GPS *now*, the global merchant marine fleet would recover with existing available resources and only a few disasters and while perhaps the situation would be different in 2030 I'm not sure I go along with the low-warning scenario either.

Weather prediction is one thing that many have noted as a significant impact, and given more and more severe weather events this could be a major problem. But we also see a proliferation of smart, networked objects. Maybe loss of satellite comms is a setback for those, or maybe even by 2030 these are creating their own networks.

I see lots of other weird social changes in the next 15-30 years, but I'm really not clear loss of access to LEO is that big a deal (unless as noted it's really sudden and comes with no warning... then major crash I suppose)

41:
So, suppose that with the exception of already-on-orbit GPS clusters and high altitude comsats, we can't launch anything else for a century.

A century seems too long to be realistic for me, especially if it's in Low Earth Orbit. They'll be seriously throwing money into stuff like "laser brooms" and other ways to try and deorbit much of the space garbage - it won't be overnight, but it would be in use 10-20 years after the event.

42:

Nonsense. Authoritarian governments benefit from space tech, dissidents don't.

And you even contradict yourself in your last paragraph.

43:

Weather prediction hasn't substantially increased in accuracy over the last 50 years or so, so that won't be an issue.

44:

The bottom line is that a Kesller cascade doesn't make 'the sky go dark'. It mainly makes Western militaries develop cataracts.

45:

Anything which impedes 'globalization' is a net defeat for the various forms of creeping (and leaping) authoritarianism.

Sometime, you will have to fill in the steps in the chain of reasoning here, because it's not at all obvious to me. How would globalization be impeded by the loss of access to space? The tech we have now, which depends very little on space, is more than adequate for regimes exceeding Metternich's wildest fantasies.

Any slowing of progress consolidates existing elites in their positions, by reducing the threat of disruption.

Economically, yes, we would coast along fine for fifty years or so applying the physics we have now, but fundamental research would be greatly hampered. Eventually applied science would coast to a stop as well. Society would be static again; the route to wealth would be to marry it or be born into it.

46:

The social effect?

Right now, the internet in full - data, location services, surveillance - exists in areas densely populated with mid-to-high-income consumers; and a restricted-bandwidth subset of the internet is available elsewhere, via satellite, at considerable expense.

Without satellites, 'elsewhere' becomes The Wilderness. Or maybe The Howling Void. Or whatever: who knows? Whatever happens there, nobody records it - there's no cloud! - and nobody knows.

Those guys who went up into the Adirondacks and saw the Bigfoot? Yeah, right. No location information and they had this chickenshit solid-state 'recording device' for a whole day of videoshopping the footage before it got up into the Net. he only 'real' thing about it was the dope they were smoking and *nobody* lives up there except crazy old men.

You know the kind I mean - like wide-eyed kids from Wuhan, come down from the mountains where they still, like, *write* and suddenly it's Wow! Electricity! And why does everybody in Shanghai talk to me r-e-a-l-l-y s-l-o-w-l-y like I'm retarded?

...And slowly this predigital anthropithicus realises that, actually, he *is* retarded: he can't communicate at our speed, and people have to keep on stopping to explain, and explain, and explain, because not knowing things is still a thing where he's from - and it's a thing where *he* is, right now, all the time, and it's gonna take him as long to catch up - and be merely stooopid - as it takes kids to move from burbling to Communicating non-stop and only needing to nopp and get an explanation when it's new, nontrivial, and interesting.

And the kid from Wuhan and the crazy old men in the Adirondacks pay for stuff with paper symbols instead of continuously-communicated barter. There is still a theoretical exchange rate but... I mean, do you actually want all the explanation that's gonna take? Paper. Money. Reified representations of a static model of continuous credit used as an approximate exchange...

No, I didn't think you were all that interested. You just give them stuff and they go back to the mountains, and f*** knows what they do up there.

Being born off the full Net is the ticket to predigital illiteracy: and, without satellites, large areas of the Earth will never be profitable to hook up to cable, or even link up with a relay drone.

A benign nation-state will step in and fix that; many won't.

47:

Weather prediction has improved a lot in the last 50 years.

I don't really see the "lack of space access leads to societies stagnating" model. It's not that important to social/political movements or basic or applied scientific research. If you want to see the next incredible S-curve in fundamental and applied science, gaze upon cellular/molecular biology, a profoundly rich and space-access-insensitive area of research.

48:

In case you hadn't realized, satellite broadband data access sucks. It isn't really useful except for semi-offline stuff due to induced latency to/from geostationary orbit.

Even an LEO Iridium re-run suffers from enough latency to make the most mundane Internet activities unpleasant.

49:

Wow. When you're wrong, you like to go whole-hog on it, don't you?

Don't troll. Either contribute meaningfully, or don't bother.

50:

No, weather prediction hasn't improved much in the last 50 years, as I can confidently assert as a firsthand observer of its stagnation.

I agree that lack of satellite comms doesn't lead to societies stagnating.

As for the biology stuff - inside every chemist is a failed physicist, and inside every biologist is a failed chemist.

;>

51:

Satellite data access is useful for areas that don't require feedback (e.g., broadcast data such as television), or where the latency issues are less important than the bandwidth. (To pick a place, Antarctica.)

There are a surprising number of cases where you can deal with high latency by faking it; a fictional example that I always like is in A Fire Upon the Deep, where some instructions are sent as a self-contained mini-AI, because the bandwidth outclassed the latency to the point that it was more effective to do that. Non-fictional examples happen fairly regularly with games.

52:

I'm not trolling, nor am I wrong. Satellite broadband is marginally more useful than no broadband at all, but not for near-time stuff.

It's very high-latency, even LEO stuff adds painful latency. And the available bandwidth is a trickle, and super-expensive.

53:

I should say: space access isn't that important to most scientific research. Some kinds of astronomy would be badly impaired, and that would make me sad. But that's only a tiny fraction of all basic research, and I don't really think we are missing out on technologically exploitable discoveries if astronomy goes stagnant. Black holes, white dwarfs, neutron stars, exoplanets: all of them fascinating, none of them much affecting our lives on Earth. So it will probably go in the future too.

54:

What you're saying is that high-latency satellite comms is most useful for batch-type stuff, and I concur wholeheartedly.

That doesn't correlate with what the cool kids think of as 'Internet access'. Faking it locally doesn't work for their needs, which are high-interactivity.

55:

That is a fallacious argument. The fact is weather forecasting has improved scarily over the past 50 years; the fact that you don't think so means you've either chosen to ignore history, or are ignorant of it.

Weather forecasting has improved due to significant improvements in both computation resources (modeling weather is a lot easier now), and telemetry (both satellite and non-satellite instruments).

I'm not going to argue the point, since I'm not a climatologist. But I have communicated with some, and they've impressed the heck out of me.

56:

Concur - and there's a lot of exotic particle research with major implications for astronomy and cosmology which is just now in its infancy, and almost all of it is terrestrial.

57:

The "cool kids" think of "Internet access" primarily as the ability to do asynchronous communications (texting and posting to facebook/twitter/whatever), to watch videos, and to look at web pages. Web pages can be interactive with no communication with the server.

Real-time communications require low latency, but other than video/audio chats, the need for that is dropping.

58:

I'd be shocked if Kessler syndrome at ~200Km (low Earth orbit, where communications satellites are) produced enough debris with sufficiently eccentric orbits to cause Kessler syndrome at ~35,000km (geostationary orbit) or 20,000km (GPS satellite altitude). At 200km, you're talking about a shell measuring 180,000,000 square kilometers; at 20,000km, you have a shell that's 2.9 billion square kilometers. That means you need to move sixteen times as much debris from LEO to GPS satellite orbit as what caused LEO Kessler syndrome.

While such a factor isn't unreasonable for the total amount of debris spewed into higher orbits, we're talking about the tiny fraction that is occupying GPS satellite orbit at any given time.

Maybe after enough time, LEO Kessler syndrome would cause significant trouble at GPS and geosynchronous orbits (though you need 55 times as much debris to get the same problems at geosynchronous orbit), but it would be far from immediate.

As for losing GPS...not as a result of LEO troubles. Not immediately. GPS satellites are rated for about ten years of service.

59:

I've lived through it. Weather prediction (as opposed to weather metrics reporting via smartphone apps) isn't meaningfully more accurate than it was 50 years ago.

'Climatologists' have nothing to do with meteorology, which is an actually useful applied art. Economics used to be 'the dismal science' until 'climatology' came along.

60:

HEADLINE: MUN BLAMED FOR GLOBAL CATASTROPHE Prophesy that Games will destroy mankind comes true, just not how we expected.

Play with this real time model of global winds

To answer the question, a lot of babies are produced 7-9 months after the event.

Night skies full of glittering debris and falling stars are really romantic.

61:

High-volume bandwidth speeds even for batch-mode bulk data transfers are significantly negatively affected by latency - TCP RTTs, even with the various TCP hacks the satellite folks try.

The cool kids are IM fanatics, and want video and audio streamed quickly. Latency makes textual IM annoying, multimedia IM awful, and streaming/downloading horrible due to RTTs.

63:

Above comment was supposed to say 9-12 months.

Let's pretend that I was making a meta comment about bio-engineering pregnancy to be a lot less hassle rather than forgetting your current gestation period.

It's always the little details that get you.

~

NASA's twitter posts a single hashtag.

#DefundingUsNotSoSmartNow

~

Stock Market wipes 210 billion off Tesla-SX stocks. (The two companies having merged earlier).

64:

Just because it's on the Internet doesn't mean it's true.

I notice no substantial difference in weather forecasting accuracy over the last 50 years, in all the countries in which I've lived and worked. It was decent 50 years ago, and decent now.

What has changed is readily-available metrics reporting and real-time detection of localized weather phenomena like rainfronts and tornadoes. But those aren't predictions, they're observations.

So, my view is that weather observation has increased tremendously; prediction, not so much.

65:

In the counterfactual to Charlie's hypothesis, Elon Musk (or someone else) succeeds in launching about a hundred cheap low-orbit micro-satellites that provide Internet access to anyone with a pizza-box receiver, anywhere in the world. In that, expected, scenario, government firewalls become useless.

You've re-invented Arthur C. Clarke's short story I Remember Babylon, and there are plenty of people who would be annoyed at any such stunt. Clarke wrote in 1960 when, apparently, an infinite supply of pornography was expected to collapse Western civilization; now that we have the internet we know this didn't happen...

66:

NASA's mission is to gain more Federal funding for NASA bureaucrats and contractors (revolving door between those two states). Any actual science they perform is incidental, as is demonstrated by the fact that they do so little of it.

67:

I guess that depends on what value of 'Western civilization' one posits, heh.

68:

I'm getting this humor disconnect again.

Try more seriously:

China and Japan on brink of war due to destruction of Special Economic Zone in Tanzania.

The Mun joke is even engineer friendly. Oh well.

69:

How about lower orbits as an alternative?

Put things into orbits that only last a year because of drag, but also the junk problem doesn't exist.

70:

The extreme limit of that would be something like GOCE. The basic design could be a handy for some short missions but you would need deep pockets to maintain a presence.

71:

Social implications...the most notable will be increased urbanization, I think. At least considering wealthier countries like the US.

If you're out in the country, you are reasonably likely to rely on satellite communications, whether for Internet access or television. Those are gone. People aren't going to say to themselves: 'I've got ultra slow Internet access now and only three channels of television, so I'm going to move.' They are going to leave because they're bored and the cities are more exciting.

A minor effect is that remote research becomes more risky or more expensive. Today, people pick up remote medical contracts via satellite phone. You get someone with WFR level training, maybe a bit more, and they call someone with appreciably more training and experience when medical emergencies crop up. That's not available. That means we'll have more biologists, volcanologists, geologists, and oceanographers dying, and then we'll see them include in their larger projects medical personnel. Adding a medic and gear to a research grant will cost money, and that means either more funding toward science or more dying researchers.

72:

No, weather prediction hasn't improved much in the last 50 years, as I can confidently assert as a firsthand observer of its stagnation.

Interestingly, I remember weather forecasts in the 1960s, and they were less reliable and more short-term than the ones we get now. (For example, long-term forecasts used to be three days, now they're a week, and more accurate than )

Not being willing to rely only on my memory, I tried to dig out some data on this. Here's a report that says that current 3-day forecasts are better than 1970s 1-day forecasts:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/store/10.1002/met.67/asset/67_ftp.pdf;jsessionid=091692F2D5E24CC4A76EEC7F3E541349.f03t04?v=1&t=if5yqrao&s=ccb3acf4ec01b2f1b318b03d00feddcc208d6f25

"Day-3 forecasts of minimum temperature are currently as skilful as Day-1 forecasts of minimum temperature in the 1960s and 1970s, whilst Day-4 forecasts of maximum temperature are currently more skilful than Day-1 forecasts of maximum temperature in the 1960s and 1970s. By Day-7, there is of course, reduced skill, however, the average error in the forecasts is below that of the persistence forecasts, which suggests that the forecasts display positive skill. Figure 1(a) and (b) demonstrate that worded forecasts of precipitation, even at Day-7, possess positive skill."

There's a PPT file here that shows things like error in predicted hurricane tracks:

In 1964-73 the error was >400 miles for a 72 hour prediction (the longest-range). In 2003 it was just over 100 miles at 72 hours and about 200 miles at 120 hours.

http://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/Track-Accuracy-of-Tropical-Systems-Has-Considerably-Improved-Since-1970-NHC-323369661.html

And if you're in England, here's some data on how the Met Office has improved:

I'm not an expert in the field, but both my memory and these data sources indicate that weather forecasting has improved.

73:

I'm a little surprised that no one linked to the Business Insider article from Sept 23:

The amount of space junk around Earth has hit a 'critical density' — and it could jeopardize our space missions. Reportedly Donald Kessler has come out of retirement to try to deal with it.

So, by 2030, I suspect we'll either have a solution or we will be in a dark sky situation.

As for effects:

bulk shipping will be more expensive, because without weather satellites, it will be harder to optimize routes around the bigger storms.

Water supplies will be harder to monitor without gravitometric measurements (thank you, GRACE).

We'll lose our ability to monitor ice sheet melting, so it will be harder to warn ports when melting causes sea level rise (or when a storm's coming in, or how big it will be).

Space weather won't be monitored, so it will be harder to prepare for a Carrington Event.

There will be more military instability, because it will be harder to use spysats to monitor each other.

Military drones won't work except as local theater weapons (many are flown remotely by satellite link).

GPS won't work, although a cell phone based version might work on some continents. This has follow-on effects on Big Ag, because some of the bigger bits of equipment now use GPS to align themselves.

To sum it up, we've basically cislunar space, and we've used what it most has (empty space with favorable geometric alignments) to run our civilization. If we decolonize space (e.g. no more satellites), we're going to suffer much the way that any imperial power suffers when it loses an essential part of its productive territory.

74:

Another chart about weather forecasting improvements:
https://www.quora.com/Have-weather-forecasts-improved-in-accuracy-over-the-last-50-years

75:

Social consequences?

Well, 2030 can be plausibly expected to be well into the horrible climate transition period, and you're postulating that's when we lose weather monitoring from space.

Thing is, I'm not sure that's going to matter; the people working on solar powered airplanes are doing it mostly because they expect it to be cheaper than satellites. Month+ duration aerostats can do a lot of what satellites now do, and there should be a lot of them by then. We'll be way into the nasty climate transition period and loss of space-based sensors will suck, but weather prediction -- which is significantly dependent on "what happened last time?" -- is going to suck rocks by 2030 anyway.

The single obvious thing, especially if GPS-etc. stay up, is that we'll have 4 billion plus people in the artificial telepathy network, machine translation, and some successor of Twitter to act as an amplifier. If there's emotional distress, if the loss of things like SPOT makes people feel more insecure (I expect SPOT-like services in phones by 2030) and everyone stresses about it together, I can see that being a big culture change moment.

Couldn't begin to tell you where, or how, though.

(Tangent -- foam doesn't do it. Intuition about collisions at orbital speeds is inaccurate, it's a lot more like explosions than collisions. And mass is mass; there's some simulation work that suggests low-relative-velocity overtake with big chunks of aerogel might help, but the practical difficulties are immense. Orbiting reactors to power the electromagnets isn't what you want to do during a Kessler cascade, either.)

76:

I suspect that as science fiction fans we over-emphasise the importance of space on daily life and society.

Looking at the list provided by Heteromeles, loss of space is just added friction for many activities. We had reliable long distance bulk shipping before satellites, we can farm without GPS (the most exciting tech development in farming seems to be micromeshed cheap sensors, no satellite required), water supplies won't vanish if we stop watching them by satellite.

We wouldn't be able to monitor for a Carrington event … but we've known about that possibilty for a while now and no-one seems interested in taking precautions while we do have satellites.

The exceptions are the advanced militaries, who would suffer a massive drop in capability.

Overall I'd say the sudden loss of satellites would be annoying and expensive, but not a catastrophe.

77:

A catastrophe like that will have a sudden and profound impact on our political culture- it will give appear to give support to the extreme conservative faction that doesnt trust science, expertise or government "bureaucrats". Engineers are stupid because they lost us the internet. Scientists are dumb because they didnt predict this. Government is incompetent because scientists did predict it and they didnt do anything about it. Evolution isnt true because the Kessler syndrome happened.

Yes, some of that is silly, senseless and even self-contradictory, but that wont stop them from making the arguments. This will be a golden opportunity for reactionaries to make hay with their talking points. NASA funding likely wont survive.

78:

Possible social effect: the USA loses its last frontier. This dramatically changes how the USA sees itself and its role in the world. I have no idea how it changes.

This is based on the thesis/meme of historian Frederick Turner. The USA has always seen itself as expanding, and space is the "final frontier" with the moon landings beginning yet another phase.

If space is cut off, does the USA give up? Go somewhere else?

(Disclaimer: I'm Australian.)

79:

I wouldn't be surprised to see gigantic ground-based laser cannon as a medium term response.

I mean, the US getting to 2030 intact and functional means someone has done something about the current Republican Party; it probably wasn't pretty but one can postulate the possibility of a muscular policy response in a 2030 time frame.

One can even postulate that the infrastructure spending mechanism is winding down on the actual infrastructure replacement, no one knows how far inland to move New York, and there's all of a sudden a chance to build a few more nuke plants and put those decades of laser research to good use.

80:

Theoretically, yes. A set of artificially induced molecular properties or gases could be seeded and released into the flying path of an ICBM.

You will have to check on the British MOD's result on Aurora, BAE in Sweden, maybe, and the Cuban-Russian experiments on various forms of inducing weather and natural occurrences in the early days of German rockets (British) and the American SR-17 Blackbird - post Gary Powers.

https://www.quora.com/Could-artificially-induced-Kessler-syndrome-be-used-to-stop-ICBMs

The SpaDE Phase 1 project has produced analytic results validating the approach. We adapted the University of Michigan’s Global Ionosphere-Thermosphere Model (GITM) to model a
rectangular column of atmosphere extending from 80 to 600km in altitude and having a square
cross sectional size of 200km by 200km.

SpaDE [Word Doc] Yes, Raytheon have a plan to nuke space to remove a Kessler effect.

"Solved" problem ~

Ergo, babies it is.

81:

GOCE, nice.

I don't think it would be that big of a deal, really. I'm not a space optimist. Balloons, long duration UAVs, maybe very low orbit sattelites, ground stations, maybe a few rockets sent up in what would now be considered stupidly expensive trajectories. Seems like we have a lot of options for the practical uses of space we make now.

For the most part a qualitative difference from today.

We would do less in space, but do pretty much the same things.

82:

It would probably hammer the planetary science missions, though; those are marginal launches even with the good options open. I can't see that having a big social impact but it would annoy some people rather a lot.

83:

As some one who has lived in NJ, for the best part of twenty years, I have to say after living through the losses associated with 9/11, the North East Black out, Irene, the great ice storm and Sandy that while such impacts are a major pain in the arse (never had no power for eight days before) they are not the end of the world. I think civilisation would carry on just fine after a cascade, and as others have pointed out, there are workarounds
Can't say I would welcome it, but it's survivable

84:

I think that there would be a degradation of services relying in part on satellite services, such as weather forecasting, earth sciences, comms, GPS, but work-arounds would be developed. Short term pain, long term meh.

If you want a catastrophic worldwide shock to the system, taking down all the satellites and much of the terrestrial power grids, I would recommend a once-in-two-centuries coronal mass ejection that centre-punches the earth, on the scale of the 1859 solar flare.

85:

Possible social effect: the USA loses its last frontier. This dramatically changes how the USA sees itself and its role in the world. I have no idea how it changes.

