Advanced Automation for Space Missions/Chapter 4.7
4.7 Conclusions and Recommendations
The Replicating Systems Concepts Team reached the following technical conclusions:
- The theoretical concept of machine duplication is well developed. There are several alternative strategies by which machine self-replication can be carried out in a practical engineering setting.
- There is also available a body of theoretical automation concepts in the realm of machine construction by machine, in machine inspection of machines, and machine repair of machines, which can be drawn upon to engineer practical machine systems capable of replication.
An engineering demonstration project can be initiated immediately, to begin with simple replication of robot assembler by robot assembler from supplied parts, and proceeding in phased steps to full reproduction of a complete machine processing or factory system by another machine processing system, supplied, ultimately, only with raw materials.
The raw materials of the lunar surface, and the materials processing techniques available in a lunar environment, are probably sufficient to support an automated lunar manufacturing facility capable of self-replication and growth.
Tentative design of a lunar manufacturing facility capable of self-replication can begin, when current knowledge and state-of-the-art technologies are employed, but final design awaits the initial results of the demonstration-development program. Significant further research in lunar materials processing and in the design and operation of automated factories, should be conducted at once.
In addition, the team considers that the replicating systems concept, if implemented, can have the following important consequences:
- It will accelerate the design and development of sophisticated automated assembly techniques useful in carrying out future NASA missions.
- It will accelerate the design and development of improved automated assembly and processing techniques applicable to the problems of achieving increased Earth-based manufacturing productivity.
- By establishing an automated, growing, selfreplicating, multipurpose, multiproduct lunar manufacturing facility, NASA capacity for space exploration and research can be enormously expanded and permanently enhanced with only modest continuing expenditures.
- The virtually cost-free expansion of mining, processing, and manufacturing capacity, once an initial investment is made in an autonomous SRS, makes possible the commercial utilization of the abundant energy and mineral resources of the Moon for the benefit of all mankind.
- The establishment of a replicating lunar manufacturing facility can be a stepping stone to the design and construction of replicating manufacturing complexes on the surfaces of other planets. These new complexes themselves may be products of automated, self-replicating manufacturing facilities located elsewhere.
Finally, the team offers the following general recommendations to NASA in furtherance of the basic objective of achieving practical self-replicating, growing machine systems in the shortest reasonable time:
- NASA should begin immediately the development of a simple demonstration replicating system on a laboratory scale, with teleoperated to fully automated phased steps to higher levels of sophistication as the technology is proven and matures.
- The space agency should support significant further research in lunar materials processing, lunar resource exploration, and the design and operation of automated manufacturing facilities.
- NASA should implement the design, development, and construction of an automated, multiproduct, remotely reprogrammable lunar factory system to begin operation on the lunar surface early in the next century.
- Studies should be conducted of scenarios in which a succession of replicating, multipurpose, multiproduct, automated, remotely reprogrammable factories could be placed in orbit or on other planets, these systems perhaps themselves products of earlier established nonterrestrial replicating facilities.
- NASA should initiate additional studies of the social, political, military, and economic consequences of the proposed work, and of various other as yet unresolved issues and concepts (see app. 5K).
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