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Thread: Dyson swarm or interstellar colonisation — which would logically be done first?

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    Dyson swarm or interstellar colonisation — which would logically be done first?

    Energy is important to all known living things. Plants get it from light, animals get it from food, our ancestors learned to get more of it from fire. High technology life uses more energy that anyone else.

    A star is an excellent energy source. A high-tech life-form might well, at some stage, expand to the vicinity of another star to access its energy.

    It’s true they'd have to invest big amounts of energy to get there, but the return on the investment might justify it.

    But why would you do so, if the energy of your home star were not yet fully tapped? Would it not be more logical to build a Dyson swarm first, and embark on interstellar colonisation later?
    Last edited by Colin Robinson; 2017-Jul-31 at 09:32 AM. Reason: fixed typo

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    why not have both?
    Formerly Frog march..............

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    Quote Originally Posted by Frog march View Post
    why not have both?
    Because if you do both at once, you don't maximise your energy pay-off.

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    I think it's good to remember that a Dyson Swarm doesn't happen all at once. Really, it starts with a single orbiting station gathering solar power. So a civilization would probably start with that first, at least. However, I can imagine a host of reasons for deciding to embark on exploration or colonization of distant stars that don't involve something along the lines of "we're already using all the energy from this star, so the only way to get more is to expand to another star". Thinking of our own era of heavy colonization, some of that was certainly for resources, but there's also just curiosity, a desire to settle somewhere new to avoid conflicts, population pressure, and probably a host of other potential motivations. Other stars are distant enough that any kind of serious exploration requires colonization to at least some extent, and if you're doing engineering on the scale of a Dyson Swarm, you're probably capable of developing interstellar spacecraft. So I'd expect interstellar travel to happen somewhere during the long process of building a Dyson Swarm, rather than just afterward.
    Conserve energy. Commute with the Hamiltonian.

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    If your Dyson sphere contains habitats that don't require a lot of external resupply, then that society is on it's way to interstellar colonization. Especially if the inhabitants don't have the inclination to leave the hab over a life time.

    I see this drive to visit people and places as being a bigger hindrance than building a nearly closed system. People like to get out and see the sights, making a nearly closed system not that appealing even if it is available.
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    Interstellar travel would take a significant chunk of energy, effort, and time, but it's nothing compared to rearranging the contents of a star system.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    Building a power-collection swarm would facilitate interstellar travel. A very reasonable method for interstellar propulsion involves collimated beams of energy beamed towards the spacecraft, which does not carry its own propulsion system. Beamed-energy propulsion could take several forms, some of which have been discussed quite recently, and others are more speculative; but once you have a power collection swarm near the star, then the massive amounts of energy for propulsion are more readily available.

    So I would suggest that the power collection swarm would almost certainly come first, and if the civilisation builds a power swarm, then they might become so content with the resulting abundance that the question of interstellar travel ceases to be so important.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    Interstellar travel would take a significant chunk of energy, effort, and time, but it's nothing compared to rearranging the contents of a star system.
    As Grey mentioned, a Dyson swarm wouldn't have to be made all at once. You can take your time.

    You start by building a space station which gathers solar power, which is useful thing in itself, if you have uses for energy... Years, maybe centuries, down the track you build another one... A few million years later, your species will be surprised how much rearranging they have done...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Robinson View Post
    Because if you do both at once, you don't maximise your energy pay-off.
    I wonder if it's a safe assumption that energy is the main driver. I think our sun produces so much energy that figuring ways to harvest it better will always be the solution rather than getting it elsewhere. In reality our main problem today is making energy into easily transportable forms. I think a more likely reason to go elsewhere is for real estate, but even then, it's easier to go to the moon or Mars first.
    As above, so below

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    I wonder if it's a safe assumption that energy is the main driver. I think our sun produces so much energy that figuring ways to harvest it better will always be the solution rather than getting it elsewhere. In reality our main problem today is making energy into easily transportable forms. I think a more likely reason to go elsewhere is for real estate, but even then, it's easier to go to the moon or Mars first.
    Population bloom is another possibility.