Yep, that's part of what I had in mind when I said "social". There was a similar myth-building thing in the USSR, where for ideological reasons expansion into space meshed with the pre-Soviet/early-Soviet Russian Cosmists; China seems to have a dose of it too -- manned space exploration pushes some interesting psychological/cultural buttons, and losing it, even if only for a few decades, is going to have consequences.

One possibility: that classic 1968 photo of Earthrise taken by the crew of Apollo 10 becomes seen as summing up a new reality -- an encapsulation of the idea that "this is it", that we've got just the one world to live in, and we're not going to be able to out-run an environmental crash by fleeing to Mars.

Another possibility: revanchism and political resentment by the rising world powers of the late 21st century against the idiots who cocked it up 50-100 years ago by not being careful about bagging up their orbital trash.

86:

If you want a real disaster novel scenario? Go with Carrington Event 2.0, and make the Kessler cascade a side-effect -- increased atmospheric drag and a whole shitload of satellites going on the fritz simultaneously means lots of stuff suddenly flying in the wrong orbit with no course-correction capability, leading to a spike in collisions.

So the long-range grids get taken out and our satcom and navigation capability is suddenly (and long-term) degraded just when we need it most to speed the repair and recovery operations ...

87:

Given the 2030 price of solar I really would expect a China/US Space Hygiene competition with big lasers. Even a flake of paint explodes if you hit it with enough photons, adaptive optics are a thing, and radar's already, with no particular effort, good enough to track bolt-sized objects.

It would take awhile, but I can't see much downside to that kind of international status competition if there's been a Kessler cascade. Once launch conditions are restored you have a laser-launch capability.

(This is the happy-optimistic WE CAN FIX THIS social response, admittedly, but it's not much of a stretch.)

88:

I would expect the immediate knock-on effect to be a muscular but ill-conceived response from one of the space powers-- say the US. Their initial efforts to de-orbit some portion of the initial debris field results in a massively enlarged problem, making a whizzing bunch of rocks into a energetic scouring sandstorm that potentially expands into previously untouched orbits. If another space power, say Russia or China, takes a disproportionate amount of damage it could precipitate a retaliatory military confrontation. Without advance intelligence provided by satellite reconnaissance, all kinds of scariness could ensue before forces would be mobilized to force a stalemate.

While Kessler Syndrome might be only moderately scary in terms of modern civilization, the initial event seems tailor-made to tweak international paranoia and tension in a really destabilizing way.

89:

Social implications?

Well I'd suggest the main one is the prison door. At the moment there is an unspoken idea that our future lies 'out there' even if we are doing nothing to make that happen.

However, if LEO etc. become too dangerous to cross, we get the effect of the prison door slamming shut, the feeling we are closed in together, 'Porridge for the Planet'.

I'm guessing that would change the zeitgeist significantly. Might even be a positive if people didn't think we could go elsewhere if things went tits up. Or on the other side, more wars for 'growing room'.

As for clearing LEO, I've always be partial to a solar sail reflecting sunlight to 'push' the fragments and deorbit them.

90:

Sorry, but I'm in the optimistic camp, here, always excepting Charlie's fun-double-whammy @ #86.
I think some combination of 7, 23, 75, 79 & 87 will do the trick.
Ground-based laser cannon are a definite possibility for frying the debris, by then, given that both the USN & RN are proposing laser weapons on ships by 2020/24.

Plus, of course, assuming the project continues ... HOTOL/Skylon being used as a "sweeper".

91:

If weathersats disappear we may end up with better forecasting because the only viable alternative is to seed the Earth with millions of weather stations.

As for space access, something like an Orion could probably launch through the debris, given that it was supposed to be built like a submarine and weighed tens of thousands of tonnes.

92:

This is untrue, unless you're in the wilds of Mongolia. If you're anywhere civilized, you're using mobile wireless broadband or WiFi connected to terrestrial links.

93:

Very few people in the US think of 'frontiers'; this has been the case since the 1930s.

Most people will take their BSG or their Star Wars or whatever and be quite satisfied, no reality required. Especially as the reality of space travel is dangerous, uncomfortable, non-scalable, irregular, fragile, and expensive.

94:

Very little of this (assuming you buy it, which I don't; I believe my lying eyes) is due to satellite weather, except for hurricane stuff. Weather sensor networks and weather radar (which is terrestrial, and can be linked cross-regionally) is largely responsible for any improvement in day-to-day weather predictions.

Satellites are a luxury, not a necessity, for the general public. They're vital for militaries and for some space science (e.g., solar stuff).

95:

This is a very realistic and sober assessment, IMHO.

96:

Does the US culturally really believe in "Space, the final frontier" any more?

There's a core of geeks that recognise the quote of course, and the Elon Musk's of this world seem to want to go to the 'roids but America en masse doesn't want to go to the Moon, to Mars or anything.

Europe (as the ESA), Russia, China and India seem more interested in actually doing things. I'm not sure it's a core part of the national identity of any EU state. Russia, China and India I don't know well enough to know what they'd do.

My incredibly non-expert read goes like this: I think China would put their energies elsewhere happily, it's about prestige, and there are other prestige projects they could find. India could put the money and effort elsewhere because it's about being a developed nation and super-power, there are other ways to do that. Russia could put their energies elsewhere violently. For them, it's been part of their psyche and national effort for so long, it would be an affront to them. And Putin, or in 2030 his heir, takes affronts so well...

97:

Time was nations with an interest in weather operated weather ships collecting data offshore in the major oceans. Those have been replaced by satellites with vastly improved sensors sampling and measuring large areas of air and sea from above which feeds into the large-volume modelling that produces modern weather predictions.

Replacing those satellites would need multiple oceanic individual weather stations, thousands of them to meet the same mapping capability of satellites. They'd also need to be maintained and replaced regularly when damaged since the sea is a lot rougher than space as an environment for instrumentation. There are also areas like the poles which are difficult to get to for this sort of measurement.

The deep-sea data sampling provided today by satellites feeds into the weather reports for continental areas especially over a three day period or longer since the masses of humid air that provide rain and snow on land originate in ocean areas.

98:

One medium-term result is that the militaries will take far greater control of the space launch infrastructure. However, that monopoly is unlikely to last longer than, say, 10-15 years past where the Kessler syndrome has gone from critical to serious/moderate.

Other than that, I agree with most other here that it will only give impact on minor parts of society, or introduce slight inefficiencies that are easily absorbed.

That said, there might be revanchist or fascist groups that latch onto that space was ruined by everyone else interfering with "their turf". I can see such a mindset emerging in the USA and Russia. However, the fascist groups in Russia seems to be firmly under control by Kremlin, so I believe the danger would be greater in the USA.

As such, it could be latched onto anti-abortion, anti-immigration, pro-gun, et c memes floating around in the American right. If so, it'd likely make the US the odd man out in any international discussion on how to explore and use space in the future.

99:

Actually... Most of global Internet (and at this point, quite a lot of phone network) is in assorted landlines and undersea fibres. At least if you count by traffic volume. If you count by area covered, satellite-mediated transmission is probably winning. Bouncing via satellite adds about 0.5 seconds round-trip and in this day and age, that's simply not on.

I'd expect a higher willingness to build and operate cable ships (which is already a growth market, as it were, but I am not sure if the current shortage is "not enough hardware" or "not enough skilled people", but cable ships are booked up for up to 36 months in advance and cable repair ships are in the low single-digit numbers).

I'd also expect a higher incidence of depression among the subset of people for whom "access to space" has been a thing to look forward to (like, you know, the people who keep insisting that we'll solve all of humanity's problems by living in orbit). This may have knock-on effects, as this trickles down (hmm, trickle-down depression syndrome?).

Isolated places will become more isolated (no more satphones, no phone or internet on any Antarctic research station, they're still I believe 99.99% reliant on satellites for both data and voice), this may also have interesting longer-term effects. However, something like Loon may provide a solution (and I'd fully expect research to be accelerated), with the slight issue of clogging up the airways.

Shipping may well be affected (go from decent-bandwidth data links and decent-quality phone to shortwave radio, with less bandwidth per ship and probably worse audio quality, could possibly be engineered around by "text messages" and "compression"), with knock-on effects on pretty much all of the industrial world, as we're now heavily reliant on overseas manufacturing as part of pretty much everything. Or, see "Loon", above, with possible knock-on effects on the availability of free airspace.

100:

Although OGH is asking for societal changes, I will risk his wrath by dragging up one technical problem that no one's mentioned. If we lose the GPS system, we also lose accurate time.

A lot of our modern infrastructure (and that includes terrestrial data communications and cell networks) is now reliant on very exact timing from GPS receivers.

High frequency trading will take a direct hit (not that many on this blog will lament that), but so will telecommunications and a lot of other stuff, until we find a way to deliver very accurate time cheaply, even in the sticks.

This is probably one of those dependencies that you never know the extent of, until the day something breaks.

101:

Underneath "that science stuff is so cool" the US is resigned to the status quo on space. It's expensive and impractical and always will be until Jesus comes back or I die, in either case the future doesn't matter beyond making sure my kids get enough to eat.
I believe there was a decision to slow space way down. Frontiers do unpredictable things to the social order. For ages the world was finite and known and if you wanted to rise somebody else had to fall. So only the real go getters rose, and the peasants stayed where they were. Then these pesky ships were invented and there were suddenly new ways to rise. Just exploit the easy pickings out there rather than going up against The Man or His Enemies. Once the frontiers were settled, a new order congealed and all was well again, the healing could begin. Then came along this stuff. Plus the cold war demanded that space be controlled due to the possibility of it's use for military purposes. So the Outer Space Treaty was instituted, mandating that space only be used to benefit the whole of humanity, in other words until we have a one world socialist government and that doesn't turn into something bad right away and the rainbows never end and the unicorns frolic again. The Outer Space Treaty needs revisiting. Ideally, there would be an international protocol on claiming real estate in space, not the free for all that was the flag planting of colonialism. Like homesteading: you claim land by living there. Sounds abhorrent? Let's face the facts that the market system will continue to exist, and make it work right rather than fall into it's foibles. Space can either continue to be a useless deserted money pit, or it can be a land rush. Nobody will develop something unless they know they can then own it. If we want space developed, there needs to be a new legal framework. So land would be grabbed to keep somebody else from grabbing it first, rather than for it's own value. So homesteaders would need feeding. So there would be demand in space for goods for homesteaders. So an economy in space, fired up by the spark of a land claiming protocol rather than the dreamy OST.

102:

Smart meters (for electricity and gas) are a great way of doing this - millions of little boxes in a fixed position squirting out a signal from time to time. You don't even need them to tell you the time, there are so many of them that you can navigate by doppler comparison.

Ballcocks!! Where I presently live I can be a mile or 2 from the Nearest Utilities Meter. Several times a year I make trips that can see me 10 to 20 miles from the NUM. I have friends in the USian "desert states" and watch documentaries set in Arctic North America, where you can be hundreds of miles from the NUM.

103:

"Atomic Accuracy Clocks" existed before GPS.

104:

Just a couple of notes on the solar-flare monitoring angle.

1) Not all of the solar and space-weather fleet is in LEO -- SDO is in geosynchronous orbit above New Mexico, SOHO is at L1, and STEREO is somewhere over on the far side of the Sun right now (albeit one of them hasn't been heard from in about a year). Mind you, none of those are very likely to be around by 2030. Also, there are ground-based observations that have at least some predictive power.

2) There are some indications that we might be entering a period of lower overall solar activity over the next few decades, though to be honest it's a complicated stochastic system that varies a lot on a timescale of decades and centuries and we only have about thirty years of really detailed observations, so it's hard to be sure what's going on, except that the last solar minimum was unusually long and deep and the current maximum is on the feeble side. It wouldn't be unreasonable to use a lull in solar activity as part of a near-future scenario, anyway. As a consequence of which monitoring gets cut out of the budget, and then the Sun comes roaring back ...

105:

This thread obliged me to look up the Carrington Event, and while I had come across it before, this time around I discovered that the Aurora was visible from my birthplace 111 years before my birthday. I find this pretty cool.

106:

Um, NTP doesn't solve all those issues but it works for most, and it's already available in most of the same systems too (GPS is the novel addition that adds some accuracy only in certain circumstances).

107:

If we lose the GPS system, we also lose accurate time.

How accurate do you think we need? Time broadcasts were one of the very first applications for radio and they're still maintained. Not that they're needed as much as they once were, but the overhead is very low and they can be accessed with any ordinary radio.

108:

I'm not so sure about the over all social effects but wouldn't this have a bigger effect on developing nations and rural areas of developed nations?

With regards to the communications aspects your'd effectively be restricted to areas with good hard lines/fibre as your communication satellites and broadcast satellites go down.

While it would become increasing expensive to extend your ability to observe events more than a couple of hundred KM's off your borders, with some parts of the world going effectively dark. I assume the developed nations could afford to build systems (weather radar stations etc) that surround their territory and extend their observable area far enough to still provide reasonably reliable weather forecasts and warnings. But for Pacific Island nations off major routes or parts of Africa and Asian who is going to pay or build the systems they'rd need 100's of km's off their coast to detect weather changes?

Also these blind areas could offer unfortunate military opportunities as in who's going to notice if you assemble a fleet say 500kms off the Australian coast or some other area with out regular flight paths covering it? Or assemble an Army a few hundred km's form some ones border.

These sort of things suggest to me that you may see even more rapid urbanisation as people find out that if they want reliable communications, Internet access etc they need to move closer to cities or areas with good communications networks.

109:

What GPS satellites do do is to distribute the time signals very precisely and very conveniently. On the other hand there are broadcast time signals out of such stations as Franfkurt and Denver and Fukushima which are convenient for radio-controlled clocks. With suitable receivers that know where they are, the time can apparently be determined to within microseconds — perhaps 2 or 3 orders of magnitude worse than GPS, but good enough for most purposes.

(There's also a lower precision signal, which is what such items as my watch listens for. That signal has a bandwidth of about 1 bps, but given the limitations of a solar powered watch at a distance of ~700 km, the high precision signal isn't worth trying for.)

110:

I disagree, but that's not the point: you're unambiguously wrong on this topic. Weather prediction is significantly better than 50 years ago and this is precisely due to the availability of more data such as that provided by satellites. More and more widespread sensor platforms of all kinds, many due to the data requirements for climate science, no doubt help too. As does the availability of previously unimaginable computer processing capability for modelling.

Blame a media environment that only understands either 100% accuracy or "worse than chance" and no measure of accuracy in between, feeding credulous masses for whom basic probability and stats was an optional extra course in high school that hardly anyone took.

111:

With regards to the communications aspects your'd effectively be restricted to areas with good hard lines/fibre as your communication satellites and broadcast satellites go down.

As I understand it, the reason Nokia is so successful, and the Finns were initially one of the highest users of mobile phones, was exactly because Finland is too spread out to cable up in that way. You can't run telephone lines to every isolated cabin in the forests. So what they did was erect masts with microwave relays (Nokia tending to be the supplier, or Swedish Ericsson).

That same strategy is what the developing world is using, skipping the whole fibre stage outside the cities. It may be trickier when you've got hills or mountains in the way, but put your masts on those mountains and suddenly you've got extra range.

Satellites are wonderful for mass broadcast of the same signal to millions of receivers, and we'd lose that, so those people up in the Adirondacks or on the Long Island might drop back to terrestrial channels only (no shopping channel?, oh the horror!), but they're not going to be out of contact.

112:

who's going to notice if you assemble a fleet say 500kms off the Australian coast

Um, the ADF will notice pretty much immediately, and will most likely have been monitoring the individual elements en route too. This stuff does not really depend on satellites (though that makes for nice flashy stuff in Tom Clancy movies).

113:

Community mesh networks based on wifi with uprated antennas and amplifiers (often home made) is a real thing in a lot of places. It's especially prevalent where there's been a strong amateur radio community for a long time.

114:

Yeah ADF probably would being a developed Nation and all they can afford to maintain an active system that'd extend well out from there coast.

But seen it coming? How are they going to be monitoring Naval bases 1000's of KM's away? A massive network of people watching them, maintaining flights over a 1000km from there shoreline?

Also for non-developed nations can they afford to maintain that sort of network?

The point is they may not have satellites actively watching for for such events but any one want to bet they don't get access to the US satellite feeds and keep track of large fleet movements or Naval bases in the pacific or Indian ocean at the moment?

115:

Sure not completely out of contact, but the communications will be less reliable as there is no satellite back up unless the network has massive redundancy. Seeing don't those Microwave based systems have problems with certain types of weather?

Also how much bandwidth do those systems have? They're great for going from nothing to something but how well do they work if hundreds or thousands of people trying to pull down there 4K Netflix subscription? If you loose your satellite broadcasts and are outside of the terrestrial broadcast network your probably going to start trying to pull a lot more through your microwave based mesh network...

116:

maintaining flights over a 1000km from there shoreline?

Yes

There's also JORN, but really the world isn't that big and invasion fleets usually have to pass other places. The only country capable of pulling it off would be the USA, who also happens to be #1 ally and that is unlikely to change in 15 years.

117:

In terms of social change, I think for the developing countries isn't going to be an interesting question.

If they rely on satellites for broadband now (saying there's 0.5s latency sounds a lot like a first world problem) will they still be doing so in 2030? It's my understanding that South Africa (the country that is) doesn't and parts of North Africa don't. Will the infrastructure by other means have spread or not?

Likewise parts of Asia and South America. It's clearly not viable to erect a series of mobile phone towers everywhere across the Sahara, the Amazon, the Gobi - hell, there's bits of the UK, that densely populated little island with crappy mobile and crappy broadband coverage still.

My guess is that there will be some spreading of non-satellite infrastructure. The various countries that pick up to become "potential next economic powerhouses" (BRICS, MINTs etc) start investing in things like broadband and so on (often before things we might consider more important like sewage and public health).

Socially... the oft-talked about digital divide becomes a much harsher reality for everyone. But I'm not sure if that creates a pressure beyond a drive to move to the city for those that want to use computers and the internet. We might see incentives in place to encourage people back to the land to make sure farming carries on. But I think we'll see that before then... urbanisation and low prices in supermarkets are driving farmers off the land in a lot of developed countries and something will have to be done in the drive for "food security" soon. That will simply spread, but possibly rapidly.

Cash crops might suddenly become coffee and so on instead of coke of course, if there really is a genuine shortage of people willing to grow them. Then the supply chain issue is rather different, there's nothing to supply and food riots and all kinds of unfunny scenarios erupt.

118:

Weather forecasting has indeed got a lot better over the last fifty years or so, and there are a lot of detailed statistics which demonstrate this. The standard thing people say is that the week-ahead forecast is now as good as the day-ahead forecast fifty years ago, which is saying something given that weather is the architypal chaotic system.

Here is a page from the Met office, from which I quote: 'a three-day forecast today is more accurate than a one-day forecast in 1980'.

A lot of this is due to better information from satellites, a lot of it is also due to enormously increased computer power.

119:

I'm not sure GPS would initially be badly affected, I believe those are higher orbit satellites. It sounds like a cascade event is more of a low orbit issue, the geosynchronous satellites are much further out.

I think you might see an increase in amateur radio licensing which would be cool.

120:

Would Kessler syndrome really prevent access to space?

I would expect that it would render LEO unusable, but anyone headed beyond can get through those altitudes in a few minutes; I wouldn't think there would be that much debris?

(It would mean changes to mission profiles, to skip the traditional couple of LEO orbits, but that's minor.)

And, of course, there's the already-mentioned Orion drive...

121:

The weather forecasts are so much better, but not perfect. That may be what Mr. Dobbins is complaining about. And wouldn't a small weather station be a nice addition to every rural cell phone tower? Back on topic, a Kessler cascade wouldn't be so much a practical concern as disheartening, the 'danes would be, mostly fine.

122:

The 'last frontier' thing is good, I think. It's obvious (well, obvious to me, so probably both not obvious and not true) that the closest we got to actually getting people into space was in the early 70s, and it didn't work then and it won't work now because of boring physics.

But people don't know that, yet. A lot of people still think we'll be colonising Mars in the next fifty years and so on: not actually being able to get a human into LEO for the last few years is just a glitch on the path of glorious progress, so the narrative goes.

Well, wholesale loss of access to LEO should drive the point home: we've got as far as we are going to get. We are indeed not going to Mars, let alone the stars, and we no longer have the capabilities to get into space that we had a generation or two ago.

Combine that with the practical effects of loss of essentially all satellites, the spiral in oil prices and resulting energy shortages as the whole dip in prices as OPEC suppressed them to stave off fracking fades away and the start of serious effects from climate change – wars over water, wholesale population movement from regions losing habitability and ongoing violent suppression of this, the first crop failures in the US as the prairies fall below viability with resulting food shortages and possible migration from the US as a result ('Hello America'). And you now have a civilisation which is very visibly in decline and which has no obvious successor. What happens then?

