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damienpaul
2006-Mar-05, 11:47 AM
Profits set to soar in outer space
Prepare for liftoff: The space business may be the most incredible new opportunity of your lifetime.
Business 2.0 Magazine
By Chris Taylor, Business 2.0 Magazine
February 27, 2006: 3:39 PM EST

(Business 2.0) - Let's not wax sentimental about our space exploits thus far. The Apollo era was heroic, but beating the Soviets to the moon never provided a compelling economic reason to return. (We didn't even get Teflon or Tang as spinoffs--both were invented before 1960.)

The shuttle and the international space station continued this record of dismal return on investment. Small wonder, then, that most private-sector investors have focused instead on more earthly pursuits. Only one thing will prod us into the cold, hard vacuum of space, and that's the prospect of earning cold, hard cash.

CNN Money.com (http://money.cnn.com/2006/02/27/technology/business2_guidetospaceintro/index.htm?cnn=yes)

So what, asides from tourism, could a profitable space enterprise include?

The Supreme Canuck
2006-Mar-05, 06:01 PM
Well, when we get fusion going, He3 mining on the Moon would be great. Also, when we set up colonies, transportation and supply will be good business.

Ara Pacis
2006-Mar-05, 06:02 PM
The more I think about it the more I think that there are reasons other than tourism.

1. Communications. This will continue to be a key sector in space economics.

2. Solar power stations. Even if they don't become useful for terrestrial use, they may be useful for beaming power to various satellites such as manned orbiting facilities. Imagine the huge area of solar panels on a tourism space hotel... it might block views! A space hotel could have a small or retractable MW dish that receives high power beams from a separate solar power station. Maybe the orbiting power station uses fission too, but few tourists would want a fission plant on the space hotel itself.

3. Solar Weather systems. Satellites, earth bound systems, and interplanetary exeditions need to be alerted to changes in solar weather and this will require several satellites in solar orbit, helioseismology notwithstanding.

4. Mining. A lot of people have tried to claim this and a lot of people have tried to debunk this. The truth is that a lot of money can be made if we create an efficient means of harvesting certain small objects. This will become more feasible as people start placing higher and higher premiums on wilderness areas, biodiversity, and population centers threatened by mining pollution in earth's biosphere.

For example: if it takes $1B to find and setup a mineral extraction operation, another $1B for operations, and another $1B to clean up the ecological mess, and a final $1B in lost revenue due to land sequestration from other uses for the life of the contamination (a total of $4B), all for X tons of mineral Y; then it may be economically feasible to do space mining if X tons of mineral Y can be extracted for a total cost of $4B OR if the total amortized cost of mining an object for mineral Y averages out to $4B per X tons. (B nominally indicates a billion dollars here, but it could be a variable for any monetary amount.)

5. Manufacturing. There are certain things that are hard, if not impossible, to fabricate on earth due to atmospheric and gravity effects. Initially, the market would probably be for high cost high tolerance specialized equipment, like components for supercomputers or aeronautics or even racecar engines. The cost of a manufacturing facility will be amortized over an increasing number of products and the costs of raw materials acquisition will decrease (from cheaper launches or from space mining). This will allow for larger runs of (somewhat) lower cost items, along the lines of optional luxury/performance car engines that will still benefit from the higher tolerances possible in space manufacturing.

6. Retail and Service Industries. A military base almost always has a PX, so a long term space base in orbit, on Luna or on Mars, will develop a need for people to service the scientists, technicians, and other project workers. Sure, on a small base, people will take turns cooking, but as a base grows to hundreds and thousands of people they will want to stop "roughing it" and start acting civilized. And one of the central tenets of civilization is division of labor. On the sociological side, it gives a non-technically skilled person a value and a reason to be near their spouse who may be one of the scientists, or technicians or other project workers. Civilized living increases morale, which increases productivity, which increases the return on investment.

antoniseb
2006-Mar-05, 07:34 PM
I suspect that by the end of the century most space commerce will be manufacturing things to be used in space. Some very lightweight expensive things MIGHT get shipped back down to Earth (pharmaceuticals, nanochips?), but most stuff will be used outside the atmosphere and gravity well of Earth.

Ara Pacis
2006-Mar-05, 09:10 PM
I suspect that by the end of the century most space commerce will be manufacturing things to be used in space. Some very lightweight expensive things MIGHT get shipped back down to Earth (pharmaceuticals, nanochips?), but most stuff will be used outside the atmosphere and gravity well of Earth.

