For a politics of support to Space Economy

by Adriano Autino

Industrial decline and dramatic insufficiency of the terrestrial sciences
The space option for a new development of the civilization
Public and private
What an intelligent government could make
A constitutional right


Industrial decline and dramatic insufficiency of the terrestrial sciences

That our mother planet became by now very small it is not a concept exclusively shared by few romantics, grown by "milk and Asimov." Well, to be sincere, our dear doctor Asimov too - though author of a notable production of scientific essays and of texts of analysis of the futuribile in historical-sociological key -- hardly rarely grazed such concept, and with him many good science fiction writers of the past century. While, for the new millennium generations, such a concept is slowly becoming a full awareness. 

However it is not quite discounted that such awareness was translated into initiatives oriented in a human ethical direction. Rather we can affirm that, in the second half of 2006, this is still few more than a dream. In fact our civilization, more and more pressed between the narrowness of the material and energetic resources of this planet and the demands of industrial development of the whole Asian continent, seems to be well oriented to follow roads already crossed in past, the ones of the violence, in order to fight for the (scarce) existing resources. The conception of the war as a resource for development, instead of fading in the historical retrospectives, it is coming back to rule the politics of the most powerful nations of the planet, unfortunately. 

In a climate of total ethical relativism they discuss, or more often they neither discuss, about different "options", as if they were all equivalent: the industrial decline, also called "soft landing", very liked by many retrograde currents; the development, invoked and feared in the meantime, for the environmental breakdowns to which it seems indissolubly tied up; the extermination, legitimated provided that was decided by a government institution and not by a single sniper, shooting on the passer-bys from a roof; the indifference, perhaps the majority option, in the so-called Advanced West. The so-called "space option" is still nearly at the borders of the most greater part of discussions, expecially in Europe.

But, for the ones who made an ethical choice in favour of humanity, and consider priority the rights and the affairs of all and everyone of the by now almost seven billion humans populating our planet, the extraterrestrial option cannot be considered only an option. It is instead the only road that can guarantee to the earthly society, becoming a solar society, the access to the incalculable energetic resources of the solar power harvested in space (SPS) and to the incalculable material resources of the Moon, of the Asteroids, of Mars and of our Solar System, allowing therefore the full and free development, without restrictions, for hundreds billion humans. A very huge market, in continuous growth, for millennia to come, true social and economic base for a civil and cultural development of which it is difficult even to imagine the course. It is instead even too easy to imagine the opposite: if the economic "cake" doesn't grow -- and if the world remains closed it won't surely grow anymore, if not episodically - the civilization won't be able but to bend on itself, and to slip more or less quickly in the involution of the barbarity, of the authoritarianism and of the fierce competition, for the hoarding of the scarce resources, in an environment more and more degraded, by all the points of view. 

The development of the earthly sciences - provided that they don't succumb soon under the massive new-medievalist tide that advances impetuous - it could certainly temporarily resolve some problems, creating few ephemeral areas of development, also in absence of a defined strategy for extraterrestrial expansion. But it would be, however, a compulsory development, destined to stop after a few decades, in front of those "limits to development" that Peccei and the Club of Rome already detected (besides without being able to look over!), since the years 70' of the past century. Thus also the terrestrial sciences, in order to keep on their history, should grow up as soon as possible, evolving into space sciences.

The alternative is clearly delineating more and more. On one side, if the world reamins closed, a holocaust of awful proportions outlines itself. Opposite to what the supporters of this option hope, to halve the number of the humans on this planet won't resolve the problem (provided that the survivors were then able to recover from such a gigantic guilt). The demografic catastrophe would bring with itself the bankruptcy of all the markets, the end of the technological development and of that science that we have amiss gotten used to consider immortal. But nothing is immortal, and the return to middle age or to the stone age is always possible, if we think about the extremely brief period, on the evolutionary scale, of the modern era. On the other side, if the space economy will be allowed to be born and to develop, humanity will stand a horizon of practically boundless development, the possibility to eliminate completely the hunger and the underdevelopment, not through the extermination of the poors, but through the social growth and the welfare for everybody. The extraterrestrial expansion is therefore the only concrete possibility to realize the utopia of a free society, socially fair and totally inclusive. The Utopia that was always promises and never maintained until now, by all the political ideologies, both liberist and collectivist. Obviously, since man had to learn at own expenses that nothing ever comes for free, also the space option has a cost: we must be prepared to change. Out of the gravitational well of our planet we will change a lot, both physically and culturally. Today we can't say how much. But it is the only road that allows us to preserve our human status, and rather to progress toward a full human condition, finally leaving at our shoulders the fierce behaviors of the murder and the bestial exploitation, that characterized unfortunately our whole terrestrial history. 