[Note I don't, I think, believe all this: I'm mostly making it up, although it is more plausible than people think.]

123:

I don't know what he's complaining about. Weather forecasts, obviously, can not be perfect, since the system is pretty much the poster child for something that can't be predicted far ahead. But it's important to understand that they are indeed much better than they were, and they rely critically on satellite information which can not be easily replicated without satellites (for instance information from high in the atmosphere and over oceans). So forecast quality would decline a lot.

I think the significant result of this would be that various insurance costs would go up: insurance is often offered based on weather information, and with lower-quality information insurers would have to charge more. So food would get more expensive, air travel would get more expensive (and more dangerous) and so on.

This would all play into the civilisation-in-decline thing I mentioned in another comment. Whether it would be a significant factor I don't know.

124:

Some people enjoy complaining, sometimes it's me...
Not sure about decline, but it's felt like the United States has been coasting for the last forty years, refining existing tech, or, it's that troublesome aspect of the physical world that a new tech is sometimes not ready for primetime in the lifetime of the inventor, example, first EFI car, 1955 Chrysler 300C, one that kinda' worked, VW type III, recognizably modern, 1975 Cosworth Vega and by the early eighties, something you'd not mind as a daily driver. Making it happen involved engineering teams from five corporations on two continents over thirty years, and I'm likely forgetting some... and that was simpler than the path from the discovery of semiconductors to integrated circuits and SOCs. Pardon me, analogy has led me to take a data dump, I hope it was relevant...

125:

We are indeed not going to Mars, let alone the stars, and we no longer have the capabilities to get into space that we had a generation or two ago.

Are you by any chance calling from a Bizzaro-world universe in which crewed Soyuz launches don't happen several times a year, Shenzhou launches don't happen either, and the SpaceX Dragon 2 and Boeing Starliner aren't under active development with launch contracts?

If anything, while we don't have Saturn V or Energiya (or N-1, for that matter) in production, we do have highly reliable launchers in the next tier down, and a Saturn-class stack (with partial reusability, even!) due to make its first flight next year (the Falcon Heavy) and a super-Saturn stack due to fly some time around 2022 (NASA's SLS). (Charlie's guess: Falcon Heavy will fly successfully -- it's got the NRO bankrolling it for heavy spysat launches currently riding on Delta Heavy and formerly on Titan IV. SLS is a wildcard which depends entirely on Congress continuing to fund it. Either path offers time lines towards a manned stack capable of reaching Mars, never mind the moon -- SLS depending on upper stage upgrades, Falcon Heavy depending on the Raptor engine as a replacement for clustered Merlins.)

In fact, it's because of this recent rise in space activity that Kessler syndrome is a threat. if we'd given up on space in the 1970s, by now LEO would be largely clear.

126:

"Well, wholesale loss of access to LEO should drive the point home: we've got as far as we are going to get."

Unless China, Russia or India tells the West to fuck itself and starts to launch Orion vehicles. Because if the only choice is Orion or nothing...

127:

Unless China, Russia or India tells the West to fuck itself and starts to launch Orion vehicles. Because if the only choice is Orion nuclear fallout or nothing an entire planet of resources including breathable air and a biosphere...

There, I fixed that for you

128:

Well, expectations of weather forecasts might be different depending on who you ask. I guess forecasts which tell you if you need an umbrella for your way to work tomorrow didn't get that much better. Forecasts to plan the harvest or long term temperature forecasts are something else.

And if you believe Tom Holt's "Nothing but blue skies", British people have especially high expectations of weather forecasters.

129:

Fallout is over-rated (and over-wrought). Between them the Big Five nuclear weapons powers fired off over 200 nuclear weapons in the atmosphere in tests, some of them fusion weapons with vastly higher yields than regular fission bombs, some triple-f designs. No Gojira, no "On the Beach"[1], nothing much except some elevated radioactive isotope levels in seawater and those mostly gone nowadays, no perceptible effects on life and especially human life generally.

We could probably do multiple Orion launches a year for several decades without polluting the planetary atmosphere to the point where it would affect us medically as much as conventional coal-burning does today. If nothing else the Orion bombs would be tuned to produce less fallout than the original atmospheric tests of the 1950s and 60s.

[1]Dr. Helen Caldicott, a full-time Chicken Little in regards to nuclear power is on record as stating her opposition to all things nuclear started when she saw the post-nuclear-war movie, "On The Beach". It was a scientifically illiterate work of fiction, not really something she should have planned her professional career as an anti-nuclear activist around but who am I to judge?

130:

First detail: I would *not* expect polar orbits to be that crowded. Therefore, the chance of being hit is *only* when they approach equatorial orbits.

Secondly: in a given orbit, there's only a tiny velocity difference (or they'd be in a different orbit. The danger would be previously used orbits, and intersecting orbits.

Third: I'd expect the military to be *REALLY* unhappy, followed by the giant telecoms. And I'd expect them to look hard at a solution. Ones that come to mind are things like a huge reinforced sail, either to just absorb the hits, or to ricochet them to use the rubbish to knock out other rubbish. Another would be going up with serious lasers firing ahead of you... either on the launch vehicle, or ground-based (like my friend Jordin Kare's been pushing, with his company).

Or perhaps a large solar mirror, at a slightly higher orbit, to vaporize the stuff.

And then, there's the one I *know* would come up: nukes that produce little long-term radiation hazard.

mark

131:

No thanks. Let's save that stuff for deep space, OK? Strap a proton accelerator to a nuclear power plant and shoot a stream of stripped hydrogen for your propellant. Thing about special relativity, the mass dilation is really just an inertia thing, not really mass. So as you accelerate those protons to relativistic speeds they weigh more than protons normally do. You get more kick out of pushing them. All it takes is energy. There's no need to have a pyramid of fuel. No promises on space dust. But use nukes to get into orbit? Madness. Here's how to do orbit. Have robots set up a solar powered rocket fuel factory on the moon. Sail the stuff down into LEO at low energy cost to refueling stations. Something like Skylon (but better) takes off from a local airport. Another craft just like it sails down from the refueling station. They dock halfway up, or at 10000 kph if you like; the upward flying craft is refueled from the downward flying craft (a single cartridge might be better than waiting to pump through a hose). They undock and the empty downward craft lands at the airport for refueling, while the upward flying craft, newly refueled, proceeds to LEO (assuming no disaster in progress there). System takes the place of a rocket stage. So what's on the moon for a fuel plant? Loads of solar, low gravity, oxidized dust. Please don't waste the water.

132:

Forecasts as to whether you need an umbrella or not have indeed got much better: as quoted elsewhere a three-day forecast now is better than a one-day forecast in 1980. Long-term forecasts probably have got better much more slowly because chaos gets you in the end. Climate prediction (which is subtly but importantly different than weather prediction) will have got a bit better, but I think was already pretty good in 1980: the difference is that now we know those early models were not too bad.

133:

People are ignoring me, but one of my links was quite serious: SpaDE made the 2011 NIAC shortlist for NASA.

The non-military contractor side of this is based in the University of Michigan.

http://clasp.engin.umich.edu/people/ridley

The problem of menacing space junk has spurred all sorts of ideas to deal with it, from garbage scows and huge nets to laser blasts and debris-snagging Nerf balls.

Now scientists are considering a huff-and-puff approach to remove debris from orbit by firing focused pulses of atmospheric gases into the path of targeted space trash.

That's the idea behind SpaDE, a Space Debris Elimination initiative put forward by Daniel Gregory of Raytheon BBN Technologies in Virginia. Vertical bursts of air produced within Earth's atmosphere can either be directed at orbiting riffraff to change its trajectory or cause drag on the clutter to hasten its re-entry.

As someone else noted, there were moments when nuking the upper atmosphere (The Cold War nuke that fried satellites BBC, 11th September 2015) was quite common.

So, you'd probably see the classified version of spaDE deployed.

p.s.

Guess I'm in the naughty corner.

134:

I won't always have time to follow links, and upper atmosphere tests? I remember one, unless you're counting airbursts. And naughty corner? More like you went over our heads, so don't let it get to you.

135:

Followed link, cool, a sacrificial hydrogen balloon large enough to carry a payload of LOX to the designated altitude, blow LOX into balloon and ignite, preferably on a holiday.

136:

Well, I said I didn't entirely believe it. I also was not clear that by 'getting humans into space' I meant 'beyond LEO, for long periods' which really means Mars in the short term, or perhaps the Moon (suspect Mars may be less hostile for long-term habitation, but harder to resupply, so ...).

I completely agree that we do have very good systems for getting stuff into space (and far beyond LEO of course), and we are very successful at that – too successful perhaps if we can't clear the junk up. And the things that have been done are just astonishing.

But.

In 1969 the US had a system for putting people on the Moon. They threw that away (probably justifiably: although it was a lot cheaper than it's often made out to be it was probably not very safe and a bit special-purpose I suspect), and for about 30 years from the early 80s they had a really deeply crap system which could get people into LEO and only occasionally killed its crew. Since 2011 they have had nothing although they will be able to get people into LEO again soon, and perhaps beyond although I wonder who will pay for that.

There is also Soyuz, which is pretty much late 60s technology kept alive by the US throwing money at it after the end of the cold war to avoid the nightmare of Soviet scientists leaking into bad places. Also LEO.

And Shenzhou: LEO again.

This does not looks like the early stages of people colonising the Moon or Mars to me, let alone anything beyond that. And that's unsurprising because doing something like that is somewhere between really hard (Moon/Mars/other planets) and likely not possible at all (stars): the tedious business of the required energy and the difficulty of keeping people alive off Earth mean we're probably stuck here. But that 'high frontier' narrative is still really strong: lots of people really think that it's just a little pause (if it's even a pause: doesn't the space shuttle go much further than Apollo did, what do you mean the space shuttle doesn't fly any more where are my supersonic jet cars across the atlantic in 30 minutes I was promised) and we'll be off to Mars really soon now.

So, my theory is that some major catastrophe which explicitly denies space to us might, combined with the other creeping badnesses which we obviously are not going to deal with, be the moment when that story gets revealed as the lie it is. And that might have significant consequences.

Again, I don't entirely believe this: I'm not quite this relentlessly pessimistic. But I am pretty bored with all the tedious optimisim based on physically-implausible assumptions.

138:

Unless things have changed a LOT, then ICBMs would only suffer minor inconvenience. They always used inertial guidance, and never relied on GPS, and their transition through orbital altitude is quite brief.

That said, most things that rely on GPS have alternatives that could work, but would be slightly more expensive. E.g., cars could navigate using cell phone towers combined with inertial guidance. (That should usually even be more accurate.)

OTOH, most of the scenarios that people seem to be considering could be effected with a strong solar storm that headed in our direction. The *only* unique thing about the Kessler event is that it's of long duration.

I'm still having trouble accepting that one event would spread across all the orbital inclinations, though. That's a strongly energetic shift in orbits we're talking about here. Changing orbital inclination wouldn't even be cheap with a reactionless engine. (OTOH, I'm talking out of feelings, not math.)

139:

>Secondly: in a given orbit, there's only a tiny velocity difference (or they'd be in a different orbit. The danger would be previously used orbits, and intersecting orbits.

I admit that was my first thought. But "intersecting" includes "prograde meets retrograde" and different eccentricities and inclinations.

The good news is it would likely develop resonant gaps like the "Kirkwood gaps" driven by the moon, although I'm not sure how long it would take. (It probably depends on initial conditions.) But thereafter it would be a case of timing. And eventually it would flatten into a ring system which would be cool.

140:

It's even more extreme than you are suggesting. People react to images, and without images they don't feel the urgency. So reactions to disaster will again revert to local. PERHAPS entire nations will react together...but for larger nations that's a quite optimistic assumption. Even now parts of the US have trouble being empathetic with each other.

Another factor is that there won't be an unaffected area. Normally aid for disasters comes from areas that aren't affected by the disaster. In this case it's only that different areas will be affected differently. OTOH, it won't be acute anywhere, so everyone will feel that their local disaster is more important. (Note how large a tendency there is to do that anyway.) Social nets will contract in geographic spread.

Also, I'm not sure that "advanced areas" will recover more easily and be less affected. It's true that those areas are living less close to the brink of disaster, but this kind of event will have it's largest effect in technological areas. And there's been a strong tendency to emphasize efficiency over resilience. E.g., automated cars don't need to depend on GPS to navigate, but given its availability, they tend to only use that...of course they're still in development...so let's consider instead alternate signal paths along the internet, which was designed as a multiply resilient system. And note how often a large section is taken out be a single backhoe (sometimes with evidence of malice). But emphasizing efficiency over resilience means that single events can be increasingly disruptive. For another example consider JIT manufacturing. (JIT == Just in time.) Highly efficient, but Apple has already had to shut down production more than once due to supply chain disruption.

So fast forwards another decade or so with increased efficiency in technology and supply chains. OUCH!

141:

Assuming the polar orbitals stay clear enough for displaced geostationary and long duration Molniya orbits with high power low endurance disposable satellites this leads to :

• Multiple cheap heavy lift vehicles being delployed for long endurance boosts to reach those orbits, with heavily armoured, agile deployment systems.
• Deployments of high impulse satellite thrusters based on vasimir style technology.
• Light sail satellites supporting deployments in near polar-stationary orbits, with limited self repair capacity.
• Cheap long range mesh network comms becomes the norm reducing the dependence on satellites and telecoms companies.
• High duration autonomous drones become commonplace both for military and civilian purposes.
• The Manhattan II project final cracks cheap fusion in 2045 allowing the deployment of fusion powered lasers to help clear the orbitals.
• The politcal - social consequences :

Following the dissolution of the United States after 5 years of continual autonomous drone attacks on its leaders it breaks up (messily) into a number of Adhocracies where leaders are appointed at random for 1 hour periods, fueled by the boom in cheap mesh communications. Elon Musk becomes a key supporter of the US-Canadian Great Lakes Adhocracy having relocated his launch facilities there for improved access to the polar orbits, ditto its sister facility relocated from Baikonur to the Caspian Sea. His Snowball-Loop project is instrumental in both clearing the Kessler trash from the orbitals and terraforming Mars by 2150 using displaced slushy comets as orbital sweepers which bombard Mars with water and key organics on their return leg.

The loss of of the orbitals trigger a reset in the North America pysche merging the best of externality adjusted capitalism with longer term environmental planning driven by a pledge to both clean up the orbitals and to avoid its like again. Once again space becomes the new frontier channeling the hopes of hitherto disenfranchised generations.

Buoyed by cheap energy and comms Africa steps up to take its place in the developed world.

142:

TL;DNR... apologies if my non-tech ideas duplicate anyone else's (unlikely, but you never know) ...

The described problem is high-tech but the object of interest is low tech. So, first you'd need alternatives, and then if you have time/resources, a solution for removing the junk.

I'm assuming that those most likely to be affected are lower-tech places/people (i.e., smaller budgets), this means probably re-purposing/modifying existing structures on the cheap. It doesn't have to be sexy, it just has to work, Line-of-sight between power generating windmills and/or balloons to act as power and relay might work. This could start as a local network, and if it worked reliably enough, could be patched on to a larger network. But basically, I'm saying: the Internet would fragment into many different networks. (It would devolve.)

If the patchwork of networks works well enough, the junk that precipitated the problem would be ignored.

On the other hand, if enough users/orgs feel that a worldwide Internet is needed, then clean-up would happen so that up-in-the-sky comm satellites could be safely deployed again.

I don't know if there are preferred patches of the sky/orbits for comm satellites. There probably are, and their orbits probably track pretty closely to the highest population density distributions. This may also mean that this is where the highest density of space junk is also to be found. Higher density areas would mean more funds available, and the problem is more critical both financially and socially.

At this point the decision is clean up the small vs. large junk. The tech folks would know better, but I'm thinking first get rid of the smallest debris (maybe a space equivalent of 'sticky' space junk 'flypaper' launched on hundreds of cheapo satellites), and only after the space fog/soup has been cleared, go after the larger bits. The larger bits are probably more likely to eventually drop their orbit therefore be taken care of/taken out in flames as they crash. (Folks who actually know this stuff can correct me here ... anywhere, really.) From my POV, this is a lower-cost strategy, and probably more PR-friendly as orgs using this strategy would be able to actually show live footage of their space garbage being cleaned up/destroyed and charge more for their services.

At this point, govts should pipe in and pass 'orbital junk recycling' legislation which ensures that moneys are put aside to recover each piece of space junk sent up. Like the carbon tax, this would probably be mostly political low-level noise with a couple of photo-op international conferences but with no resolution for clear direction. But, at least the populace at large would be kept aware of the issue. Key issue here is ... like the oil cartel, is there any possibility that the comm satellite business has become an oligopoly.

143:

I'm Swedish and base this on Sweden, but Sweden and Finland are quite similar demographically and in their telecoms development.

That said, Sweden had a very healthy and large cabled telephone network, covering the entire country. Part of it was political action (using the telephone monopoly), part of it might be the relatively spread-out population. Basically every household had a phone from the mid-60s onwards.

I think it's more likely to come down to NMT, where the Nordic telephone monopolies set out to create an open and sensible standard, that gave Ericsson and Nokia a head start in building both mobile telephones and networks.

144:

The Manhattan II project final cracks cheap fusion in 2045 allowing the deployment of fusion powered lasers to help clear the orbitals.

This is the second comment that has cited electricity generating advances as a key enabler for junk-clearing lasers. The other one was counting on photovoltaics.

http://www.space.com/11157-nasa-lasers-shooting-space-junk.html

They cite $800,000 for a 5 kilowatt laser, tens of millions of dollars for a complete space junk removal system based on that laser. If the laser operates at a modest wall plug efficiency of 10%, it costs maybe$2.50 per hour in electricity. It takes 36 years of continuous operation before the electricity costs as much as the laser alone. Electricity that's 90% cheaper would barely budge the all-in cost.

145:

An old essay of mine: Surviving a Carrington Event and Similar Disasters
http://wavechronicle.com/wave/?p=1557

146:

Um, has anyone thought through the implications of using a 5 kW laser to shoot stuff that's moving much, much faster than a speeding bullet, and doing it as a routine matter?

Personally, I'd love a device like that mounted on a backpack. I'd never have to worry about things like bullets or grenades ever again, because it would be able to vaporize the pieces before they got to me. What it would do to modern warfare doesn't bear thinking about.

Seriously, though: how the heck do you aim and fire such a device? That's the bigger challenge than powering the lasers. It's really problem #1 of space warfare anyway: aiming at something that moves too fast to be seen by most sensors.

For the tiny debris, the simpler solution is to coat every non-essential surface of new satellites in a blanket of aerogel and simply capture all the crap that hits them, as well as keeping any crap from leaving them as much as possible. Then, when you deorbit the satellite, the crap burns up with it in the atmosphere. Space will to be for the soft and fuzzy, not the bright and shiny.

147:

Here's the full paper about the laser scheme: Orbital Debris-Debris Collision Avoidance

It's not backpack-sized, at 5 kilowatts it's only expected to engage 10 pieces of junk per day, and it can't target tiny debris. Their target is pieces in the 5 cm range. It seems like that size was chosen based on the tracking abilities of the Mount Stromlo Observatory. Tracking/targeting is indeed much more expensive than the laser itself.

148:

Thanks Matt!

149:

Tracking and hitting an orbiting object isn't that big a deal. Firstly from the ground 1 second of arc covers a huge amount of distance in space - meaning small movements of the laser cover big distances quickly enough to chase orbiting objects.

Its done already on a regular basis to track the ISS, and satellites today. Indeed both the Americans and Chinese have track/shoot down capability today, using missiles which track to target much slower than a laser would. Indeed Chinese and Americans greatly increased the chance of a Kessler event by testing ASAT weapons in 2007 and 1985 respectively.

Sheer quantity is a much bigger problem, but you take the same divide and conquer approach as they do for killer asteroids - work on the bigger bits first.

150:

I'm not so sure there would dire and grim consequences socially if this were to happen in the next few years - in 100 years with no redundancy plans yes, but currently I think there would be some positives that might help to cancel out the negatives.

There seems to be a lot of assumptions around satellite coverage in remote areas (and I mean truly remote, not a couple of hundred kms from the nearest city in Europe or the US) being reliable, providing total coverage, vastly improving the life of the communities they cover etc. There would definitely be losers and things would get knocked back a lot in some places, but most remote communities already have very robust redundancy and backup systems because the tech is still fairly new out there and not very reliable with sat. internet speeds not much better than dialup.

Also, unless you have a geostat. sat. parked overhead, you might only get coverage a couple of hours a day anyway. Most of those places have robust radio based comms systems and regular transportation networks. You might have to wait a couple of months to get the latest news but they're used to that and with data storage so cheap, the info will get through.

