Elon Musk: Tesla Is Dropping Its Customer Referral Program

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 09:22 AM PST

The Tesla referral program granting new buyers six months of free Supercharging will end on February 1, according to Elon Musk.

Bottom Line

Tesla has found a new way to cut costs.

On Thursday, CEO Elon Musk announced on Twitter that the company’s customer referral program will end on Feb. 1. In a follow-up tweet, he explained that the program was too expensive — another sign that Tesla’s eyes are fixed firmly on the bottom line.

Refer a Friend

The Tesla referral program has changed regularly since its inception in 2015.

Currently, the rewards range from the launch of a photo of their choosing into space — whether that’ll be done by the Musk-led SpaceX is unclear — to an invitation to a Tesla unveiling event, depending on how many new buyers the owner refers.

New buyers of a Model S, Model X, or Model 3 receive six months of free Supercharging if they use a friend’s referral code. If they order the car without test driving it, they receive an additional three months.

Dollar Signs

Tesla ended 2018 on a financial high note, boasting record profits. And in just the first few weeks of 2019, it’s dropped the cheapest versions of the Model X and Model S from its lineup, slashed the price of every model by $2,000 to encourage sales, and now cut the customer referral program in the name of cost savings — all moves seemingly designed to ensure the profitability of 2018 wasn’t a fluke.

Now it’s just a matter of waiting for the next quarterly report to find out if those efforts pay off.

READ MORE: Tesla Will End Referral Program to Help Model 3 Cost, Says Elon Musk [Electrek]

More on Tesla: Tesla's Stock Plummets After It Cuts Price of All Models

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Sourcing Parts for Quantum Computers is Near-Impossible Right Now

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 09:18 AM PST

Collecting parts to build a functioning quantum computer is so difficult, and expensive, it might slow down development of the technology as a whole.

Quantum Conundrum

Putting together parts to build a conventional computer isn’t rocket science. Most parts can be ordered online, and with a little bit of know-how, you’ll end up with a functioning PC in no time.

But when it comes to quantum computers, things get vastly more difficult.

Collecting parts for quantum computers is so difficult and expensive, according to the MIT Technology Review, that it could slow the development of the technology as a whole — and worse, tech giants like IBM and Google could get a head start while leaving smaller startups and research institutions in the dust.

Pure Unobtanium

MIT Tech talked to Blake Johnson, the vice president of quantum engineering at a California-based quantum computer startup, who said that specialized parts like refrigerants that keep quantum computers near absolute zero and superconducting cabling are practically impossible to obtain right now.

The demand for these specialized parts is outstripping the dwindling supply. And that’s a problem: the quantum computing industry is booming right now. Yet long wait times for these components are significantly slowing down quantum research.

To make matters worse, many quantum computing components are made by only one or two companies in the entire world. Cables that conduct very little heat are made by just one  manufacturer in Japan. Refrigerant gases — including a special helium isotope called helium-3 — are a nuclear research byproduct, and thereby very difficult to obtain, according to MIT Tech.

Demand and Supply

There are several possible workarounds. Researchers could find other ways to build quantum computers that don’t require extreme cold temperatures to run. Or they could wait until manufacturers catch up with the growing demand for the components needed for today’s quantum computers.

Or, of course, economic forces might win out: smaller companies could enter the market and start manufacturing some of the rare components as demand increases.

READ MORE: We'd have more quantum computers if it weren't so hard to find the damn cables [MIT Technology Review]

More on quantum computers: IBM Just Unveiled Its First Commercial Quantum Computer

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New Chain of Clinics Will “Fill Your Veins” With Blood of Youths

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 08:42 AM PST

Ambrosia, the controversial startup clinic offering transfusions of young people's blood, has officially opened up shop in five U.S. cities.

Young Blood

Ambrosia, the controversial chain of clinics offering transfusions of young people’s blood, has officially opened up shop in five U.S. cities.

While the company’s original plan for a New York City clinic fell short, it now has locations in LA, San Francisco, Tampa, Omaha, and Houston, according to Business Insider — each of which will “fill your veins” with youthful blood, according to the business magazine.

