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Old 02-10-2018, 05:41 AM   #41
Polydamas
 
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Default Re: Is TS optimistic or pessimistic?

The extravagant fusion power in THS, and especially the use of lunar Helium-3, also strikes me as more "space advocates like it and it gives a reason to have humans and vehicles in space" than cold, rational extrapolation. I don't know any of the science involved, but I don't think that most of the people with opinions on the Internet do either (and the ones who do rarely show it).

On the other hand, solar power is growing very fast right now, and private space is doing better than I would have expected. So we might have a cheap-energy future, just like we might have a low-energy one.
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Old 02-10-2018, 09:18 AM   #42
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I don't know the later THS books, but that kind of thing is why I don't put too much weight on assessments of the plausability of distant technology. Beyond some very basic things which people have been arguing about for a long time (so interstellar travel by anything but tiny robotic probes is 'almost certainly not'), usually there are a lot of assumptions and simplifications involved, and those assumptions and simplifications reflect our culture. There are quite a few areas of science where engineering runs ahead of theory: I have seen a case where a metallurgist declared in print that something was impossible, and a few decades later several people went out and did it in a backyard forge because their techniques had advanced enough.
My favorite example is the philosopher Auguste Comte, back in the nineteenth century, writing that scientists should not discuss the composition of celestial bodies, because it would never be possible to investigate it empirically. That was just a couple of years after the invention of spectroscopy. Comte was on the faculty of a French technological academy at the time, I believe; that was where he spent most of his working life, at any rate.
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Old 02-11-2018, 10:21 PM   #43
Johnny1A.2
 
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Default Re: Is TS optimistic or pessimistic?

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Originally Posted by Polydamas View Post
The extravagant fusion power in THS, and especially the use of lunar Helium-3, also strikes me as more "space advocates like it and it gives a reason to have humans and vehicles in space" than cold, rational extrapolation. I don't know any of the science involved, but I don't think that most of the people with opinions on the Internet do either (and the ones who do rarely show it).
The fusion power might or might not happen. Compare the improvement in efficiency for things like internal combustion engines and rocket engines from 1900 to 1982 for an example of what sort of technological change can happen in 82 years. OTOH, compare the effectiveness of electrical storage batteries over the same period. There's plenty of precedent either way.

The He-3 thing strikes me as contrived at best. Yeah, the He-3 reaction has
its advantages....but the sheer Rube Goldbergness of the mining operations argues against it, when easier options exist...and they do. The problems with deuterium fusion are not insoluble, for ex, and compared to the time and trouble of going all the way out to Saturn, they look fairly economically manageable.
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Old 02-11-2018, 10:22 PM   #44
Johnny1A.2
 
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My favorite example is the philosopher Auguste Comte, back in the nineteenth century, writing that scientists should not discuss the composition of celestial bodies, because it would never be possible to investigate it empirically. That was just a couple of years after the invention of spectroscopy. Comte was on the faculty of a French technological academy at the time, I believe; that was where he spent most of his working life, at any rate.
It's dangerous to make predictions, esp. about the future.
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Old 02-12-2018, 06:33 AM   #45
Tom Mazanec
 
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Default Re: Is TS optimistic or pessimistic?

Well, my favorite sci-fi is the Orion's Arm Universe Project (I contributed a few articles to the Encyclopedia Galactica) so that is my idea on Ultra-Tech.
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Old 02-12-2018, 08:45 AM   #46
whswhs
 
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There's a whole family of tropes of classic science fiction as it developed under John W. Campbell: interstellar travel at FTL speeds, time travel, psi powers, superhuman mutants, human-shaped robots as the only or the dominant form of AI. One of the things I like about THS is that it almost entirely avoids all those assumptions, and makes a different set of speculative assumptions that grow out of more current fantastic ideas. That's not quite a question of "optimistic" or "pessimistic"; it's more that sf with the first set of ideas seems, well, retro, in almost the same way that a steampunk campaign with an inhabited Mars and etherships feels retro.
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Old 02-12-2018, 09:18 AM   #47
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It's dangerous to make predictions, esp. about the future.
Well, in the end science fiction is usually a comment on the present, not a prediction of the future.
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Old 02-12-2018, 10:15 AM   #48
Fred Brackin
 
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The problems with deuterium fusion are not insoluble, for ex, and compared to the time and trouble of going all the way out to Saturn, they look fairly economically manageable.
I am not at all sure of this. At least in any practical sense.

Deuterium fusion needs heat to initiate but is 4 times as good at making neutrons (80% of the energy of the reaction) as it is heat. You end up having to sustain the reaction with what's left over after the neutrons and then you have to harness the neutrons too.

This is a fundamental characteristic and there is no guarantee that it is solvable.

He3 fusion might not work out either as it is so much more difficult to initiate but if you do get it started you have much more heat for self-sustenance. Or if used for propulsion you have much more in the form of charged particles for handling magnetically.
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Old 02-12-2018, 10:52 AM   #49
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Deuterium fusion needs heat to initiate but is 4 times as good at making neutrons (80% of the energy of the reaction) as it is heat.
D-T is 80% of energy as neutrons. The usual use for the excess neutrons is to interact with lithium to produce tritium, though some of it will escape and cause trouble elsewhere.
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Old 02-12-2018, 10:22 PM   #50
Johnny1A.2
 
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I am not at all sure of this. At least in any practical sense.

Deuterium fusion needs heat to initiate but is 4 times as good at making neutrons (80% of the energy of the reaction) as it is heat. You end up having to sustain the reaction with what's left over after the neutrons and then you have to harness the neutrons too.

This is a fundamental characteristic and there is no guarantee that it is solvable.

He3 fusion might not work out either as it is so much more difficult to initiate but if you do get it started you have much more heat for self-sustenance. Or if used for propulsion you have much more in the form of charged particles for handling magnetically.
Yeah, and if you have a decent source of He-3 at hand, once you can use both reactions He-3 wins. But if you have to process megatons of Lunar regolith to get it, or go all the way out to Saturn, then suddenly dealing with the neutrons looks less forbidding in comparison.

As Anthony notes, you can use the neutrons to breed tritium from lithium, but you can also use the neutrons themselves to heat a working fluid. It's a headache from an engineering POV, but by no means unsolvable, and breeding tritium gives you more fuel for a deuterium-tritium reaction.

For that matter, I'm not sure He-3 fusion even beats breeder fission realistically (in terms of the THS canon 'reality') if you have to go to Saturn for your He-3.

Added to that is the prospect of a He-3 cartel. In the THS canon, America has a lot of clout through He-3 control, some other powers are looking to mine Uranus or keep working the thin gruel on the Moon to bypass it. Which is believable if He-3 is irreplaceable.

But when you've got endless oceans full of deuterium, and lithium isn't all that rare, suddenly the comparison looks different.
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