When Hawks did his first laboratory experiment in december 2017 he was looking for a means to push dirt from flat screen solar panels using minimum electrical current. Hawks was a poor researcher working in some dismal US east coast laboratory and he had a pretty dismal methamphetamine habit. So he didn’t realize the implications of his repulsor plate technology. In his private references he briefly mentioned the consequences of the uncannily range of the push. He saw no practical application for the technology and assumed marketing this would be nothing but misery, with all the patent trolls of that era, so he put it up for auction to the highest bidder. Within 12 hours hobbyists world wide had appropriated the blueprints for the repulsor plates and were printing and improving upon the original design. It took 3 weeks for someone to come up with a completely new application.
In 2021 a team of Indians assembled a primitive version of the now familiar wedge composite for repulsing mass. The plates alternates about 20 meters and were powered with solar energy. The team lifted the plates a good 50 meters and shot a coke can twice as high. Someone quipped “just add plates in good weather and we could go up all the way in to space”. With a modest bank loan the same team was raising a pearl strand of 3D printed wedges up 5 kilometers, lifting up masses as big as a bathtub and plummeting them in to the Indian ocean. It was quite a sight, these waving ephemeral strands of thin fillament cable reaching up in the sky. People used to think they were kites, until the weather changed and they came plummeting down like the solid metal plates they were. But the process scaled indefinitely and someone, still India, came up with launching a human being wrapped in tinfoil, with a parachute. This became an instant sport, and it was cheap too. Raise a jacobs ladder, switch on the remote repulsors and watch the whole thing raise up in the sky crackling and clanging. Those early device cycled every 8 seconds and it was literally possible to launch a 100 kilo human being with a firm 8G slingshot up in the sky. Going up was quite exhilarating, being catapulted up full force with magnetic repulsion and flying into the stratosphere over plate after plate, the endless track of repulsors swaying in the wind. The media came down hard on this, calling it revolutionary.
Then North Korea appropriated the technology and started launching nanosatellites over Japan, and the tone of the dialogue changed to raw panic. Every demented third world dictator could now create a satelite launch system at the fraction of the cost and eject objects in to ballistic orbits.
A few years later everyone was. Hundreds of small companies experimented with every high wedge strands. Records were broken every few months, first recharging rate, the weight, then energy efficiency, then altitude. Angling the plates against the rotation of the planet would substantially reduce recharge rate, but did improve orbital velocity.
The first object to reach independent, nonpropelled orbit with a strand occured in 2027, launched from a German hobby club in Algeria. They had been working on the track for months, and the wedge strands reached up 180 kilometers in to the sky, 50 meters apart, that was 360 ton of pre-printed material carried by bulk carrier from Hamburg and printed with Algerian solar locally. These tracks were elevated over a pathway sometimes tens of kilometers long and raising them took days. Put put them up in a region with dry, clear weather and the plates could keep up for months. If it rained or stormed they’d come crashing down, so you couldn’t raise them in populated areas.
Fast forward ten years to the 2030s and people were launching shuttles. The tracks didn’t have to be very high with shuttles. Just add a small booster rocket and the vehicles would coast up to 250 kilometers, drop a little and then the main propulsion would kick in and accelerate lift these crafts to stable orbit. Launch costs and launch infrastructures dropped to lower than what it would cost to launch an airliner of equivalent mass to the same altitude. From then on it was just exponential rates – bigger strands, higher strands, fast recharge rates. The biggest ever build so far was erected in 2045 in New Mexico, could lift 200 ton objects at a rate of one per half hour.
This opened up the solar system. Mass was being ejected at a rate of one ton per second, world wide, since 2030, and going up exponentially. People asked for a while “why would anyone go up there” and the answer turned out simple as it came with fast decreasing energy costs. Before 2050 the Earth had an ephemeral ring visible from all over the planet composed of stations, satellites, cables and energy processing. What was more relevant in the 2040s there was no need to ever dangle down the wedges again – just cycle them up one after another and feed electricity downwards from orbit. The places push one another up in fullerene webs and the more you added the stabler the pearl strands were, as long as it didn’t storm or rain. Even the most advanced wedges lose their charge in rain even now.
Humanity has made rapid progress by discrete steps. Imagine in what nightmare we would have been if this technology didn’t come along – we would have all been stuck on the planet, dirt poor, with wars everywhere, natural resources depleting. But by 2050 we had doubled our global energy consumption and only some historical re-enactment fan boys were still using petrochemical fuels. So here we are. A hundred million people in space and we are migrating them up as fast as we can ferry them out. There’s talk of a Mars colony now, and people are lining up. The moon is lit now, the dark side covered in glowing cities, and it hasn’t even been a century.