All of the launched human habitable space stations in orbit around Earth (such as the International Space Station, are very spindly and brittle as of current day.

In a idea I'm contemplating that someday in the near-future, the United States has decided to undertake the project of a mass driver. After this project's completion, we have a cheap and effective way to send payloads to orbit without rocket space launch. The previously astronomical cost of sending small objects into Low Earth Orbit has plummeted, and we are suddenly capable of getting massive amounts of material into orbit with little difficultly.

What would this mean for future space travel? With the ability to get raw material into space, would our constructions of space craft change?

Possible changes I could imagine happening would be:

  1. Spacecraft would become more like the stuff of science fiction. They would be much less spindly, as well as more solid, such as ships in Battlestar Galactica or Star Wars
  2. Spacecraft would be much larger, and would need less resupplies from Earth, as we would have room for agricultural experiments and storage for other supplies essential for space survival.

Without FTL, you would still be limited effectively to our solar system.

However, it would make dramatic changes locally.

The Pluto probe we sent out a while ago was limited in its speed and its payload because we had to accelerate it to get it there. If we could have more cheaply lifted it, we could have gotten a higher-quality system there much faster. We could do the same for other planets.

We could get larger space-station structures into space, though we'd have to figure out better ways to make larger things more structurally-sound (which we could do if weight weren't an issue). We'd also be able to get biospheres into space which could enable interplanetary travel and colonization.

Heck, we could get enough mass to the moon to support colonization - and could have the guarantee of being able to get supplies there quickly and cheaply when things don't go to plan.

Space-based intelligence and warfare would change. Getter better spy satellites in space would be easier. Getting ballistic missiles into space would be easier as well. Furthermore, you could then have ballistic missiles which could maneuver effectively in space making them harder to counter. However, ballistic missile interceptors could also more effectively maneuver to counter them. This could cause another arms race (like the current hypersonics race).

Space-based intercontinental travel would be significantly cheaper and safer as well, which would be a significant advantage to global economies.

Basically, the ability to lift things into space efficiently would have the same effect that cargo aircraft had with intercontinental travel and colonization (like the McMurdo station in Antarctica), and also the effect that aircraft (stealth and otherwise) had on geopolitics.

  • $\begingroup$ Fragment about missles doesn't make much sense imo $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Dec 12 '15 at 18:05
  • $\begingroup$ Everything in space is hard because it takes so much energy to lift anything. If you want to maneuver in space, you have to take enough fuel to do all the maneuvering you want to do; this makes you heavier (needing more fuel) and more complex (and more expensive). Most things don't do this because it dramatically increases the cost, which means ballistic missiles are just ballistic and easy to predict (and therefore intercept). If it's easier to change your course, it's easier to be unpredictable - and thereby harder to intercept/stop. $\endgroup$
    – iAdjunct
    Dec 13 '15 at 0:03
  • $\begingroup$ Geez, you simply want to use engine mainly for maneuvering and driver for velocity, but is it still a rocket? $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Dec 13 '15 at 0:15
  • $\begingroup$ It may not be a "rocket" but it can still be a ballistic missile. However, because you can lift fuel more easily, you can do a lot more maneuvering in space. $\endgroup$
    – iAdjunct
    Dec 13 '15 at 1:16

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