What kind of commerce is possible in solar system with travel time at 0.05 to 0.1 of light speed ? Suppose, Humanity has spread to Kuiper belt by this time. What will be medium of exchange in such economy? Can there be any manual-labour in such system.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ technologies, and information will be exchange. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Nov 1, 2016 at 7:38
  • $\begingroup$ How can technology which developed to solve problems on one planet can be exported to other where conditions may be entirely different $\endgroup$
    – carrottop
    Nov 1, 2016 at 7:51
  • $\begingroup$ exactly this information I will give you, for your environment, because I'm familiar with solving similar problems and can figure out fast what have to be changed for your situation, but you will give me information about problems I'm not so familiar with - what you have? If some one have triangle wheel, and you have usual round wheel, so you have to offer something to that triangle wheel owner, no matter how different are your environments. One have 130nm cpu tech, other have 10nm cpu. Or just IP for new cpu design. There will be a system which allows that exchange naturally. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Nov 1, 2016 at 8:07
  • $\begingroup$ How can such trade be monetized.How can some one determine value for information which varies according to environment. $\endgroup$
    – carrottop
    Nov 1, 2016 at 8:27
  • $\begingroup$ Partially related: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/50579/… $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Nov 1, 2016 at 11:13

4 Answers 4


Given the level of energy and resources available in a space environment, we will be essentially be living in a post scarcity environment, so much of what we consider valuable today can be quickly and easily be accessed regardless of where you live and work in the Solar System.

However, basic economic laws like supply and demand will still exist regardless of the circumstances, so what will be "demanded" and how will it be "supplied"?

At the most basic level, there will always be a demand for energy. Between the Sun and the asteroid belts, gathering and using solar energy will be relatively cheap and easy, so there will be a fairly self contained solar economy in that region of space. Energy is a valuable export, so Mercury and its orbit will be ringed with solar energy satellites and high energy lasers to beam the energy to cooperative targets across the solar system. If technology has advanced enough and the demand is high enough, it might be worth while to utilize the solar corona as the lasing medium, and beam immense amounts of energy that way across the solar system.

Jupiter will likely be a self contained polity, utilizing the vast energy resources of Jupiter itself (the massive magnetosphere) and the resources of 67 known moons and the thousands of bodies in the Jovian "Greek" and "Trojan" asteroids

Beyond Jupiter, the outer planets will need to receive beamed energy from Mercury, or harvest 3He from the atmosphere of the Gas Giants. 3He will still be useful as a fuel for fusion reactors, since not everything will be capable of being fitted with a receiver for beamed energy (even inside the Solar Zone), and there will be occasions where the beam might not be available due to planetary alignments and so on.

The next most valuable trade goods will be raw materials for life. This includes Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen and Nitrogen. Phosphorus is also needed to support life, so will be in very high demand. Much of this sort of material is frozen in ice in the moons of the gas giants, or in comets deep in the Kuiper Belt and beyond in the Oort cloud.

What people will want for these goods is most likely information. The Solar System will be criss crossed with laser beams transmitting terabytes of data to customers across the Solar System, everything from financial news to soap operas (or their 23rd century equivalents). This implies that polities with large numbers of sentient beings (people, uplifted animals, AI) will be at a huge trade advantage since they can supply massive amounts of brainpower to any problem or issue. In return, the equivalent of ISO containers or tanker cars carrying volatile elements will be moving in ballistic orbits between planets to deliver the physical elements desired by people and their ecospheres in space. Much like today, costs will still be measured in energy expenditures, and pushing bulk items across space on minimum energy orbits will be the cheapest and most economical means of doing business. A steady "pipeline" of goods in transfer orbits will be more profitable in the long run than trying to ship things by "fast packet" across the solar system.

  • $\begingroup$ Can such a society have any place for manual labour. $\endgroup$
    – carrottop
    Nov 2, 2016 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe as some sort of theatrical display. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Nov 2, 2016 at 16:34


What kind of commerce is possible in solar system with travel time at 0.05 to 0.1 of light speed ?

I would suppose that commerce similar to what we utilize now on earth would be quite common.

Consider that it takes several months to ship a package via boat from some place like japan to the united states.

At the speeds proposed, it would not be unreasonable to trade within a couple weeks.

Currency and Economy

Suppose, Humanity has spread to Kuiper belt by this time. What will be medium of exchange in such economy?

A system of currency in this time period could be any reasonably valued thing. It could be a commodity such as a rare metal (platinum, gold) or something simple like an arbitrary 'credit' which has no physical medium at all.

Currency works even if it is not tied to a physical medium.

