<<

2191 100,000 in Space.

100,000 people live in orbit, on the moon and in interplanetary space.

Many work to extract raw materials from the moon and from near earth asteroids. Their work being dangerous, not everyone returns.

Actually, modern technology made working in space much safer. It protects against the deadly radiation outside the earth's magnetic field. Life support is much more compact and reliable than 200 years ago during the first "spacewalks". The spacesuits are also much more damage resistant due to new materials. However, in the asteroid mining business, there are so many risk factors that accidents still happen. Taking serious efforts many risks could be reduced, but this would amount to extraordinary costs. So, companies trying to provide a perfectly safe work environment would not competitive.

Human spaceflight has always been a trade-off between safety and cost. Absolute safety is not possible. Though the risk can be reduced with investments in equipment and personnel. The actual cost depends on the risk of failure that the stakeholders are willing to take.

In the early days of spaceflight, when the media closely followed all manned missions, attempts were made to limit the risk of fatal accidents to 1%. That means one dead astronaut on 100 missions. To achieve this goal early space organizations had to invest about 500 million dollars for each astronaut. 200 years later that much is no longer necessary. With 100,000 people in vacuum jobs it would not be possible either.

Despite much better technology and scale economies which make everything cheaper, vacuum applications are still expensive if certain safety standards are to be met. Safety and costs are still to be weighed against each other. 200 years after the first clumsy steps in orbit, missions have become safer, but a job in orbital resource extraction is still orders of magnitude more dangerous than other jobs.

At the end of the 22nd century a mission risk of 0.1% can be achieved at reasonable costs. The term "mission risk" is defined as a stay in orbit for several weeks with some external work, as it was 200 years before. This 0.1% risk is nominally 10 times better than in the early days of space travel. In practice this number is deceiving because the job description has changed. The first astronauts conducted three missions on average. In doing so, they accumulated a total risk of 3%. That was considered to be justified by the dream of travelling into space as an astronaut.

Now, modern vacuum workers are more likely to have 10 such mission assignments per year. Extra vehicular activities are a lot more numerous often being the normal daily work after all. The missions are not as precisely planned as they were in the early days and the performance demanded per shift has increased. On the other hand, workers staying in space for a long time, there is no need for risky ascents to orbit on slow-burning 1000-ton bombs and no less risky meteorite-like landings.

The advantage of not being subjected to dangerous ascents and descents is offset by the fact that vacuum workers have to risk their lives in EVAs every day. Over time, their total risk may amount to 10% or 20%, and for some even 30%, depending on equipment, training, and work ethics.

While the space agencies of Earth’s governments and the military in close Earth orbit keep standards reasonably high, the situation in commercial asteroid mining is somewhere between problematic and precarious. Asteroid mining companies basically have to find a balance between security costs and replacement costs, ultimately between the cost of keeping workers alive to do their jobs and the cost of bringing in new trained workers from the Earth's gravity well. The lives of the workers themselves play a secondary role in their calculations.

Among the 100,000 people in the vacuum are tourists, military personnel and orbital construction workers. Only about one-tenth are on dangerous resource extraction jobs where accidents are commonplace. A full fifth of those vacuum workers does not return alive. The job is correspondingly unpopular. On the other hand, it is highly paid. Salaries do not play a major role compared to all the other costs of space operations. Morale is low. Everyone knows that the job is a kind of Russian roulette. They either return rich or they don't return at all.

At the end of the 22nd century prices for orbital raw materials sink due to increasing competition from more mining companies. With shrinking margins investments go down, worsening the security situation even more. It then becomes almost impossible to recruit enough well-trained engineers for asteroid jobs. Only people who have no choice, who are heavily indebted or, for whatever reason, want to disappear, still volunteer for these jobs. That is why some states and companies resort to recruiting prisoners serving long term sentences.

2199 Terror at Dubai Cosmodrome.

Terrorists blow up the 32 km tall acceleration tower of the Dubai Cosmodrome, the Dubai Fountain. Debris falls onto the surrounding spaceport, on nearby business districts and shopping malls. 43,000 people die in the attack.

Dubai is one of the four primary mass launch sites on earth. Every year, Dubai sends thousands of people and millions of tons of material into orbit.

At the heart of the Dubai Cosmodrome there is the acceleration tower containing an electromagnetic catapult and a ring of high-power lasers at the top, the laser launcher. The electromagnetic accelerator is basically an upright railgun. It accelerates launch pods with their payloads to a velocity of five kilometers per second for cargo and 1.2 km/s for humans.

The inside of the tower is almost airless. In addition, each starting pod is preceded by a wave of electrical discharge pushing aside the remaining air. Cargo pods reach the top of the launch tower after only 13 seconds (people: 50 seconds). There lasers take over the. Large laser emitters form a ring around the top of the tower. They are located above 99% of the atmosphere. At this altitude, the power of the lasers is neither reduced by the atmosphere, nor distorted by fluctuations in air pressure nor hindered by clouds. The lasers accelerate the payload to orbital speed.

The vertical structure consists of a nitrocrystalline nanocomposite with ten times the strength of carbon nanotubes. The tower is stabilized by magnetoplasmadynamic thrusters along the entire length of its structure.

The launch pods return to the Cosmodrome autonomously. They land vertically on a smaller version of the laser launcher, called the laser descender. They are checked, filled with reaction mass, and then reused. The whole system is driven by large power plants and capacitors on the ground.

The terrorist attack destroys a segment of the tower at a height of four kilometers just above the base. The explosion severs the nanocomposite walls, the linear accelerator, and all supply lines. Debris rains down onto the base. The entire tower above the fracture starts to fall. The plasma thrusters are automatically powered up to stabilize the fall. The crash can no longer be stopped, but the thrusters can determine the direction. They slow down the falling column and steer it into a designated path. Without any connection to the surface the power supply of the plasma engines is only good for a few seconds. But this is enough to give thrust for a controlled fall. The tower is broken up into 100-meter segments, weighing 20,000 tons each. All segments have their own parachutes, which are supposed to slow down the fall and steer them into an emergency landing zone. This works perfectly for 95% of the segments.

Unfortunately, the parachutes of 13 segments do not open. These segments crash down uncontrolled. The initial thrust of the plasma engines has catapulted the main mass beyond the base towards the emergency landing zone. Therefore, most of the segments do not fall directly onto the sloped base of the tower, but in a steep parabola onto the surrounding ground infrastructure.

The two lowest of the 13 rudderless segments are still above the base and there they descend. Six segments hit open spaces on the ground or parking areas. Two more segments hit the cargo depot, which is largely automated. There are no casualties.

That leaves three uncontrolled crashes. Two of them fall onto buildings in the business district. It is rush hour. Most offices are busy, and the shopping malls are teeming with visitors. A 120-story office tower is hit centrally from above by one segment and gives way. The other segment comes down horizontally like a huge falling barrel sliding off a building and then rolling over a busy shopping center. As in many other shopping centers around the world, a major event is taking place to launch a new beverage brand.

There is a total of 43,171 victims.

A third uncontrolled segment strikes right in front of the Cosmodrome's passenger check-in area without doing much further damage.

The attack is the work of an anti-expansionist faction of radical conservationists.

It was well known that the acceleration tower would be dangerous for surrounding areas in the event of a structural failure. Therefore, it had a multi-staged safety plan using emergency thrusters and parachutes to guide the falling segments. An later investigation discovers maintenance deficiencies in the emergency equipment and problems in the control software, that had never been tested.

>>