Where there would be significant social change (in my view) would be mainly economic and knowledge based. A couple of egs.

Increase in employment as driverless trucks, trains, remote equipment no longer functioned without human operators. (Both city and remote)

Increase in employment and investment getting redundancy and alternative comms etc systems back up to speed. Also things like map publishing, forestry workers etc (just egs, the knock on effects are immense)

Rise in militant unionism related to above - more power in the hands of workers, better standards of living in poorer countries currently under threat of automated processes.

Increased knowledge / tech drive to find solutions to get the sky back up and running or alternatives to satellite comms. Development of alternate technologies discovered as part of this process.

I could go on all day. There would definitely be downsides (especially eg. medical support remote communities)but I can't see this kind of system fail causing mass starvation or human die out (not to say other things won't cause it but that's a different story.)

151:

Late to the Party, but did read up to #150 so far. The question seems like a non-issue to me. Why? What do we really NEED orbital access for? Energy generation by beaming microwaves down from solar array farms? Didn't happen so far. Fabrication of fancy stuff in microgravity, like superpure semiconductor crystals or pharmacological molecules? Neither. Loss of the "big picture" in meteorology and climate science? Doesn't have to be so, neither for astronomy. When you combine this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring_laser_gyroscope or this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fibre_optic_gyroscope with https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-altitude_platform and something like this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gorgon_Stare for the "big picture", what capability would actually be lost in reality? Especially when you had many of those HAPs, maybe gridlike over the whole earth, arranged in a pattern like an oldfashioned football? These HAPs could communicate with each other, via laser, microwaves, in realtime. So what you lack in staring down from on high, you could stitch together like a mosaic. Seems too expensive? Satellites are cheaper? How long do they last? HAPs could be landed and serviced, while the standby takes over. Sounds more sustainable to me. Aren't Google, Facebook & Sons planning things very similar, but on a smaller scale? AFAIU they plan to introduce the things in regions with poor infrastructure first. So even the point that developing countries, unstable regions would fall back to black holes on the global awareness map is moot.

152:

'It's like crossing a field with machine guns firing that never run out of ammo'. But that's not impossible to do - it's just a lot more difficult than crossing the same filed without the machine guns. It is, in fact, why we invented tanks. Meanwhile the thread has discussed in detail what it would be like to not have satellites, generally on the assumption that we would go back to what we did before we had satellites. For most applications satellites are not the only method, they are simply the cheapest. For weather forecasting for instance - make satellites much more expensive and you don't go back to weather ships, unless there is a section of ocean you can't cover with land launched balloons, and then the ship is a launch site. As for remote internet etc etc google will be able to lord it over facebook - not a huge change. I'd guess the biggest change is military - high ground and super stealthy. Which brings me to the original question, social impact. Much discussion has been had about 'loss of the frontier'. I don't see it like that. I see it as 'we've expanded into the frontier as have others, but it's got a bit nasty, with supersonic space bullets. Surely this is a new 'wild frontier' and a new challenge similar to going to the moon. Just the sort of thing to pull a society together in a grand technical push.

I see this as two pronged - firstly tanks in space as was alluded to in the comments above. Second is mass in space - it takes a lot of delta v to get into even LEO. It takes a lot less to get to the height of LEO (at which point you fall back down). The advantage being that if your mass gets hit before it falls much of what hits it will also fall down faster. Hence the various clean up solutions that involve sticking something up like a chunk of atmosphere.

But what would be really interesting is geostationary orbit. Unlike leo at that point the satellites are all travelling in the same direction, very fast. Randomly trash them into bits and some will be going all over the place, but on average the bit will still be going round fast in the same direction. Perhaps Elon musk's early (robotic) mars supplies will do something useful and use a satellite bits powered space sail as one bit of their delta v - you just need to hover in place for a day with a very robust bit catcher.......

153:

Cruise missiles with terrain following non-gps based radar could fill any ICBM Gap. Why build a supersonic bomber, fit the 787 or Airbus (Probably BOTH still in production in 2030) with a rotary launcher for said cruise missiles.

154:

p.s.

Guess I'm in the naughty corner.

Well, yes. OGH asked for social implications of a 100 year long Kessler Syndrome and you presented a technical solution why it wouldn't happen. No wonder that's ignored :-)

155:

Perhaps because a subsonic airliner would be easy to spot and shoot down? Unless you mean to engage in a nuclear attack via subterfuge?

156:

An orbit becomes unoccupiable if a satellite can't occupy it for years without being hit by debris. However a rocket launching through it will only occupy it for minutes. So it will be possible to launch through LEO long after it becomes impossible to place satellites there. So GPS can be resupplied. And I think, in general, we'd just move into higher orbits. Latencies would increase, along with the costs, and there'd be more failures. But, humans aside, I'm not aware of anything essential we couldn't do higher up if push came to shove; i.e. the net effect is space becomes more costly and we gain another case study for the tragedy of the commons. Apocalypse? No.

157:

This could be a 21st century Olympics sport ... modern skeet shooting. The object is to see who can shoot/lase the most space junk. Each competing country would provide/make its own space-junk laser, but the tracking (scoring) would be done centrally probably at the ISS.

At first, I considered making lasing space junk a school homework exercise in environmental studies. The kids would be assigned certain minutes based on laser satellite/drone orbit. Intra/extramural competition would probably show up here too.

158:

Bidding wars for available signal 'space' and probably the introduction of a tier pricing system.

Wouldn't there be more legal/social pressure to reduce the total amount of 'stuff' going through the Internet? If yes, then much harsher SPAM laws/enforcement with sentences and fines, fewer and more expensive online Flash ads, so more smartphone and less laptop usage.

159:

Why are weather satellites necessarily knocked out by this? Can't we just get data from satellites further out than the maelstrom? It's not like we suddenly lose the ability innovate and build better VHEO (I just made that up) satellites with really good sensors that work just as well as the those primitive 2030s ones did.

My guess, if there's a downside, it's a blip of a few years at most before we have alternatives largely comparable to where we are now.

160:

This will be seen as wacky but it follows my usual comment in what to do about something something space problem: Machine shops in space.

I realize we're far from regular folks starting space orbital small business shops but if the kessler effect hits at the right point it could be the small "space junker" that has a huge effect. Is this too Heinlein SFish? But as a social impact if there is a growth industry for regular folk (pretty high end regular folk for sure) the change in attitude from space as an impossible frontier to a possible opportunity could be the next huge internet boom.

Probably can't happen until there is a source of cheap water in orbit, how long until we capture a useful asteroid? Who can run the numbers, if you don't have to launch every gram of your air, water and food how much does a single person cost to get to LEO? All that space junk becomes a resource to mine.

161:

Just had a thought. In 2030 how much will a USB weather station cost? It might just be cheaper to mandate all internet devices have some level of environment monitoring built in than to even bother with satellites.

Oh, balloons. They'll be big in 2030.

162:

If space debris makes sustained Internet connectivity an issue, cloud services might be impacted. (Instead of data always wafting through the ether, more data would be localized and go through specific metered channels... hierarchical.)

Bank records/important data heists would be planned for highest comm traffic periods.

Worms and viruses would do even more damage because they'd make up an even larger proportion of net traffic.

Private vs. commercial vs. public/government licenses and tariffs.

Video sites (YouTube) and/or any sites with 'wasteful' usage practices (heavy on images) would either be subscription based, metered/restricted, or outlawed. (No idea how this would affect online porn and gaming; they'd probably be among the first to come up with some sort of solution/work-around.)

Basically, anything that would interfere with comm satellites would bring about a data/connectivity 'famine' mentality.

163:

"Today, the commercial exploitation of outer space appears to be a growth area... But there's a fly in the ointment."

I hope it's a nice big one, then, because if there is one possibility worse than big government projects wasting huge amounts of energy at long intervals to chuck stuff into orbit, it's commercial operations doing it weekly and wasting energy as fast as they can for the sake of profit. The last thing we need space for is as a means to assist in inventing yet more excuses to steal the one resource which is strictly limited on an individual basis by methods which also rapaciously deplete resources which are limited on a planetary scale.

Space travel may be cool and science-fictiony, but really it is best left to remain as fiction. In the real world it is largely useless. Without access to space the only thing we actually can't do is make a particular set of scientific observations, and while I won't deny that the knowledge we would obtain from them would be nice to have, I can't see the prospect of it ever being actually useful as more than a minute possibility so far distant in the future that the timescale renders the Kessler problem irrelevant. The rest of the stuff we can either do anyway or just not bother with and it'd be no loss.

In particular the whole "final frontier" thing is a complete red herring because while science fiction has a multitude of ways to dodge that awkward speed-of-light thing, science fact does not and isn't likely to. The reality of the idea of emigrating from the planet is that it's just plain dumb. You could achieve the same practical result with vastly less expenditure of resources simply by building a prison, decorating the interior to look like a spaceship, sticking black velvet with LEDs in it over the windows, and locking people up in it until they die. You save all the energy involved in accelerating the structure and the people in it and the huge store of food to escape velocity and you procure the same effective result.

The one thing the Kessler scenario does detrimentally affect is the prospect of building a space elevator, ie. a means of getting into orbit which can compensate for the energy used in getting things up by recovering it from things coming down; which could indeed be an overall energy source by making it possible to grab random space rubble, lower it down Earth's gravity well and capture the energy released.

164:

Time to round up a few misconceptions.

1. Moving more solids (cf. #23, #25) into LEO will not help with space junk. Solid objects fragment and each fragment will add to the problem.

2. The size-distribution of space junk isn't uniform. You have a few big objects, some medium size objects, a lot of small objects and a myriad of tiny objects. Try dropping a glass and sort the fragments by size to get a feel for it. Since even the kinetic energy of a tiny object is enough to shatter a big object, you want to get rid of the big ones before that happens.

3. Space junk after a Kessler event is not a resource to mine. It's too fragmented, each peace following a different trajectory. The energy needed to match orbit would cost more than the worth of the fragment.

4. And for capturing stuff in space you might want to read about elastic and inelastic collisions first. You only get inelastic collisions for low speeds. Elastic collisions have the disadvantage that both parts fly away from each other after the collision.

5. You can't deorbit debris with ground lasers. The scheme cited by matt is to avoid debris-debris collisions which drive the Kessler effect.

6. The internet does not depend on satellites.

7. Weather forecasting needs a lot of data. But the data has to be taken from the correct locations, that's why most weather stations are on masts near airfields. USB weather stations will not help since they measure the micro climate near a house or whatever.

165:

This just showed up on Google news ... not a complete derail from the topic since crowd-sourcing is primarily Internet-driven and relies on large area/worldwide connectivity.

https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/holdren_citizen_science_memo_092915.pdf

(Coincidence?) And up popped Wikipedia's annual campaign message this morning. (Donated, of course.)

166:

The one thing the Kessler scenario does detrimentally affect is the prospect of building a space elevator

You already need a repair mechanism for any space elevator due to micro-meteorites. I read some paper that based on current statistics, a space elevator would get hit about once or twice a year.

167:

The problem with impacts is that objects moving at orbital velocity carry kinetic energy proportional to the SQUARE of their velocity -- which is already an order of magnitude higher than a high velocity anti-tank penetrator round. At these velocities, even a glancing impact will probably vapourize the projectile, while generating shock waves that cause the impacted object to shatter. Doesn't matter whether it's a blob of aerogel or a lump of putty or a main battle tank; it's going to shatter, or melt or distort if the impactor is relatively tiny. Even a lump of battleship armour isn't proof against this stuff.

168:

an overall energy source

Getting energy from falling objects usually comes from stopping them falling as freely as they otherwise would. I'm not seeing an awful lot of stuff falling into Earth's atmosphere in conveniently sized chunks. Could you go find an asteroid? Well yes, but you'll have to put a lot of energy into it to switch its orbit to being stationary adjacent to the elevator.

You'd theoretically get about 9kWh (about £1 at current UK electricity prices) per kilo of stuff you got down. But you need to make sure you don't expend more than that on getting your mass to the elevator in the first place. And remember that the elevator itself is a massive structure, and you're not going to have many. The energy return on investment for bringing stuff down is pretty silly - it's the vastly reduced cost of getting stuff up that's the winner.

169:

Sure, but there is a big difference between one or two hits per year and a full-on orbital-velocity sandblaster.

170:

Agreed, but although I didn't express it very well, I was thinking more in terms of a fringe benefit than a complete reason for building the thing in the first place. An asteroid is a random chunk of space debris which you might want to grab anyway for non-random reasons, such as it being made of some useful substance. You could bring it to the top of the elevator by using some method which uses only "free" energy at the expense of being slow, such as solar sails, or big paraboloids of reflective film to concentrate sunlight on one spot on its surface and give rise to a jet of vaporised material. Then you recover the energy as you lower it to the ground. I just like the idea of a means of getting to and from space which could potentially have a positive energy balance, even if it's rather small, as opposed to a very large negative one.

171:

I see a huge shift in how people perceive humanity's futurr. You just have to look at the night sky to be reminded that there is no way out of earth (I'm no expert but I imagine meteor showers become very common). Existence on earth becomes a zero sum game, or worse (I know it already is, but do we all really perceive it that way?).
Resources are immediately valued as more precious. Someone will start using them better, most will just fight for them harder.
Religion of any kind will have an immediate boost. God's vengeance and End Times and all.
On a more mundane level I may imagine gigantic lawsuits against the supposed culprits of this catastrophe, if any.
Oh, and will it affect the diplomatic use of nuclear weapons? Again I'm not an expert, but I suppose firing an ICBM would be impossibe, or risky. Middle and far east politics would change overnight (sibmarines can't be everywhere).

172:

Um, Charlie, Whipple shields?. The trick with aerogel, or a Whipple shield, is that small bits do indeed explode into plasma when they hit something (they're going much, much faster than bullets, for those who really aren't paying attention). The Whipple shield is in multiple layers, so the first layer is designed to cause the small debris to explode into plasma, so that the underlying layers can stop the plasma and fragments from causing damage. An aerogel might work the same way, by using some trivial amount of matter to destroy the object, then a bunch of other stuff to capture the resulting debris without being destroyed in the process.

This solves the problem of tiny debris for compact bodies like the ISS: you shield them. The problem areas are things like solar panels, antennas, and sensors, which don't work when they're shielded.

Battleship armor would be useless, not only because it weighs to much, but because it would spall fragments when hit, adding to the problem rather than ameliorating it.

Still, none of these work against the larger items of space debris.

173:

Anyway, getting back to the social problem, it can be summed up as

"Just in time supply chains."

We can do "just in time" because we know what the weather's doing with a high degree of accuracy. We can predict hurricanes pretty well, which allows us to steer ships around them, which in turn allows us to keep global supply chains going.

This isn't just about container ships (trains and trucks matter too), but they are the ones that have to deal with the most cyclones/hurricanes/typhoons, and keeping shipping safe really is one of the critical functions of weather satellites.

Unfortunately, this isn't just about making computers and cars, increasingly it's about shipping food from places where there's enough water to grow it to places where there are hungry people who need it.

For example, I'm not sure how much food the US keeps as a reserve right now. It looks like the US liquidated its strategic grain reserve in 2008 (not citing links because I'm not sure this is true), but the critical point is that it doesn't look like there's a huge stockpile sitting somewhere in case shipping stops.

If there really isn't a stockpile, then the only thing keeping us fed in emergencies is food shipped from somewhere else. Without satellites, that shipping becomes a lot less dependable. So yes, it's possible that the Kessler Syndrome could cause famines, with the accompanying disease, civil unrest, and death. It would take years to rebuild strategic reserves and to build a new system that could accommodate uncertain shipping patterns troubled by storms they can no longer track.

174:

If you live in the U.S. under President Cruz, probably not.

Seriously? People would refuse to solve a problem that has happened because in the past they didn't believe it would happen?

175:

Neville Shute (on the beach) wasn't scientifically illiterate. More is known about how we would die, now, but his premise that following a full nuclear exchange in the N hemisphere everyone would die, and then So would everyone in the S hemisphere seems reasonably close for drama. (Did someone write Seveneves back then at all?)

176:

Weather prediction hasn't substantially increased in accuracy over the last 50 years or so,

Actually it has. At least for most consumer uses. 5 to 7 day forecasts are way more useful than 50 years ago.

177:

GPS won't work, although a cell phone based version might work on some continents.

In the US cell phones use the GPS network to get their times for synchronization. Which is how you can use them to get positions. So without GPS you'd not be able to use the existing cell phone systems for position locations except with a very large error circle. So to do this swap a new way of getting very accurate times would be needed.

178:

We had reliable long distance bulk shipping before satellites,

Current shipping methods depend on loading up ships in a way such that they cannot survive a big storm. They expect to go around them. We'd have to likely double the number of ships to be able to cut the above deck loading that we do today.

179:

Secondly: in a given orbit, there's only a tiny velocity difference (or they'd be in a different orbit. The danger would be previously used orbits, and intersecting orbits.

Very few orbits are perfect circles.

180:

I'm still having trouble accepting that one event would spread across all the orbital inclinations, though.

The problem is a cloud of debris in LEO at latitudes that make launches reasonable. If you have to launch from Maine, Moscow or further north (or south) is becomes very expensive to then get to the orbit you desire. You lose much of the 1000mph advantage of launching near the equator and then you have to spend a LOT of propellant and time to get back to the orbit you really want.

As many have said at times, orbital mechanics is a real PITA.

181:

For people postulating a ground based laser to burn up bits of stuff in space, just what will this do to the dust and water in the air between the ground and LEO? How much power is needed to punch through this stuff just to get to LEO?

182:

Um, Whitroth's intuition is fine. Wikipedia says the LEO orbital velocity is 7.8km/s so a 1g piece of debris has a measly 30kJ.

But your velocity is effectively R_earth*\omega, where \omega is the rotation rate of the Earth, which the ExSup says is around 73E-6 rad/s (equation 2.24-3). So that's a velocity of ~0.5km/s which gives 100kg Charlie a kinetic energy of ~10MJ. Did you vaporise a wall last time you bumped it? BTW both those velocities are dwarfed by the 30km/s you acquire from the Earth's orbital velocity (table 15.6 of the ExSup) and the 220km/s given to you as part of a solar system orbiting the galactic centre (wikipedia; the ExSup says only 20km/s).

If two objects are in the same orbit then for the duration of the collision they are effectively in an inertial frame and we can treat one of them stationary. If the delta-v is small then there won't be any vaporisation. Kinetic energy can only change by the application of a force and a force is a change in momentum -- i.e. linear in velocity. If the force gets big enough it will rip it to pieces, possibly atomic sized pieces, but you need the force.

183:

Back in 1957 when "On The Beach" was published the US had about 3000 warheads, the Soviets a couple of hundred. A full nuclear exchange would have produced about twenty to thirty times the amount of fallout the entire series of atmospheric tests on all sides did actually produce. That includes tests like Castle Bravo, the Tsarbomba and the like whereas most nuclear weapons at that time and subsequently were much smaller than the big test devices.

You might notice that those atmospheric tests didn't actually result in entire areas of the planet being rendered uninhabitable due to fallout. Hell, last time I was there (May this year) central Hiroshima was not full of mutant zombies as the movies and computer games would have you believe and it got as much fallout as any inhabited area ever got, along with Nagasaki (been a few years since I was in that city but back then still no piles of corpses, no zombies).

The Trinity site in New Mexico where the first nuke went off about 70 feet up in the tower is a tourist attraction today and the local radioactivity is only slightly above normal background. Again, no zombies. The Nevada test site, home to multiple atmospheric tests is upwind from the thriving city of Las Vegas. OK, some of the inhabitants may look zombie-ish but that's just Vegas.

Exaggerated works of fiction about nuclear wars and the effects of fallout are not, of course, uncommon. They are works of fiction though and should not be the basis for a life's work protesting nuclear power.

184:

The Trinity test and the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings each involved devices with under 25 kiloton yields. The largest aboveground test in the continental US was 74 kilotons, the Hood shot in 1957.

By 1959 the US had ~580 thermonuclear weapons stockpiled that could achieve yields in the 10+ megaton range (Mark 17, Mark 24, Mark 36). Plus probably another 100+ bombs in the 1-1.5 megaton range (Mark 28, 4500 units produced in all, though I don't know the production history by year). The "small" Mark 28 could yield up to 100 times as much energy as the 15 kiloton Little Boy bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The high yield variant of the Mark 36 could go up to possibly 19 megatons, ~1270 times the yield of the Hiroshima bomb.

