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I've made my first novel, Ventus, available as a free download, as well as excerpts from two of the Virga books.  I am looking forward to putting up a number of short stories in the near future.

Complete novel:  Ventus


To celebrate the August, 2007 publication of Queen of Candesce, I decided to re-release my first novel as an eBook. You can download it from this page. Ventus was first published by Tor Books in 2000, and and you can still buy it; to everyone who would just like to sample my work, I hope you enjoy this version.

I've released this book under a Creative Commons license, which means you can read it and distribute it freely, but not make derivative works or sell it.

Book Excerpts:  Sun of Suns and Pirate Sun

I've made large tracts of these two Virga books available.  If you want to find out what the Virga universe is all about, you can check it out here:

Major Foresight Project:  Crisis in Zefra

In spring 2005, the Directorate of Land Strategic Concepts of National Defense Canada (that is to say, the army) hired me to write a dramatized future military scenario.  The book-length work, Crisis in Zefra, was set in a mythical African city-state, about 20 years in the future, and concerned a group of Canadian peacekeepers who are trying to ready the city for its first democratic vote while fighting an insurgency.  The project ran to 27,000 words and was published by the army as a bound paperback book.

If you'd like to read Crisis in Zefra, you can download it in PDF form.

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$6/Kg to orbit

Filed Under:

It's a number well within our reach

A poisonous meme has been spreading lately--well, not lately; this has been building now for many years.  It's most recently appeared in this New York Times op-ed piece by Lawrence Krauss.  Krauss floats the idea of sending astronauts on a one-way trip to Mars, because as we all know, the radiation bath of space is just too toxic to contemplate a two-way trip.

Of course, this "deadly radiation bath" stuff is nonsense.

The meme that has taken over our society's perception of space travel is that it is incredibly hard, and incredibly dangerous.  This despite the fact that twelve men walked on the moon, forty years ago, using 1960s technology.

The objections all sound reasonable:  too much radiation!  Too far away!  Zero gravity is too debilitating!  Too expensive!

All of these objections are true, while at the same time they're all wildly wrong, and largely for the same reasons.  In fact they're all true only if getting from Earth to orbit remains as expensive as it is now.

  Consider the seemingly insurmountable problem of radiation that Krauss complains of in his piece.  What's the solution to radiation?  Shielding.  Is shielding a spacecraft impossible, or even difficult?  No, actually it's easy.  Two meters of water around the crew cabin are enough to solve the problem of radiation in the inner solar system.  The problem is not the shielding; it's the cost of shipping the water up to orbit that is the problem.

Ditto for, oh, let's say zero gravity.  No astronaut should ever have to put up with zero gravity for more than a day or two at a time; the simple solution to the debilitating effects of freefall is to spin the spacecraft.  To do it in a manner comfortable to to the astronauts, you need a long boom arm, which might be heavy and awkward to lift from Earth.  The point is, the solution is easy.

Too far away?  If a space voyage is going to take months or years, there are two simple solutions:  send the ship faster, by using more propellant; or bring along more supplies.  Both of these solutions are primarily constrained by the cost of bringing stuff up from Earth.

The list goes on.  The fact is, there is only one problem worth speaking about in space development, and that is the problem of cost-to-orbit.  It currently costs around $10,000/kg to launch anything at all.  

That price will never come down as long as chemical rockets are the only technology we use.   Compare the above cost to Alexander Bolonkin's Magnetic Space Launcher, where the price for launching acceleration-hardened non-living objects into space is calculated to be $6/kg.  In 2004's NIAC report Modular Laser Launch Architecture: Analysis and Beam Module Design by Jordin T. Kare, thoroughly investigates the cost to launch a human being into orbit using a laser launcher, and comes to a figure of $200/kg.   (Both of these systems use electricity and would not themselves pollute at all.)

Even Kare's fancier (and more thoroughly researched) laser launcher provides a cost-to-orbit figure that's 50 times less than current systems. The cost to develop and test his system is also orders of magnitude less than NASA is proposing to spend on the (chemically-driven) Ares launch system.  

So where's the radiation problem when you can launch 50 times as much mass into orbit for the same price?  Where's the supply problem?  Or the velocity problem when you can launch 2000 times as much fuel and hardware using Bolonkin's launcher?

Space is only a costly and dangerous destination if you insist on using 1960s technology to reach it.  Once NASA--or more likely the private sector--finally abandons that route, what was impossible will become easy.  --I only fear that the meme of space's inaccessibility will prevent us from ever building the launch infrastructure that will prove it wrong; at this point, the meme looks like it's turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

After all, when I was ten years old it was obvious that Mars would be humanity's next destination.  And that was thirty-seven years ago.

