sevenperforce

Science/history challenge: Beat Sputnick

Beat Sputnick?  

41 members have voted

  1. 1. Given all current knowledge and the assistance of the dominant world power, how early could a time traveler put a rocket in orbit?

    • 1900
      12
    • 1850-1900
      10
    • 1750-1850
      3
    • 1600-1750
      1
    • 1400-1600
      2
    • pre-1600
      3
    • pre-1000 CE
      2
    • BCE
      8


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Suppose you travel back in time and decide you want to build a rocket to reach orbit. The rocket merely has to reach a moderately stable orbit on its own; there are no payload requirements in particular. 

Suppose further that you have access to all the world's knowledge at the present day.

Finally, suppose that you are able to convince the dominant world power of that era to assist you in collecting and refining raw materials.

What is the earliest point in history at which you could reasonably be able to construct an orbital rocket? 

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14 minutes ago, Chewy62 said:

Are we allowed to take anything back with us?

 

Nothing that will be used in the actual rocket, or in its physical manufacture. For example, blueprints are fine; programmable control modules are not. Though if you can somehow construct a control board compatible with modern memory storage then you're free to take a USB stick back with you.

10 minutes ago, legoclone09 said:

1850-1900, that was when RP-1 and LOX could be made.

Could a liquid-fueled rocket be built at that time?

Honestly, I'm thinking your best bet is to build a multistage rocket with a mix of solid-fueled and hybrid-fueled boosters. Consider a balloon launch for altitude assist. Liquid engines are going to require materials and machining techniques far too advanced to get before the modern era.

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I say ancient Greek times. Humanity lost a lot of technical knowledge and ability during the dark ages.

If they could build this, they could build a rocket engine.

Best,
-Slashy

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They might be able to machine parts with sufficient precision, though I doubt it, but they lacked the metallurgy to make a rocket engine.

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You could get Ancient Greeks to build a rocket, but you would have to bring back so much technology and build so much infrastructure it would make their technology level that of at least WWII era industrial countries.

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If the time traveller was Werner Von Braun or Sergei Korolev, propably turn of the 20th century.

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2 hours ago, Findthepin1 said:

Define rocket.

Anything that can get you to orbit.

2 hours ago, GoSlash27 said:

I say ancient Greek times. Humanity lost a lot of technical knowledge and ability during the dark ages.

If they could build this, they could build a rocket engine.

Best,
-Slashy

But would they be able to support the industrial infrastructure needed for this sort of manufacturing?

And this is unrelated, but we really didn't lose THAT much tech during the dark ages. We made quite a few advances in engineering and chemistry. Most knowledge was preserved (although also hidden) by the Church. Civilization was just placed on hold due to the barbarian incursion. 

28 minutes ago, lobe said:

If the time traveller was Werner Von Braun or Sergei Korolev, propably turn of the 20th century.

The time traveler IS Werner Von Braun and Sergei Korolev and every other rocket expert. You can take back all knowledge. Just no materials. 

Edited by sevenperforce

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Rocket expert? I think If one were to send them back 1800 and give them immortality the rocket would be flying by 1900, no earlier. There were a ton of electrical adancements that happened towards the end of the 19th century, mostly radio technology, which might be accelerated given more funding/resources to the likes of Faraday and Marconi, or they might be accidental advancements requiring a much larger rocket to accomodate mechanical guidance systems.

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39 minutes ago, sevenperforce said:

And this is unrelated, but we really didn't lose THAT much tech during the dark ages. We made quite a few advances in engineering and chemistry. Most knowledge was preserved (although also hidden) by the Church. Civilization was just placed on hold due to the barbarian incursion.

THANK YOU! Finally, someone who realizes this... We actually made pretty solid advancement in medicine and agriculture as well.

 

Assuming the immortality of the time traveler (or at least a few hundred years to alter the course of events), I would wager you could get it done by 1000 AD. Hijack the Romans around the time of Christ, industrialize and kick the agricultural revolution off, and you should be good to go.

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33 minutes ago, lobe said:

Rocket expert? I think If one were to send them back 1800 and give them immortality the rocket would be flying by 1900, no earlier. There were a ton of electrical adancements that happened towards the end of the 19th century, mostly radio technology, which might be accelerated given more funding/resources to the likes of Faraday and Marconi, or they might be accidental advancements requiring a much larger rocket to accomodate mechanical guidance systems.

Why not go with a staged solid-fueled approach and skip trying to manage a liquid approach at all? Hybrid-fueled boosters can help too...

3 minutes ago, Stargate525 said:

Assuming the immortality of the time traveler (or at least a few hundred years to alter the course of events), I would wager you could get it done by 1000 AD. Hijack the Romans around the time of Christ, industrialize and kick the agricultural revolution off, and you should be good to go.

