free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: 191. INDUSTRIALIZING SPACE - PART ONE: AN ECONOMIC FRONTIER

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

191. INDUSTRIALIZING SPACE - PART ONE: AN ECONOMIC FRONTIER

We've discussed of the importance of developing space to ensure long-term industrial sustainability and continued prosperity. To be clear, this isn't an immediate solution to solve economic problems caused primarily by oil depletion, nor is it a long-term plan to one day get civilisation back on its feet following some fantasy apocalyptic oil disaster. It's a way to ensure new economic growth and true sustainability in the near term, probably within the next couple of decades, possibly even sooner. So it won’t prevent the problems of peak oil, but it will trigger economic recovery shortly thereafter.

The idea is basically that the industrialisation of space could end the peak oil recession (depression?) in a similar way that the industrialised military movement for World War II was the catalyst for the end of the 1930's depression. But assuming that humanity can wake up to the urgency of the need for space development, how exactly are we supposed to make it happen? I can hear the sceptics: “Progress lately has been less then impressive, we are looking down the barrel of an energy and economic crisis, and now we are supposed to set up industrial processes in space to ensure long term survival? HOW!?”

Here are a few ideas on how to encourage space industrialisation:

1) We re-prioritise our purpose in space.
To date, the vast majority of space missions have essentially served two purposes: science, and political grandstanding. Both of these are important and have their place. Many important and useful scientific discoveries have been made, and many technological achievements have come about thanks to some grandiose promises from politicians. However it's time to get serious about our future in space and focus all of our space related efforts towards providing a long-term future for humanity. We can think about awe-inspiring manned missions to Mars later, we can even hold off learning more about the solar system – after all, it's not going anywhere for a long while. Right now though, we need to focus on keeping advanced civilisation prosperous, and that won’t happen by wasting efforts on political statements in space, or even by focusing on learning about the galaxy around us purely for science's sake. It will happen by establishing space-based facilities to harvest resources from space. By building a new economic infrastructure not based on pulling resources out of the ground, but by pulling them out of the sky.

2) Space needs to be largely privatised.

Treating space development as a pseudo military endeavour is not the way to encourage growth. Government space agencies aren't set-up to be profit spinners. For prosperous economic sustainable development, space must be developed largely by the private sector. The nature of the free market means that private enterprise could achieve space projects far more cost effectively them government agencies. All that is needed is investment in the initial infrastructure.

3) Governments need to provide incentives to encourage private enterprise.
A recent example of steps in the right direction was the Ansari X-Prize, which resulted in the winning team, Scaled Composites, scoring a deal to build space craft for the first commercial space tourism enterprise, Virgin Galactic. Another X-Prize competition with more prize money should encourage further breakthroughs, and NASA is following the innovation prize concept. Here’s a thorough statement by Molly Macauley, a senior fellow at Resources for the Future, on encouraging innovation through prizes to encourage growth in both the private sector and in NASA. The following quote from the article demonstrates the importance innovation prizes had in establishing the aerospace industry:

Another notable and frequent use of prizes - and much of the inspiration for the X-prize -- was in the early history of aviation. Between roughly 1908 and 1915, the heyday of privately sponsored competitions for distance, elevation, and speed jumpstarted the aviation industry. Three dozen or so individual prizes during this period - at roughly the rate of four or more annually - fostered innovations that decidedly gave birth to the industry.

Innovation prizes, as well as possible tax incentives, can greatly help grow the fledgling space industrialisation process.

4) Governments should make key areas of knowledge public domain.
Government space agencies will certainly play an important role in industrialising space. The world’s space agencies all have important plans of their own for the future, but also have valuable knowledge and technical know-how from years of experience that would be of considerable benefit to growth in the private sector. A huge challenge for the private sector is overcoming problems that government agencies have long since solved. Sharing information would mean that private enterprises would not have to reinvent the wheel, which would go a long way towards opening up space for industrialisation.


A more specific explanation of what industrialising space will entail will be covered in part two of this post, however for a really detailed and explanatory analysis of the plan for the private sector to harvest resources from space and create a new industry, check out PERMANENT. (Projects to Employ Resources of the Moon and Asteroids Near Earth in the Near Term). From their site:

We can do this NOW with present-day technology and a philanthropic investor
[…]
All that's necessary is a minimal amount of initial, reusable infrastructure to be designed in coordination, manufactured, launched and emplaced in the remote reaches of space to bring the first asteroidal and/or lunar materials to high Earth orbit. From that point on, more than sufficient revenues will come in, the infrastructure can be expanded, risks are lowered, and the payback times shorten dramatically for additional ventures.
The key is getting the first "seed" industry going.