Note that Bikini and Enewatak Atolls, which actually did receive megaton-scale fallout, remain too radioactive for long term resettlement 60 years later. It was probably the disastrous Castle Bravo test at Bikini, which sickened and killed Japanese fishermen 80 miles from the test, that turned the earlier "fallout anxiety" over Sr-90 showing up in milk into outright "fallout terror." I seem to recall that this fallout map from the test showed up in news stories, superimposed over a map of the Eastern US, and that was a frightening visualization. Being afraid of fallout from nuclear war circa 1960 was perfectly reasonable. That particular aspect of nuclear war has diminished since the early 1960s as lower yield, more accurately targeted weapons came to dominate nuclear arsenals.

185:

Social implications

Disruption to communication and advanced military capabilities

This creates a massive boom in satellite launching since you have fifty years of satellites to replace

No Kessler effect other then blowing up the moon deprives you of space, it just kills all satellites in the orbits effected. So you use other orbits. Space is big, Orbit is BIG kids

So Elon gets ridiculously incredibly rich

God knows where that leads

186:

Um, Whitroth's intuition is fine. Wikipedia says the LEO orbital velocity is 7.8km/s so a 1g piece of debris has a measly 30kJ.

Correct.

Which is about double the muzzle energy of a .50 calibre BMG round, i.e. a heavy machine-gun bullet of mass 42-52 grams.

100Kg Charlie has five orders of magnitude more mass than the notional 1g fragment traveling at orbital velocity, and I'm pretty sure if I bumped into a wall at Earth surface rotational velocity -- 0.5km/sec -- I wouldn't so much splash as turn into a fine red mist. (Luckily most of the walls hereabouts are also rotating around the same center of mass as I am -- the core of the Earth -- so this is a non-issue in practical terms.)

187:

For comparison, the main power supply reservoir capacitor in something like a 21" CRT monitor will be storing something under 30J. Not kilojoules, just joules. Drop a screwdriver across one of those when it's fully charged and you will get one heck of a bang and blow a chunk out of your screwdriver.

One joule is about the energy of an apple falling off a table, but even that can still blow holes in thin metal if it is delivered in a short enough time, as for example in a pulse from a Q-switched laser. Or a quarter of a milligram of crud impacting at orbital velocity.

Castle Bravo produced such a lot of fallout because it was a ground burst. Air bursts produce a lot less.

188:

On the science front, ultra-violet astronomy will be gone, most of the infra-red astronomy will be wiped out, large telescopes will have major funding, very large optic interferometer telescopes will have a major comeback (there's only a couple of such large telescopes) and all of these are not bad things. James Webb telescope has been a major money drain and after billions and billions spent, we haven't seen a single picture yet! It's still on the pad! We're just lucky that Hubble has been running for so long and w/o the Shuttle, that is going to fail eventually.

189:

Because the underlying assumption is that the Kessler effect cascade is irreversible & incurable.
Neither I nor Catina believe this to be the case - a difficult & expensive problem, certainly, & maybe only partly solvable ... but not a complete roadblock.

190:

The Kessler particles you worry about are moving at multiple km/sec in orbit and so are very energetic but most of the things they might bump in to are also travelling at similar speeds and usually in much the same direction. Vectors can be a bitch, of course but a steep-angle collision is much less likely than one where the orbits of the particle and its impact site are coincidental since they are more often in the same volume of space.

A 1 gram particle travelling at 8km/sec impacting a satellite moving at 7.5km/sec in the same direction will impart 0.001 x 500 x 500 joules = 250 joules to it. The satellite won't absorb the particle's entire KE of 0.001 x 8000 x 8000 = 64kJ.

191:

The very-LEO will possibly stay relatively clean due to very high atmospheric drag where anything will quickly decay back into the atmosphere and burn. This means if you're skirting the top layers of the atmosphere, you have a chance to live.

Now...

If someone implements John Walker's A Rocket A Day Keeps The High Costs Away strategy along with the GOCE satellite where you win against the drag with a constantly running ion engine we can see a lot of somewhat cheap, industrially-scaled manufactured and produced satellites where the aim is winning the attrition war against the syndrome. That might work.

192:

Re: US losing its frontier: You can have a look at how UK views itself, a small country which was a former empire, still thinking it is one and acts like it, or more realistically Russia today, a former empire which is somewhat broke with a power-hungry maniac at the throne, tightly controlling the media fooling most of the public, great washes of wilderness with uneducated public, loads of nuclear weapons and guns, loads of guns and religious nutters...

193:

Kessler syndrome is irreversible. You won't find a method to put all the fragments together again. I even doubt there's a practical method to collect particles into larger aggregates.

It will cure itself over time, at least in LEO, due to atmospheric drag. That can be helped along with the method CiaD cited - that one looks plausible to me.

194:

I did a bit of digging yesterday and found some papers discussing the possibility of ion ram jets for very low orbit use. If it works then you could keep a GOCE style sat up there indefinitely.

195:

The US hasn't had a frontier mentality in a century. The substitution of space for the frontier was a desperate attempt to renew it when space was young and the real frontier was still a memory. A pioneering frontier functions as a pressure release valve, somewhere for second sons and ambitious peasants to go. Lacking one, you get more destructive competition in the zero sum pressure cooker.

Where was Marxism cooked up? Where did Dickens set his tales depicting the personal effects of economic claustrophobia? England in the 19th century may have had an empire, but still it was an island, and the release valves of the seaports were too small, like tiny pinholes in a steam boiler. For most, there was more opportunity becoming a pickpocket than making a fortune in Australia. This created a special case where Marxist theory actually was something like true. The error was in over-generalizing it. And every religion constantly tries to produce the circumstances of it's creation--usually painful ones.

Our modern frontiers are technological. For many ages physical expansion was much faster than technological change. A threshold has been passed. Nevertheless, a finite physical world (it's actually round) will become a pressure cooker, though technology may hold that off for a greater or lesser time.

196:

I'm not claiming fallout isn't dangerous, I think the fallout from a full nuclear war wouldn't promptly exterminate all human life on earth the way a lot of early apocalyptic fiction such as "On The Beach" claimed. It might impact lifespans, increase the number of cancers etc. but I think it would be unlikely to kill all humans (and, I presume, most vertebrate life) all over the planet in a matter of months.

The US fired off about 250 megatonnes of nuclear tests in the Pacific, all in the environment (some high it the atmosphere, some at sea level, some underwater) and apart from some accidental prompt exposures to fallout[1] after a couple of tests there were no perceivable effects on humanity in general. Even when people were accidentally or deliberately exposed to very high levels of fallout nearly all of them survived and most lived long lives afterwards.

[1]The Japanese fishing boat Lucky Dragon no. 5 got hit by an intense fallout plume from the Castle Bravo test. One member of the crew died from acute radiation sickness soon after, several other members of the crew were still alive and in reasonable health as of 2011, nearly sixty years after the event.

197:

A totally off topic story about frontier mentality. My grandparents were born in the first decade of the twentieth century and endured some tough times during the Great Depression (just after the empires and frontiers started contracting?). I heard tales of my grandfather carrying my starving grand uncle the last mile to the train tracks as they roamed the nation looking for work. After a career in the construction industry my grandfather and grandmother bought an unused corner of a mechanized peanut farm and played pioneer. I remember going to visit them as a child, in the 60s. They lived out there, off the grid, in a tiny shack while they built a house and a farm and became self sufficient. I remembered the stacks of Pioneer Days magazine in the corner, which they would read beside the wood stove by light of kerosene lantern. Oh the romance of living like their own parents, in a house of sod. Then my grandfather got cancer because of all the stuff he was exposed to while working in construction, died under torture in his early 60s while squandering the savings of his children, grandma sold the farm and spent the rest of her days watching westerns on TV in her chlldren's living rooms. With their farm, the equivalent of camping out in the back yard, died the frontier mentality.

198:

Another good film that just came out: "The Martian."

199:

That's the one similar to "50 shades of grey" ?

200:

No, nothing to do with Islam or class relations. The one about a survival story on Mars. I'm simultaneously contradicting my own assertion that the romance of the frontier is gone and continuing a theme of recommending movies, for the first time to actual relevant effect. Earlier, on a whim, I linked to Space Milkshake, a comedy initially about a crew who work in orbit clearing up debris, because what else ya gonna do. Eventually it will be an industry, once the Kessler effect clears up and the value of maintenance is properly appreciated. In another thread I also recommended some movies about tanks because really tanks are more movie material than book material. As long as you don't show how miserable they actually get inside. No passing the Bechdel test, of course, because nearly everyone in most military movies is male, especially those set in the past. Movies tell a lot more about the shotgun blast of places that cultures are going than do books. And they're better fodder for certain parts of the imagination. So grandpa's dreams of being a pioneer were dashed by reality, therefore the dream of frontier is dead...no it isn't. Evidence to the contrary, it's still in that DNA. I forgot to also add the survivalist subculture, which is another example of the distorted forms a suppressed drive can take.

201:

Why not show how miserable things are? Das Boot is hands down the best submarine film of all time, and it doesn't exactly portray life under water as a barrel of laughs.

Personally I'm not keen on going into space - confined spaces and boredom don't do it for me. OTOH Hollywood space tends to look like jolly good fun apart from the monsters.

202:

The manga and anime, "Planetes" centres around the Orbital Garbage Patrol which is staffed by weirdos and malconents. Mostly they spend their time decommissioning obsolete hardware by iono/strato/aero/litho/bathybraking it. Quite hard on the science involved in orbital mechanics, radiation exposures etc. plus as an added bonus a Mad Scientist somewhat resembling Werner Von Braun but without that Nazi's innate sense of humanity and social concern.

203:

I'd like to modify my 'space junk flypaper' scenario as follows:

The space flypaper catches the very small space debris using a modified multilayered aerofoam (similar to Heteromeles' Comment 172 - Whipple shields) that converts the impact energy (about 50% of the mass hitting the shield/flypaper) into another energy form which the device then (a) stores in some type of novel battery which is then transferred back to Earth/ISS or (b) using some sort of SciFi-ish laser device, transmits the space flypaper-space debris collision energy back to Earth as photoelectric energy.

The above scenario accomplishes two objectives: cleans up space and provides energy.

204:

I think it's more efficient to harvest wind energy on the surface. For one, there's more energy to harvest from. For two, wind and rain is better behaved and usually doesn't try to destroy your machinery with projectiles at orbital speeds (your device would need to evade larger debris).

205:

Yes, it's not even close to competitive with terrestrial sources of any sort.

2014 was an unusually busy launch year with 90 missions reaching orbit.

Let's pretend each of those was a fully loaded Falcon 9 taking 13150 kg to LEO. At 30 MJ/kg, that's 90 * 13150 * 30 = 35505000 MJ of kinetic energy relative to Earth's surface. A megawatt-hour is 3600 MJ, so that's 9862.5 MWh added to LEO. If you can collect all of it and send 50% of the potential to Earth as beamed electricity -- which is wildly optimistic -- that's 4931 MWh. Or about the same annual generation as a not-especially-productive municipal solar project of 3 megawatts-peak installed on a capped landfill. Less than the annual production of a single 2 megawatt wind turbine installed in Texas.

Space launches involve a tiny fraction of human energy expenditure to begin with, and an even tinier fraction is retained as orbital kinetic energy.

206:

What will it do to centralised social media, especially in parts of the world which are more remote? Will we move away from everything going up to Facebook and back towards more local servers to combat poor long distance links?

207:

No.
The internet does not depend on satellites.
That's because satellites are slow.

For (civil) communications one uses geostationary satellites which have a distance to earth of about 36000 km. So the round trip is 72000 km corresponding to 220 ms at light speed.
Most transcontinental internet links are realized by cables below the sea. Earth circumference is 40.000 km, so usually the distance is less than a third than that via satellite.

208:

K syndrome is not irreversible...
Collecting the fragments? No, why even bother trying?
Either fry them, or brake them (slow them down) or some combination, by methods already described.
Expensive, difficult, but do-able.
- IF the political will is there - now THAT IS a social construct of the sort that Charlie was looking for (I think)

209:

Yes, a Kessler event would itself bring about the social change needed to clean it up. We could be doing so today, but don't for primarily political reasons, not technological.

A couple of years ago I went on a short course about current day space, which for Australians means "who does what and why" rather than "here's how you build a rocket." There was a session on debris, causes and risks.

The problem is that any system that can economically remove debris could just as economically bring down or disable satellites. And there's no technology that only works on debris: microsatellites exist and are increasingly popular, solar panels and other components are more fragile than chunks of metal.

Plus there's an international treaty banning the militarisation of space. No doubt there have been breaches, but overall the treaty and a certain prospect of mutual assured destruction have kept space peaceful.

So while everyone recognises that debris is an increasing problem, currently nobody is willing to let anyone else build, say, a debris removal laser. The presenters half-jokingly suggested that the only solution would be for everyone to chip in and fund one under permanent Swiss control.

All that would change after a Kessler event. I can see the skies going dark for a decade, but not a century.

210:

Not to forget the permanent moon base Armstrong, established in 2025 with a population of 250, scientists, engineers, minors, botanists, specialists, and including 12 tourists (paying 10 million credits each), are now stranded on the moon for the rest of their natural lives.

Armstrong is a sprawling complex of 5 geodesic domes, each spanning 100 meters in diameter, connected by 10 Kilometers of tunnels and chambers. Energy is not a problem since there is an unlimited abundance of solar energy and helium-3. In fact, basic resources like oxygen and H2O are being extracted from lunar rock. Food production is also sustainable, 4 Geodesic domes and several chambers are growing hybrid super food crops (no more animal based foods coming from Earth to feed the tourists). Most basic needs are recycled or fabricated. The remaining dome is a botanical garden that is also used for recreation. A communication array is in constant contact with Earth.

There will be a few homicides and suicides over the years, mostly involving the tourist portion of the population. It will be three generations before a lunar human will set foot on Earth. Science will continue on the moon.

The planned manned Mars mission for 2033 will be canceled and it will be another 100 years before any kind of planetary missions are considered.

211:

Correcting my own post, there's a treaty against *weapons* in space. Not militarisation which has rather obviously happened.

212:

Sigh.

After 211 posts, do the meta analysis.

Look back on the trend line and the conversations that were presented (women authors, telepathy, and on and on).

Host is asking about what happens when the Eloi stop getting the nods on and that realm goes dark, he has no care about reality. (Although it's a good cover - then again, Elves live in those rocks and how dare you try and run us over).

Never threaten something you don't understand.

~

You can either look at the "Last of the Unicorns" vid I shoved to the Peanut Gallery or not.

Hint:

He's asking what happens when the real network goes dark.

The answer is probably genocide, but there's solutions.

213:

Energy is not a problem since there is an unlimited abundance of solar energy and helium-3

Ahem: Helium-3 fusion isn't something that's actually been demonstrated -- it's theoretically aneutronic but requires WAY higher plasma energy density than any current proposed fusion reactors can achieve, and, embarrassingly, it's cheaper to use Boron (which is lying about in heaps pretty much everywhere, rather than costing about a thousand times its own weight in gold).

If anyone tries to sell you the idea of commercially exploiting He-3 trapped in the lunar regolith as an energy source, they're basically talking nonsense. Over-optimistic space cadet nonsense. It's their best myth-building attempt at justifying lunar surface industrialization and it's based on junk science.

Also? You might want to read up on why Biosphere 2 failed, and the precise total of our progress in building self-contained closed cycle life support systems since then (approximately nothing). Designing that sort of closed-cycle ecosystem is hard -- probably harder than building an open-loop moonbase in the first place.

214:

He's asking what happens when the real network goes dark.

Not quite: I'm asking what happens when the myth of the future breaks. (Not dissimilar. But genocide is not an automatic consequence.)

215:

Let's dig a little deeper. What I guess you're tackling on this is that the myth of Progress (capital P deliberate) depends on having infinite frontiers to exploit.

It's not clear to me that most American liberals see the high frontier as a necessity for continued progress, so that's one question we need to hash out: whether loss of access to space dooms Progress, or whether we can continue to have Progress if we stay in our own biosphere.

The second issue is whether or not Progress isn't already falling apart,. My sense is that the groundswell of dystopian literature says it really is.

An interesting problem there is that too many people get caught in the either-or lock of "well, if Progress is dead, then Armageddon is the only other choice." This is effectively a Christian dichotomy, and despite my reputation for being a pessimist, I see no evidence that Armageddon is the only alternative to infinite expansion into space or even to continual Progress.

Indeed, while I can't talk about the evidence it's based on, I get the strong impression that people would very much like to have useful myths other than the High Frontier, because it's looking seriously broken, with or without a Kessler Event, and Armageddon is looking similarly bankrupt at the moment.

216:

In the short term, The Myth of Progress (TMP) is not dead due to the Kessler Syndrome. As has been mentioned ad nauseam, most of the functions of satellites could be taken over by drones. More deep space astronomy is currently done on Earth-based instruments due to lack of budgets to launch many dedicated space observatories. What will suffer are interplanetary missions and missions investigating the universe in any spectrum that can be blocked by the atmosphere.

As for TPM, we can always bring back space colonization's now forgotten cousin: deep ocean colonization. Instead of a dream of cities on the Moon, we'd have dreams of cities in the Mariana Trench. Nothing will come of it, except maybe a few villages among coral reefs assuming the government's corrupt enough. However, I expect that to happen anyway.

Other alternatives to bring back include floating/flying cities, dirigible cruise liners, supersonic air travel, hypersonic air travel (for cruise missiles who wish to avoid the debris). Right now, Moore's Law drives TMP, not the space program. Heck, companies dependent on TMP could lobby legislatures to increase automation within the job market as a signal that TMP is on track. In short, TMP is not as dependent on space as its critics assume, at least for a century. Two if researchers get the ability to create their own genome. Fancy a fire breathing flying cow, anyone?

The Kessler syndrome might even help the TMP, namely its green cousin. I do see the culture changing, but more towards new and exciting technologies which could fix the syndrome and other environmental problems.

Now if the syndrome lasts for over a century, we might have a problem. At that point, the low hanging fruit have been picked off and a new focus outside the planet would have to be investigated.

217:

I don't think that space will be cleaned up. It's not really worth it, financially. We already have close to a consensus on this board that modern life isn't really dependent on LEO these days. I am also convinced that a lot of those marginal values like weather satellites can be replaced with stratellites. I don't think even spy satellites are valuable enough to justify the expense. LEO becomes the great Pacific garbage patch v2.0. Something everyone agrees needs to be cleaned up, but no one seems to do anything about it.

218:

You want to know what would happen if space migration were off the table for the foreseeable future. So, you have to have something that is clearly an exaggeration of the real case. Because space progress didn't stall due to anything intrinsic to it, it stalled due to the Outer Space Treaty.
OK, a hard clear force field forms around the Earth like in Under the Dome. First, adaptations to losing what few things we use space for now.
Then, the loss of that dream wouldn't matter. Most people don't really think about it. It's just a fantasy setting that doesn't impact them. The only people who seriously care about that space future are dreamers. Eventually they will lead us there, one way or another. But lacking that it'll be like losing the supply of a food or beverage you've never tried. "No absinthe any more? OK, whatever." Conservative abuses aren't based on the assumption of the high frontier, they're based on the assumption of the biblical end times. Then when it really starts to hurt it will be God's vengeance for not being conservative enough. "Look, those damn liberals caused global warming. Because they tolerated gay people. Vengeance is mine saith the Lord." Of course the leaders don't really believe that, for them the future doesn't matter because they are going to die and who cares what happens after that. And a few are dreamers, as are a few of the liberals.

So what will the dreamers pivot to if space is off the table? What will they lead the rest to eventually? Timothy Leary, in his later books, had an acronym "SMIILE". Space Migration-Intelligence Increase-Life Extension. If space migration is out, intelligence increase and life extension are still there. The life extension thing is a problem, though, if the space migration bit isn't there to support it. So, there will also have to be improvements in energy production, the trivial task of chemically synthesized food, and new materials so the skyscrapers can be built higher (but not too high, you can't puncture the dome). Intelligence increase (human, transhuman, or machine) will assist with that. Provided society wants to go there. There are quite a few religions opposed to it, yokes that hold back progress to convert that energy to personal ends. Nothing motivates like misery. They need it to make better lives. In alliance with these religions, there will simply be power blocs. For them II and LE are best reserved for themselves. For the rest, the whole hubris of humanity thing will result in a proper checking of the population levels and consolidation of power and wealth in worthy hands. Shame on those evil humans out there, see what they've done? Of course the starving will be allowed inside the gates if they are particularly attractive or entertaining.

219:

The myth of the future has already broken for a lot of people. Look at how millenials have it worse than their parents.
Also that's a somewhat western centred view; I get the impression other parts of the planet have a different view of things.

I also think that we are already conditioned into knowing that space is not open to us, thye fevered antics of Musk and space lovers notwithstanding. Only the rich will get into space in the future and we aren't rich. And even then money doesn't make up for lack of liveable habitat.