The space option for a new development of the civilization

Two years ago by now we launched in the web a metaphor: "Earth is not sick, she is pregnant!" It was a message of hope and happiness, predicting a pleased event, vs. all the dark and grisly visions, that identify man as a parasite or a cancer of the same planet that allowed the development of the intelligent life. Well, we received more messages than what we waited for, sharing and appreciating a vision that upsets the anguish of which we were prey since a few decades. An invitation to look again to the future, and to consider that the development of the intelligent life - unic case as we know in the universe - should have a well greater and more cheerful purpose than the one to die smothered in its own wastes, or to return to be nearly an animal, reducing itself in number and in aims, for the crazy goal to remain confined on one only celestial body, in the vain attempt not to modify its natural environment. 

Instead, if we think about the pregnancy of Mother Earth, then humanity assumes the role of the baby to be born, and at the same time of the midwife that should help the childbirth. And this baby, child of the earthly civilization, can only to be born in space, growing free and strong, as the first Solar Civilization.

I won't be here repeating notions which should firmly live by now even the head of the dullest government bureaucrat (in a recent article we anticipated that many of these people drug themselves, as recently demonstrated by the very nice and caustic Italian journalists that call themselves The Hyenas): the West won't hold up the competition of China and India if it won't decidedly re-direct its efforts toward high technologies. Besides, I believe that also such affirmation was entirely deceptive, in fact us Europeans will be beaten soon from the Orientals, on the ground of high technologies indeed. High technology in general, doesn't automatically mean Astronautics. And what will make the difference are specifically the space technologies for astronautics, something that unfortunately the middle european bureaucrat still considers a great deal away from the horizon of his/her own daily choices. 

At the base of the space option stands - we shall state it once more - a humanist ethical choice. If one is against humanity, or doesn't feel any duty toward his/her own kind and toward the civilization, then he/she can discard such an option. I dare to say that they can also discard such option those people which don't own any sense of business, and they don't care about the greatest opportunity of honest enrichment of all the times. But however I would beg those people who inauspiciously tilt toward different choices, at least not to set obstacles, and to leave free the ones which aim to become - at the beginning at least ideally -- citizen of the Solar System. 

Having shortly clarified the full legitimacy and the high cultural value of the goal, we stiil have to clarify some passages that, since none institution stimulated until now the public opinion to think about them, they are unfortunately still appanage of only few students and researchers. 

Therefore, in order to really open the space frontier, and to start the space economy revolution, we have to complete some footsteps, neither easy neither discounted. It is in fact the first time that our species tries to expand into an ecological niche entirely deprived of the life supporting elements, to which we are accustomed since million years. We should not be surprised if this footstep, this "childbirth" appears to us, from the inside of our earthly uterus, all but "natural". But after all, let's think, how much could the birth appear natural to the baby that is about to be born, if he/she could reason above it? The only known environment, for nine months, was the maternal uterus, where he/she was absorbed in the forewaters. The air would be entirely unknown and, not being aware about bellows, able to try oxygen from air, the desperation, approaching to the threshold of life, it would be total. So we humans witness today, facing the extraterrestrial space, since we don't have yet full conscience of our (cultural and technological) faculties that will certainly help us to live and to flourish, once "been born" out of our native environment. 

The first essential footstep is the one to develop some fully reusable low cost launch systems. This simple step will lower the cost of the travel to orbit of one magnitude and more, allowing private industries to massively enter the space tourism market. By now the needed technologies are entirely available and affordable, as shown by the extraordinary enterprise made by SpaceShipOne of Scaled Composites in the autumn of 2004. 

