Main page: Predictions of future human civilization
Our society, as we know it, cannot survive without energy. Future, more advanced civilizations, will need even more energy. Even here, on Earth, as our supply of fossil fuels is coming to an end, we must find alternative ways to produce the energy that we need.
On a terraformed planet Edit
Depending on planet conditions and on colonization history, different sources of energy will be used.
The terraforming process Edit
For terraforming processes, one or more giant terraforming centers need to be built on a planet or large moon. They will change the temperature (with greenhouse gasses or protective layers), change composition of the atmosphere and work very hard to improve the chemistry of air, water and ground. A terraforming center will probably be larger then the largest city that is now on Earth. It will consist of giant chemical reactors. It will also have its own greenhouses to grow plants and animals, before releasing them in the new environment. Connected by long railways, there will be mines and quarries, built to extract materials needed for the reactors. Vehicles will come and go by air or by ground, to pulverize chemicals on the ground. Pipelines will connect it to the ocean. It is also possible that atmospheric cleanup will be made with artificial lightning. All these processes, all this activity, will require huge amounts of energy.
Probably the best way to produce the needed energy is by nuclear fusion (or in future, by nuclear fission). So, the terraforming facility will have in its center a huge nuclear power plant. The quarries and rail transport system can be powered-up by electricity. Vehicles that will send chemicals and plant seeds will use, at least in the near future, chemical engines, with hydrogen as fuel. Hydrogen will be produced from water.
The first pioneers Edit
After a planet is terraformed, the first settlers will find themselves like the pioneers of the Wild West. They will have to bring everything they need. As they settle in remote areas, with no infrastructure, they will have to produce their own energy. Two major sources of power can be found more easy:
Hydroenergy. When new rivers will form, in a place where water never flew before, they will have an interesting course. On Earth, it took a long time for rivers to create their valleys as we know today. On a newly terraformed world, rivers will flow from lake to lake, filling many depressions. There will be many waterfalls and places where water will flow fast. In time, erosion will create canyons and silting processes will cover lakes, but it will take many years until that will happen. At first, canyons will be deep and narrow, very good for building a dam.
In case of an Outer Planet, where rains are rare, but humidity is constantly high, rivers will be very small. Still, some energy can be produced. The energy output depends on planet's gravity. Moon has 6 times less gravity then Earth. This means that the same amount of water will weight 6 times less and will fall 6 time slower. On Moon, a power plant will produce 36 times less energy then it produces on Earth.
Wind power. Some new worlds, for example a Tidal Locked Planet, will have strong winds that will constantly blow. In such environment, building wind turbines will be a good idea. The generated energy will be enough for the first settlers. Again, in case of an Outer Planet, winds are small and wind turbines are unfeasible.
New fossil fuel. It sounds strange, but terraforming processes might create artificial coal. If the planet has large amounts of carbon dioxide in its atmosphere, all that carbon must go somewhere. with the help of technology or with the help of genetically modified algae, carbon dioxide will break into carbon (or organic compounds) and oxygen. Using carbon for energy is the last solution, in case of a severe energy crisis. This should be avoided at all costs.
Nuclear portable generators. The technology already exist. Heat from nuclear decay can be used by a Radioisotope thermoelectric generator (or RTG), to produce heat and electricity. There are two major disadvantages of this technology: the huge costs of producing the needed isotopes and the risks involved by radioactivity. The main advantages are that an RTG will produce energy for decades.
Solar panels. They are portable and can produce energy wherever you have light. energy produced by day needs to be stored for night time.
As colonization goes on Edit
As population grows and infrastructure is developed, there will no longer be need to produce your own energy, because the energy will come to you. The first ways to do so are improved versions of what we use today on Earth.
- Electricity will reach settlements through wires, like we see today on Earth. The electricity will be produced from hydroenergy, wind energy, nuclear power plants, solar panels or planet's volcanism.
- Biofuel can be produced as well on other planets, if there is enough light to help plants to grow. This natural fuel can be burned in power plants to produce energy or can be sold for vehicles and home generators.
The central power plant from the terraforming facility, if still operational, will be reopened to produce energy for civilian and industrial purposes.
