All posts by Lucy Ingham

Historic Seasteading agreement to see floating city built in French Polynesia

A landmark agreement has been signed between the government of French Polynesia and the Seasteading Institute that lays the foundations for the establishment of a floating city in the country’s waters.

Signed on Friday, 13th January, the agreement will see the government and non-profit cooperate to develop a legal framework for what they are now calling The Floating Island Project.

Although located within the territorial waters of French Polynesia, the floating island will have its own governing framework and economic regulations, allowing it to attract businesses with offers of low – if any – taxation and little red tape.

However, it should also offer significant benefits to the nation, by not only bringing jobs and preventing a brain drain on the archipelagos, but also offering resilience to rising sea levels associated with climate change.

“Our seasteading collaboration with French Polynesia was initiated by the Tahitians themselves and will bring jobs, economic growth, and environmental resiliency to the region,” explained Randolph Hencken, executive director of the Seasteading Institute.

“Signing the memorandum of understanding with French Polynesia is an important first step, and a huge milestone for seasteading.”

Images courtesy of The Seasteading Institute

The agreement is a vital step in what has already been a long journey towards the development of such a floating city. Back in September, a delegation from the Seasteading Institute examined multiple sites around French Polynesia, as well as meeting with several of the nation’s senior ministers.

Now a memorandum of understanding (MOU) has been signed, the next steps will be to complete and extensive environmental assessments of the ocean and seabed, as well as the completion of an economic analysis by the Seasteading Institute to demonstrate the financial benefits to the nation.

“The Seasteading Institute and the government of French Polynesia will draw from the best practices of more than 4,000 existing Special Economic Zones around the world to create a ‘Special Economic SeaZone,’” added Hencken.

“The SeaZone will combine the advantages of French Polynesia’s geopolitical location with unique regulatory opportunities specifically designed to attract businesses and investors.”

When construction finally begins on the floating islands, it will be funded by investors in the Seasteading Institute, with a total anticipated cost somewhere between $10m and $50m. The floating platforms that will house the city have already been designed by Dutch engineering firm Blue21, meaning the focus now is on making the concept work for the area.

The organisation plans for many businesses on the floating island to be areas of clean-tech, meaning there are likely to be numerous skilled jobs available to the people of French Polynesia.

“We need to create new clean-tech and blue economy jobs for our youth, and this project has the potential to be a real game-changer locally,” said Marc Collins, former Minister of Tourism for French Polynesia. “This project could help us retain our bright minds, who would otherwise emigrate for work.”

However, with many of the country’s islands under threat from rising sea levels, the project also could provide a long-term survival solution for the nation.

“Polynesian culture has a long history of seafaring across the Pacific Ocean that will contribute to this ambitious project. More than most nations, our islands are impacted by rising sea levels, and resilient floating islands could be one tangible solution for us to maintain our populations anchored to their islands,” added Collins.

“For many Polynesians, leaving our islands is not an option.”

NASA safety panel calls for establishment of “Mars Czar” ahead of “fragile” manned mission to Red Planet

The NASA Aerospace Advisory Panel has described current plans for a manned mission to Mars as “fragile”, and has called for the establishment of a “Marz Czar” or a specialist mission office that would ensure the agency was adequately prepared to complete the unprecedented mission.

The calls were part its 2016 annual report on safety in the agency, which has been presented to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, President of the Senate Joe Biden and Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan, as well as being published online yesterday.

“The Panel notes that significant progress has been made in identifying the needed capabilities, deciding on potential risk reduction strategies, and assessing the status of the specific technologies, including whether they are sufficiently funded. However, at some point, it will be necessary to provide a more focused evaluation of potential mission architectures in order to have confidence that the needed technologies have been properly funded and that they will be available in time to be incorporated into the actual flight hardware,” the panel wrote in the report.

“Establishment of a Mars Mission Program Office and/or designation of a “Mars Czar” could facilitate the completion of the needed trade studies and ensure that limited funds are being spent on the appropriate technical challenges.”

The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel also cast doubt on the viability of NASA’s current plans, suggesting that even a small hiccup could jeopardise the entire mission.

“At this point in the process, no decisions on specific system architectures have been made. However, it is the Panel’s understanding that even with a SLS [Space Launch System] lift capability of 130 tons, there would be a need for multiple launches per mission potentially augmented with the use of other vehicles such as the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle. With notional NASA out-year budgets assuming one SLS launch per year, plus the long trip times involved (800 to 1,100 days away from Earth), current plans to carry out the Journey to Mars appear to be somewhat “fragile”,” the panel wrote.

“Since SLS would carry the most critical items into deep space, a delay or technical failure on a single launch could significantly impact the entire mission. This should make reliability a high priority for SLS.”

Images courtesy ofNASA

The panel also suggested that the agency could get involved with privately run missions to the Moon in order to use the lunar surface as a testing ground, and ultimately make plans more robust to hitches.

“One option to address this issue would be to take advantage of potential commercial and/or international activities to create a more robust exploration architecture. These commercial and international partnerships could also potentially provide opportunities for NASA to test technologies and systems on the lunar surface. Even if NASA chooses not to take a leadership role in human missions to the Moon, there may be other opportunities to gain valuable experience—with large landers and ascent vehicles, with the operation of systems for in-situ resource extraction, with large-scale habitation systems, and with the long-term impact of dust on space suits and other mechanical systems,” the panel wrote.

“Testing these systems first on the Moon could help to increase the robustness of the overall space infrastructure, enhance the cislunar space economy, and increase the safety of the Mars missions themselves.”