Since any new industry will not develop without an expanding market, able to give good perspectives of return of investments, it is necessary to clarify (i) what the user market of the new low cost orbital vehicles will be; (ii) what the probable consistence of such a market can be in the decades to come; (iii) what the progressive and meaningful footsteps are, on the road-map that brings to the full achievement of the industrial and commercial objectives. 

We don't need to invent anything, all we need is opening our eyes. Notwithstanding the current exorbitant (in the true sense of the word!) cost of the ticket -- 20 million US $ -- we had in the last years an average of two space tourists per year, and the demand is definitely growing up. It is easy to foresee, and we have by now excellent market studies supporting such forecasts, that the curve of the demand would grow in exponential way, proportionally to the lowering of the price of the ticket. The space tourism market would become, in the turn of few years, the most economically profitable industry, beating Microsoft since the first years. 

The milestones of this trial are already clear enough. In the next five years the market of the suborbital flights can develop, and will likely replace the aerial flights on the long distances, drastically demolishing both the production costs and the environmental ones, as well as the travel time. The flight is in fact almost all out of atmosphere, with less fuel consumption, apart the take-off and landing phases. In this first period, therefore, the basic technologies will be consolidated: propulsion, flight, protection of the civil passengers from the hard cosmic radiations. At the same time, on the base of such progressive best practice experience, other technologies will grow up: civilian passengers transportation and hosting, from Earth to earthly orbit, from earthly orbit to the Moon and to the other interesting destinations, in the geo-lunar system, for instance the points of Lagrange, where true orbital cities could probably rise, on the model of the ones drawn more than thirty years ago by Gerard O'Neill.

Public and private

The discussion, among the impassioned ones and the researchers of the high frontier, lasts since many years. And many of them don't nourish any trust in the politics of the great space agencies and the governments. It is even too effortless, in fact, the criticism that can be moved to such institutions: since the man's landing on the Moon, almost forty years ago, up to today, if the agencies had run over only the 1% of their multibillion budget for the space tourism technologies, nowadays such industry would have already started and flourishing (Patrick Collins). How to hope thus that suddendly bureaucracies were reformed, and started to operate in the true interest of the tax payers? Frankly I don't know if such a thing can be hoped or not, however I shall say that I don't own preconceived positions. The politics is very mutable: an ethical orientation (or even only a better intelligent political orientation) can be born anywhere, in comparison to the flat greyness which we are unfortunately accustomed. 


Even Mr. Bush, having clarified by now bejond any reasonable doubt his inclination to use war as pretended development resource, has been nevertheless able to formulate the new American space plan, titled "Moon, Mars and beyond". Why then to set up any ideological prejudice? My approach is pragmatic, and I won't even waste one minute to discuss if the character of the space enterprise has to be more public or more private. It certainly should to be private, and any bureaucratic impediments are to be avoided, but I don't see reasons to discard any hypotheses of public help. Rather I think that we never should stop soliciting the organization of the support to space enterprise, from the ones we elected, and to which we pay the salary (and what a salary!). 

Besides, at least in a field, the one of energy, the investments necessary for the building of infrastructures suitable to the needs of a civilization on the road to seven billion individuals are so huge that the energy sector remains in many cases appanage of the government, also in presence of serious privatization efforts. We will maybe even discover, more ahead, that the privatization of the whole energetic sector was an error, made on the wave of the "integrist liberist fury". A more wise and mature policy would be to maintain the public engagement in the energy sector, for the management of the big sources, allowing in the same time private companies to concur providing energy, and single privates to produce small quantities too (e.g. by solar panels on top of the houses).

Though Scaled Composites won the X-Prize spending less than 30 million US $ (a ridiculous figure wrt the NASA' budgets), when we talk about passing from prototypes to an industrial, though limited, production, the order of magnitude of the investments inevitably trends to leaven. 