Now, anyone who believes Ambrosia founder Jesse Karmazin’s claims that injections of blood from youthful donors can rejuvenate the body can buy one liter for $8,000, or get two liters at a real steal for $12,000.

Blood Pudding

Actual clinical results to bolster those claims have been few and far between. For instance, a study that tried to determine whether the blood of young adults could help lessen Alzheimer’s Disease symptoms was published in Jama Neurology this month — but the study only included 18 participants.

Other than that, most of the evidence that a treatment like Ambrosia’s might work comes from experiments conducted on mice, not on people.

Ambrosia still has not shared the results of its self-run clinical trial from 2017, the participants of which also had to pay the standard $8,000 per treatment, Business Insider reports.

But because the company’s treatments are technically just blood transfusions — a relatively common procedure — Ambrosia can reportedly pass under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory radar.

Dr. Acula

But the lack of hard evidence backing Ambrosia’s treatment hasn’t stopped interest from wealthy customers — Ambrosia had to form a waitlist shortly after launching its website back in September, according to Business Insider.

Whether or not the treatment does any good is still up in the air. But it seems that the idea behind it will continue to persist, regardless of what the evidence says.

READ MORE: A controversial startup that charges $8,000 to fill your veins with young blood now claims to be up and running in 5 cities across the US [Business Insider]

More on longevity: Disrupting the Reaper: Tech Titans' Quest for Immortality Rages Forward

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A Jupiter-Sized Black Hole is Floating Around The Milky Way

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 06:00 AM PST

Astronomers spotted an unusual black hole floating through the galaxy. Roughly the size of Jupiter, it's in between the two types of typical black holes.

Black Hole

Astronomers recently spotted an invisible, interstellar nomad wandering throughout the Milky Way. More specifically, scientists working at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) found evidence of rare type of black hole, according to research published on the preprint server ArXiv in December.

If the scientists are correct, that would make this Jupiter-sized black hole the third of its kind in our entire galaxy, New Scientist reports.

Mister Shadow

The team never actually saw the black hole because it’s, well, a black hole. But what they did see was a traveling cloud of celestial gases orbiting around something using a network of Chilean telescopes called the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, according to Space.com.

“When I checked the ALMA data for the first time, I was really excited because the observed gas showed obvious orbital motions, which strongly suggest an invisible massive object lurking,” Shunya Takekawa, an astrophysicist at the NAOJ told New Scientist.

Based on how that gas cloud was moving orbiting its central point, the team determined that the newly-discovered black hole is about 3,000 times more massive than our Sun — but so compact that it takes up about as much space as Jupiter, according to the research. Since about 1,000 planets the size of Jupiter could fit into the Sun, that makes this new black hole 3 million times more dense than the Sun.

Eyes Peeled

Scientists have a much better understanding of the common, comparatively tiny black holes born of collapsed stars, as well as the supermassive black holes at the center of the Milky Way.

Ultimately, this discovery opens the door to the possibility that there are many more medium-sized black holes wandering the Milky Way. Now that astronomers know to keep their eyes out for clouds of spiraling gas, other teams may soon find more and more of these bizarre and rare black holes.

READ MORE: A black hole the size of Jupiter is just wandering around the galaxy [New Scientist]


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New Microneedle Patch Delivers a Month’s Worth of Birth Control

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 04:45 AM PST

Georgia Tech researchers have created a microneedle birth control patch that women could administer themselves just once a month.

Birth Control

People need a better way to avoid getting pregnant, and researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology think they’ve found it.

On Monday, they unveiled a microneedle patch that delivers a month’s worth of contraceptive hormones in just five seconds  — and it could give women and other people who can get pregnant across the globe a new level of control over their fertility in the future.

No Great Option

Today, there are more birth control options than ever before. People can opt to take a pill once a day, receive a shot every three months, or get fitted with an intrauterine devices (IUD) or implant that can prevent pregnancy for years.

But each of these options has its drawbacks. Remembering to take a pill every day can be a pain, and many people — particularly those in developing nations — lack access to healthcare, which can make getting regular shots or an implant difficult or impossible.

One Shot

In a study published on Monday in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering, the Georgia Tech team describes a new microneedle birth control patch and argues that it could be an improvement over the alternatives.