For example, modern economies are largely based off of speculation, there is a lot of money in the modern world which was never actually represented by any physical resource.

This is partly why some countries strive to mantain a form of equivalence with their currency and a physical medium like gold. While this "grounds us" as humans, the idea that some physical object has to exist for a credit to be worth anything is just that, an idea.

In the size of economy possible with an entire star system at its disposal, it is entirely possible that the most efficient way to transfer currency or pay for anything really, will involve some sort of digital transaction.

Basically, it would be possible for an average person to never see a single ounce of whatever resource is supposed to be backing currency, and for the society as a whole, this would not matter as long as they can buy what they need.

In this way, you could say your society used a modern equivalent of Bitcoin

Manual labor and jobs

Can there be any manual-labor in such system.

Manual labor exists now despite advances in technology. Manual labor is always desirable if something requires a human touch or if automating a process is less cost effective than employing human workers.

For example, there are many countries in the world that use very low wage workers to assemble clothing where it is then shipped to more affluent ones.

Setting aside the ethical dilemma here, it is economically feasible to 'employ' these workers rather than automate factories which produce these things despite the fact that technology allowing automation of this kind is available.

Also keep in mind, if you automated absolutely everything, your society would first have to overcome uncanny valley. If you cannot overcome uncanny valley then your society would likely find reason to employ humans to interact with other humans, even if it was a privilege reserved for the more affluent of the society in question.

In general though, economics will call for manual labor when that is the option which is least likely to cause harm to money making potential


Most if not all of what we have on Earth now. The Kuiper Belt is only 0.00075 light years from the sun. So even at slower speeds you can go completely across the solar system in under 12 days. Fresh food trade from one end to the other is hard, but doable on an interplanetary level with similar freshness issues faced by international food now. So if the travel is cheap, and the other planets we inhabit are useful, everything can be traded.

Why would things be located on one place etc as opposed to another? The same reasons there are country to country variations now. Some planets would be better places to hold certain industries than others, but many things will be present everywhere, like farming, because we need to make use of the land available.

On the other hand, without a lot of terraforming, non-Earth planets won't support farming. This will hugely constrain the population of the solar system, as well as interest in colonizing other planets as it will be quite hard for them to be self sustaining. In this scenario you probably have some mining of rare metals on other planets, and you could justify moving some heavily polluting industries as well; putting them on a planet with no atmosphere could be a good thing.

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    $\begingroup$ Indoor farming is possible. It takes more technology and land-based farming has an economic advantage, but in a settled solar system this could easily change. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Nov 1, 2016 at 11:47
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android As of 2005 40%of land on earth was used for farming. Certainly some level of indoor farming is doable, but on a scale similar to traditional farming for a "fully inhabited" planet like earth it seems implausible to me, but the scenario is pretty far in the future, so maybe. Even so, there are soil toxicity and water availability issues for farming on that scale in any structure on most/all other planets. $\endgroup$
    – drgnlrd
    Nov 1, 2016 at 11:53
  • $\begingroup$ 384 years of technical progress should render most of those problems soluble by 2400 CE. if they have space technology to colonize out to the Kuiper belt, then they will have to tackle the farming problem. They might make food with 3D printing, for example. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Nov 1, 2016 at 11:58
  • $\begingroup$ 3D printing does seem like a reasonable solution. It probably has the effect of eliminating, or severely reducing the demand for food trade, though there might remain a market for 'real' foods as a niche product. $\endgroup$
    – drgnlrd
    Nov 1, 2016 at 12:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Mathily Where do you get 40% of land on earth being used for farming? I get something like 10%, which is reducing with climate change. $\endgroup$
    – Werrf
    Nov 1, 2016 at 12:05

TL;DR On earth we have resource and development driven economy, in space it will be more development driven, where technology is a product, information is a product, not explicitly, but more.

Information as interplanetary trade in year 100 SE(space era).


It have to understood and made very clear the following fact - Earth live and live in space are different, technologically different.

On earth you can be independent tribe, with stone age technology. If we strike out human factor, global politics, local politics - all that out of the equation. Surviving is possible, and some people survive exactly that way, some tribes I mean, without interaction with rest of the world(mostly, but it is not their fault).

Space is different. It is the place where bare minimum of technologies to survive is higher then stone age technologies by 4-5 eras of the technology development. This difference is critical to survive in any place in space - other planets or void of pyre space.

In space you have to have all you need or you will die as a colony or as a group of people.

Someone may have not all technologies and processes needed for their live (let say production of microelectronics, cpu's etc) - but they will die if they do not get those supply's in time or at all. And it does not matter if they have everything else they need, but not cpu's. They will die.