For an entrepreneur which today accumulated a small or great profit by traditional business, and was meditating what to do by such capital, the temptation could be strong, in front of the Asian competition, to retire, and to wealthily spend the rest of his/her life with the capital' interest. Very myopic choice: how long will it take our soft landing economy to collapse on herself when huge capitals were warded off from the productive investments sector, to drive them to the ephemeral turn of the speculations targeted to itself? In case a government -- doesn't matter if liberist or solidarist - aimed to interfere in the economy enough to favor the development and to prevent Argentina style crashes, such a government had the duty to (i) clarify as the choices of withdrawal are always myopic and deleterious (ii) to help the ones who mostly are oriented to ethical development and to improve the perspectives of survival of the economy and of the civilization itself. 
There are obviously different classes of activities and levels of possible initiatives. Some initiatives, for their nature, can exclusively be undertaken by governments. Other levels exist, where a government, though not directly operating economic or politics levers, could however suggest, encourage and stimulate the creation of discussion rooms and collaboration initiatives among companies and other social organizations.


What an intelligent government could make

Space Tourism Funds of investment

The ignition of the space economy - by itself the greatest industrial and cultural revolution of every time - should be characterized by an unprecedented mind opening, not afraid to enclude unprecedented solutions. For instance an innovative conception, using public money for investments, creating a system that can refund the citizens -- tax payers - by sound economic benefits, in proportion of the versed contributions. In this direction some public space investment funds could be created: the citizens could target part of their taxes contribution to them, or to deduct from their taxable income the amount versed on such funds.

Such funds, better if extended at the whole European Union at least, would constitute a formidable economic base to finance the development of the technologies targeted to the Merchant Astronautics and to Space Tourism, and to support a politics of competition prizes, for instance taking X-Prize as a model, the event without any doubt most important of this millennium start.

A politics toward the firms belonging and not belonging to the space segment

The government could allocate helps and tax reliefs to the firms which operate in the aerospace market, with particular attention to those business missions including Astronautics, and owning industrial plans aimed out of our planet. Besides, the government could develop coordination functions, analysing the functions and the excellences, not to make itself guarantor of the professionalism and seriousness of the bidders, but to make know their existence and to favor the birth of relationships of collaboration, partnership and subcontracting. 
The assignment of prizes and privileged credit conditions to SME's which hire graduates in aerospace and astronautic disciplines, would be an essential corollary of such a politics.

The opening of space to a true industrial development also means that in the next decades an increasing quantity of activities that today we absolutely consider "normal" and earthly will expand to the orbital structures and to the Moon. 
The Space Tourism already implicates a series of professionalisms and works going well over the roles that we have gotten used to think about space. The politics of prizes and of privileged credit conditions will owe therefore to stretch itself to all those firms, individual professionals and workers which concretely will start to aim high! 

X-Prizes and pay for thinking

The Government, or its agencies, could perform a continuius activity, targeted to two consistent goals:

on one side to collect funds to organize prizes, and, in the same time to collect, organize and publish difficult and complex problems;

on the other side to organize the games, instituting the scientific committees for the valuation of the competitors, and of the proposed solutions and prototipes.

The prizes, the deadlines and the related prizes, can belong to very different types: from the prize to the first who reaches a defined goal (like the X-Prize, which stored 10 million $ in 1996, to be paid to the first private company that reached 100 km altitude, with 3 civilians on board, or equivalent weight, two times in the period of two weeks), to the prize for the best solution of a scientific problem, technologic, logistic, organizational or other problems. Obviously small groups or single students could participate in prizes where expensive prototypes are not required. The system could be extended toward youngs, to the graduation works or even to high schools students.   

A new social paradigm would then take place, oriented to a more diffused use of intelligence. We could call it pay for thinking, after that, during the industrial age, people were most of all paid for doing, repetitive actions in most of cases.

Solar Energy collected in Space

If we keep on focusing only on services, telecommunications and entertainment, is more or less like to dedicate ourself to redrawing the insides of Titanic, few minutes away from its meeting with the famous iceberg! If we don't develop a new, clean and inexhaustible energy source, our economy, and our civilization, owns few counted days to survive. Hydrogen is not an energy source, at the most an effective energy storage and distribution mean. 