Each patch consists of a backing material covered in tiny biodegradable needles containing the contraceptive hormone levonorgestrel. The idea is that a person would press the patch onto their body for about five seconds, and when they pulled the backing material away, the needles would remain embedded in their skin.

Over the course of the next 30 days, the needles would dissolve, delivering enough of the hormone to prevent pregnancy.

Pregnant Paws

So far the team has only tested its microneedle birth control patch on rats. The researchers also didn’t actually check if the rats could get pregnant — they only measured the animals’ hormone levels to ensure the patch delivered a dose adequate for contraception, which it did.

Still, if the patch proves effective in human trials, it could be the contraceptive option people have been waiting for, according to Gregory S. Kopf, director of R&D Contraceptive Technology Innovation at Family Health International, a nonprofit that supported the Georgia Tech team’s research.

“This self-administered long-acting contraceptive will afford women discreet and convenient control over their fertility,” Kopf said in a press release, “leading to a positive impact on public health by reducing both unwanted and unintended pregnancies.”

READ MORE: Long-Acting Contraceptive Designed to be Self-Administered Via Microneedle Patch [Georgia Tech]

More on microneedles: Newly Developed Microneedles Can Dissolve in the Skin to Deliver Drugs

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This Robot Dog Can Recover From a Vicious Kick Using AI

Posted: 16 Jan 2019 01:59 PM PST

Researchers at ETH Zurich in Switzerland taught its four-legged robot dog how to get up after being kicked using AI — a valuable life skill.

Robot Gets Knocked Down

Researchers at ETH Zurich in Switzerland taught a four-legged robot dog a valuable life skill: how to get up again after it gets knocked down. And yes, it involved evil scientists kicking and shoving an innocent robot.

The researchers used an AI model to teach ANYmal, a doglike robot made by ANYbotics, how to right itself after being knocked onto its side or back in a variety of physical environments — as opposed to giving the robot a detailed set of instructions for only one specific environment.

But It Gets Up Again

The results were published in a paper today on Science Robotics. In simple terms, the robot tried again and again to right itself in simulation, and learned from instances when a movement didn’t end up righting it. It then took what it learned and applied it to the real world.

It even learned how to run faster than it could before. Thanks to the neural network, ANYmal was also able to reach 1.5 metres per second or just over three mph in mere hours, according to New Scientist.

Never Gonna Keep It Down

Are we inching closer to a future where robot guard dogs chase us down to exact revenge on us, as seen on Netflix’s Black Mirror? Sure looks like it.

So perhaps it’s time to stop kicking robot dogs — before we know it, they’ll start learning how to protect themselves.

READ MORE: Robot dog taught itself to get back up when people kick it over [New Scientist]

More on ETH Zurich’s ANYmal: New robot dogs can deliver your lunch right to your desk

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These Recent Sci-fi Books Should Be at the Top of Your Reading List

Posted: 16 Jan 2019 12:57 PM PST

In the past, science fiction was somewhat of a niche genre catering to a relatively small cadre of loyal fans. But somewhere between Star Trek and Return of the Jedi, it burst firmly into the mainstream, and never looked back. As a result, there’s an abundance of Sci-Fi options available in today’s media landscape. From big-budget movie franchises like Star Wars and Marvel, to cult TV hits like The Expanse, we are arguably living in a golden age of science fiction.

But with such a wide array of options, it can be easy to overlook deserving content. That’s especially true in the world of science fiction literature, which is often under-marketed to the public and overshadowed by visual media. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of recent books that any true Sci-Fi fan will enjoy. So if you consider yourself a fan of science fiction, and you haven’t already read the titles listed below, you owe it to yourself to check them out.

The Oracle Year


Charles Soule is best known as a comic-book writer for iconic Marvel titles such as Daredevil, Wolverine, and Star Wars. But The Oracle Year, which was described as a “fast-paced thrill ride” that’s “filled with significant twists and turns” by the New York Journal of Books, has cemented his place as a talented science-fiction novelist.