  • cpu's are choosen because not all countrie are good at manufacturing them, even from let say top 30 countries list. However they may have needed technologies, those technologies are just not the best as technology or/and economically not viable in current environment. They can(all of them actually), but they do not, because other countries do it better better price, better chip sizes, better ....

  • the need to survive by the nature shifts and changes acceptance of certain things, including technologies - everything is good if it allows to survive and possible to make in current situation. And that way these things which were not economically viable on earth in earth technological/economical ecosystem, may and will be pretty viable in other circumstances, if they get the job done.

If colony does not die, it means they are part of bigger structure which have all needed technologies or have ability to trade for that product. As we do not expect other peoples to do us a favors for free(upvote my answer do u like it or not, lol, joke no need to upvote, I do it for my self) we expect them to have something as payment. However there can be another situation when they do not have to pay for that, as an example a colony which is supported by a country for a reason.

  • The Point is - there are at least two possible situations, and whole situation is superposition of at least these two situations.

  • History of emerging those colonies is actually important for the case, they just do not pop up from nowhere for no reason, they are a result of the parent processes, for first on earth, for second generation in space. And people usually en masse do not like places where they just die or have no options.

In situation when they have to pay and when they are independent, they have to offer something, to sell something, or they are a colony and not independent, but just a settlement backed by a country or organization. Independence begins when it is possible, people do not get it for no reason.

If we postulate they are independent, as counties independent, that leads us to idea they have all needed technologies, and they may trade if it have a benefit for them.

The problem.

The problem with OPs premise/idea of obligatory trade is the following -- All countries on earth have a set of technologies enough for surviving of their citizens. Tribes do, Kiribati have, top countries have, middle in the list they also have. From bottom to the top all have full set of technologies for their survival - and it is one of the reason why they call them self a country, because potentially they can say f u all, and live by them self, they can choose.

Without the exchange their live will be different, that is clear, but the difference is because this trade system exist for a long time. And it exist because in average everyone on the planet get some profit just from its existence. Redistribution for developing process, if all 200+ countries would spend their efforts on their own, without exchange(sell/buy/spy of technologies and products) we would be still in stone age, or may be steam era some of us.

Making money during the trading is secondary process, it is how it is regulated, but not the cause of it. (it is kinda what was first chicken or egg, so chicken was first in this case)

It is one of the reasons why ITER is an international project. And why academic researches are international, we save each other time and effort. That is why Nobel prize is international award.

"Country" is not a title which is given by some one, a country must be recognized by other countries. Same with colony, it have to be recognized by other colonies and by the earth. It hard to recognize something as independent entity, if they will die in 20 years, if no one will give them some critical components.

And now we are back to the people, particularly to the founding fathers of the colony. They have understand those problems, and see them, and there is clear way how to prevent those problems to happen. Elon talks about independent colony on Mars, and that really means a 1 million of people have to have all the technologies for their survival on the mars - everything they possibly need have to be produced on mars. Earth evaporates, they stay alive, independent. So we see it on an example of first colony which may be born in not such a far future. Having full set of technologies it means survival in first place and independence from other colonies, from earth, from political forces, from any one except yourself.

Full hand of technologies equals independence.

What it actually means. From OPs perspective most important result will be - they do not have to trade. Colonies as whole entities do not have to trade with other colonies.

And there is a problem of time line, at which stage of that gemmation process we are. If at the begin, resources are everywhere, more then we used before for your entire human history, in quantities which is hard to grasp, 8 planets, countless asteroids etc, all not owned, all not claimed by anyone.

  • kinda important moment, as absence of resources is one of driving forces of a lot of processes here on earth, including trade.

  • unclaimed bodies, it may stay that way, even after a long time of development in space colonies and such, because at the end the situation benefits everyone, as trade do it on earth.

If we are at the end - there may be no free resources at all, but feel free to move towards to any star. On earth we can't move countries, they are where they are. They stuck with what they have, they have to play with cards they have. With colonies, space colonies particularly space habitats, you can move them. 100 billion of people may say, buy buy solar system, our colony is flying to our new home, here is no free resources for us anymore.

Only planet based colonies will have problems, but that is their problems.

  • there is a difference between mobile colony and not mobile one, significant difference in approaches of problem solving.

So one big driving force for trade, and one big media of exchange as resources is out of equation. Why should one trade for them if he can get it for free (there are reasons to do so, but not the point, outsourcing)

  • so making job on behalf of other may be one of things to trade - one colony may employ other colony, but still do not answers a question what is a payment.

