At the present time there is not a viable purely economic argument in favor of space exploration. With the cost of sending just one kilogram into orbit at between $5,000 and $10,000 (US 2013), access to space remains within the realm of governmental control. The cost of launching an object into space has not decreased since Apollo 11 went to the moon in 1969, and the cost of launching the space shuttle was a whopping $400 million a flight. This effectively allows governments (along with their associated bureaucracy and political chains) to control the space agenda, completely shutting out the private interests of capable, forward-thinking individuals and organizations.
It is our opinion that the only way to make interstellar space travel a reality this century is through the introduction of competitive market forces to drive the cost of launch down to a fraction of current levels. This means, of course, the privatization of space.
The Privatization of Space
Some believe that the popularization of space will lead to greater economies in space travel, we agree with this theory based on free market principles. Greater demand will lead to more entrants into the ‘market’, creating competition which fuels efficiencies, innovation, and lower prices which in turn generates an even greater demand. Economics 101. NASA has recognized this potential competition for 20 years. In 1994 they sponsored a symposium entitled “What is the Value of Space Exploration?”
NASA needs to change its relationship with the private sector as well. “The commercial space sector is at last becoming important,” and “NASA has to see itself as complementary to, and integrated with,” the launch business, the remote sensing industry, and other sectors “in a way in which it simply didn’t have to 10 years ago because these sectors didn’t really exist,”
-W. Bowman Cutter
-Deputy Assistant to the President for Economic Policy
Paving the Road to Beyond
The European Space Agency in their “A Review of the Long-Term Options for Space Exploration and Utilisation” has suggested that space exploration should progress in the sequence: 1) space tourism, 2) space solar power, http://www.spacedaily.com/news/ssp-03b.html 3) Moon exploration, and 4) Mars exploration. We agree and embrace these goals in the interest of developing the necessary social acceptance, technology, and infrastructure required to cross the interstellar distances. In addition to these, however, the economic motivators such as manufacturing and orbital power stations need to be considered.
Stateside, In May 2012, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) made a successful roundtrip journey to the International Space Station. After delivering about a ton of supplies, the craft’s capsule (dubbed “Dragon”) returned to Earth carrying broken equipment, samples from experiments, and other items a few weeks later. The craft and its activities were based on a $1.6 billion NASA contract. The mission may have marked phase one in a new space travel standard in the near future.
Motivations for Private Enterprise
Space Tourism is the term that’s come to be used to mean ordinary members of the public buying tickets to travel to space and back. Many people find this idea futuristic. But over the past few years a growing volume of professional work has been done on the subject, and it’s now clear that setting up commercial space tourism services is a realistic target for business today.
Satellite Solar Power Stations (SSPS)
A geosynchronous orbit is on the Earth’s equatorial plane with a radius at which a satellite matches the Earth’s angular velocity, and is stationary with respect to an observer on the Earth’s surface. This orbit lends itself to communications, monitoring of the Earth’s surface, and power transmission to the Earth’s surface, all of which need to be done more or less continuously without interruption of service. The power transmission concepts call for the collection of solar power by huge satellites, conversion to electrical power by either photovoltaic and transmission to the Earth by 10 cm microwave power beams. On the Earth’s surface the power is to be received, rectified and then fed into the power grid. MORE
The weightless environment of space can be exploited for manufacturing of valuable products which cannot be produced on Earth, such as pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, hyper-pure materials and exotic alloys. Additionally, the pollutant-laden process of manufacturing products and chemicals could be moved off-world where the by-products so harmful to the delicate terrestrial ecosystem could be more safely dispersed into space. As with the other potential market drivers, a reduction of launch costs for such ventures could become extremely economic, and provide a major route for terrestrial economic expansion, as well as presenting ecological advantages. Cheaper Reusable Launch Vehicles (RLV’s) are a key ingredient in making space a viable economic industry.
The resources, in terms of mineral deposits, tied up in asteroids, the moon, Mars and other bodies could provide off-world mining sites that would allow us to stop or reduce terrestrial resource mining. The natural resources in space include metallic nickel-iron alloy, silicate minerals, hydrated minerals, bituminous material, and various volatiles, including water, ammonia, carbon dioxide, methane, and others. These have all been identified either in meteorites, or spectroscopically in asteroids and comets. Any industrial development in space requiring more than about a thousand tonnes of structural mass or propellant per year will direct attention to these materials as ores, in the true mining engineering sense. -More-
Laboratories in space could perform experiments you wouldn’t want to do on Earth because of the risks involved to the population. Potential deadly experiments with viruses and bacteria that hold the possibility of mass casualty in the event of an accident could more safely be performed from either space stations or planetary scientific outposts, greatly reducing the risk of catastrophe.