The Oracle Year tells the story of a 20-something New York musician named Will Dando who experiences a strange dream foretelling 108 future events. But when Dando anonymously goes public with some of his predictions, and they prove to be accurate, his true identity becomes the most sought-after information on the planet. While Dando’s powers give him more wealth and power than he ever imagined, they also make him a prime target for those who feel threatened by his clairvoyance, including the US Government. As a result, he is forced to stay one-step ahead of multiple enemies while protecting himself, his friends, and the future of humanity, in the process.

The Book of M


When it comes to science fiction novels, end-of-the-world plot lines are a dime a dozen. But author Peng Shepherd has managed to put a unique twist on the well-worn genre. And in the process, she earned her novel The Book of M a spot on Amazon’s yearly list of the “Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books.”

In The Book of M, people around the world randomly begin to lose their shadows. Soon after, those afflicted with shadow loss also begin to lose their memories, along with their ability to reason. As more and more people fall victim to the terrifying, unexplained phenomenon, a young couple named Ory and Max hide out in an abandoned hotel as society collapses around them. But when Max also succumbs to the affliction and wanders away, Ory sets out into the terrifying new world to find her before it’s too late.

The Punch Escrow


Set in the year 2147, The Punch Escrow envisions an optimistic future where humanity has used technology to overcome problems such as pollution and disease. Society has also perfected the science of teleportation, which has become the world’s preferred mode of transportation. However, as with most technological advances, this proves to be a double-edged sword, and results in unforeseen problems. Specifically, when an AI specialist named Joel Byram realizes he’s been duplicated while teleporting, he becomes a target of both the corporation behind the technology and his new doppelgänger.

While technological advancements are the subject of this book, they were also instrumental in its creation. Author Tal M. Klein used money raised from a crowdfunding campaign to publish The Punch Escrow. And as a result, he’s created a book that was described as the "next Ready Player One," by former Warner Brothers President Greg Silverman.

Futurism fans: To create this content, a non-editorial team worked with an affiliate partner. We may collect a small commission on items purchased through this page. This post does not necessarily reflect the views or the endorsement of the Futurism.com editorial staff.

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A Robot Is Learning to Cook and Clean in an Ikea Kitchen

Posted: 16 Jan 2019 12:36 PM PST

Collaborative robots, or cobots, are the future, according to NVIDIA. And an Ikea kitchen could speed up their development,

Buddy Bot

Dieter Fox thinks cobots, a portmanteau for “collaborative robots,” will be a fixture of our future. These bots will operate alongside people, acting as our coworkers, companions, and caretakers.

Fox also thinks he knows how to ensure the company he works for, NVIDIA, is the one leading this new era in robotics — and it all starts with an Ikea kitchen.

Kitchen Helper

In November, NVIDIA opened a new AI Robotics Research Lab in Seattle and appointed Fox as its head. The lab already has about a dozen projects in the works, but the main one focuses on teaching a robotic arm to navigate an Ikea kitchen.

“We want to develop robots that can naturally perform tasks alongside people,” Fox said in a news release. “To do that, they need to be able to understand what a person wants to do and figure out how to help her achieve a goal.”

Baby Steps

For now, those tasks are limited to fetching items from counters and placing them in drawers. Eventually, though, the robot’s home economics curriculum could include everything from loading a dishwasher to cooking a meal.

However, as cool as it would be to have a bot serve as your sous-chef, NVIDIA’s goal isn’t simply to prepare robots for life in the kitchen.

“All of this is working toward enabling the next generation of smart manipulators that can also operate in open-ended environments where not everything is designed specifically for them,” Fox said. “By pulling together recent advances in perception, control, learning, and simulation, we can help the research community solve some of the greatest challenges in robotics.”

READ MORE: Our Seattle Forecast: Cloudy, With a 100% Chance of Robotics Innovation [NVIDIA]

More on robots: Watch the ISS's New AI Robot Companion Act Like Kind of a Brat

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Elon Musk Just Offered to Drill a Hole Through An Australian Mountain

Posted: 16 Jan 2019 12:29 PM PST

Twitter Offer

Elon Musk just made an Australian lawmaker an offer an unusual offer.