Second big reason, specially big in recent time is energy. This time I will say only about initial stage, where energy is enough for all.

Almost arbitrary I would divide space around sun in 3 zones

  • 10 a.u. conventional solar energy extraction method working
  • 10-87 a.u. Hydrogen still in gas form, heat engines will work, using hydrogen, even in worst case scenario
  • 90+ - you you better have something as energy source for that region

To harvest solar energy one do not need some special material, basically any metal coating, and any relatively hard surface will be ok for energy concentration(not necessary hard), the rest as usual. We have problems with probes near jupiter and farther, but it have to be noticed we have 0(zero) mass production in space at the moment, and that will be not true for colonies.

  • really what I like to say is - energy is also not a such big deal, specially if you have access to matter, which colonies do. But it may be a thing to exchange at some technological level which allows such type of things to be done on large scale in space.
  • btw mars energy problems are entirely because it is a planet, which means gravity.

Full hand of technologies, what next

Speaking of mars, there are lot of talks about mars, mars colony. Let see what they can offer for earth.

Rocks? Yes, some amount of rocks they may offer, but after 7 million of tonnes each human on earth will have 1kg of rocks from mars, which is enough probably for almost any one, as they do not need them for practical purposes as for concrete or buildings, they have lot of rocks by their own.

Metals, food, energy - all that have well established structures which produce those items on the Earth, anything you may name already exists on the Earth.

Services? Yes, that is a deal.

But which reason will drive them to offer services, what they get for money they will earn?

Buy metals, food, energy, oxygen, water, solar panels, turbines, rockets? They must have the technology for that, or they will die. And they will do, live depending on someone elses demands is good motivation for invention and other means to close the technology hole which sucks all earned moneys as soon as possible.

What else they can buy, without which they can live, but they can't make themselves?
Information from LHC may be one of such things, as if they do not have one of such by themselves.

Developing new technologies also need some critical mass of people working together, and 1 million of people is not enough to make most of development we currently do. But it is enough to be a part of development process.

You improve some technology you need for your self - let say space suit, solar panel production, rockets, biotechnology because you have such wonderful place where all hazardous for earth ecosystem bacteria will die when they escape the lab - so you able to conduct more interesting experiments as part of improving control over microbiology of mars living rooms(which you have to do to survive).

There are lot of technologies from developing of which earth may have benefit from. They do not develop these technologies because they do not have to, because they already invested tons of money in other solutions, yes they do not work as well and as good as expected as we see it now, but they work, they already working solutions and we just not ready to invest another tons of money in new developing for their replacement. Real example molten salt reactors, and thorium molten salt reactors - those reactors are better, they are working, they need father development, and they are developed but slow.

Let take mars - no one will sell them plutonium reactor technology, or it is harder to get uranium but plenty of thorium and they need energy, having enough energy for them is critical. They invest those moneys from services and rock selling in to thorium reactor on molten salt, just because they need it for them self. And after that they have technology, which we would like to have, and because it free from weapon use even 3th world countries may have them. So mars forms consortium which will build those reactors for other countries, here on earth. They will pay workers form earth here on earth, have trusted people(mars citizens) controlling situation.

As for the development process itself, earth have all needed capacities, there is just not enough will which will finance those capacities to work in unison over developing of such reactor, or they have relaxed time frame for doing that. Anyway mars may have ability to solve their problems and get some profit because they did that.

US may be would like to have such technology, for reasonable price, China would have, some one else may too. They have all industries needed for production of such possible reactor, and for security reason they would have them as their own technologies, to sell the product for other countries on earth, as they do it now by building reactors in other countries. And this technology can be sold them, because at the end it is not so much important for mars do earth have that technology or not, it hardly changes any balance inside mars economy. So you gain some profit from that, money or service or another technology which they have and mars not have.

Maybe sell it to google, for their data centers, and invest those moneys buy intel technologies to produce better chips for marsself, and Intel will use those money to build next generation fab 25 for 50 billions of earth moneys.

By doing that you just not care what will they do with this technology, and you still may improve it as you have connection with peoples and system which you made to develop that product - technology of thorium liquid salt reactor. Anyway you still need that technology for yourself, and expenses of keeping the system(people, facilities here on earth and mars) are important part of mars survival. But also it means other do not have to have that development tool, and expenses - mars take care about reactors, they are good at that, just in case we have solutions but why should we invest huge moneys (oversimplification but still).

Technology, technology in form of information is the same product as any other product.

  • There is lot of options to get profit and do not exchange physical stuff between during that process. But this post already is too long.

