Thursday, January 6, 2011

Economics in the Black Desert: Why Bother?

          Good day to you, RocketFans!  Today we begin tackling the mostly boring topic of economics.  Hopefully, the fact that it's Space Economics! will make it more interesting...

          With that kind of introduction, you may be wondering why I am choosing to discuss the topic at all.   Again, this is one of the banes of Hard SF.  I must at least go through the motions of providing plausible explanation for what are really arbitrary prices and costs.  In doing so, I am also adding another layer of structure and definition to The Black Desert, which means that I have an easier time with the game development side of the project.  In short, a little brain storming now on economics means moving forward with equipment lists and spacecraft costs.  You know, the value of treasure...

           A little more interesting now, isn't it?

           Seriously, when it comes to logical prices for space tech and transport into space, the outlook is fairly bleak.  First of all, let's define the primary cost; that is, the most expensive part of providing our spacemen with stuff.  In real life, and in most plausible future scenarios, the biggest piece of the overhead cost pie is the cost of launching something into orbit.  Even the most expensive items in today's world are downright cheap compared to their cost to launch.  That's why satellites use such state-of-the-art micro-miniature electronics; it's cheaper to pay for the advanced computer gear than to launch the cheaper, bulkier stuff.

         Thanks to Winchell Chung and  indispensable Atomic Rockets website, we have some real world figures to work with as a base.  These figures are not promising; the current cost to send a stuff (any stuff) into orbit averages around USD 8000/kg.   Yes, that's eight thousand dollars.  So an average person with a minimal amount of gear (like a starting PC, for example)  would have to pay a minimum of USD 880,000 to reach orbit.  The PC will arrive as a corpse, however; this cost does not cover food, water, or air.   This means that a starting PC must shell out about a million dollars in order to get into orbit in the year 2011.

           But we're not going into orbit until 2210...

          While having weapons-grade lasers built into the backsides of all my rockets was reason enough to choose Laser Propusion as the primary method of getting a rocket into orbit; the main reason I chose this species of engine was the cost to launch is only USD 20/kg.  This is low enough to make space travel for our starting PC affordable.  Using the same figures as above, the "corpse cost" of John Q. Average and his stuff is only USD 2200.  Figure in the average daily consumables of said PC, and the cost for a four-month stay in orbit, launch cost included, is around USD 3000.  That's doable.

All this for only $55,000 a year!
          It also gives us a base cost of living; which in turn gives us a minimum wage standard  Assuming a mass of 6.2 kg of consumables per day for an average person, we can figure the minimum cost of living in space at about USD 150 a day (this assumes a 20% mark-up for profit).  Which means that any job a PC gets in space that is not an adventuring job, no matter how menial, must at least pay around USD 150/day.  Better to think in terms of weekly wages; even if our PC doesn't work everyday, they'll need to breathe  everyday, so call it USD 1,050/ week.  That's about fifty-five grand a year.  So space living is still expensive, because the above salary is the cost of living for a homeless spacer that has no spare money for any but the cheapest of non-essentials, but it's in the realm of plausibility, which is all we can ask for.

          You'll notice that none of the above calculations account for inflation, the nature of currency, or the expense of non-essentials.  That's what we'll be discussing tomorrow.

          See you then, RocketFans; Enjoy!

          N.B.: Image courtesy of the aforementioned Atomic Rockets website.  Thanks Winch!


  1. OK, with nanotech and assemblers available, what's worth transporting across the distances of space?
    Raw materials for one. Assemblers will still need to use something to make things out of.
    Things for terraforming Mars. Probably the only reason to go beyond the orbit of Mars is water. You'll need that for the thickening the atmosphere.
    Methane might fit into both categories. And its available in the outer system.
    Things that have the stamp of authenticity on them - the beef you mention in the next post, art, encrypted information and things that can't be trusted via broadcast.

  2. Nitrogen will be rarer in space than hydrocarbons, as far as I know, and it's really important. As for water to Mars, not only does the Red Planet has enough surface ice to thicken up the atmo to at least Andes levels, but it also apparantly has liquid water as well. Proprietary components and patented tech (esp. biotech) will be on the list of imports, but I imagine mainly tastes of home; fruits that can't grow in the low gravity, large livestock animal products (MILK!), and perhaps most important, an empty berth on the trip home.


Questions, comments, criticisms? All non-Trolls welcome!