In a Twitter exchange today, the Boring Company CEO offered New South Wales parliament member Jeremy Buckingham a tunnel underneath the Blue Mountains to link Sydney to the West.

The dig would come at a competitive price of “about $15 million per kilometer, so probably around $750 million,” according to Musk’s tweet. That’s a lot less than the “up to $1 billion per mile” figure the Boring Company estimates on its website that a tunnel would cost at conventional rates. The idea would be to help Sydney’s notorious traffic.

Elon <3 Australia

The tunnel would be a followup to Tesla — a different Elon Musk venture — installing the biggest lithium-ion battery farm in the world in South Australia back in 2017. It’s a project that won a lot of goodwill among Australian lawmakers by saving local cities from energy woes.

It would also be the Boring Company’s first project outside of the U.S. Other planned projects include a tunnel that connects LA’s baseball stadium to a nearby subway line, and a high-speed connection that connects Chicago city to its airport.

Cheaper Tunnels

One of the Boring Company’s central missions is to bring down the costs of digging tunnels by developing faster and more efficient boring machines.

While we have yet to see concrete proof of the company’s ability to cut costs by “a factor of more than ten” by doing that, a tunnel that relieves Sydney’s traffic could be a lucrative and highly visible project.

READ MORE: Elon Musk Tells Lawmaker The Boring Company Can Dig Via Mountain for Cheap [Inverse]

More on Boring tunnels: Watch the Boring Company’s Digging Machine Finish Its First Tunnel

Editor’s note Jan. 16, 2019 at 5:23 PM ET: This article has been updated to correct an error about the location of Tesla’s battery farm in South Australia.

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A Floating, Virus-Sized Bead Could Help Find Dark Matter

Posted: 16 Jan 2019 12:00 PM PST

A small, levitating glass bead the size of a virus might be the long-awaited key to directly observing dark matter, if new research is to be believed.

Sensitive Measurements

Forget high-tech underground facilities spanning miles and miles — the sensor that finally detects dark matter might rest on a three-foot-long table.

Physicists at Barcelona, Spain’s Institute of Photonic Sciences recently built a new molecular scale. It’s a virus-sized bead that floats in a tiny vacuum chamber, held aloft by a focused infrared laser beam. And they say that it could be the key to detecting high-frequency waves and even dark matter, the elusive and invisible substance that makes up 85 percent of all matter in the universe, according to a new WIRED feature.

Let’s Dive In

The actual science gets circuitous, so bear with us for a moment. Research published on the preprint server ArXiv last week described how the bead can reliably and consistently measure objects as small as an individual molecule with considerably less error than existing molecular scales.

When an object such as a molecule is attached to the floating bead, the physicists can perturb it with a tiny force and determine the mass of the object by looking at how fast the bead oscillates, like a tiny metronome.

Currently, the scientists who invented the scale are working on experiments to unravel the mysteries of how gravity works by measuring the minute gravitational forces that the bead and a nearby sliver of gold exert on each other, according to WIRED. The team also hopes to use its floating bead system to detect high-frequency gravitational waves, which the scientists believe would cause the laser suspending the bead to bend out of shape.

Still With Us?

It’s that type of wave that would help physicists spot dark matter, something that so far no one has been able to do. That’s because the waves are caused when a theoretical dark matter particle called an axion runs into the powerful forces given off by a black hole, according to a different WIRED story.

Whether or not the minuscule glass bead is up to the task of finally providing us with direct evidence of dark matter is yet to be determined. But in the meantime, it shows that scientists are actively coming up with original ideas that are wildly different from the warehouse-sized detectors usually tasked with the search for dark matter.


More on dark matter: Two Nearly-Identical Dark Matter Studies Have Conflicting Results

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Scientists Claim They Can Predict Your Lifespan From Your DNA

Posted: 16 Jan 2019 11:27 AM PST

Researchers say they can give anyone a lifespan score that reveals their likelihood of living longer than average — just by looking at their DNA.

Lifespan Score

After looking at the DNA of more than half a million people, researchers from the University of Edinburgh believe they can now give anyone of any age a “lifespan score” that will predict their likelihood of living a longer-than-average life.