Nevertheless, I think you could get an idea of what happens with space shut off for good (Although it wouldn't be in an actual Kessler event) by comparing with the USA. It's myth making period of expansion was over by the 1880's or so (Okay, I'm working from memory here) yet the ideals and ideas which had helped propel it kept going. THey just became more and more zombified. THe individuality, the boosterism, etc, they are all still around today even when a switch to a more social setup like Europe would make more sense. SO whatever starting point you are envisaging, the society will keep right on going on, until the ideas are toxic to it's survival, at which point you have some angst and arguments for a good story.

220:

The desire to move to new lands is in human DNA from a million years of the hunter gatherer lifestyle. That "individualism and boosterism" you speak of are natural, not a product of peculiar conditions. It takes strong medicine to suppress human nature. Sometimes human nature needs suppressing, it has some nasty options in it, and in order to build a better world we create the artificial, but let's not provincially fool ourselves about what is natural and what is cultivated. Since the invention of agriculture, humans have forced themselves into these static, close communities and developed cultural and literal medicines to help them cope, to deaden the "individualism and boosterism." The frontier is appealing because it allows us to be our natural selves yet benefit from civilization.
If empty frontiers are lacking, artificial ones will be created: burned out neighbors. Sure, you can suspend that temporarily. Modern Europe is an admirable example. Might be worth looking under the rocks to see what it cost. And what's propping it up. And how long it would last, in theory, without outside interaction. What if a dome appeared isolating Europe? That's spaceless Earth, best case.

221:

ACtually, I disagree. People will move depending on resource availability. A % of the populace seem to have greater wanderlust than others, but it seems to be a law of hte universe that the % of the population that stays at home is ignored.
(Like the americans who visit scotland and are surprised when they find out that time didn't stop in the 1780's when their ancestors left)

The boosterism and individuality were the products of specific conditions, the opening of the american frontier. You could argue that Leif Erickson et al used the same tactics with Greenland; neverthless the point is that they are tactics which are good in some circumstances and bad in others.

I always find appeal to 'human nature' a specious and dangerous form of argument because the person using it usually doesn't nail down precisely what 'human nature' is beforehand.

222:

Clarification question: How much worse does the space debris situation have to get that it resembles a nuclear winter? A nuclear winter for a couple of years might come in handy right about now.

'Space travel suspended until further notice', or where else are the dreamers going to go for their new frontiers fix? There's tons of data that have yet to be crunched. There's at least as much cerebral adventure in data crunching as in data gathering.

'The final frontier ...' we still know next to nothing about our oceans for those who need an external frontier. Then there's our brains and/or DNA for those who'd prefer an internal frontier. There's plenty still to discover, and even more to understand.

223:

Total mass of space junk: 2000 metric tons

1980 St Helens eruption: More than 1.5 million metric tons of sulfur dioxide were released into the atmosphere.

Do the math.

224:

Human nature. What will generate the social effects of any major event, such as loss of space. Alternately, what children, retirees and rich people do when they have an opportunity to play (except working out neuroses). Not what people do in desperation or to make a living or because of "peer" pressure. Among other elements, it includes, I postulate, the tendency to explore new places and try new challenges and build new things. As opposed to the tendency to get in a fight, cheat somebody, seek oblivion, suck up, or put on a pretension which are more what people do when you lock them up in a corner and impose on them.

"Human nature refers to the distinguishing characteristics—including ways of thinking, feeling and acting—which humans tend to have naturally, independently of the influence of culture. The questions of what these characteristics are, how fixed they are, and what causes them are amongst the oldest and most important questions in western philosophy. These questions have particularly important implications in ethics, politics, and theology. This is partly because human nature can be regarded as both a source of norms of conduct or ways of life, as well as presenting obstacles or constraints on living a good life. The complex implications of such questions are also dealt with in art and literature, while the multiple branches of the humanities together form an important domain of inquiry into human nature and into the question of what it is to be human."--Wikipedia

Most of our arguments and models must be based on assumptions about human nature. What else will produce the results of a major change? Economics? Human behavior. Politics? Human behavior. What are we blank slates? That's an old idea. The most honest models refer to human nature directly, rather than pretending some other principles exist out there independent of it, creating human behavior rather than resulting from it. Human nature is NOT directly deduced from art because most art is designed to alter or build on human nature, but since some art plays on human nature to produce it's effects, truths about human nature can be deduced from it indirectly.

I believe that in most people the desire for fair and good relations with others predominates over the desire for advantage and dominion. Confinement and compression flip this. In even the best cases, a minority are the reverse, driven to rule rather than get along, and they tend to take control of power structures, or create them, and recruit normals to be "inferior"(at their ways) copies of themselves. The evil freaks would of course want the rest of us to believe ourselves naturally evil. But the best part of human nature is the love of exploring and discovering novelty, just an aspect of what you call wanderlust, the desire to move to new lands. Lacking new lands, we bend that drive to other pursuits, many very fruitful, but at what cost. Are we simply having fewer small earthquakes?

225:

Because space progress didn't stall due to anything intrinsic to it, it stalled due to the Outer Space Treaty.

Oh good grief, not that canard again!

The Outer Space Treaty is a dead letter; it was never even ratified by the US Congress.

It was a creation of the 1960s Cold War, designed to reassure everyone else that the two big superpowers weren't about to get into a dash for colonial empire in space. It served its purpose, is all. But the libertarian space cadets love to blame it for the odd failure of Capitalism Uber Alles to deliver L5 colonies and Lunar vacations by 1985.

What killed "progress" (of the kind you're talking about) is actually physics, in the shape -- crudely -- of Newton's laws; the energy required to accelerate 1Kg of matter to a given velocity is proportional to the square of the velocity. Also, space is big. Merely getting into LEO with chemical propulsion systems is a marginal proposition; getting beyond LEO is vastly expensive unless we go nuclear, and that's a very different kind of political problem from the "thou shalt not grub-stake or claim jump" implicit in the Outer Space Treaty.

(Apart from that you're mostly on target ...)

226:

But the best part of human nature is the love of exploring and discovering novelty, just an aspect of what you call wanderlust, the desire to move to new lands. Lacking new lands, we bend that drive to other pursuits, many very fruitful, but at what cost.

Curiosity does not lead to colonialism directly. For most humans exploring is fine as long as you can get home afterwards and tell your folks about it. After all, humans are social creatures. As long as there's enough food and safety, only freaks go out to explore the unknown.

227:

The expense of getting into orbit, the detrimental effects of cosmic rays, and the large investment required for economic return are also factors. But

"The treaty explicitly forbids any government from claiming a celestial resource such as the Moon or a planet, claiming that they are the common heritage of mankind. Art. II of the Treaty states that "outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means". However, the State that launches a space object retains jurisdiction and control over that object. The State is also liable for damages caused by their space object"

If nations cannot claim anything in space, then there can be no private property in space, since private
ownership flows from the sovereign. And law is enforced by national governments, so the treaty means there will be no law in space beyond itself. While the possiblity of private ownership does not ensure capital investment, and capital investment does not ensure wise use, the impossiblity of national or private ownership ensures no capital investment and thus no development. What the treaty allows is exactly what has happened: satellites launched from Earth. What the treaty bars (economic exploitation of celestial bodies) is exactly what has not happened. Law produces consequences. When churches don't pay propety taxes, but private home owners do, a city becomes nothing but run down ghetto dwellings (as seen from outside by the assessor) and splendid palace churches. Private enterprise is a powerful force, like fire. If you want something exploited and developed, there is no better way to do it than to unleash greed on it. Also like fire, it must be used with care, and it's fanatical proponents insist the fire will be perfectly wise if just allowed uninhibited freedom. This is not true. Power is not wisdom. But power is not useless. Fire doesn't know what to burn, but that doesn't mean you can't use it when you want to burn something, provided you take precautions.

It would be an alternate world if the treaty had never happened. I sure wonder what it would be like.

228:

I note you made a reply using political-economic matters to one which talked about physics.

229:

One side effect of a Kessler event would be an increase in shooting stars on display. Socially, having such a display every night makes the annual meteor showers less of a special thing, and making a light-streaked sky the norm could lead to imagery such as “beneath the shooting stars” to indicate nighttime. Lovecraft’s “When the Stars turn right” trope takes on new meanings that will probably hit popular culture. And at least for a while there will be an increase in the amount of space junk hitting the ground in recognizable pieces. There is already a collectors market for space artifacts, it would be reasonable for it to grow and possibly create a fandom. Pieces that can be identified to a specific satellite would be more valuable than an anonymous fluff of fiberglass, with less well-off space artifact otaku spending hours trying to track down the origins of said fiberglass. Lastly, once the Kessler event starts, a lot of unscrupulous insurance companies will start hawking satellite debris insurance to the gullible public.

I do note that a class back in 1988 I took, War in the Nuclear Age, the professor mentioned that he had reason to believe that one of the first actions to be taken by both sides in a full exchange would be to launch a couple of tons of sand into the more useful orbits.

230:

"You want to know what would happen if space migration were off the table for the foreseeable future. So, you have to have something that is clearly an exaggeration of the real case."

Not at all: space migration has never been on the table in the real case. That pesky physics stuff gets in the way. The requirement for magic to get around relativity keeps it firmly in the realms of fantasy. Without that we are limited to the solar system, and even there it would require a magical energy source.

Asimov in his fiction writing made staple use of magic (disguised as technology). In his non-fiction writing he explained in detail why the kind of scenarios he used in his fiction would of necessity remain fictional.

As far as fiction writing is concerned, I see no reason why a Kessler event should make any difference at all. If you can handwave your way past the speed of light, a little orbital debris field is nothing. The fantasy remains as viable as it ever was. Heck, it originated before we even had rockets.

231:

Post responded to, and response, were both partly about physics and partly about political/economics. The physics of acceleration are most relevant in a gravity well, and mostly pertaining to that gravity, not to acceleration itself. Once you get away from a planet it's all slippery ice. You don't have to go fast to go far. So, most importantly, it takes a lot of energy to get into orbit, but that's not the whole story of why space was never developed. In fact had they done all that moon vacations stuff by 1985 it would have been awful, all those people dying of cancer.

This book
http://er.jsc.nasa.gov/seh/indusrev.html
didn't mention cosmic rays at all.

Nevertheless, the impact of the OST is real. Whether it's binding under US law is not important either. It's main power is diplomatic. Any country can withdraw. But everybody thinks it's in effect and binding and anybody that acts otherwise will earn wrath. So it's real. And it is actually interfering in reality with real plans to develop space.

http://www.space.com/10621-moon-mining-legal-issues.html

While space development wasn't really practical in the 70s the specter of the treaty, the sheer fact of knowing it was pointless because you couldn't own what you developed anyway, meant nobody even tried. Which was a good thing during the cold war, but now there needs to be a new international standard for national claims.

It should be hard to claim territory in space, but possible. Like 1 human living on a square kilometer for a year claims that square kilometer for the nation of citizenship. Register with the UN office of Space Claims and wear your bio-sensing locator at all times. Expect visits from inspectors. Surfaces for claims purposes are on theoretical spheres with a radius equal to half of the longest geometrical axis of the body. Claims are cones from the center of the body (halfway between the two ends of the longest axis) out through the "surface" to one radius beyond the surface. Orbiting craft may travers "airspace" over claims without permission provided they are not hazardous.

232:

The solar system is plenty big enough for some time to come. It is possible to travel in the solar system, we have sent robots to Saturn. Industrial development of space will bring the cost down. A solar system spanning civilization, like in The Expanse series (except without a star gate) could do a Revelation Space series style sublight speed expansion to other solar systems eventually. Yes, I'm citing authoritative science fictional sources, so there.

233:

I know we already did this to death years ago in The High Frontier, Redux, but what makes anyone think that economic exploitation of space is going to bring back a "frontier" for human pioneers to live on? People have been exploiting oil & gas resources at ever greater depths, but nobody lives at the bottom of the ocean. People don't get a bracing swig of the frontier spirit by imagining digging a very deep hole and then living in it.

The very best case for exploitation of space resources is probably recovery of platinum group metals from asteroids. And even that isn't economically viable with present or near-future technology. Making it viable in real-physics-land probably involves minimizing speed, mass, and power requirements, trading time for power/mass and automation for human hands and brains. It also requires rethinking almost all of extractive metallurgy to adapt to an environment where water is almost-nonexistent instead of almost-free. Solar powered mining robots operating on leisurely multi-year schedules might become viable before 2050. But that's not a frontier in the sense of allowing humans to flee settled social/political arrangements. And advances in solar power and automation will make terrestrial mining cheaper too, so dreams of asteroid mining might be chasing a receding horizon for a long time.

234:

I like the sea exploration idea - not because it's realistic or plausible but because it's amusing and different. This is indeed a return to some 1970s speculations and it's very much like space exploration except for being affordable and relatively easy.

Let's flip around an old space argument. What can humans do underwater that robots can't do?

235:

Well, yes. I'm not allowed to go there. Grey Area tsk tsk tsk.

Since the answer is usually: they get on with their lives, never repent and are supported by Outside economic agents.The Act of Killing

Now, if we want to play feisty: there's a reason that ex-genocidal peeps post 1945 always get a pass. Khmer Rouge? Idi Amin? Pinochet? The list goes on and on...

No, really.

Apart from Kosovo / Serbs (like, wut? alternative life as life guru?), who was the last genocidal maniac put into the spot light?

None.

Why?

The USA isn't moral.

~

Host is asking a much, much more interesting question:

What happens when your reality ceases to exist? The usual answer is (sadly) to enact genocide so that change doesn't happen.

Now, this is interesting, because it has already happened. And this time you don't get to do that shit.

~

To rework the question:

What happens if thought / ideology actually has real world effect?

What happens when your old rules no longer apply? (Raytheon wasn't an accidental link, nor was Mun and Kerbal Space Program).

What happens if you just fucked your children for all eternity because you like shiny toys?

~

You ditch Capitalism real pronto like and start solving shit.

Calcium.

It's hilarious.

The Earth has a resonance and gigacide is on the cards.

T-Bone Walker & BB King [Youtube: music: 7:28]

236:

Oh, sorry.

Forget you're all working in slow time.

This is for you, Stephen:

THESUNTHESUNTHESUNTHESUN

It's the same modal plane.

Harmonics and wave theory.

You tried to kill off consciousness? Tried to make a sub-class and enact waaar and genocide in the name of a small Blood G_D (note: this is not the Jewish or Christian or even Islamic G_D, it's a perversion of it: why the Sufis' died)

Well, here's the rub:

Solar Winds

CMEs

Your minds (and a whole lot more of conscious entities, but you're scum and have killed most of them)

Calcium.

~

It's not funny.

But it's a lesson.

p.s.

The Meta lesson is to those behind-the-scenes curtain players.

Real. Deal. Arrived.

How does it feel to be... small again?

237:

Blood for the blood god! Skulls for the skull throne!

I am totally starting a Cult of Khorne. We are all gonna have iPhones

238:

theoconsequentialism.com

239:

Deep sea/ocean research is already a stand-in for space research especially re: human adaptability/medicine. Deep sea research would help keep the dream of space exploration alive.

Below is the Erasmus Experiment Archive (European Space Agency) on some on-going Immuno research. Read the methodology section.

http://eea.spaceflight.esa.int/portal/exp/?id=8314

And here's the Wikipedia url for a list of the experiments - good overview.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ESA_Scientific_Research_on_the_International_Space_Station

240:

I know Charlie doesn't watch films, but the ending of Gravity gives you a hint about how the wide-eyed Futurists will feel in the event of the Kessler syndrome. Spoilers, here, but I imagine anyone who was going to see it has gone and seen it by now.

Protagonist, against all likelihood, has managed to make it back to earth in one piece. Her capsule lands in a river, but she manages to pull herself onto the bank, and, slowly, begins to stand, until she is looking defiantly at the sky. Message: humanity will endure, and will defy gravity to again ascend to the heavens. Even though, as we've seen in the events of the film, things are going to be a bit chaotic for a while.

That will be the form of any enduring optimism, I think, although it won't have many adherents until long after the destruction has played out.

241:

You already have one.

If you were switched on, you'd do a basic lore check and work out that iPhones, unlimited internet pr0n and the Chans lead the to birth of Slaanesh. But hey, at least you tried.

To address the real question: America is proving that it's not very good at dealing with reality. (Hello Mr Trump Diversion); Russia is lost in a mire of trying to buttress up old myths (the Orthodox just got involved, again, blessing His Works in Syria); China is learning that poisons (of the physical and ideological kinds) have consequences.

'We were paying to poison our kids': lead in Michigan city's water hits children . Guardian, Oct 4th, 2015.

Of course that's what I was referencing. Nothing to see here, move along, move along.

242:

Anyhow, the look to the skies in hope is an ancient trope.

Dr Who recently did it.

50,000 years of recorded history.... JFK's delivery was always stellar, his speech writers absolute geniuses.

“Ανοίξανε οι ουρανοί και κλαίνε
για τον εγωϊσμό μας όλοι λένε
το άδικο το κρίμα δεν το θέλει ο Θεός
βάσανο είναι ο έρωτας καημός”

A skip and jump - modern Greek pop there. (Proper Unicode employed). You might get a tickle out of the translation, and the time of release and subsequent events.

~

Hope and Change.

There's a very good argument to state that that little campaign was designed to burn out the last vestiges of a certain type of thinking in the USA.

243:

CD you must be on Google's payrole to help them move youtube ads...

244:

The optimists will simply move to other tasks for the time being, putting space off for the longer term. The dream has other components. It's like you are cleaning house and cooking and stuff all at once, running around from room to room. You can't wash the dishes in the dishwasher because the clothes in the washing machine have used up all the hot water, so you set that aside and do something else until the water is hot again. No problem, clearly other things take higher priority.

245:

This bit I can understand:
Russia is lost in a mire of trying to buttress up old myths (the Orthodox just got involved, again, blessing His Works
Remember the scene in "Dr Zhivago" where WWI is declared, the Orthodox are blessing the troops marching off, & Alec Guinness ( Yevgraf ) steps into the procession, face, immobile, preparing for "the revolution" ... ?

However, I also appreciate Unholyguy's snark - possibly true, too!

246:

'We were paying to poison our kids': lead in Michigan city's water hits children

You do know that calcium and lead are different elements, don't you?

247:

Lead is atomic number 82, Calcium is atomic number 20, so the obvious conclusion is that the implied meaning pertains to the number 62 (the difference between Calcium and Lead). Six Two = Sick Stew. Stew is a nickname for a flight attendant. Clearly CD is warning us about the possibility of genetically engineered contagion spreading to the entire world. Obviously, or, straight from the horse's mouth "Of course that's what I was referencing."

248:

Ah, that explains it. Sometimes I think it would be easier to browse notpron.org.

249:

I thought it was an obvious reference to the address of a hairdresser in New Jersey where Einstein famously pissed in Robert Oppenheimer's coffee.

250:

No no, the obvious link between lead and calcium is that in the 16th century a German physician wrote a book called "De Re Metallica" which is about mining and mineralogy, and also includes advice for when separating lead from silver and gold, "The foreman when hungry eats butter, that th epoison which the crucible exhales may not harm him, for this is a special remedy against that poison."

Oddly enough there's at least one academic paper claiming that if you flood your gut with calcium it blocks the channels through which lead would be taken up.

The other option is that in hard water areas a fur often forms soon enough on the inside of lead pipes, thus rendering them less harmful. As previously mentioned on this blog of course, but one of the components is calcium.

251:

Can we call the new pass time "Six Degrees of CatinaDiamond"?

(Well, it made me laugh, and humour has been sorely lacking in these parts lately.)

252:

I noticed the Who episode. And I've heard JFK. I sometimes post things like 'We must do the dishes, in this decade, and do the other things,' but no one gets the reference.

It is an ancient desire, but not in the current and concrete sense of building glass hemispheres on dead inner planets. Icarus flying too close to the sun is not the same as Musk sending people to go suffocate on Mars.

I don't know my modern from my Ancient Greek, unfortunately, but do you know the film Κυνόδοντας? One of its actors got her role from being in this band. (I personally believe the whole album is quite profound, but the titular song comes at the 40.00 mark and is probably the most interesting.)

The important point, I think, is that even sixties America acknowledged that sending chemical rockets into outer space was a bit silly. What that particular Doctor Who writer didn't understand, that is, is that there has never been a time when we have all been in favour of space exploration.

253:

Things on the fringe of science - space exploration, cold fusion, self-lacing shoes – hold a special place in the imagination which can't be dislodged by mere reality. Optimists generally will have their views, but the particular futurist sort will always believe we are on the cusp of warp engines and Mars colonisation. At least, as long as our particular set of space-age era societal values endures. A Kessler event may change it, but my point was that Gravity shows an avenue by which it may not.