Industrialising space isn't science fiction. It's completely possible right now with current technology and can be done with limited human space flight, confined mostly to Earth orbit. Most importantly, it offers the best post peak oil potential for maintaining and growing advanced civilisation. The only thing unrealistic about space industrialism is people's limited perceptions of it.

Debunking doomer concepts
The concept of post peak economic growth through space industrialism debunks several popular doomer concepts, or at least amends them with optimistic outcomes. There are two important ones that I'd like to address.

The first is a statistic that is popular with many doomers: “One in six U.S. jobs are related to the auto industry. When the auto industry crashes, so does the economy.” Perhaps this will be true, perhaps not, but it certainly does not account for the possibility of other industries replacing these jobs in a post peak economic recovery. If space industrialism is embraced as a source of economic recovery, especially if the industry begins pre peak oil, then maybe the statistic will be one in six jobs are related to the space industry? And no, I'm not fantasising about one in six people living up there with captain Kirk, I'm talking about a thriving new source of employment through new economic growth. The post peak space industry won't consist mostly of astronauts and “rocket scientists” but of an extensive range of professionals covering a diverse range of disciplines such as engineers, construction workers, human resource officers, mining equipment specialists, accountants, public relations experts, project managers etc as well as a host of jobs that nobody has even imagined yet. An entire new industry with the potential breadth that space offers would offer a broad and eclectic range of job opportunities to everyday people living everyday lives here on Earth. These will be similar kinds of everyday jobs that the auto industry currently offers. The death of oil dependant industries, especially the auto industry, would likely mean economic recession. But these industries and the jobs they once offered will eventually be replaced by something else, and that something is likely to be the space industry.

Another doomer concept that space industrialism debunks is the shortsighted idea that goes something like: “For well over one hundred years civilisation has been entirely based on an oil infrastructure. In all this time with all the technology developed, we still haven't made any changes at all to our underlying oil-based infrastructure, and we won't be able to change this ancient infrastructure in a hurry.” It is true that it will indeed take a long time to make a transition to a new infrastructure. But unbeknown to most people (because they disregard the potential of space as mere science fiction), we have actually been making the transition to a new infrastructure for close to a century now. If wide-scale space industrialism is to be the bases of our infrastructure for the future, then we can consider a very large portion of the past 70 or so years as efforts towards making a transition towards our future infrastructure, even if we weren't consciously striving for this transition at the time. We can consider all of the considerable technological developments needed for the space industry as steps towards our future infrastructure. From the earliest developments in flight and aerospace, through to the latest advances in electrical engineering, it all is a necessary part of our transition. The transition to the new infrastructure also includes some of the considerable advances made in parts of the old infrastructure; for example advanced mining techniques employed today throughout the world will be crucial in cost effectively mining the same or similar resources in new environments. Doomers frequently argue that we don't have enough time to make a transition. They aren't seeing that we've unconsciously been making the transition for a very long time.

Peak oil will not be the end of economics, but an economic transformation where current jobs become obsolete to later be replaced by new jobs in new industries. Space-based resources are the sustainable infrastructure of the near future, and it's an infrastructure that we've naturally been moving towards since the very beginnings of the current infrastructure.
-- by Omnitir

24 Comments:

At Tuesday, December 20, 2005 at 7:46:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you, but I have to bring something up. In all the doomer talk that we here about not making changes fast enough, the one thing overlooked is motivation. it's almost as if the reasons we need to change are a given, but I seriously believe they are not.
If gas goes from $1 to $2.50 per gallon in 5 years, yeah that significant but people adjust. I certainly have, but it's not even a really significant amount of extra expense, a casual after work drinker could shave off a couple beers a week and cover the difference......not motivation. So I guess my point is, change has not come because there is no need for it yet, necessity is the mother of invention is kind of a truism in this case. if you have a 2 gallons of water and you drink half of 1 gallon and you aren't going to be thirsty for quite sometime, why go looking for more water? motivation.

 
At Tuesday, December 20, 2005 at 7:52:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

and one more thing.......
In many parts of Europe fuel taxation plays a role in keeping fuel at a high cost thus encouraging people to walk, bike or use public transportation. In the US however I think our legislation should emphasize a 2 prong approach, one based on a moderate fuel tax, one whose proceeds are used to fund mass transit development, but our main focus should be on mandating fuel economy. sprawl is already here unlike in europe, and overtaxation of fuel puts an undue burden on rural, and non-wealthy suburban residents who must commute versus not be employed.

 
At Tuesday, December 20, 2005 at 8:35:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you. This is the absolute best piece I've ever read about space industrialization.

I do think, however, that there's one or two more problems that need to be addressed: when TSHTF, will policymakers realize that space is a solution? And if they do, will the people accept it or will they see it as a Star Trek fantasy? And will a modern-day William Proxmire dumbass shoot it down?