“If we take 100 people at birth, or later, and use our lifespan score to divide them into ten groups,” researcher Peter Joshi said in a press release, “the top group will live five years longer than the bottom on average.”

Parental Units

In a study published in the journal eLife on Tuesday, the researchers describe how they created their lifespan scoring system.

First they looked at the genetic data more than 500,000 people donated to the UK Biobank. Then they looked at the ages at which the parents of those people died.

From that comparison, they were able to identify 12 parts of the human genome that appear to significantly impact lifespan. Some of those spots had previously known associations to illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease or heart disease, but five of the regions were identified for the first time by the new research.

By analyzing genetic variations in those 12 spots, the scientists came up with their lifespan scoring system.

Looking Ahead

The goal of this study was to identify specific genes that directly influence aging speed, but unfortunately, the researchers fell short in that respect — if those genes do exist, the Edinburgh team wasn’t able to detect them through this study.

Still, the identification of the five new regions could serve as a jumping-off point for future anti-aging research, as could the team’s discovery that genes affecting the brain and the heart play the largest role in lifespan variation.

The researchers also believe home DNA testing services could provide customers with their lifespan score in the future, according to The Telegraph, meaning you might soon be able to find out for as little as $192 whether you’re likely to outlive the average person.

READ MORE: DNA May Predict Potential Lifespan, Study Finds [University of Edinburgh]

More on aging: Scientists Have Found the First Ever Anti-Aging Genetic Mutation

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China Plans to Launch Its First Mars Lander Mission Next Year

Posted: 16 Jan 2019 10:18 AM PST

China's space agency renewed its promises to launch future Mars exploration missions — including a mission to Mars as early as next year.

Collecting Rocks

China won’t be the first country to retrieve lunar soil samples at the end of 2019 as part of its upcoming Chang’e-5 mission — NASA pulled off that feat in 1969.

But if all goes according to plan, the country could make history with an even more ambitious endeavor, by bringing back samples of Martian soil in 2030.

Mars 2020

China’s space agency renewed its promises to launch future Mars exploration missions — including a mission to the Red Planet as early as next year.

And if the country’s recent space exploration missions are anything to go by, if it might just make it there. China’s National Space Administration successfully landed a spacecraft on the far side of the Moon earlier this year, and even managed to sprout a couple of cotton seeds inside an enclosed container.

More Mars Rovers

But one step at a time. China’s HX-1 — a six-wheeled lander slated for touchdown on Mars in 2021 — will explore the internal structure of the planet without grabbing a souvenir to bring back to Earth. It will however be a key step in China’s future efforts to bring back samples from Mars by 2030.

Getting there — retrieving samples or not — is far from easy to say the least. But considering the successes of China’s recent lunar missions, it might not be as much of a stretch.

READ MORE: China wants to launch to Mars next year — part of an ambitious plan to bring the first Martian soil samples back to Earth [Business Insider]

More on China’s lunar missions: Bad News: That Moon Plant Everybody Was Talking About Is Dead

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Efficient Rockets Don’t Mean Sustainable Space Travel

Posted: 16 Jan 2019 10:14 AM PST

Futurism fans: To create this content, a non-editorial team worked with SkyWay Technologies Co., who sponsored this post. They help us keep the lights on. This post does not reflect the views or the endorsement of the Futurism.com editorial staff.

In March of 2017, the private spaceflight company SpaceX made history when they re-used a rocket booster on a second launch. All told, the company spent less than half of what they normally would on that component, and for the first time, the expensive hulk of metal didn't burn up or go rusty after one use.

These are impressive cost and waste reductions to the space transport industry, sure—but they could be better. In fact, even though rocket refining and recycling is improving drastically, these space companies acknowledge their exploration devices are still expensive and inefficient.

And if the goal of improved, recyclable missions is to build a sustainable space industry, then shouldn't the way we send the gear skywards be green, too?

Even our latest rockets, for example, are still inefficient. For how hulking the structures are, they carry a tiny amount of cargo into space compared to their overall size. Only 4.5 percent of the weight on SpaceX's Falcon Heavy was actual gear—and that's a massive improvement from NASA's Space Shuttles, which were only 1 percent cargo.