254:

Can you do that for all of CD's posts?
This is supposed to be a discussion blog.
Not a bloody crossword-puzzle!

255:

Except that space exploration is not "on the fringe of science"
We have learnt an awful lot since sputnik went up ...
Astronomy, astrophysics, planetary likelihoods & envelopes ( Kepler) etc.

256:

Soft water is also usually acidic and so more able to dissolve lead than hard water. (Also, hard water is easier to wash with and makes better tea. It's an all round win.)

Calcium EDTA is used to treat lead poisoning because it readily exchanges its Ca(II) for Pb(II) and so mops it up.

Small quantities of calcium are alloyed with lead to increase its durability when used as an electrode in an electrochemical cell, as in car batteries or electrolytic refining of copper.

Any more for any more? :)

257:

Gravity interpretation/spoilers and so on.

No doubt the Hollywood reading of the text has our heroine looking defiantly toward the skies dependent to return. Look a little more closely though - you don't just spontaneously regain consciousness while asphyxiating and getting a visit from a dead colleague therefore everything after her decision to commit suicide must be read at the delusional imaginings of her dieing brain and Gravity is really a metaphor for the delusional futility of believing in human survival in space (see also the increasing colour and light through the movie culminating as she reaches Earth/Eden/Heaven).

//daily moment of joy

258:

Since it didn't stick the first time:

The hormone that initially causes a change in the activity of cell membrane proteins is known as a first messenger, and the biochemicals within the cell that cause changes that are the expression of the hormone are known as second messengers (8). Research has shown that lead can replace calcium (Ca2+), perhaps the most ubiquitous second messenger, and alter the function of the cell.

Intracellular concentrations of Ca2+ generally increase in one of two ways: the opening of calcium channels in the cell membrane or the release of stored calcium in the endoplasmic reticulum. Both of these are results of the stimulation of a G-protein. In the case of the former, once a first messenger binds to a binding site, a G-protein, attached to the cell membrane, but facing the inside of the cell, is activated. This G-protein then stimulates the opening of the calcium channel (9). Extracellular calcium then enters the cell and combines with calmodulin, a calcium-binding protein, which affects and stimulates many intracellular functions such as inflammation, metabolism, apoptosis, muscle contraction, intracellular movement, nerve growth and immune response. Lead can interfere with both pathways (10).

Lead has a high affinity towards calmodulin and is able to bind to it even at low levels. In a study researching lead’s ability to bind to CaM (calmodulin), it was determined that calcium binding sites are accessible to lead ions in the crystal state, and in fact, lead has a higher affinity for CaM binding sites than calcium does.

The life-hackers amongst readers will be connecting dots about last Tuesday.

259:

You should probably give them a direct link:

Mary Tsoni, full album is here. (Official website - it's free there too).

I'm flattered you didn't link me to #11 or #12.

The siblings are terrified by the appearance of a stray cat in the garden. Considering it a threat, the son ambushes and kills it with a pair of pruning shears. The parents decide to take advantage of the incident. The father shreds his clothes, covers himself in fake blood, and comes home, where he tells his children that their unseen brother was mauled to death by a cat, the most fearsome creature. The children are taught to get down on all fours and bark maniacally as a precaution against cats.

Said Cat [Youtube: Film: 2:13. Note trigger warning - nudity, slain cats, incest, the whole nine yards]

Interesting, very interesting.

Do I detect a visitor to the machine elves, a saint or a sinner?

Still. Made me think a bit.

260:

Combination of lead (instead of or displacing calcium) plus lack of vitamin D leads to death in quite a number of interesting ways. Even so, not sure why low calcium would be an argument against space exploration/travel as calcium supplements are available, work, etc.

261:

Thanks .. had a quick look at the Wikipedia entry. Not sure how to approach the math. (Yea, I know, first off there's less stuff, i.e., space junk, in a greater volume of space, but ...)

Here's where the math (as in a straight comparison of volumes of stuff) derails. Seems that most of the ash from Mt St Helen's eruption fell back down to Earth, and quite quickly too. This then suggests that whatever the lesser amount of ash from the Mt St Helen's eruption that reached 19 miles or so and achieved/stayed in 'orbit' was sufficient to cause some nuclear autumn. Please note that the effect was not in the immediate area ... the debris/ash field drifted.

Wikipedia Excerpts:

'The eruption ejected more than 1 cubic mile (4.2 km3) of material.[30] A quarter of that volume was fresh lava in the form of ash, pumice and volcanic bombs while the rest was fragmented, older rock.

...

Removing and disposing of the ash was a monumental task for some eastern Washington communities. State and federal agencies estimated that over 2,400,000 cubic yards (1,800,000 m3) of ash, equivalent to about 900,000 tons in weight, were removed from highways and airports in Washington.'

262:

Think a little more along the lines of "a country that cannot even provide safe drinking water doesn't get to go to space a second time"...

$160 / month for the privilege as well. It's not a purely localized issue either, once you've done the research into it. 263: I understand KS occuring in LEO and spreading up into MEO, but geosynchronous orbits have some characteristics that mitigate the problem: 1) Everything has the same angular velocity. 2) Everything has almost the same inclination. 3) The orbit is really, really big. 4) The orbit is really, really far away from most LEOs and MEOs You can certainly get collisions, but the center-of-mass energy of those collisions is going to be considerably lower than what you get in LEO. If I did the arithmetic right, geosync orbital velocity is about 3100 mps. If you assume a less than 1 degree inclination, the worst case collision you can have is at about 100 mps. That's enough to trash your spacecraft, but it's hardly enough to create showers of fragments with orbits eccentric enough to cause lots of additional damage. At the very worst, the Kessler Syndrome exponential time constant has to be tiny. I'd be surprised if debris showers from LEO or MEO could reach geosync with very much energy, and they're unlikely to be stable orbits even if they do. Is this a real problem for GEO? 264: Is this a real problem for GEO? If you smash some things together in LEO or MEO you get various bits in all kinds of orbits. Some will may swing out to the 1/3 way to the moon then back to a few 100 miles up. So they can CROSS the paths of GEO orbits. Will this be a bit issue? Maybe not. But today GEO orbits get to be assumed to be virtually empty. That will change. Maybe enough that GEO sats will need to be armored to get to an expected 10 year life. Or maybe partially armored with the bits not armored designed to handle having a hole punched. We're off the edge of easy projections here. 265: I believe you are correct, KS should be a much less significant issue at GEO because the orbital velocities are much lower, the volume is much greater and there is a much lower range of inclinations in use. I would also add that the total mass of satellites in GEO is much smaller than in LEO. Most of the launch mass of a GEO is circularization and station keeping so there is simply less mass available to become debris. The same argument applies to MEO. Aside from GPS, it is a very rarely used orbit with a much larger volume and a lower orbital velocity than LEO. 266: if you have not played with this visualization of all stuff currently in orbit, you should... http://stuffin.space/ 267: "Some will may swing out to the 1/3 way to the moon then back to a few 100 miles up. So they can CROSS the paths of GEO orbits." Not necessarily. Having an apogee altitude equal or greater than GEO is necessary but not sufficient for crossing the path of a GEO satellite. To actually cross the orbit the debris needs to have a zero inclination or the correct combination of inclination and argument of perigee. In fact, even amongst debris with enough energy, very few particles will pass through the GEO belt let alone collide with something. This is another case where the much larger volume at GEO greatly reduced the probability of them getting struck. 268: http://water.epa.gov/drink/info/lead/index.cfm For the most part tap water is safe when it reaches a home from the city or town supply, but bottled water is increasingly popular for drinking nevertheless. Ironically, this bottled water is often taken directly from municipal water supplies, but people seem to think putting it in a plastic bottle makes it more healthful. Most lead poisoning comes from lead paint, but much is also present in soil even though leaded gasoline (now THAT is a story of insanity being foisted off on a whole country, and ultimately the whole world by such as https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Midgley,_Jr. who knew very well from personal experience what he was doing and did it anyway. ) has been phased out. Anyone who lives near a busy street might not want to have a vegetable garden for the next hundred years. Fortunately, it washes away over time to where it can do no more harm... If you look into the lead paint history it's similar, Dutch Boy paint company knew well what they were selling and sold it for a hundred years anyway. The house I bought in 2011 for 70000 dollars had huge areas of several layers of peeling white leaded paint slathered all over everything, built in furniture, thick moldings, doors, windowsills. Took me a whole month to rip it all out and take it to the dump in my pickup truck wearing an Israeli gas mask I got on Amazon for 20 bucks. Thank goodness for George Bush. Probably illegal, but now it's Rutland's problem (Rutland is where the unrecycled waste is buried). Then another month with a Skilsaw on the back steps cutting new trim and putting in doors and such. Yeah, I read up on it, and took calcium supplements the whole time, still do plus lots of milk, which I always have. Wonder if mother knew what was up and how. Maybe just awareness of the four food groups (one of them dairy). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_USDA_nutrition_guides#Basic_Four "Hey everybody, we aren't going to ban all this lead, but drink lots of milk." Copper piping fortunately, so I'm not drinking it. Sticking to their guns, Conservatives still want this stuff (leaded paint and leaded gasoline) to be legal. The very concept of regulating something annoys them so. But that doesn't mean space is bad. The fantasy that people will get better if we force them to "work on themselves" before any further expansion is just wrong. Most people are just fine, it's just the demons among us, randomly cropping up and recruiting others. If anything we need education in assertiveness, in saying NO and being self determining, rather than education in self hate and hate of humanity (it should just sit and cure itself). But confinement doesn't lead to assertiveness, it leads to aggression to get some of the zero sum and it leads to passivity, to get along in close quarters. And that leads to some being aggressive and some being passive, strata and stratification thinking, and eventually castes. And a lovely period of sorting out everyone's places, surely in a polite manner. Consequences, not justice. Group "justice" especially. 269: Yes, but you forgot. Providing water by the municipality ( state / government ) is SOCIALIST & therefore EVIL We onlt get away with it here, because our private water companies are closely regulated - & even then, I'm not convinced it was a good idea, at all, at all. 270: I assume you are in the USA? "Rutland" was VERY confusing ... see HERE Conservatives still want this stuff (leaded paint and leaded gasoline) to be legal. The very concept of regulating something annoys them so. What, even when it is KNOWN to kill people? I have heard of similar loonies wanting to do away with food hygiene regulations, too. Are they really that mad? "the boss" regularly asks the question: "Why do the Americans" (meaning USAians, of course) hate their own people so much?" Answers on a postcard, please. 271: The glib answer is: they don't, and most would agree with you on most things. But their current political arrangement favours and elevates the rapacious. To be fair, it's not unusual in that regard, quite the opposite. 272: Ah, sorry about the confusion. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rutland,_New_York Here's your postcard. There are elements in America who hate the American people and many aren't even honest with themselves about that hatred. Others are hoodwinked and many are appalled. It's lovely here. The water's fine. http://watertown-ny.gov/DocumentView.asp?DID=971 273: My point with all this being that Flint Michigan is not representative. There the local government made exceptionally bad decisions, failing to account for actual reality on the ground and in the river. The water there is much more expensive than in most places for two reasons. One is they were previously having to pipe water in from elsewhere to make sure it was clean, which is expensive. Two is they kept the price of the imported water and switched to water out of the toxic river because they are in financial straits, since the car factories departed. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_%26_Me This patter--of having high prices for a good reason, then keeping the prices and abandoning the reason--is oft repeated. America is a patchwork of local municipal governments that shouldn't exist. This is how the rich live in their own little town with it's own government and only support a police department, and the poor live in another and support all the libraries and museums. All local government functions should be taken over by counties. Clearly there's no good reason for anyone to stay in Flint but they do and here's probably why: they bought homes at high prices during the good times when the evil car factory was there. They've been paying on them all their lives and leaving now would feel like throwing a life's work away. Even though the value is gone, they pretend the value is what they put into it rather than what it actually is. 274: Not one of the official Watertown sites ( i. e. anything beginning with www.watertown-ny.gov ) would open here. All I could get was the wiki page. Um 275: It's not really math but just noticing that the volume isn't enough. 2000 tons at high altitude vs. millions/billions of tons at lower altitudes. 276: Site's down for maintenance in the early morning a lot. I was having an argument with somebody in the comments section of the local paper's online edition about part of the city code the other day and couldn't go to it, cut the URL out of my browser search bar, and paste it in as a link because the site was down. Is the Kessler Syndrome taking effect already?! 277: All local government functions should be taken over by counties. Ah yes. One simple solution to solve all issues. NOT. 278: What did I say that wasn't right? So they can CROSS the paths of GEO orbits. Will this be a bit issue? Maybe not. But today GEO orbits get to be assumed to be virtually empty. That will change. Maybe enough that GEO sats will need to be armored to get to an expected 10 year life. I said Can cross Maybe My point is that in GEO orbits things are basically empty just now. Especially in terms of delta V. After a KS in lower orbits there will be more stuff up in GEO. How much more? Likely not much. In orbits that intersect sats. Even less. Now getting a sat up to GEO will likely cost a LOT more as you have to launch in highly inclined orbits and then do a lot of maneuvering. Or armor up and try and blast through the junk. I wonder at times how much warning folks "in control" had when Iridium 33 and Kosmos 2251 collided a few years back. Hours? Days? Months? The calculations of predicting intersections of the orbits of the big stuff is hard. Toss in a few 100,000 bits of small stuff and it gets a bit over the top. This collision was predicted to be a miss by over 500 meters. 279: Greg You need to understand that the telescope you use to watch things in the US doesn't give you a very complete picture. And headlines in the news tend to pick up the edges of the bell curve. The number of folks here advocating a GENERAL switch from municipal water supplies to private ones is trivially small. But there ARE a lot of "too small municipal systems that need to merge with their neighbors to better deal with things. 280: There's also a relationship between lead exposure and osteoporosis: statistically significant among non-whites, just below significance in whites. So, unsurprisingly, there's also a socioeconomic side to this beyond the corporate anything-goes mentality. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1913605/ The Association between Blood Lead Levels and Osteoporosis among Adults—Results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) See below for the link between lead and heart attacks. Based on my parents' experience, lead has never been on their blood labs/tests list. (Okay, I get that lead may not be the sole/primary cause, but consider that eggs were demonized for decades as culprits in heart attacks. Guess the gas/auto/paint industries had better lobbyists than the egg farmers.) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1849948/ Below is 2013 data ... heart attacks are #1! http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm Heart disease: 611,105 Cancer: 584,881 Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 149,205 Accidents (unintentional injuries): 130,557 Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,978 Alzheimer's disease: 84,767 Diabetes: 75,578 Influenza and Pneumonia: 56,979 Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 47,112 Intentional self-harm (suicide): 41,149 Because I expected death by 'lead bullet' to actually appear in the CDC summary above (unless it's subsumed under 'suicide'), decided to check whether bullets really do contain lead. Found the below. First, there's concern that switching from lead will make it harder for some gun lovers to afford their ammo (NRA). The second complaint is that this will make it costlier to arm the US military. Best guess from Fox/NRA is$20 million more expensive. (Not stated is that $20 mill is not even a rounding error in the annual multi-trillion dollar DOD budget.) 281: Two more proposals/scenarios for cleaning up space junk: First -- Space spiders … cobwebs in space to collect space debris. Okay, this isn’t the advertised reason why NASA is doing research on spiders in space, but heh … why not? http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/space_spiders_live.html Excerpt: ‘The golden orb spider usually spins a three dimensional, asymmetric web on Earth, but in space they spin more circular webs. The current spiders also prefer to spin according to a timetable, as compared to the orb spiders -- Larinioides patagiatus and Metepeira -- from the previous CSI-03 investigation, who would spin at all times of day. "These spiders seem to stick to a more regimented schedule of spinning in the early morning hours and taking their web down right after lights out." said Stefanie Countryman, Project Manager for CSI-05 at BioServe Space Technologies, University of Colorado.’ Second --- Space sweeper (broom and dust bin) Magnetized strings to attract and collect space debris. Turn on to collect and sweep up debris, wait for companion dust bin to approach, turn off magnet on the space broom, turn on magnet on the space dust pan. This will cause the space debris to be directed into the space bin where it will be trapped. Sensors on the space garbage bins will advise NASA (or whichever contractor NASA farms this task out to) that the bin is full. Full bins get routed to a waiting/collection area, ready for weighing, unloading, sorting/scanning, cleaning, etc. Samples from collected debris will be sent to Earth on a regular basis for closer examination/testing. ‘Clean up your own mess’ measures, specifically fines/penalties, i.e., DOD/NASA immediate and irrevocable contract termination will be used to help corporations better learn that they bear responsibility if/when their satellites mess up and/or disintegrate. 282: In addition to having the proper inclination, the debris must be in a stable orbit. If you've got the kind of eccentricity that takes you from LEO/MEO to GEO (and you didn't circularize because you're a hunk o' junk), then it's quite likely that your orbit is going to precess to be atmosphere-crossing in the very near future. 283: I think you can file both under "things that don't work in space". You still need to match orbits before you can capture the debris, which is extremely costly (have a look at that nice stuff-in-space link in one of the comments above. It also shows the orbits). And if you don't match orbits the law of conservation of momentum will make sure that either the debris or the cleaning device will go somewhere it shouldn't. Or both. 284: Put a satellite up in an orbit crossing the orbital area you want to clean up. Spray a bunch of iron filings out of it to form a ring of iron filings that crosses the target orbits twice per turn around the Earth. (Doesn't have to be iron filings, it could be sand, but iron filings have the advantage that maybe you could also capture them magnetically.) Anything in the target orbits would be slowed by intersecting the iron filings, then would fall into the atmosphere. The iron filings would be put into a slowly decaying orbit, so they would then clear themselves up. Just do this every few years. Everybody with orbiting stuff they want to keep has to move to a higher orbit for a few months, then back down. It would be like getting kicked out of the lavatory when it's time for cleaning. Only thing is it would require some kind of traffic cop to tell everybody what lane to get into, and when. Space debris would be much less of a problem if all orbits near each other were going the same altitude and speed, even sorted by mass of satellite. 285: Even in a worst case KS event, the probability of getting hit a single pass through LEO on the way to GEO is still very small and unlikely to affect the business case for GEO satellites. According to the ESA space debris page there is about 6300 tones of space hardware in orbit but since the hypothetical is set in 2030 let's add some mass to the scenario. SpaceX is talking about a constellation of 4000 satellites in LEO - far larger than anyone else. If we assume they are 1000 kg each for a mass of 4000 tones - 2/3 of the total mass already in orbit. Let's also assume that SpaceX is super successful so they have 2 competitors for a total mass in orbit of 6300 + 3 * 4000 = 18300 tones or three times the current mass in orbit. Now let's say that the KS event grinds all of this mass up into uniform 1 gram debris. That results in 18.3 billion particles. But LEO is big. If we look at a volume 1500 km thick from 200 km to 1700 km in altitude it is about 1 trillion cubic km. That means there is still only 1 gram of debris per 55 cubic km. A satellite injected into GEO transfer orbit will spend much less than half an orbit passing through LEO. Let's say the path length is (6378 + 950) * pi() = 23,000 km. If the satellite has a stowed frontal area of 9 m2 (3 m by 3 m), it will sweep out a volume of 0.2 cubic km. Given 1 gram per 55 cubic km and 0.2 cubic km of swept volume through LEO on the way to GEO, the probability of getting hit is only 0.4%. That is small with respect to the current launch vehicle failure and on orbit failure rates. Yes, if you hang out in LEO the probability of getting hit will approach 1 within a few days but for a single pass through LEO on the way to MEO or GEO, the chance of getting hit is low. The only real change to MEO and GEO launch operations would be that the satellites would need to be circularized on the first orbit rather than leaving them in a the transfer orbit for a few passes as is the practice today. I think I have been conservative in this analysis but even if the number of particles is 10X higher, the probability of a hit would go up to 4%. Even if every hit is fatal, that would only raise launch insurance rates from 11% today to 15%, which will have a minor impact on the overall business case. 286: JP Aerospace could become a very profitable business! Google might buy them to maintain/increase marketshare. http://www.jpaerospace.com/atohandout.pdf Look for the Dark Sky Station bit. Due to mass production of the DSSs cheap coverage will be available everywhere on Earth. The stations will also take over all Earth observation roles. Global cooperation to maintain the network leads to peace everywhere. Life is better without space access! :) The manufacturer of the M1A1 Abrams will build the next ISS. 287: Heart disease: 611,105 I doubt if lead exposure would even cause a blip on that figure - run this checklist down your average westerner : •smoke •have high blood pressure (hypertension) •have a high blood cholesterol level •don't take regular exercise •have diabetes 288: Yes these are fanciful suggestions... but the orbit matching/rendezvous procedures described below don't sound insurmountable. http://wiki.kerbalspaceprogram.com/wiki/Tutorial:Orbital_Rendezvous 289: The only person I have known personally with lead poisoning got it from pistol bullets. He was loading his own ammunition from scrap lead which he smelted in his cellar. He had no symptoms but while working in the trace metals section of a hospital lab he was asked to provide a sample of blood when the lab head realised he was a pistol enthusiast. His levels were very high and his blood was occasionally requested by the haematology lab so they could demonstrate basophilic stippling to blood film trainees. Stopping making his own ammunition and reducing the number of stints as range officer eventually reduced his blood lead levels to normal. However I suspect the damage from lead in bullets is a lot less than the other fatal effects of pistols in the USA. 290: There was a distinct effort in the 1970s and 1980 to fit filtered ventilation to British indoor small-bore and pistol ranges after it was accepted that vapourised lead from bullets was a cumulative health hazard. We did bullet casting using lead recovered from the range's target stops but it was usually done outdoors when the weather permitted rather than indoors. Then again I was shooting with a bunch of Pharmacognosy PhD students who had at least some knowledge of what sustained exposure to lead vapour in confined spaces could do to vertebrates like ourselves. 291: And where do you get the fuel for matching thousands of orbits? 292: First, there are new, more efficient and cleaner/greener fuels already coming through the pipeline. [See below.] Next, the space debris clean-up job should/will be on-going (for forever) therefore a low-power (lower cost) but almost-always-on approach including well-thought out orbit trajectory/paths for sweeping the orbits clean would be part of the strategy. Third, NASA, ESA and some others (primarily govt's) been pretty good at designing and putting into space equipment that actually works and lasts. And finally, I'm assuming that technology will continue to improve, especially the cheaper more sustainable types such as solar power. Excerpt: 'NASA recently completed several hot-fire tests with thrusters powered by two different green propellants with the potential to replace hydrazine. Both are ionic liquid-based blends that are less toxic and less flammable than hydrazine, which makes them easier and less costly to store, to handle and to fuel up spacecraft before launch. Additionally, the new propellants offer higher performance, delivering more thrust for a given quantity of propellant than hydrazine.' No one's mentioned the possibility of the space junk converging into rings like Saturn. Or, a scenario where the more 'attractive' debris consolidates into larger bodies (greater mass) which could potentially create even more problems. 293: And here I thought Kepler predated Sputnik. I meant human space-exploration, where getting to Mars and back is currently a fairly silly exercice when probes can get the data for fewer resources. 294: That's a legitimate reading, sure, but it's inconsistent with the logic that is set out by the film. If we're going into fantasy counter readings, we have to ask how Sandra got to the station to get her space-embryo scene in the first place. Why did she pass out in the module and not earlier? And why is the film called 'Gravity' if not to focus on the one scene where the main character actual deals with gravity? The film-maker is demonstrably not that lazy where it comes to such detail. And even if the third act is an asphyxiation death-fantasy, the point remains that the film supports a fantasy that the wide-eyed futurists will happily indulge in – even if it means first climbing into the closet and tying the belt around their own throats. 295: I hope that plot element didn't come across as intimidation, because it wasn't meant as such. I imagine cats that exist inside diamonds are impervious to garden shears, anyway. You are on the forum of a sci-fi author. I thought a song involving a sci-fi element, and which seeks to upset, or at least complicate, the concept of the Madonna, in a manner which gives her more agency, would be most likely to appeal to you. Glad you found flattery, though. Not gone onto that substance. But was raised Catholic, which at least made me receptive to the themes of the album. Is that the same thing? 296: >Luckily most of the walls hereabouts are also rotating around the same center of mass as I am -- the core of the Earth -- so this is a non-issue in practical terms. But they could be rotating about a completely different centre of mass. Or you could both be on a spaceship travelling at 0.5km/s. All that matters is you both have the same speed. The outcome is the same whether we use an inertial frame outside the Earth, where walls and you have velocity of 0.5km/s, or one where the walls have zero velocity. And that can be true in orbit as well: objects with similar osculating elements, will have similar velocities and it's the closing speed (the difference in momentum) that matters. This is GCSE stuff. It's the ball thrown up in the train. It was first recognised by Gallileo. It's enshrined as a postulate of special relativity. The laws of physics are the same whatever inertial frame you chose. Imagine, for example, two bullets fired from the same gun. One goes through some light fabric and loses a whisker of speed. The second one, following behind, hits the leader. The follower doesn't destroy the leader because their closing velocity is tiny. (If you insist on thinking in terms of Energy, recognise that the Kinetic Energy depends upon the inertial frame: so if we chose an inertial frame where the leading bullet has a velocity of zero, then we have to recalculate the kinetic energy of the follower and find it's tiny. The same in orbit: we can chose a frame where one bit of a debris has a velocity of zero and recalculate all the kinetic energies for that frame. Some debris will have small energies. But we can do it in a lab frame by working out the change in velocity.) Or if it helps, think about it as the old voltage/current difference. It's not the "voltage" that kills you, it's the current. Current is more-or-less momentum (its related to the momentum of the electrons emerging from the wire) and voltage is the energy available. Indeed what we're talking about is another variation on a bird on an EHT line. Gauge symmetry. Kinetic energy is just another potential energy: one that's gained or lost through changes in velocity. And all energy is just the potential to do work -- in this case the work is atomising the debris. This becomes a bit more obvious when you start writing Lagrangians or shift between frames at relativistic velocities. Whitroth's only slip up was not recognising that debris can come at you from all angles and so have closing velocities that are dramatic. But not every collision in orbit will be fatal. 297: Probably better put than my entire rant! 298: Shortly after the Kessler Effect blocks spacecraft, the analogous effect occurs on the oceans as the bacteria that have evolved to feast on the tens of thousands of varieties of plastics and other persistent organic chemicals begin to build biofilms sufficiently tenacious to tangle propellers and adhere to moving hulls. Shortly after the Maritime Kessler Effect blocks ocean travel, the same beasties (or rather their multigeneration descendants) will have crawled up the cables and mooring lines and begun eating their way along the asphalt veins of the highway system. Shortly after the Highway Kessler Effect blocks surface travel, they'll get into the insulation on the telecom system. Shortly after that .... 299: > "On The Beach". It was a scientifically illiterate ... The radiation biologist I asked about it back when the movie came out pointed out that it was a doomsday scenario -- easily caused by piling a few truckloads of cobalt in the area the fireball would vaporize. At today's price for cobalt,$12.59 USD/lb, quite affordable, presuming one already has the bomb.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cobalt_bomb