    I think that's what drove Niven's Moties.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    I wonder if it's a safe assumption that energy is the main driver. I think our sun produces so much energy that figuring ways to harvest it better will always be the solution rather than getting it elsewhere. In reality our main problem today is making energy into easily transportable forms. I think a more likely reason to go elsewhere is for real estate, but even then, it's easier to go to the moon or Mars first.
    Artificial habitats in the Dyson swarm would also be a form of "real estate", wouldn't they?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Robinson View Post
    Artificial habitats in the Dyson swarm would also be a form of "real estate", wouldn't they?
    Yes, they would. So I think that if we leave earth, we will initially go to either orbital colonies or to somewhere like the moon or Mars.
    As above, so below

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    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Robinson View Post
    As Grey mentioned, a Dyson swarm wouldn't have to be made all at once. You can take your time.

    You start by building a space station which gathers solar power, which is useful thing in itself, if you have uses for energy... Years, maybe centuries, down the track you build another one... A few million years later, your species will be surprised how much rearranging they have done...
    Yes, and over those millions of years you'd have plenty of time and energy to visit the stars.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    I just don't see this as an either/or. Odds are both goals will be worked on at the same time. There's already ideas for interstellar craft using accessible technology or technology that is likely to be available short term.
    What does God need with a starship?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sardonicone View Post
    I just don't see this as an either/or. Odds are both goals will be worked on at the same time.
    A Dyson Swarm may also happen as a result, not a goal. indeed, given the extreme time frame and amount of space and mass needed to do so, its creation would probably encompass many civilizations with differing goals.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    Quote Originally Posted by Grey View Post
    I think it's good to remember that a Dyson Swarm doesn't happen all at once. Really, it starts with a single orbiting station gathering solar power. So a civilization would probably start with that first, at least. However, I can imagine a host of reasons for deciding to embark on exploration or colonization of distant stars that don't involve something along the lines of "we're already using all the energy from this star, so the only way to get more is to expand to another star". Thinking of our own era of heavy colonization, some of that was certainly for resources, but there's also just curiosity, a desire to settle somewhere new to avoid conflicts, population pressure, and probably a host of other potential motivations. Other stars are distant enough that any kind of serious exploration requires colonization to at least some extent,
    Why does serious exploration require colonisation? Couldn't planets of other stars be explored by a team of un-crewed devices with artificial intelligence, as depicted in the Discovery channel docu-fiction "Alien Planet —
    Darwin IV"
    ?

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    In the early phases, and possibly later, of exploitation and colonization, which would be largely overlapping endeavors, there may be habitats which decide to go to a new star system, possibly people with a pathological fear of "control" or cultural contamination; the latter is, in my opinion much more likely reason for a group to force permanent isolation.

    For a sort of example of a self-sufficient habitat moving to a new system see this story by Greg Benford

    Incidentally, to put some numbers on how long it may take to produce a Dyson swarm: if each habitat can replicate itself after 100 years, it will only take about 3000 years to have a billion habitats.

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    Quote Originally Posted by swampyankee View Post
    In the early phases, and possibly later, of exploitation and colonization, which would be largely overlapping endeavors, there may be habitats which decide to go to a new star system, possibly people with a pathological fear of "control" or cultural contamination; the latter is, in my opinion much more likely reason for a group to force permanent isolation.

    For a sort of example of a self-sufficient habitat moving to a new system see this story by Greg Benford
    Good first-contact story. Doesn't say who paid the energy bill to move the self-sufficient habitat to a new system, or why they considered the energy bill worth paying.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Robinson View Post
    Good first-contact story. Doesn't say who paid the energy bill to move the self-sufficient habitat to a new system, or why they considered the energy bill worth paying.
    The story doesn't even say when they arrived. It could have been almost anytime before now.

    The energy cost could have been paid by the people living in the habitat.

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    Quote Originally Posted by swampyankee View Post
    The story doesn't even say when they arrived. It could have been almost anytime before now.

    The energy cost could have been paid by the people living in the habitat.
    It could, if they were sufficiently energy-rich, and had what they considered to be a sufficient motive... As mentioned in the Wikipedia page interstellar travel, considering that kinetic energy = 1/2 mv2, an interstellar mission travelling thousands of times faster than an interplanetary mission would require millions of times as much energy... You might be able to reduce that by travelling much more slowly, but wouldn't that imply increased energy costs over the transit period?

