Space Generation Economy
In 1957, the Russians launched the first manmade object to orbit the earth…Sputnik. A mere five years later, a new space economy began. Telstar, the first commercial satellite, looked like a beach ball encrusted with medallions. But each of those medallions was a photovoltaic panel, harvesting solar energy. Telstar used that solar energy, solar power harvested in space, to relay the first ultra-long-distance telephone calls, TV pictures, fax images, and the “the first live transatlantic television feed” to benefit from a satellite’s power to transmit a signal beyond the barriers of land and sea. Thus was the new space economy born.
Today space is a quarter of a trillion dollar industry,[i] producing as much wealth as the economy of Portugal or Ireland. But that’s just the beginning. Space Exploration Asia founder and chairman Howard Bloom predicts that once we establish the first permanent human colonies in space and mine the first asteroids or begin reaping solar power in space on a mass scale, we will triple what he calls the GPH—the gross domestic product of humanity. We will add $140 trillion to humankind’s economy.
Bloom reminds us of what happened to Europe when it opened another new frontier—the Americas. That discovery more than tripled[ii] the size of the economy in countries like England between 1500 and 1700. The same thing, says Bloom, will happen once we tap the resources of space and use them to create new farms, fields, parks, and houses in space.
Robert Zubrin, founder of the Mars Society and one of Space Exploration Asia’s advisory board members, goes farther. A former Lockheed Martin aerospace engineer, nuclear engineer, and a visionary thinker, Zubrin writes that ”there will be a ‘triangle trade,’ with Earth supplying high technology manufactured goods to Mars, Mars supplying low technology manufactured goods and food staples to the asteroid belt and possibly the Moon as well, and the asteroids and Moon sending metals and possibly helium-3 [a raw stock for nuclear fusion] to Earth. This triangle trade…is directly analogous to the triangle trade of Britain, her North American colonies, and the West Indies during the colonial period. Britain would send manufactured goods to North America, the American colonies would send food staples and needed craft products to the West Indies, and the West Indies would send cash crops such as sugar to Britain.”
Two companies have already bet on the value of that trade. They are planning to mine metals on asteroids. Those firms are:
· Planetary Resources, headed by: X-Prize Foundation Chairman and CEO and International Space University co-founder Peter Diamandis; Titanic film-maker James Cameron; Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page; and Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt.
· And Deep Space Industries, founded by Space Frontier Foundation co-founder Rick Tumlinson and including the world’s leading authority on space solar power, 25-year NASA veteran John Mankins.
Why have these two firms set their sights on asteroid mining?
A single small asteroid can provide over twenty trillion dollars’ worth of precious metals like platinum, gold, titanium, cobalt, manganese, molybdenum, osmium, palladium, rhenium, tungsten, iron, and nickel, not to mention water and oxygen.[iii] Twenty trillion dollars is more than the annual GDP of the United States. Platinum is one of the rarest metals on earth. Only 245 tons of the silvery metal were available for sale worldwide in 2010. Yet platinum is needed in automobile catalytic converters, jewelry, electrodes, turbine engines, and spark plugs. A single asteroid can contain three times more platinum than the total mined from the earth in an entire year.
But, says Zubrin, “the true value of America never was as a logistical support base for West Indies sugar and spice trade, inland fur trade, or as a potential market for manufactured goods. The true value of America was as the future home for a new branch of human civilization, one which as a combined result of its humanistic antecedents and its frontier conditions was able to develop into the most powerful engine for human progress and economic growth the world had ever seen. The wealth of America was in the fact that she could support people, and that the right kind of people chose to go to her. People create wealth, people create power. People are wealth and power. Every feature of frontier American life that acted to create a practical can-do culture of innovating people will apply to Mars a hundred-fold.”
And Mars will not be the only economic powerhouse to arise in space. Migrate to a space colony, and you can have a house and garden that would make Bill Gates jealous. Why? Because the things you make will prove invaluable back on earth.
Concludes Zubrin, “What the Mediterranean was to the Greeks, what the New World was to the Western Europeans, Mars will be to the pioneering nations of the next several centuries; the engine of progress of the coming era. As America showed in the 19th Century, such an engine of can pull far more than its own weight.”
State of the Satellite Industry Report, May 2012
The Economic Viability of Mars Colonization