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Is still better to get there faster

Posted by Adam Crowl at Oct 23, 2009 02:21 PM
Hi Karl

Mass shielding is still pretty punitive if you have to haul it up from Earth - easy answer: don't.

Tony Zuppero's neofuel website explains just how easy it would be to build spaceships out of ice obtained from the halo of NEOs... a whole load of other handy in-space materials can be extracted from the NEOs via either a relatively small reactor or solar heat-source. A no-brainer really. To build decent sized space stations/habitats we'll have to go to the NEOs for materials anyway.

$10,000 USD per kg to orbit

Posted by ansible at Dec 02, 2009 01:26 PM
Hi Karl,

You said: "It currently costs around $10,000/kg to launch anything at all."

There are some reasons behind this figure, and most of them are not really technical. In fact, we can, using 1960's rocket technology with modern computers and sensors, drastically cut the cost of putting stuff into LEO.

We need to look back to the days of the original space race for the reasons why. All of the rocket systems by the US and USSR were ICBM delivery systems first, and peace-time launch vehicles second. With the exception of Saturn, of course... there wasn't a need to drop 131 ton nukes on Moscow, much lighter ones would suffice.

The superpowers weren't then, and still aren't now interested in just anyone having launcher technology. If you can get a payload into LEO, it means you can also drop it half way around the world.

So with the governments actively discouraging launcher development by the private sector, the military contractors were left to develop launch systems. And they are great at spending other people's money.

In general, launch systems from about the 1970's to today are designed with maximum performance in mind, rather than minimum total cost (including ground support).

Some kind of big dumb booster using a relatively well-understood LOX-kerosene propellant combo (1960's tech) can easily launch sizable payloads into LEO at much lower cost than what we have available now. I'm a fan of the parallel staging concept, but that has yet to be proven in practice.

I don't think you can get to the kind of low numbers quoted with launch systems that don't have to carry around all their own fuel, but we could easily see $1000 USD per kg to orbit with existing technology.
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About Me

I'm a member of the Association of Professional Futurists with my own consultancy, and am also currently Chair of the Canadian node of the Millennium Project, a private/public foresight consultancy active in 50 nations. As well, I am an award-winning author with ten published novels translated into as many languages. I write, give talks, and conduct workshops on numerous topics related to the future, including:

  • Future of government
  • Bitcoin and digital currencies
  • The workplace in 2030
  • The Internet of Things
  • Augmented cognition

For a complete bio, go here. To contact me, email karl at kschroeder dot com

Example: The Future of Governance

I use Science Fiction to communicate the results of actual futures studies. Some of my recent research relates to how we'll govern ourselves in the future. I've worked with a few clients on this and published some results.

Here are two examples--and you can read the first for free:

The Canadian army commissioned me to write Crisis in Urlia, a fictionalized study of the future of military command-and-control. You can download a PDF of the book here:

Crisis in Urlia

For the "optimistic Science Fiction" anthology Hieroglyph, I wrote "Degrees of Freedom," set in Haida Gwaii. "Degrees of Freedom" is about an attempt to develop new governing systems by Canadian First Nations people.

I'm continuing to research this exciting area and would be happy to share my findings.


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    Coming on June 18, 2019

    "Science fiction at its best."

    --Kim Stanley Robinson

    A Young Adult Scifi Saga

    "Lean and hugely engaging ... and highly recommended."

    --Open Letters Monthly, an Arts and Literature Review

    Sheer Fun: The Virga Series

    (Sun of Suns and Queen of Candesce are combined in Cities of the Air)

     β€œAn adventure-filled tale of sword fights and naval battles... the real fun of this coming-of-age tale includes a pirate treasure hunt and grand scale naval invasions set in the cold, far reaches of space. ”
    β€”Kirkus Reviews (listed in top 10 SF novels for 2006)

    "With Queen of Candesce, [Schroeder] has achieved a clockwork balance of deftly paced adventure and humour, set against an intriguing and unique vision of humanity's far future.
    --The Globe and Mail

    "[Pirate Sun] is fun in the same league as the best SF ever has had to offer, fully as exciting and full of cool science as work from the golden age of SF, but with characterization and plot layering equal to the scrutiny of critical appraisers."

    "...A rollicking good read... fun, bookish, and full of insane air battles"

    "A grand flying-pirate-ship-chases-and-escapes-and-meetings-with-monsters adventure, and it ends not with a debate or a seminar but with a gigantic zero-gee battle around Candesce, a climactic unmasking and showdown, just desserts, and other satisfying stuff."