Any reason for picking the Roman Empire rather than, say, the Greek Empire or the Babylonian Empire or even the ancient Egyptians?

And immortality is a non-starter; it's cheating if you merely jumpstart the industrial revolution and then sit around for a few centuries. You've got five decades tops.

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6 minutes ago, sevenperforce said:
43 minutes ago, lobe said:

 

Why not go with a staged solid-fueled approach and skip trying to manage a liquid approach at all? Hybrid-fueled boosters can help too...

Effective solid fuels are complicated. If I remember correctly, gunpowder is pretty bad for anything other than guns and firecrackers. Ammonium perchlorate composite propellant (APCP) is the simplest orbit-capable propellant I know of and that requires a huge leap in chemical processes from the 19th century. Ammonium perchlorate isn't that hard, but the binders such as hydroxy terminated butadiene might provide problems. Aluminum, another component of the fuel, depending on the date might have been more expensive than gold. ICBMs use a proprietary and secret mix of HMX (high explosive) and zirconium with other components. Liquid fuels use relatively cheap materials, and the machining that goes into it is simplish, at least in relation to petrochemical engineering. I mean heck, they had nitric acid and gasoline/kerosene at the time, World War One could have inolved ICBMs developed by our mad rag tag rocket team. Turbochargers could have had modifications to allow one side to run in a gas generator and the impellers running the fuel mixture.

If I were a rocket expert today though, and we still hadn't lauched a satellite into space, I would use solid propellant because we have all of these materials on hand and cheap, so research and developement would go down.

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Still, propellants are only half the story. We also have to worry about communications, guidance, automated systems, and the myriad of other factors that go into rocket design that weren't developed yet. In my scenario (can we at least let Mr. von Braun live 100 years, please) these people have just found out that wireless communication is possible and aluminum was considered a rare-earth metal due to its difficulty in extraction. At the start of the 19th century that is.

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Romam Empire had a huge industry for its time. If they knew about current tech, it'd be even bigger. I mean, if they had advanced their steam engine designs, they very well could've entered a sort of proto industrial society in the 500s.

Had they not fallen.

All the knowledge has existed for centuries, just not the materials or the idea to put them all together. With what we know now, we could easily bring any empire to near modern tech.

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2 hours ago, sevenperforce said:

Any reason for picking the Roman Empire rather than, say, the Greek Empire or the Babylonian Empire or even the ancient Egyptians?

And immortality is a non-starter; it's cheating if you merely jumpstart the industrial revolution and then sit around for a few centuries. You've got five decades tops.

Well, if you have to be ALIVE for the launch, then you're stuck with late 1800s at best. Nowhere else will be able to bootstrap an electronics industry quickly enough for your guidance systems.

I chose the Roman empire because unlike the Babylonians, Greeks, and Egyptians, they were the ones with a large enough, URBAN enough economic base to support an industrial revolution. A major factor in their fall was that they stopped expanding and taking on slaves. No slaves, no manual laborers. If you were able to replace the farmhand laborers with even rudimentary steam engine tractors, or hell, even introducing bred strains of crops from the 1500s, and you won't have the economic implosion that led to the fall in the first place. Get some textile mills going to supply nice cheap linen and/or wool, and bob's your uncle.

Then you've got the problem of planting the idea of shooting something into space in the first place, with enough of a cultural sticking point to last the few hundred years your Romans will need to get the guidance and electronics developed. Not sure how you'd do that, since you're unlikely to have the world war and global manhood-measuring contest that led to the space race at all. My first thought would be to slip a piece of false incentive into the reams of technical and historical info you bring back with you that would provide an incentive to get to the moon. Something on the dark side, preferably, so you have to get something up there to see.

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I vote BCE. Billions BCE. Before Earth had any atmosphere or substantial mass. When it was the size of Deimos. I'd pick up a rock and throw it into orbit.

Edited by Findthepin1

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27 minutes ago, Findthepin1 said:

I vote BCE. Billions BCE. Before Earth had any atmosphere or substantial mass. When it was the size of Deimos. I'd pick up a rock and throw it into orbit.

Fun fact; can't actually hit orbit from a single velocity change at ground level... :P

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6 hours ago, sevenperforce said:

Nothing that will be used in the actual rocket, or in its physical manufacture. For example, blueprints are fine; programmable control modules are not. Though if you can somehow construct a control board compatible with modern memory storage then you're free to take a USB stick back with you.

How about a tablet computer (and solar charging system) with all the information and blueprints you'd need?

Ancient Egypt should be able to bootstrap something up. They had access to the Nile which meant shipping and hydro power. Oil was nearby, as well as the whole Mediterranean trade network. They had plenty of artisans and craftsmen working to produce treasure and military equipment for the Pharaoh, who would love to see a way to truly join the gods. If the effort that created the pyramids was channeled into reaching pace, with blueprints to follow every step of the way instead of developing everything from scratch, I'm sure they could do it.