 
At Tuesday, December 20, 2005 at 9:19:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So we give Milton Friedman a role of Reynolds Wrap brand aluminum foil. First he makes a funny little space hat, matching gloves, and micro-mini and jumps around the room saying over and over, "the markets allocate love, the markets allocate love, the markets allocate love." This makes the foil hot and we take off. Then the entire space program could be handed over to McDonalds and with their knowhow and extra grease we go to the stars on biodiesel.

 
At Tuesday, December 20, 2005 at 10:08:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an absolute lie! Milton Friedman has prooved once and for all that free markets establish prices . . . and not the government. I don't believe that he would start this program himself. Rather he would have given McDonalds the Biodiesel lease and allowed them and General Electric to fight it out in the area of capitalism.

 
At Tuesday, December 20, 2005 at 11:05:00 AM PST, Anonymous Concerned Opitmist said...

Omnitir,

I will ask you the same question I asked JD:

What is YOUR plan?

I hope it isn't "wait for a job building spaceships to come along and save my ass."

I suppose JD thinks he will just move to his lunar moon colony.

CO

 
At Tuesday, December 20, 2005 at 11:45:00 AM PST, Blogger Omnitir said...

Anon said: when TSHTF, will policymakers realize that space is a solution?
-Actually, I suspect they are already know that space is a solution, given what various space agencies are currently trying to achieve...

Concerned optimist:
Unfortunately I don’t have years of investments from years of being in the workforce – I’m a full-time University student with limited financial capability to do anything substantial in terms of peak-oil preparation. So I’m preparing myself the best I can by studying hard in the hopes of being qualified for future employment. Apart from that all I can do to prepare is conserve – I don’t drive much anymore, and I am now very fit from riding my bicycle and walking a lot. I buy mostly local produce and never touch overly processed foods, and I try to keep good relations with people around my area.

I don’t think anyone expects to be able to live is space. Though if we play our cards right, some of may be able to work in the industry during an economic recovery.

 
At Tuesday, December 20, 2005 at 12:31:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

concerned optimist, what would be a sensible "plan"? What kind of answer are you looking for?

 
At Tuesday, December 20, 2005 at 12:34:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

-Actually, I suspect they are already know that space is a solution, given what various space agencies are currently trying to achieve...

But you said earlier that current space programs are mostly focused on pure science and political posturing, which seems to me to be the case...

 
At Tuesday, December 20, 2005 at 12:40:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

General Electric and Westinghouse make refrigerators and powerplants. I am sorry, but they (nor the rest of the free market) are not going to spend money on this lunacy when there is money to be made in natural gas powerplants and appliances. Only government can manage and fund such projects and this goverment is run by refrigerator magnets. (no pun intended. . . but pretty funny nonetheless!)

so the free market is going to spend the trillions of dollars on the offchance that there is money to be made in space. What a load of economic corn

 
At Tuesday, December 20, 2005 at 1:25:00 PM PST, Anonymous FourPie said...

I like the 'green light thinking' to use an 80's phrase. Without such thinking there is no hope. Where there's a will....etc. 'Only believe and thou shalt see' might suit the armagedeners.
If we get WW3 instead of a way out of this mess it will be because that's what the majority believe will happen.
Change your belief and make it happen.

 
At Tuesday, December 20, 2005 at 10:06:00 PM PST, Blogger Omnitir said...

But you said earlier that current space programs are mostly focused on pure science and political posturing, which seems to me to be the case...
Space programs to date have been mostly about science and politics. But looking at future planning, it seems that industrialising space has actually become a high priority. Why is there all this sudden interest in going to the moon after such lack of interest for almost 40 years? Mars was always the future, now suddenly the moon and it’s extractible resources are receiving billions in funding. Is it merely a coincidence that the new moon initiative came about around the same time as the peak oil movement?


they (nor the rest of the free market) are not going to spend money on this lunacy when there is money to be made in natural gas powerplants and appliances.
So you think space based economic growth is lunacy? You think no one will ever invest money in it? Have you not heard of the comsat industry? Do you think that only governments develop aerospace technology? Is it really so unreasonable to expect the space industry to continue growing? Why is Richard Branson spending money on space tourism if he could be making money on “natural gas powerplants and appliances”?

Building natural gas plants – now that’s lunacy…

so the free market is going to spend the trillions of dollars on the offchance that there is money to be made in space. Trillions huh? Did launch costs just rise sharply or something? Offchance? Apart from the fact that billions have been made from space already, once space resource attainment is proven feasible (if not by a private enterprise then by government agencies), small investments will guarantee massive returns.

