Essays to a Liberal - The Space Economy Pt3
by Ferris Valyn, Mon Mar 10, 2008 at 05:35:24 PM EDT
Here is the 2nd part, of a 3 part series, on the space economy. You can read the first part by clicking here.
In this piece, I talk about suborbital space business.
Before I begin, there are 4 video links in today's diary - please click and watch each one, as you read the diary - I tried to embed the video, but it didn't embed properly, so please click the video links, before you continue with your reading
As you read in yesterday's diary, you can do a lot with sub-orbital space - much more so than atmospheric space. But there are just some things that need more than 5 minutes in space, or a few minutes of weightlessness. So, for these things, you need to go into orbit. It's just that simple. And while you can do some things on a spaceship that can spend a few days, or even a week or two, a dedicated facility that is permanently there is much better.
And the great news is, we've got one - ISS. I know a lot of people say that ISS isn't going to be useful, and they complain about it, on and on. And I won't argue that ISS has its problems. But the decision to make the US section into a national lab was, I'd argue, a very smart one. Because it can rent out space to companies/groups/universities, who want to either develop things, or, even more importantly, produce things. Here, I am going to pause, and turn it over to Tom Pickens III. Tom is president of Spacehab. For those who don't know - Spacehab was started in the 80s, originally with the idea of flying tourists in a module on board the shuttle. Obviously that never happened, but Spacehab went on to create a module that they would mount in the shuttle cargo bay, and fly experiments up into space.
Anyway, here is Tom Pickens, speaking at the second Space Investment Summit, part of ISDC 2007.
As Mr Pickens says, for us to be able to do production in space, you need a dedicated space facility that is in orbit, 24/7. And with making the ISS (at least the US part) a national lab, many different companies / organizations / agencies / individuals can utilize that space - for R&D, or production.
Okay, great, so we have a production floor - what the hell are we going to produce? Again, this is where the weightlessness comes into play.
Well, lets rejoin Mr. Pickens, and learn what we can produce
We all understand the possibilities of stem cells, and what they could potentially do. We don't want to tie researcher's hands because of funding, and we shouldn't be doing that when it comes to what environment they need to produce it in.
Mr Pickens isn't done though.
The value is there - businesses are being planned and built around this - Spacehab is doing some of the setup, and there are others.
Mr. Pickens does talk about the necessity of needing up-mass capability - ie we need assured regular access, as cheap as we can make it. Now, I know everyone thinks that cheap access will require a huge technological leap, like a space elevator, or a Star Trek transporter. In fact, if you look at what is happening within the emerging spaceflight sector (ie NewSpace), you'll see that it's very close. I will into this more indepth in a future edition.
Here we come to the final part of Tim Pickens' talk
Perfect substrates that would give you significant computing power; stem cells that can deal with a variety of diseases - these are products about which companies are formed, and can have MAJOR impact on improving the economy.
Now, it is also important to understand that the capability for on-orbit manufacturing and processing doesn't begin and end with ISS. We also have the Bigelow Space stations coming. Sundancer, their first manned station, is on schedule to be launched in 2010. Bigelow is known to be interested in SpaceX potentially providing some delivery capability, but they are also in discussions with Lockheed Martin. Bigelow Aerospace has, in fact, offered up contracts worth a total of $750 billion dollars, to provide access to their stations.
The Bigelow space stations are being designed and developed such that they can be leased out, and become space business parks. Bigelow has talked about renting them to business, organizations, and countries.
And that means, in addition to the manufacturing going on, you also have the potential for other uses, some of them translating from the lower level space business, like a true orbital hotel.
Now, here is the other thing about these jobs - space jobs are inherently job multipliers. Much like how manufacturing jobs create more jobs, so too for space jobs. Zero-g manufacturing will probably produce more jobs than space tourism, but don't fool your self into thinking that space tourism can't have a major impact. When launch prices fall, many more people will take advantage of it. And with more people taking advantage of it, more money will be spent, and we'll see more jobs get created. This is why space is so attractive - introducing space into our economy is a positive-sum game, as it benefits everyone. And, as people spend more dedicated time in space, there will need to be people on the ground, watching over them, making sure they stay alive.
In a future edition, I will focus on why I believe we are looking at a major cost reduction in price to orbit, however, I do want to say one quick thing about it right now - all of these business will continue to push towards cheaper cost, and will push for more flights into space. That being the case, we can finally get a positive feedback loop, and suddenly the idea of space based solar power makes a lot more sense. But that's for the next installment.
Its worth noting that everything I've mentioned here has a good likelihood of happening during the next presidential administration - not in 50-100 years, but very very soon. These investments can help us deal with our economic problems, and will allow for our economy to really grow. The positive sum-game, from space, and the multiplier effect, will raise the standard of living for everyone. Dennis Wingo recently talked about how economic development of the solar system can help us, and some of the implications for NASA. It's a good read, and it will talk about some of the points I will hit in future pieces, as well.
Also, space development and economic growth from space doesn't end with just what I've talked about here - there are mineralogical resources that can be utlized from space, as well as large scale manufacturing, just to name two. However, these are a little further down the road, and as yet, companies aren't be built around them. However, if we invest in space, it wont' be too long before there are companies being formed.
Space truly can help everyone, and the economic growth seen from space development can create jobs, and have as big or bigger impact on our economy and our way of life than the internet. To quote a friend of mine
As long as we limit ourselves to earth, we limit our economy