Transportation and 0.1 of speed of light

Delivering goods across the system is costly process, costly and takes lot of time. OP is cheating here with travel time at 0.05 to 0.1 of light speed - but that is possible, although it still need energy and a lot of it, because at the moment we do not have 100% efficient machines, and we do not expect to have them even in relatively distant future, and 0.1c speeds are pretty high energies per kg, and loosing even small percentage of it pretty costly.

Let see just for fun. How much it is.

  • it is not correct to use earth energy prices for space, it is more fun part to get a impression, based on thing we know.

Relativistic effects are not significant at that point, and so classical kinetic energy is fine in that case. Sending 1kg of a product, you send 4.5e14J of energy with that product. And those who get it receives not only product, but potentially that energy(if technology allows so, which is not the case at the moment).

iPhone 7 256GB costs 850\$, so that means energy spend on its production is less then 8500kW$\cdot$hour or less then 30600000J per 0.188kg or less then 162'765'957J per kg. That includes all costs - materials, food for apple workers, design, etc - everything. In all processes it was spend less then 162MJ per kg of production.

This way sending 1kg of production you spending/sending 2'764'705 times more energy then it was spend on production of that iPhone during entire production cycle - starting from resource mining and the rest including how much electricity was spend by washing machine of that guy in applestore who is selling that product - e.g. everything everything.

Sending system should have efficiency 1-1/2764705=99.999964% - it will rise cost of product just 2 times - we loose on transportation same amount of energy as it was used in production of that product.

What would be worth to send then ? Items worth 12.5 million \$ per kg at current prices. Gold price is 41779.9\$ per kg.

Shuttle program cost is 196 billions during 30 years, accounting inflation - 135 missions equals 1.45 billion per mission/shuttle - so only 116 kg of space shuttle is worth to send if we loose energy, and if we recuperate it with 99.9% efficiency it worth to send 11.6 tonnes of a shuttle. basically close to current prices for satellites.

  • in space energy is way much cheaper, and you may wish to get energy in first place and the product might be just a carrier for that energy, so numbers are just illustration in therms of today reality, and just to show disproportion between energy needed to produce (mine, develop, test, build factories, pay CEO's, black jack for all workers etc) and energy we need to actually deliver that product in material form.

This disproportion also means, that you just have to have enough people to develop a product, or get that product as plans to produce by your self, this way it will be easier for everyone.

  • lets try it another way : * Apple has sold more than 590 million iPhones from 2007 to 2014 worldwide.* - so it have spend about 1.8054e+16J of energy, let say we talk about 90% energy efficient transportation, how much iPhones a colony need to produce for production to be more energy efficient then delivery of those iPhones?

    1.8054e+16J are 10% which we are loosing during delivery, and this energy could be used to to build something like apple inc(including those Chinese factories which produce hardware), delivery speed 0.1c, efficiency 90% so total energy during transportation is 1.8054e+17J and transportation mass is .... 401.2kg !!! So basically if you need about 2000 iPhones for your colony, you better build a full set of factories in your colony to produce them, if you can or know how.

  • those 1.8054e+17J on 1 a.u. orbit, with efficiency 40% are just a square 3244x3244 m. It will generate about 14 GW of power 24/7/365 and after a year they will have that 1.8054e+17J which they need to produce 2000 iPhones on a factory which produces them by millions.

    Energy efficiency of mass production is one of factors which forces to build giant factories, but in space energy is cheap as dirt on earth. So it is reasonable to have 10 times less efficient factory if its initial setup costs less energy. If it produces 1000 times less 1000's instead of millions, and is 100 times less energy efficient, we still may prefer that solution.

Free internet points, information, exchange - trade.

Fiat money is currency that a government has declared to be legal tender, but it is not backed by a physical commodity.

So we perfectly fine to define a technology unit - 1 techno and measure price of technologies that way. Buy and sell them, buy and sell patches for them, improvements etc.

Real value will be determined by the market.

There is a problem trough, technology in form of information can be easy copied, same problem as with software, but still software industry still not dead and they worked out different approaches to solve those problems.

Another way around is to have basic technologies for space living, let say 5-10 year old in public access for free, and sell improvements for those technologies.

Or actually to have them all free, but sell development process, sell a service in therms of developing in direction and for needs of a client. Clients have to be a part of a global development process to be able to pay for that service. And this way we will have p2p development going on in solar system. This is main process which generates money (techno's) but sure it can be used for porn too, some people are smart, some are beautiful not necessary in one package.

Colony internal money system is also may be used as currencies - etc money are money.

On earth we have resource and development driven economy, in space it will be more development driven, as my opinion.


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