Why? There are more potential customers on earth than not on earth.

edit for misspelling

The Supreme Canuck
2006-Mar-05, 09:22 PM
S'true. Particularily since you can't make some of that stuff down here.

antoniseb
2006-Mar-05, 09:38 PM
Why? There are more potential customers on earth than not on earth.
It's just like with ebay, the Delivery and Handling costs need to be watched carefully. I expect that in 95 years, someone will be mining a metal asteroid and making mining equipment and habitat parts.

We have plenty of metal on the surface of the Earth for manufacture of things used on Earth.

Ara Pacis
2006-Mar-06, 08:12 AM
It's just like with ebay, the Delivery and Handling costs need to be watched carefully. I expect that in 95 years, someone will be mining a metal asteroid and making mining equipment and habitat parts.

We have plenty of metal on the surface of the Earth for manufacture of things used on Earth.

Delivery costs from LEO to ground are not tremendously high. It's shipping things up that is costly.

Damburger
2006-Mar-06, 09:27 AM
Space is never going to be significantly explored by people whose thought processes always end in dollar signs. Our best space ventures have been motivated by higher concepts than material gain.

Commercial space travel is limited to satellites and novelty 'spacecraft' like SpaceShipOne. The fact that private spending on space exceeds government spending on space is irrelevant when private spending is not being used to do any exploration.

It will not, in any immediate future, be worth going to space to get resources for use on Earth. Despite the (quite valid) concerns of environmentalists, we aren't going to be that desperate any time soon that we have to look off world.

Tolls
2006-Mar-06, 02:21 PM
Delivery costs from LEO to ground are not tremendously high. It's shipping things up that is costly.

I think that's part of what antoniseb is saying. If you have someone (anyone) conducting mining operations off earth then you will need to provide their equipment...eventually, presuming that off-earth mining becomes big business, the manufacturing of the equipment will be shifted off earth for the very reason you say. It's costly to get stuff up there from here.

Obviously not something that's going to happen straight away, and equally obviously there's a balance of costs to think of...is it more cost effective to launch the manufactured goods up there than it is to launch the factory (plus any support required)?

Ilya
2006-Mar-06, 03:28 PM
S'true. Particularily since you can't make some of that stuff down here.
Nothing particularly useful that can not be made on the ground has been discovered yet. And people have been trying for at least 20 years.

Doodler
2006-Mar-06, 03:33 PM
Space is never going to be significantly explored by people whose thought processes always end in dollar signs. Our best space ventures have been motivated by higher concepts than material gain.

Exploration has always been about material gain. Better hunting, better climate for agriculture, better plunder of primitive societies, and a desire for more efficient trade routes. You don't mount up and travel thousands of miles for a few rocks and some untwinkling stars unless someone's willing to foot the bill. And that someone is likely the kind of person looking for further gain for their effort.

There's nothing wrong with this philosophy, the exploitation of new resources isn't inherently selfish or evil. The irresponsible management of resource exploitation is selfish and in some cases outright evil, but that's a matter of societal ethics than nobility of purpose.

I'll venture my own opinion on what breakthrough is going to be needed to make a space economy work, and that's people who are willing to go up and stay there, along with the technology to support them. Whether its Progress style replenishment missions in exchange for local resources returned to Earth or a self-sustainable on site life support system (not likely for a while), the real boot to the butt that's going to push the whole thing off is a large enough mission that puts people out there that want to live there.

Even 1500 years ago, the European explorers of the western hemisphere understood that the best way to make use of the resources in the Americas was to put people there to stay on site year round, sending materials home. Putting a colony over in the Americas was a risky venture, and hideously expensive, but the long term returns on that investment made the risk worth the effort.

Resource recovery on the Moon will be no different. The bar is substantially higher, but the rewards are no less worth the investment. We're eventually going to need to put a Jamestown up there, and we're going to have to accept the reality that we'll likely also put a Roanoake or two up there while we're trying to conquer this new world. On the upshot, at least there are no native populations to be abused.

Damburger
2006-Mar-06, 08:59 PM
Exploration has always been about material gain. Better hunting, better climate for agriculture, better plunder of primitive societies, and a desire for more efficient trade routes. You don't mount up and travel thousands of miles for a few rocks and some untwinkling stars unless someone's willing to foot the bill. And that someone is likely the kind of person looking for further gain for their effort.


Exploration of Earth, yes. But you won't find better climtes, hunting or land on other planets in this solar system.



There's nothing wrong with this philosophy, the exploitation of new resources isn't inherently selfish or evil. The irresponsible management of resource exploitation is selfish and in some cases outright evil, but that's a matter of societal ethics than nobility of purpose.


Evil doesn't come into it. Greed simply doesn't look ahead. People will consume almost all the resources on Earth before it becomes viable to get them from other planets - and by that point we might not be able to get to other planets.