The solar energy collected in space, and transmitted to earth through microwaves bundles is the only true alternative. The efficiency of the Solar Power from Space (SPS) is incomparably higher than the terrestrial photovoltaic: 1400 constant w/sqm, 24/24 hours, 365 days per year, vs. 700 maximum w/sqm on earth, in conditions of large insolation, for a very limited number of hours per day, in determined seasons, when weather is good. From the environmental point of view, SPS is the only source able to move the thermal burden of the energetic production out of this planet, therefore to decrease the greenhouse effect. Other so-called alternative sources shouldn't however be neglected, since they can act as buffer sources, to support us during the development of the SPS: co-generation, thermo-valuators, waste-recycling plants, and the earthly photovoltaic itself, based on low cost technologies, for instance thin-film cells.

The above is essential to basket the soft-landing, and to relaunch a sound and lasting development. Any government that doesn't assume it as an absolute priority is to be considered not suitable to the assignment for which it was elected. 

Education, scientific search, communication and full exploitation of the human patrimony

It is absolutely urgent to found in all the European Countries a great school of Astronautics, a Space University, even connected to the International Space University of Strasburg

On the general culture level it is necessary to insert some subjects in the programs of all the schools, at least the following ones: Astronautics, Astronomy, History of the Science, Philosophy of the Science, Relationship among Science and Humanism, Astrobiology. The above in order to communicate to young people, since the first scholar age, the mystery and the charm of the scientific search, and to bring them as a model the life of the great researchers of past and present times, to give back trust and hope to the human intelligence, today attached by a diffused obscurantist and antihuman metaphysics. Why the scientific schools and universities don't invite from time to time famous scientists to hold lessons, and artists in the artistic schools as well?

The search threads to be favored and mostly pushed are the following ones: high quality systems of support and transport of human life; safety and reliability, for space and earthly applications; biological search and botany, in closed artificial environments, for extraterrestrial colonies, for the reclamation and use of deserts and impervious zones on planet Earth; artificial gravity, prevention of the bony and muscular decay due to microgravity; protection from the cosmic hard radiations; production of water and oxygen in artificial environments, copying and accelerating the natural processes; artificial ecosystems in closed environments, initially using the International Space Station as laboratory. The above reflects a basic focus on humans, that could well characterize a European approach to Astronautics. 

On the philosophical level, we need to proceed to the renewal and the refurbishment of philosophy, as an essential tool for investigate on reality and human condition, and for planning long time strategies. A great spread demand exists, nowadays, for practical philosophy, since people warn largely the insufficiency and the obsolescence of the philosophies that flourished in the past millennia. Philosophy is not only the study of the great philosophers of the past, but also the analysis of the present and the forecast as far as possible of the future. Philosophy is therefore a becoming movement, all but the fossilized subject that so many filosofologists (academic and not) would like. Philosophy has to be in the hands of the souveraign citizen, which can discuss it and to use it for their own daily living. We need to stimulate the birth of new organizations, whose mission was the philosophical search, tied up to the modern economy, for the development of the space age philosophy and the space economy (as management of abundant, and nomore scarce resources, thus we could call it maybe space ecotrophy), a new vision of the open world, whose bounds are now widened at least to the Solar System. Futurology studies, social and marketing studies, using the great computational power of the modern computer science to realize simulations, finalized to foresee the benefits and the criticisms of the space economy development. 

At the communication stage, we should stimulate wide range searches on the benefits and on the so many (and not at all discounted) conveniences of the zero gravity and of the extraterrestrial environment in general, of the life and all activities out of the gravitational well. Searches for the terraforming of some celestial bodies of the Solar System. Multicultural enterprises, to help the crossfertilization among different disciplines. 

In this chapter the revision of the standard quality methodologies must be included, with the purpose to simplify them, to detect their main points and to eliminate the duplicates, clearing us so from the bureaucratic fetters that contribute to hold us nailed on earth. 

Almost seven million intelligences are the greatest wealth that humanity ever had, provided that we known how to valorize it. It is only thanks to this great number, an enormous and unprecedented potentiality of work, that our kind will be able (perhaps) to expand to the Solar System. The European governments could characterize themselves as the best exporters of education and information (very more useful than the economic helps that almost always end in the pockets of the local feudal squires) toward the preindustrial areas of the planet, to create new markets and to stimulate the growth of ideas and cultural contributions, that are precious to win the challenge of the continuation of our civilization. 