Which begs the question: with access to solar-thermal, oil and hydro power (not specifically electrical, to start), thousands of skilled craftsmen, tens of thousands of laborers, and the blueprints for all the required technology along the way (not to mention all the required mineral resources), how long would it take to get to producing steel, aluminum and mig-arc welders? Bringing fiberglass or carbon-fiber composites into play sooner could also speed things along in terms of simpler things like filament-wound SRM casings.

I would expect the harder technical challenges without electronics would be the guidance system, but for simply reaching orbit gyroscopes tied to a mechanical, clockwork "computer" should suffice.

Fun fact; can't actually hit orbit from a single velocity change at ground level... :P

Jump up and then throw it

Edited by StrandedonEarth

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11 minutes ago, Stargate525 said:

Fun fact; can't actually hit orbit from a single velocity change at ground level... :P

Sure you can. If I raise my hand I can reach about 2,5 m. Assuming I "launch" from the highest peak on the potatoid, my periapsis will never be less than 2.5m. That's enough for an orbit. I just need to remember to step sideways.

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21 minutes ago, StrandedonEarth said:

How about a tablet computer (and solar charging system) with all the information and blueprints you'd need?

Ancient Egypt should be able to bootstrap something up. They had access to the Nile which meant shipping and hydro power. Oil was nearby, as well as the whole Mediterranean trade network. They had plenty of artisans and craftsmen working to produce treasure and military equipment for the Pharaoh, who would love to see a way to truly join the gods. If the effort that created the pyramids was channeled into reaching pace, with blueprints to follow every step of the way instead of developing everything from scratch, I'm sure they could do it.

Which begs the question: with access to solar-thermal, oil and hydro power (not specifically electrical, to start), thousands of skilled craftsmen, tens of thousands of laborers, and the blueprints for all the required technology along the way (not to mention all the required mineral resources), how long would it take to get to producing steel, aluminum and mig-arc welders? Bringing fiberglass or carbon-fiber composites into play sooner could also speed things along in terms of simpler things like filament-wound SRM casings.

To get Steel:
-You need to train the miners to find and utilize iron (and overcome the religious stigma attached to it).
-You need to develop tools and methodology to effectively mine the iron.
-You need to build suitable foundries and steel mills to be able to refine the iron into steel.
-You need to train the workers on steel manufacturing and forging, as it is significantly different from lower-heat bronze.

To get Arc Welders:
-You need to train workers on electrical safety and principles.
-You need to develop the capabilty to manufacture long, thin spools of copper wire.
-You need to develop the ability to step up what will most likely be low volt, low watt power into something that can arc.
-You need to develop the tools to build the welder itself. (and maybe the tools to build those tools).

To get oil:
-You need to develop and produce a way of harvesting and purifying the oil.
-You need to develop the glass and chemical industries to be able to produce the equipment used in the dozen or so steps to refine it.

Aluminum:
-Train in finding and harvesting bauxite.
-Train in high temperature chemical refinement processes.
-Develop the equipment needed for that refinement.
-Develop the equipment needed to MAKE the equipment for the above step.
-Develop the equipment needed to make the chemical catalysts.
-Train in finding, harvesting, and purifying the materials for the chemical catalysts.

All of this you need to do without:
-destabilizing the current economy.
-upsetting or confusing the ruling bodies so they continue to go along with you.
-sparking national tensions which will lead to war or subterfuge.
-Failing. (as your method isn't really slowing down to teach anyone anything beyond bare necessities, you're essentially working magic. Fail after years of this, and you won't live long enough to get a second chance.)

 

You have skilled laborers, yes, but they are experts at BRONZE AGE technologies. You're better off getting teenaged apprentices and training them up in what they need to know. But in order to do that with the hundreds or thousands you need, you need to be able to teach more people. So you need to teach the teachers... The biggest downside is that your steps have no USE to the Egyptians beyond some nascent idea of shooting their dead Godking into heaven. You're diverting a lot more of the economy than farmers who had nothing to do during the flood season anyway.

Building a pyramid is a lot easier than puttering around with all this glass and strange metals, trying to turn farmers into miners in the sand.

 

Edited by Stargate525

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Loving the discussion!

Electronics isn't necessary if you can link a simple gyroscope to a mechanical computer. You should be able to program the gravity turn and circularization burns in using that system as well.

If you can do solid-fueled rockets, you'll only really need advanced metallurgy for the nozzle itself. And neither throttling nor reusability are issues. 

Would the ancient Mayans be a better choice due to raw material proximity?

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Electronics aren't strictly necessary if you don't care what orbit you end up in, no.  But don't think for even a moment that the gyros and analog/mechanical computers needed aren't complicated pieces of precision machinery themselves.

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