At this point, the newly created society might look similar to what we see today on Earth, only that fossil fuels are not used.
Further in the future Edit
500 years ago, the term electricity was not known. Our world, as we know today, is something that people 500 years ago simply could not imagine. Things like a TV set, a cell phone, toothpaste or plastic, simply did not exist at that time. We can conclude that 500 years from now, the world will look in ways that are hard for us to imagine. Will cars need roads anymore or will they hover above ground? Will we still need electricity or will we use something that today we don't even know? Today, solar panels are 50 times more efficient then when they were first created. Batteries are also far more efficient. It is possible that, 500 years from now, a small family spaceship (similar to a car from our days) will have all energy it needs for an entire human life stocked inside. How far will our civilization go? Nobody knows.
On an asteroid or non-terraformed planet Edit
On an asteroid, there will not be a terraforming process. The energy production will be related to what the colony will need.
Current technology Edit
For the moment and the near future, there are ways to produce energy.
Solar panels. This method is highly used in outer space. It will be useful for the near future. On an asteroid, solar panels can be placed in different places around the equator, to generate energy at every moment. This technology is very useful for asteroids orbiting between Venus and Mars, but can also be used from the orbit of Mercury to the Asteroid Belt.
Solar steam power. At the orbit of Mercury, where temperatures can reach 400 degrees Celsius, there will be enough energy to make steam and power-up thermal plants. This might prove more efficient then solar panels. On the illuminated side of an asteroid, temperature will be very high, but on the dark side, it will be freezing cold. The difference is enough to cool the steam in a more efficient way then thermal plants do on Earth.
Nuclear fission. We already have launched many spacecrafts that use an RTG to generate their heat and electricity. This technology is feasible for human settlements too. As far as there are ores of uranium or thorium, nuclear fission plants can be created. It is also possible to bring the atomic fuel from inner planets and asteroids to the outer colonies. Since this energy is not regenerable, we will need a constant amount of uranium and thorium for the power plants.
Nuclear fusion. This technology is currently being tested in research generators. It uses hydrogen and it produces helium. However, the main disadvantage is that the process generates runaway protons and neutrons, which interact with the walls of the generator. Atoms in the walls absorb atomic particles and transform into heavier atoms, weakening the wall. At current technology, the walls will only resist 4 days. It was proposed to use deuterium or helium 3, in order to create less damage to the reactor. If this technology gets improved, it can be applied on a large scale. It can prove highly efficient for remote colonies in the Kuiper Belt or the Oort Cloud.
Further away into the future Edit
What will the source of energy in the future? As new discoveries are made, we will be able to use technologies never imagined before.
A prediction for year 10 000 and beyond Edit
It is possible that, at some point, we will extract energy directly from stars or from the interior of a planet. This energy can be sent through interplanetary plasma wires to remote settlements or can be stored as antimatter. At that point, there will be a large interplanetary energy grid, connecting the central star of a stellar system with all planets and settlements. Other plasma wires will connect small automated stations, designed to alter the fabric of space and to create highways for ships between planets and even other star systems. Along each highway, ships will move almost without the use of an engine, just as they are tracked by an invisible force.
If such a technological level will be achieved, the request for energy will reach incredible levels. Humans will drain energy from stars and black holes. We will be able to move planets and moons to comfort zones and to alter their Geography and Chemistry. Scientists will collide asteroids and moons, to form a larger planet, then they will extract the heat from it, to cool it and terraform it. There will be no need for a magnetosphere or a sun, a shield will protect the planet from cosmic rays and artificial satellites will provide light at what color and intensity you wish.
At this state, if you are very rich, you can order a custom planet for you and your family. It will have the Geographic patterns you want and you will also be able to edit it, to move mountains and change oceans. The climate will be as you wish. You can change its environmental settings as you wish and you can create whatever buildings you want. The only things you will not be able to change fast, is life. Plants and animals might need a man's lifetime to change to your settings.
One thing is for sure. We drained resources from Earth, we used its fossil fuel and we will drain and use all available resources of other planets and moons. As humans move out into the cosmos, we will do the same as we did here. At some point, we will extract energy from stars and we might alter their equilibrium. Far into the future, we might extend our actions on a galactic scale and even beyond.