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RE: starship-design: FTL travel


Well you just summed up the difficulty with slowboat travel. (That is what
the SF writers call travel at less than c.) We have had many discussions
about the philosophical and economical ramifications of the light speed
limit. But there is more to it than that, which I will get around to in a

To recap previous arguments:

1) Travel to the stars at less than c is SLOW.
2) Travel to the stars in a ship designed to take decades or centuries to
reach its destination is EXPENSIVE.
3) Other than the quest for knowledge (something of dubious value in hard
currency) there is NO reason to go to another star.
4) Ergo, only government funded exploration missions are likely in the next
few hundred years.
5) It is possible that as our space borne presence increases there will be a
sufficient drop in the cost of said missions that SOME private or
commercially funded expeditions may become feasible. Feasible does not mean
the same thing as likely!
6) If there is an incentive to encourage such a venture, such as stipulated
ownership of the system by its colonizing agent, then it might become
LIKELY. Even then, there would be some doubt.
7) The cost in time to ROI (Return On Investment) is one of the key driving
factors in business development decisions, that WILL NOT change. Only a very
few multinational companies currently even attempt to plan beyond ten years,
I know of none that plan for a hundred or more...

This all sounds familiar so far, but now let us look at a few ECONOMIC
points in detail. Let us assume that we DO have FTL transportation. Great,
now we can get there and back in let us say one month per light year of
distance (pick a velocity, it really doesn't matter much). So Alpha Centauri
is now only 4 months away. Let us speculate further that there is a
habitable planet circling Alpha Centauri.

The only cost we have removed from the equation is time. The corporations
are still looking for their ROI. It will cost say (for example) 100 billion
dollars to establish a well-equipped colony capable of sustaining itself,
not including the cost of the ship which we will assume for the moment is
irrelevant. Now, what is this colony going to provide to the company that
established it that will allow it to recoup it investment of 100 billion
dollars AND show a profit of AT LEAST 25 billion dollars?

Certainly not exported materials, the cost of transport would have to be
cheaper than intrasystem transport within Sol space ( 4 minutes, or 4 hours
away) which isn't very likely. Food? They will be lucky to feed themselves,
and the same argument about transportation cost still applies. Luxury goods?
Hmm, strange thing for a new colony to be making, but even so, 125 billion
dollars worth? Maybe this isn't very economical after all.

Now let us look at the ship. It cost how much to build? It is the size (at
least) of an aircraft carrier and probably costs at least as much, probably
considerably more, but lit us just say it was 100 billion dollars (nice
number).  Now they owners of the ship have to amortize the cost of the ship
across its lifespan and realize a profit also. Seagoing vessels average
about 30 year lifespans, some as high as fifty or sixty after major refits.
At an operating margin of fifteen percent (typical) it will take from twelve
to twenty years to repay the cost of the ship. At twenty years it will
require major refitting to bring it current with other newer ships so that
it can stay competitive which will extend the financing cost an additional
six year or so.

During the same interval, that ship could carry 800 times as much cargo on a
local route (such as the Oort Cloud) within the solar system and make 800
times as much profit. I submit that until we either run out of resources
within nearby Sol space or find something of dramatic value elsewhere, this
is NOT a good investment decision. We aren't likely to exhaust local
resources anytime soon....

Before someone goes and tries to pick me to death, all of the above figures
are GUESSES, yours are as good as mine, neither is provable. I tried to err
in the FAVOR of star travel if I could, the actuality is probably MUCH
worse. The costs are probably in the trillions, not billions, and initial
profit margins are likely to be much lower due to unexpectedly high
operating costs.

To make this feasible, it must cost EXACTLY as much for delivery to/from
solar orbit as it does to/from any star's orbit in terms of money AND time.
Or it won't work.