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Something that can self-replicate is still not something that can self-replicate over millions of years and through millions of generations in the harsh environment of interstellar space, feeding off of and taking advantage of any arbitrary material it might find for self-replication and reaction mass, while still maintaining a consistent exponential growth curve throughout the galaxy.

That's not "modest resources and marginally better technology than us", that's perilously close to being magic. Not even viruses, the most aggressive and efficient self-replicators we know of, have managed to consume all the biomass on the planet, or could reasonably be expected to do so.




> feeding off of and taking advantage of any arbitrary material it might find for self-replication and reaction mass

This is a false premise. It doesn't have to do anything this fancy.

You can expect that any given asteroid is likely to have a certain amount of iron, carbon, silicon, nickel, etc.

In almost any solar system, you can mine the materials needed for construction very easily. Solar gives you enough energy to do (slow, deliberate) resource extraction from asteroids.

As for propellant and reaction mass, we already know nuclear explosions work excellently. Unfortunately, based on analysis of meteors we don't expect asteroids to have great heavy-metal concentrations; on the order of 10ppb for Uranium. This presents a challenge, but not an insurmountable one; it just means that you'll probably want to get explosive materials closer to the center of the system.

> Not even viruses, the most aggressive and efficient self-replicators we know of, have managed to consume all the biomass on the planet, or could reasonably be expected to do so.

This is true, but 100% irrelevant to the challenges of creating space-based manufacturing capable of reproducing all its own components.




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