All that essential, but not actually useful, extra weight jacks up the cost of a mission. Falcon Heavy launches cost $1.2 million USD per ton of payload. Again, that's a crazy improvement from earlier missions, but that many zeros on a space mission mean these launches will stay out-of-reach for consumers or smaller companies.

And then there is the environmental cost. These souped-up rockets use more fuel, and Falcon rockets rely on what's basically kerosene and oxygen. Per launch, the carbon these missions spew isn't that much. But if space flight frequency reaches the twice a month threshold that SpaceX is aiming for, experts think the overall carbon output could reach 4,400 tons a year. If every private space company chimes in with their own launch emissions, that number could climb dramatically.

There are also all the potential atmospheric impacts that we don't understand very well. Burning rocket fuel emits soot and a chemical called alumina, and scientists have started to study how these molecules break down our ozone layer, something we've been working hard to restore over several decades.

To be fair, the research on the carbon emissions and pollutants from rocket launches is barely off the ground. Experts believe as the take offs become more frequent, it will be worth investing more time and money in understanding how their byproducts affect our atmosphere. If we know what the emissions might do before their quantity sky rockets (no pun intended), it would be easier to install meaningful legislation and force the industry to make more sustainable choices.

These are the questions and possibilities we’ll have to consider eventually, and the industry isn't even at the scale so many entrepreneurs think it will eventually reach. But what if we replaced all those rockets with a different transport system? Say, an electric-powered space conveyor system?

The concept was introduced by Anatoly Yunitskiy in 1987, at a meeting intended to crowdsource new ideas on how to make the space industry less rocket-based. And in the 30 years since, Yunitskiy has honed the idea with SkyWay Technologies.

Called the Global Planetary Vehicle, this electric-powered transport system would take cargo into the stratosphere on a track. As it completes a circuit around earth, the GPV can drop off supplies at each industry station that's operating in our stratosphere. When complete, the track will deliver supplies up to 100 times a year, with cargo costs sitting around $1,000 USD per ton.

One of the GPV pods, circling its equatorial track

Why haul all these materials out to space? It’s not all just for exploration—it’s because there’s a good chance of growing the manufacturing industry out in that dark, empty expanse. Researchers are already looking at the possibility of 3D printing organs, assembling fiber optic cables and building solar panels in low-orbit. The frigid and buoyant, zero-g conditions could facilitate all these projects and more.

Additionally, manufacturing outside our atmosphere would mean any byproducts wouldn’t get trapped within our planet, and wouldn’t contribute to the earth-warming effects of expanding terrestrial industry. And seeing as the deadline to limit global warming is coming up quick, it might be worth considering what locations allow for less-harmful societal growth.

Though all the engineering components are already commonly-used, completing all the necessary research, design and construction work will take about 20 years and $2 trillion dollars—or three years of the U.S. military budget.

In fact, other engineering groups have been doing the math on similar projects called space elevators. The Tokyo-based construction group Obayashi plans to have their version built by 2050, and a research team also based in Japan began testing how elevators function in zero gravity in 2018. Nearby, a Chinese space launch group plans to have their rendition running by 2045.

Of course, the specs on these elevators compared to Yunitskiy’s GPV are slightly different. Most materials needed for the GPV are already commonly-used, while several space elevator designs are waiting on carbon nanotubes or other yet-to-be-named elements for their design. Additionally, space elevators are a simpler “there and back” system—the point of the GPV is that it can circle around the earth and deposit materials in several places.

The GPV, compared to a space elevator, makes multiple stops around the world.

There are some similarities, however, in the way space debris—the flecks and chunks of disintegrated gear whipping through our atmosphere—could damage these space systems’ infrastructure, though experts think this threat is manageable. And while there is a remote possibility a massive tether pulling into space would slow our earth’s spin down a tiny amount, the bigger question might be: Is this project worthwhile,  seeing as we have so many other problems on earth to fix?

That’s a dilemma that’s open for debate, but if the final product can take the place of all the rockets we're preparing to launch for our space industry future, investing in a single, fossil fuel-free transport system seems worth the money. And besides, it won't require any engineers to save a booster rocket from crashing into salt water.

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