 
At Wednesday, December 21, 2005 at 12:07:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Omnitir,

we went to the moon before you were born and have never returned. we will never return

 
At Wednesday, December 21, 2005 at 1:53:00 AM PST, Blogger Roland said...

Are you some sort of Olduvai crackpot?

 
At Wednesday, December 21, 2005 at 6:03:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or just clairvoyant?

 
At Wednesday, December 21, 2005 at 7:16:00 AM PST, Blogger al fin said...

The Space Elevator is one of many novel space propulsion ideas being explored. The key to any kind of large scale use of space is to reduce the cost to orbit for useful mass.

The big problem with space is the "high ground" aspect. Until a few matters such as muslim terrorism and other enemies of western civilisation are dealt with, the risks are high.

http://www.spaceelevator.com/
http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/technology/space_elevator_020327-1.html
http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/technology/space_elevator_040629.html

 
At Wednesday, December 21, 2005 at 1:18:00 PM PST, Blogger Omnitir said...

I was actually planning on writing something about the space elevator down the track. :) While it’s certainly not our only hope to industrialise space, it perhaps presents our best chance to industrialise very quickly. It also give us far more options for space.

In part two of this post I’m planning to talk more about the specifics of getting resources from space rather then how to make it happen. As you say al fin, the key is to reduce the cost to orbit useful mass. Regardless of the launch side costs (which is always getting cheaper), the key to cost effective operations in space is to first begin producing basic essential materials for use in space from the lunar surface. By extracting and processing lunar materials first, deposits of essential materials including water, oxygen, thruster propellant and basic panelling/shielding can be stored in high Earth orbit, radically reducing necessary launch weights and greatly cutting costs. Because these materials are already in space, they would be highly valuable.

This plan is what NASA is hoping to one day achieve with it’s current moon initiative.

we went to the moon before you were born and have never returned.

Actually we’ve returned to the moon a number of times. We went there a year ago: http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/smart-1_orbit_041116.html
We’ve also been to Mars dozens of times, plus explored most of the solar system and learnt a great deal. Or does it not count unless an expensive astronaut goes along for the ride?

Space industrialism will be largely automated. Arguing that manned missions have been lacking does nothing to debunk the possibility of large-scale industrial processes in space.

 
At Wednesday, December 21, 2005 at 3:17:00 PM PST, Blogger Roland said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At Wednesday, December 21, 2005 at 11:56:00 PM PST, Blogger Omnitir said...

Actually I think there is a future of humans in space, but I don’t think it’s necessary for industrialisation. Initially astronauts will be needed to a small degree, but robots will quickly replace them (they already make more sense then manned missions). In the medium to long term, I think humans in space will be limited to space tourism (Earth orbit would be the ultimate holiday destination), and down the track possibly space habitats. I’m still unconvinced that humans will largely become robots though. But I accept that the future is unpredictable and complex. Who can really say anything with certainty?

 
At Friday, December 23, 2005 at 2:58:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You debunkers do realize that posts like this one only serve to discredit your position?

Industrializing space on a mass scale while 3 billion people live on less than $2/day at a time when things are looking like they will only get worse, at least in the short-to-medium term.

You've got to be kidding if you think space industrialization is going to offset the effects of a massive and sustained liquid fuel crisis.

Ominitir can be forgiven for such idiocy as he is young, but if there is anybody over 30 buying into this crap, I've got some beach front property in Colorado for you.

 
At Friday, December 23, 2005 at 6:08:00 PM PST, Blogger Omnitir said...

Anon,
Care to argue any specifics rather then ad hominem arguments?

The closest you came to a real argument was:
Industrializing space on a mass scale while 3 billion people live on less than $2/day
There has always been inequality. And yet mass industrialisation still progresses throughout the world. And of course it won’t be the poor but the rich that fund further industrialism. Space is simply the next natural step.

 
At Friday, December 23, 2005 at 6:21:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hearty space-faring miners will grab a pick-axe and lead America to the stars! the true path to our own nature is through industrialization! If we can re-industrialize the heartland then a workers paradise is at hand! This is the only way to free ourselves from the yoke of capitalism. the workers will unite on edge of the galaxy and create an industrial paradise that will rival Nirvana and Shangri-la put together

 
At Friday, December 23, 2005 at 7:11:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

god what a freak! this numbnut shouldn't be allowed to post here

 
At Friday, December 23, 2005 at 7:15:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's because automated robots are so much cheaper, more robost and more capable, and because ultimately we'll all become robots anyway

I'll take an automated robot ANYTIME. No lip. no back-talk. no overtime. no nothing.

I'm on my way to becoming a robot right now. Not wasting anytime. you should see me in the sack!!! I am talking robotic action my friend!!!! robohard

 

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