I'll venture my own opinion on what breakthrough is going to be needed to make a space economy work, and that's people who are willing to go up and stay there, along with the technology to support them. Whether its Progress style replenishment missions in exchange for local resources returned to Earth or a self-sustainable on site life support system (not likely for a while), the real boot to the butt that's going to push the whole thing off is a large enough mission that puts people out there that want to live there.


This I agree with - but the people who leave Earth won't leave because they think theres gold in them thar asteroids - they'll leave because they feel they were born on the wrong planet in the first place.

If they leave, only the insanely wealthy could afford to be supplied from Earth, and there are too few of them to found a colony. Any colonnisation effort would have to be a one shot, self supporting effort.



Even 1500 years ago, the European explorers of the western hemisphere understood that the best way to make use of the resources in the Americas was to put people there to stay on site year round, sending materials home. Putting a colony over in the Americas was a risky venture, and hideously expensive, but the long term returns on that investment made the risk worth the effort.


I really think this is a bad analogy. Ocean travel is far easier than space travel, and the new world had resources the old world did not. There is likely nothing on the Moon or Mars or anywhere else in the solar system we cannot acquire on Earth. (I've yet to be convinced that the whole Helium 3 thing is ever going to be worthwhile)



Resource recovery on the Moon will be no different. The bar is substantially higher, but the rewards are no less worth the investment. We're eventually going to need to put a Jamestown up there, and we're going to have to accept the reality that we'll likely also put a Roanoake or two up there while we're trying to conquer this new world. On the upshot, at least there are no native populations to be abused.

What will be worth bringing back?

Ara Pacis
2006-Mar-07, 03:10 AM
Evil doesn't come into it. Greed simply doesn't look ahead. People will consume almost all the resources on Earth before it becomes viable to get them from other planets - and by that point we might not be able to get to other planets.

Actually, I think evil and greed have historically been forward looking. Hitler was greedy for liebensraum and wanted the money in the banks run by the Jews. Japan wanted oil and other resources before they attacked the US. It's the contented populace that doesn't bother going to the polls for a change in fortune.


This I agree with - but the people who leave Earth won't leave because they think theres gold in them thar asteroids - they'll leave because they feel they were born on the wrong planet in the first place.

Will they do the Time Warp dance?


If they leave, only the insanely wealthy could afford to be supplied from Earth, and there are too few of them to found a colony. Any colonnisation effort would have to be a one shot, self supporting effort.

Price Controls.


I really think this is a bad analogy. Ocean travel is far easier than space travel, and the new world had resources the old world did not. There is likely nothing on the Moon or Mars or anywhere else in the solar system we cannot acquire on Earth. (I've yet to be convinced that the whole Helium 3 thing is ever going to be worthwhile)

There's one thing we can get on earth and no where else, right now: Skies of blue and couds of white, the bright blessed day and the dark sacred night. And we think to ourselves: what a wonderful world. We won't go into space to find it anywhere else. We will go to space to keep it clean on earth, by making our messes out there.

Damburger
2006-Mar-07, 04:21 AM
Actually, I think evil and greed have historically been forward looking. Hitler was greedy for liebensraum and wanted the money in the banks run by the Jews. Japan wanted oil and other resources before they attacked the US. It's the contented populace that doesn't bother going to the polls for a change in fortune.


But theres nothing in space to be conquered that is worth taking...



Will they do the Time Warp dance?


Funny.



Price Controls.


Huh?



There's one thing we can get on earth and no where else, right now: Skies of blue and couds of white, the bright blessed day and the dark sacred night. And we think to ourselves: what a wonderful world. We won't go into space to find it anywhere else. We will go to space to keep it clean on earth, by making our messes out there.

Which is kind of my point: No corporation would ever be that foresighted.

Ara Pacis
2006-Mar-08, 02:51 AM
But theres nothing in space to be conquered that is worth taking...

Which is kind of my point: No corporation would ever be that foresighted.

Not even an asteroid that has trillions of dollars of metals on it that would only cost hundreds of billions to attain?

You're right. Probably no coporation is that farsighted. That's what governments are for. They build the roads, then the companies build cars to drive on them, fuel depots to power the cars, hotels, restaurants, and everything else on that government built infrastructure.

Swift
2006-Mar-09, 02:46 PM
Another CNN Money.com article about space commerce
Cashing in on Mars (http://money.cnn.com/2006/03/09/magazines/business2/cashinginmars/index.htm)

To land humans on the Red Planet, NASA will need new equipment, fresh thinking, and advanced technology. These companies are preparing for mankind's next giant leap.