Summary of a Dissertation on Molecular Nanotechnology For Space Operations

Thomas L. McKendree*

Industrial & Systems Engineering, University of Southern California,
Hungtington Beach, CA 92646 USA

This is an abstract for a presentation given at the
Ninth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology.
There will be a link from here to the full article when it is available on the web.


This paper summarizes the molecular-nanotechnology results from a recent dissertation [1].

That work assessed the performance of conventional technology and three levels of molecular nanotechnology (MNT) for space operations. The measures of effectiveness were technical performance parameters for five space transportation architectures, and the total logistics cost for an evaluation scenario with mining, market and factory locations on the Moon, Mars and asteroids. Improvements of 2 - 4 orders of magnitude were seen in chemical rockets, solar electric ion engines, solar sail accelerations (but not transit times), and in structural masses for planetary skyhooks and towers. Improvements in tether performance and logistics costs were nearer to 1 order of magnitude. Appendices suggested additional improvements may be possible in space mining, closed-environment life support, flexible operations, and with other space transportation architectures. A summary of these results and their derivation are the primary focus of this paper.

In order to assess logistics cost, that research extended the facility location problem from location theory to orbital space. That extension supports optimal siting of a single facility serving circular, coplanar orbits, locations in elliptic planetary and moon orbits, and heuristic siting of multiple facilities. It focused on conventional rocket transportation, and on high performance rockets supplying at least 1 m/s2 acceleration and 500,000 m/s exhaust velocity. Mathematica implementations are available.

Simple MNT allows diamond and buckytube construction. The main benefits are in chemical rocket performance, solar panel specific power, solar electric ion engine performance, and skyhook and tower structural masses. Complex MNT allows very small machinery, permitting large increases in solar panel specific power, which enables solar electric ion engines that are high performance rockets, and thus reduces total logistics costs an order of magnitude. Most Advance MNT allows molecular manufacturing, which enables self-repair, provides at least marginal improvements in nearly every area, and greatly lowers manufacturing costs, providing an additional order of magnitude reduction in launch costs. The development of MNT would enable greatly expanded space operations.


[1] McKendree, 2001, A Technical and Operational Assessment of Molecular Nanotechnology for Space Operations, Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, School of Engineering, University of Southern California.

*Corresponding Address:
Thomas L. McKendree
Industrial & Systems Engineering, University of Southern California
8381 Castilian Drive, Hungtington Beach, CA 92646 USA
Phone: 714-732-3228
Fax: 714-732-1997