>Here's a question for our aerospace professionals (and space groupies like
>me): How quickly after the development of a general purpose programmable
>assembler could a completely "de novo space program" be developed, and how
>many (or rather, how few) people with what expertise would be necessary to do
As long as we are fantasizing about this, let's define the rules properly.
>(i.e. the ability to make diamonoid structures of arbitrary size and
>complexity and thence the ability to extract basic elementary chemicals
>Given state-of-the art CAD circa, say, 2015
And I'd add that said CAD was written and tested ahead of time for use with your general purpose assembler. And that you can obtain the use of same without government/military/Luddite mob oversight. And you have a launch site far from control by any hostile government (for example, far from the U.S. government).
And, assuming that pre-general-purpose-assembler nanotech does not make your question a moot point,
My answer is: one person. Not very long to get to orbit, months, but a long time to self-sufficiency. More people, much less time, to a point. I think a networked bunch of space enthusiasts like us could do a very respectable job in a few years, given fatal motivation. You are asking for complete independence from earth? Much harder than partial independence.
Maybe a good question would be: what would be the optimum number of people for the project? I think about 200, and they all get to go up as soon as possible. A genetically, socially stable village.
Goals in order might be:
-Transport to earth orbit
-low orbit space station, initially a few folks (and an assembler: station grows and morphs)
-Transport up an enormous mass of raw material and propellants, far more than immediately needed, then: material independence from earth.
-Trans lunar transport and lunar landing -Lunar mining (and another outpost, more people) -Efficient launch of mass from lunar surface (mechanical, forget that sillymass driver idea)
It's a lot to contemplate, and it won't come easily. As has been mentioned in other replies so far, pre-design would help a lot, but I guess that wouldn't start in earnest until the assembler appears immanent. And there is always a lot to learn about reality.
On the other hand, if the goal is to get-the-hell-out-of-here ASAP without being detected, I imagine:
A secret development project among a handful of fanatics begins, to design and simulate the whole shebang before launching anything. Some time passes. Then, with no warning, from the depths of the ocean rises a 100,000,000KG launch vehicle carrying 200 colonists and a whole lot of raw material. A luck has it, only one ocean going ship is destroyed by the sound footprint (10 KM from the launch site in mid-ocean). 2,000,000KG makes it to earth escape velocity on a Hohman transfer orbit to mars or the asteroids. The Earth's military goes on high alert and prepair to launch until they realize the ship isn't coming back. On the way there, the colonists figure out how to survive.