    In your earlier post, you suggested that interstellar migration might be done by people with a fear of control and cultural contamination. Plausible in principle — after all, that was basically why the Mormons migrated from the Midwest to Salt Lake Valley. But my point that the difference between that and interstellar colonisation is many orders of magnitude.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Robinson View Post
    In your earlier post, you suggested that interstellar migration might be done by people with a fear of control and cultural contamination. Plausible in principle — after all, that was basically why the Mormons migrated from the Midwest to Salt Lake Valley. But my point that the difference between that and interstellar colonisation is many orders of magnitude.
    The difference between what a 19th century human society could accomplish and what a mature industrialized and advanced populated star system may accomplish, is also likely to be many orders of magnitude.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    Quote Originally Posted by swampyankee View Post
    The energy cost could have been paid by the people living in the habitat.
    You mean before they left for the colony?
    As above, so below

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    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Robinson View Post
    As mentioned in the Wikipedia page interstellar travel, considering that kinetic energy = 1/2 mv2, an interstellar mission travelling thousands of times faster than an interplanetary mission would require millions of times as much energy... You might be able to reduce that by travelling much more slowly, but wouldn't that imply increased energy costs over the transit period?
    Not really; if you double the transit time, you require about twice as much stored energy on board to maintain your life-support systems; but if you double the velocity, you square the amount of energy required for acceleration. Going slowly is more efficient, if you can wait that long.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    You mean before they left for the colony?
    Before the colony left. They could, for example, have spent a couple of centuries collecting anti-matter for propulsion and getting a few million tons of ice for reaction mass and fusion fuel.

    A quick estimate is that the energy use of a population of 20,000 in a 10^8 tonne ship is trivial compared to the energy needed to get a ship up to 0.01 c during a 10 light-year journey, even if each person uses as much as 8.6 megajoules/day
    Last edited by swampyankee; 2017-Aug-08 at 09:55 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by eburacum45 View Post
    Not really; if you double the transit time, you require about twice as much stored energy on board to maintain your life-support systems; but if you double the velocity, you square the amount of energy required for acceleration. Going slowly is more efficient, if you can wait that long.
    And staying at home — i.e. in an orbiting habitat in your own solar system — is more efficient still.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Robinson View Post
    And staying at home — i.e. in an orbiting habitat in your own solar system — is more efficient still.
    Staying in your house is vary gas efficient, so why drive?
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    Staying in your house is very gas efficient, so why drive?
    I guess it's because you can buy stuff at supermarkets and go to a job to get money.
    As above, so below

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    I'll try to state my case again, as I think it is quite reasonable. Accelerating a spacecraft to interstellar speeds is a very energy-intensive process. If you build a Dyson swarm beforehand (even a small, partial one that only collects a fraction of the star's light) then some of this energy can be used to accelerate spacecraft to other stars. With a large, abundant source of energy you can also use relatively inefficient methods to manufacture antimatter, a substance which could be useful as a fuel for an interstellar spacecraft.

    Here's the plan; First mine Mercury, using the material of that planet to put up a swarm of orbiting solar power collection systems in near Solar orbit. The energy collected by this swarm can be used to directly propel spacecraft out of the system, perhaps using the process imagined by the late Jordin Kare.

    Once these spacecraft reach their destination system they can be decelerated using antimatter fuel, produced in the near-Solar swarm using inefficient methods as described earlier. Even inefficient methods become viable when you have energy to spare.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    I guess it's because you can buy stuff at supermarkets and go to a job to get money.
    People can work from home. People can get bicycle deliveries.

    ADDED: My point is that you won't go for efficiency, or for material needs. Other motives may apply.
    Last edited by Noclevername; 2017-Sep-04 at 12:05 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Robinson View Post
    Would it not be more logical to build a Dyson swarm first, and embark on interstellar colonisation later?
    What leads you to expect this sudden explosion of logic in global decision making? A strong characteristic of a sub-set of humanity is the desire to see what is "over the hill", captured in Mallory's justification for clmbing Everest, "Because it's there."

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