To free the economy, the market and the industry from excessive burocracy

The Countries that aim to the leadership in the dawning space economy, have to provide a definite renewal of the structures and the industrial and bureaucratic infrastructures.

A slender, fast and efficient management of the Intellectual Property is needed, managed by a low cost online authority, where the simple date of registration of any idea, text, sketch, or multimedial content is enough to state and certify the Intellectual Property. 

To register or modify a commercial society shall be quick and low cost (e.g. UK). 

True services of marketing of the functions and of the excellences are needed, based on great international databases, able to make functional analysis in detail, and to periodically cross the offers and the demands. 

We should have agencies to support the presentation of research projects and agencies to search associates and partners. Such agencies should accept to be paid only at the acceptance of the search project by the financing authority. The Chambers of Commerce should provide service units, specifically oriented to the SME's. 

The virtuous practice of the Venture Capitalism should be introduced and developed anywhere, in order to balance the exorbitant power of the banks. We need to finance projects, and not only the purchase of structural goods and technological innovations. The government should select a pool of banks, seriously aimed to work in the new context of the space economy, that accept not to practice to SME's at least the same interest rates that they practice to their big clients. 

The technologies for Space Tourism and Mercantile Astronautics

The first goal, both technologically and economically absolutely affordable, is the realization and the homologation of suborbital flyers, that can travel around the 100 kilometers altitude, transporting civilian passengers. The technologies by now exist and they have been validated: rocket motors of new conception, more efficient propellents, entirely reusable vehicles by now exist in the prototype stage, they have already been flight-tested. It is enough to start the industrial production and the marketing of the flights. Some commercial corporates, e.g. Virgin Galactic, are already working exactly on such goals.

In the meantime, founding on the experience of the suborbital vehicles, we can work to the realization of earth-orbit vehicles, single stage to orbit, for the carriage of civilian passengers and of commodities, space cargos, space hotels, orbital and lunar housing structures. 
The disposal and partial reuse of the space wastes, for the construction of the orbital and lunar infrastructures, it is another fully affordable objective, and of great civil utility. 

Some other activities are of great economic relief: micro-gravity industrial products, zero-gravity hospitals, the storage and disposal in orbit of dangerous wastes. In perspective, the move of dangerous industrial productions from Earth to orbit. On the scientific layer, the realization of astronomic observatories and research laboratories on the Moon and in the Lagrange points. 
Together with the solar energy collected in space, both for earthly and space customers, the above would represent the first concrete footsteps of industrialization of the geo-lunar space. And therefore of an use of space nomore only for the exploration and science, but decidedly for the economic development. 

On a little bit more distant time horizon, the full exploitation of the lunar and asteroidal raw materials, will assure the self-sustaining of the human settlements in the internal Solar System.

A constitutional right

The buoy turn of the millennium is characterized by a great remixing of the national aggregations, practically in all the continents. 

The European Union, though recently suffered a meaningful stop with the resounding failure of the constitution draft by some national referenda, it is composed by now of 25 countries. The ex Soviet Union area and the Balkan countries one, appear in movement as well. 

As for the United States, the discussion around the Constitution was always very alive and present among the people, perhaps more than in any other country, being that one the most advanced constitution in the world. And the recent dispute of many constitutional rights by the Bush's administration in name of the fight against terrorism, makes, also at those latitudes, the constitutional subject more than ever of great actuality.

Perhaps it would not even be hazardous, in a more and more globalized planet, to speak about a constitutional paper of the 21st century earthly citizens. Such a paper could englobe the bill of the human rights, and the universally recognized rights of the persons and of the individuals. Such a constitutional paper should establish the universal value of the earthly citizenship, of the sovereignty of the citizen and the fundamental liberties. 

In such hypothetical constitutional paper, but also in the future European constitution and in other constitutions that could be adopted in other Countries of the world, certainly it should be inserted a paragraph that enacts the inalienable right, for every citizen, to the space travel. A first draft, (obviously more than perfectible), prepared by myself after solicitation by Patrick Collins, can be found here: "Right to space - a constitutional clause draft". In case you share the proposal, please send us your signature, by the attached form.


[016.AA.TDF.2006 - 30.10.2006]