Of course, you'd have to be an end-timer rapture-provoking true believer ...

300:

Weren't there some christian loonies predicting just that ... errr ... yesterday?
( "the e-bible fellowship" ?? )

301:

Pity you didn't talk to a physicist.

The Doomsday Cobalt Bomb concept needs a jacket of cobalt fitted directly around the bombs since it involves breeding Co-59 up into the radioactive isotope Co-60 by neutron capture and that's difficult to do "on the fly" during the millisecond or so there are spare neutrons going around as the core detonates. A lump of cobalt on the ground a few hundred metres away from a nuclear explosion is going to be slightly irradiated and that's all -- even the cobalt bomb jacket concept would only convert a small fraction of a solid metal jacket into Co-60.

The main threat from radioactive cobalt would be its wide dispersal due to the blast at high altitude. This also ameliorates its effects as a lot of it would stay high in the atmosphere for years while its radioactivity decayed.

Co-60's threat is that is has a half-life of a little over 5 years so it lingers in terms of a human lifespan but it's short enough that there would be a number of decays so that means lots of gamma rays, the usual decay product of Co-60. However it's not retained in the body by any preferential pathway unlike iodine or strontium; the figures I've seen suggest a biological half-life for cobalt of about 10 days so even if it's inhaled or ingested it doesn't stay around. Direct "shine" from contaminated ground would be a problem but it could be shielded against or just avoided. Heavy goth-style boots with high heels would come back into fashion...

302:

"Connection lost". Refresh. Nothing. Crap. Joe was having a bad day. It all started slowly a few weeks ago, occasional outages of live image feeds, harvesters going astray due to bad position data, but now it was all blacked out.
Joe decided to become a farmer 6 years ago, at the peak of the global food crisis. Or rather, an "Agricultural Operations Manager" for a large conglomerate of primary food production industries. Those were boom times - failing crops and increased demand created market pressure, and dozens of startups fuelled by eager VCs jumped in, offering fully automated robotic solutions, smart irrigation systems, and crop management software, all powered by hourly live satellite images from a swarm of thousands of microsatellites. Now, just a few years later, Joe was keeping an eye on harvesting wheat in the drought-affected deserts of Australia, fertilizing potatoes somewhere in Kenia, and keeping tabs on a dozen other large-scale operations scattered across the globe - all from his comfortable London office. Well, until now.
The news last week called it "Kessler syndrome" - a domino game of colliding space junk, which took out the satellites in the very low orbits that have become popular in the last decade for low-cost microsats - first just a few disappeared, but over the last few days apparently a whole lot more. His phone bleeped, switching from "SAT+" speed down to the slow legacy 4G system. Looks like the Google constellation is down too. Satellite broadband used to be slow, but now, with 4000 cubesats circling the globe in a low 400km orbit, it is the main connection for all mobile devices, and has largely replaced GPS as well. There have been other attempts with balloons and stratospheric drones, but once SpaceX started launching satellites a hundred at a time, other technologies couldn't compete. Now they will get another chance it seems. At least terrestrial internet and fibre is still working. And in a few years, the orbital shrapnel will clear, they say, at least at the low 400km orbits. But Joe wasn't worried about internet access, and he didn't have 4 years. Without the live hyperspectral satellite images, his software was useless - selective irrigation was the only way these days, and without constant monitoring and adjustment the crops will fail within weeks. And of course all his harvesting, weeding, fertilizing and ploughing robots were offline - there is no 4G in the semi-arid plains. This couldn't have happened on the farms he remembered from his childhood, but then, those operations were not able to scale to the current demand. The old wasteful practices can't carefully allocate the ever-decreasing ground water, or combat the multi-resistant crop diseases and parasites that caused the food crisis in the first place.
[...]

(that's my take - right now the impact would be less obvious, and orbits are far apart making it unlikely to affect all satellites - but a surge in very-low-orbit microsatellites, combined with everyone starting to depend on them by 2030, as postulated above, could make an interesting story... :) )

303:

The Maritime Kessler Effect would have huge, how you say, knock on consequences. If ocean currents get bogged down climate changes a lot fast. But worse than any of these disasters would be the free range bacterium originally designed to convert cellulose to starch, for use in cooking up emergency rations in areas where only woody vegetation is available. Once it gets loose, all wood and paper in the world changes to potato pudding and starts to rot. Houses fall down, crops can't stand up.

304:

The effects of Kessler on your top-down world agriculture would be severe but there's another farming revolution going on with small scale use of imaging from drones owned by individual farmers which would mitigate this.
Farmers embrace technology. As a trivial example I've often seen two shepherds using mobile phones to communicate and cordinate the rounding up of sheep.

305:

On the Beach was published in 1957, at a time when quite a lot of effort was going in to developing new weapons. This was all highly classified, with both sides wanting the other to believe that they could do much more than they actually could. What weapons that hadn't yet been developed would or wouldn't be able to do was presumably much more unknown to the public 60 years ago than it is now.

306:

So John Wagner 1 - 0 Nevil Shute ?

307:

One idea I had for dealing with this: launch devices containing huge quantities of liquid self-expanding hardening foam, so it can become a gigantic semi-solid blob in orbit, and soak up flying scrap. Small stuff that hit it would become plasma, and dump all its momentum. Large stuff would smash through, but hopefully lose enough momentum to deorbit. The blob itself would fall out of orbit and burn up easily.

308:

You're absolutely right about farmers embracing technology - that's why I picked this example, because I found it more difficult to find another scenario that would directly depend on technology with potentially dire consequences if it fails. I personally know a startup selling drones to farmers and it's a successful business. I've also seen local startups for weeding robots, etc.
To construct a scenario where Kessler syndrome would have a big impact on society, I think what would have to happen until 2030 is that satellite-based technology is so successful that it becomes the default, and people heavily depend on it (e.g. if GPS fails a lot of things would immediately stop working without a quick solution - but GPS is unlikely to be affected by Kessler, and it is unlikely that all orbits would cascade). So the specific scenario here would be that low-flying microsatellites are much better than drones (can stay up indefinitely vs. 1h flight time, global coverage, costs are rapidly dropping), and similarly that the announced Google/SpaceX constellation would cheaper/easier/faster/more global than land-based mobile communication, so within a few years it becomes the standard. Once it's a standard everyone will base their products on it, and if it fails a lot of things go down. Think cloud-based computing - now for many companies the preferred way to do business, and completely useless if internet fails. However if there is a diverse set of technologies without clear monopolies, obviously the consequences of satellites failing would have much less direct impact. And if we have years to fix it before Bad Things Happen, we'd probably fix it somehow.

309:

Another thought - I'm no expert, but I have trouble imagining a Kessler event at some altitude affecting many other orbits (e.g. LEO objects would probably not scatter to geostationary, etc.). But say, if there are international agreements to open e.g. the "400km sphere" for industrial/private use (like the ISM radio bands at 2.4 GHz), a lot of stuff would suddenly pop up in a very narrow band. Cascading collisions could instantly wipe out the whole 400km sphere (picture 10,000 satellites at similar altitude in many differently inclined orbits for global coverage). Once it happened, other services would still be available but outdated, so a lot of new technology would depend on it and fail. Launching new stuff would be risky (debris raining down in lower orbits, and rockets getting hit on the way to higher orbits). Good thing is, at low altitudes it would deorbit in a few years, but that might be too long for critical services.

310:

Any scenario that requires drones to loose against satellites is not realistic

There are already solar powered drones being manufactured that can stay up months

Plus, balloons

311:

That really depends what ends up cheaper. Of course drones exist and can work, but often just one technology dominates the market, and other technologies decline and can't be ramped up in weeks (but maybe in months or years).
Solar drones are as far as I know pretty big and fragile affairs (do you have links?), as the amount of solar cells to stay airborne through the night is substantial.
Currently satellites are expensive as they're designed to last decades, and launch is expensive, but microsatellites are essentially consumer electronics that can be produced very cheaply, and are mechanically much smaller and less complex than a drone. Currently a SpaceX launch costs of $50m for 13 tons, but they claim they'll get it down to 5 million - under$400/kg. Planet Lab's Dove weighs 4kg - so that could be launched for $1600 per satellite, which will last 5+ years without maintenance (might even get cheaper when piggy-backing on other missions). A cloud-based subscription service to satellite imagery will most likely win against people buying and operating their own drones. Maybe some operators will also run a 24/7 global drone operation with subscription service, but I'm not convinced that they could operate more cheaply, and at the much lower speed you'd need a lot more drones to cover the whole globe. Balloons would probably be cheaper, but no idea how long they last, and how well one could control them to get even global coverage. 312: just to clarify - drones will always be better for low-altitude, ultra-high resolution imaging - but you can't operate continuously below the stratosphere, and you can't span the entire globe economically. Low-flying drones are for on-demand applications - I think for global 24/7 services satellites will win. 313: It's not likely that satellites will completely displace either drones or balloons Satellites have the cost to launch which is pricey Also satellites deliver a speed of light driven latency that doesn't work well for some important use cases Facebook drone http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jul/31/facebook-finishes-aquila-solar-powered-internet-drone-with-span-of-a-boeing-737 Google balloons http://www.google.com/loon/how/ 314: 31st century - skip if you like. Alan finally closed the present in deep time thread, just about the moment I had another idea but wasn't near an internet connection. After thinking, it may be worth consideration and this is the least inappropriate active thread. What about fast travel? Yes, we like it and it probably won't go away but one can make arguments why it should. (Hint: I was reading David Quammen's Spillover as Heteromeles suggested.) There are a few reasons to move people very quickly. On the other hand, a lower top speed for routine travel isn't unthinkable in most cases. Ocean liners took several days to cross oceans and this was generally fast enough. The recreational resources of liners were so popular that they've been re-created as cruise ships today. The packet sized can be very large and with modern communications passengers don't need to be out of touch. Overland long distance trains are a known and established technology. Not as big as ocean liners, they still have people who rid them just for fun. Maximum speeds of 100 to 200 kph seem perfectly practical for typical continental routes. (Naturally there are exceptions such as the DHR.) How many people really need to cross Eurasia in a matter of hours? If there are many diseases, new or old, then a de facto quarantine period may be popular, even mandatory. And many commentators on the thread seemed to like low-energy models for the 31st century. I'm not sure that's very plausible, nor that the energy use per passenger mile is much less for ships than airplanes, but it's at least as plausible as many other things SF has offered us. Perhaps we'll be remembered for a brief and anomalous period of freakishly fast travel. We even built a supersonic passenger plane! 315: If we want a derail, I can upload some numbers about shipping efficiency, which isn't the same as per passenger fuel efficiency. In any case, the British Empire did just fine running with nothing faster than ships, as did the Spanish and Dutch empires before it. There's probably some way to link this into Kessler Syndrome and colonization of the Moon, Mars, etc. and travel times vs. political control. 316: I'll take that challenge. *grin* Fast travel times for people are only necessary if you don't have high quality intercontinental communications. When anyone can phone a friend in London from New York there's much less need to build expensive machinery to shoot humans through the air at hundreds of knots. So logically a Kessler Cascade that took out satellites would encourage more long distance travel - since people couldn't easily and quickly send small messages we'd have to fall back to actually shipping humans around more. The reciprocal model may also work, substituting phone calls, email, and telepresence for actually hauling human bodies around at uncomfortable speeds. Hypothetical future empires will certainly want to move diplomats and military power to trouble spots very quickly, but it's not necessarily clear that hours are that much more useful than days. The British Empire did well for a long time with everyone knowing that while the Royal Navy might be months away, troublemakers would in time wake up to find seriously Oh Fuck numbers of warships off their coast. 317: Currently a SpaceX launch costs of$50m for 13 tons, but they claim they'll get it down to 5 million - under $400/kg. IIRC skylon are claiming something like$50/kg or even less, if they can keep going ....

318:

At anything like the Skylon price a ticket to orbit would cost less than a car. Commuting would be out of reach of all but the very rich, vacationing a rare indulgence for the prosperous, and once in a lifetime migration an investment available to everyone in the developed world. Now, about those DNA repair shots to deal with the pesky cosmic rays.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/nobel-prize-in-chemistry_5614c8d7e4b021e856d2d368

Plus the Skylon just looks so cool, like a 1950s sci fi spaceship on a pulp cover, or a V2 on it's side. That it's not getting huge government interest tells me exactly where governments hearts are. The freezer, that's where.

319:

Yes, it's a bit mad - IIRC Reaction Engines only need 20 billion or so to build a fleet of skylons, which surely is within the reach of some internet billionaires.

320:

I think you are somewhat premature. You are talking about drones as if they are an established reliable comms technology instead of a nascent bleeding edge one, whereas satellite technology is over 50 years old.

Drones may be flavour of the month right now but neither Google or Facebook have a great record in profitable innovation outside of their Global Ad agency niches.

321:

Maybe however weather balloons have been around for a long time and all a drone is, is a pilotless place. Neither Facebook or Google are planning on making money on their nicest men this decade, it's all about positioning for the next twenty years. Also various military's are pumping a lot of money into drone efforts so it's not just Facebook and Google

In the event of a Kessler incident it's hard to imagine one of those two approaches not picking up the slack

322:

God I hate autocorrect

323:

If there was a god s/he'd kill autocorrrect.

324:

Maybe better not use foam like this.

I don't think there's currently any known material that can absorb high speed particles without disintegrating itself. Maybe a wad of Kevlar.

325:

You've got to look up Whipple shields. Also the Stardust mission, which did use aerogel to capture grains coming off a comet.

It's counterintuitive, but if a speeding speck of debris is likely to become a ball of plasma when it hits anything, then putting just a wisp of matter in its path can be better than putting a heavy sheet of matter. You get the same ball of plasma either way, but you don't get the structural disruption in something that doesn't have much structure to disrupt, like an aerogel or a Whipple shield) (vs. say battleship armor), nor do you get debris spalling off from the explosion.

The problem is that, even though you can shield a smallish volume fairly effectively against small debris (they do this already on the ISS), you've still got large, fragile solar panels, radiators, antennas, sensors, and windows. And you still have larger debris that need better solutions than this.

Perhaps we need to have the orbital equivalent of spittle bug satellites, that sit up there inflating balloons and filling them with aerogel, and then giving them a mechanism to deorbit each balloon when it's collided with enough junk to be less than useful.

326:

Except skylon IS getting a drip-feed of guvmint money - as we saw at LonCon last year ....

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