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You are here: MacNN Forums > Community > MacNN Lounge > Political/War Lounge > Why would the private sector be interested in space exploration?

Why would the private sector be interested in space exploration?
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besson3c
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Jan 24, 2012, 04:17 AM
 
Why would the private sector be interested in anything outside of our orbit? How would this generate profit for them enough to motivate their involvement? Satellites, sure, that's a given, but trips to the moon or Mars?

I know this sounds like a leading question, but I'm honestly just wondering if there is something I haven't considered here.
     
Waragainstsleep
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Jan 24, 2012, 05:31 AM
 
Asteroid mining rights.
Asteroids contain lots of lovely rare elements like Iridium.
I have plenty of more important things to do, if only I could bring myself to do them....
     
Athens
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Jan 24, 2012, 05:55 AM
 
Asteroids are a gold mine. So is the mining rights on the moon. Solar Energy production in Orbit. Helium-3 alone for the moon makes it worth it.
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besson3c  (op)
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Jan 24, 2012, 06:24 AM
 
That's cool, I didn't know that!
     
mduell
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Jan 24, 2012, 07:25 AM
 
Space or orbit?

A lot of tourism and affordable research potential (corporations, universities, etc) in suborbital space.
     
Waragainstsleep
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Jan 24, 2012, 07:40 AM
 
Asteroid mining - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Also I would expect some interest in defending the Earth from asteroid strikes. You could literally hold the world to ransom if you had the only spacecraft that could intercept and divert them.
I have plenty of more important things to do, if only I could bring myself to do them....
     
ghporter
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Jan 24, 2012, 07:45 AM
 
Let's not forget spin-offs. We're all enjoying NASA spin-offs right now; the impetus to miniaturize electronics was the Apollo Project. Figuring out how to get people out into space, keep them alive there, enable them to do something interesting and/or useful, and then bringing them home safely requires overcoming an enormous number of technical problems, the solutions to which could be very commercially profitable.

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Waragainstsleep
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Jan 24, 2012, 11:50 AM
 
Also, the first one to meet the aliens gets dibs on the cool tech/green ladies.
I have plenty of more important things to do, if only I could bring myself to do them....
     
SpaceMonkey
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Jan 24, 2012, 11:53 AM
 
Originally Posted by ghporter View Post
Let's not forget spin-offs. We're all enjoying NASA spin-offs right now; the impetus to miniaturize electronics was the Apollo Project. Figuring out how to get people out into space, keep them alive there, enable them to do something interesting and/or useful, and then bringing them home safely requires overcoming an enormous number of technical problems, the solutions to which could be very commercially profitable.
But for the same reason that companies (mostly) don't do basic scientific research, just the hope of spin-off technologies isn't really sufficient cause for investment.

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SpaceMonkey
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Jan 24, 2012, 11:55 AM
 
Originally Posted by Waragainstsleep View Post
Also, the first one to meet the aliens gets dibs on the cool tech/green ladies.

"One ticket to Washington, please. I have a date with destiny."
     
Waragainstsleep
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Jan 24, 2012, 01:41 PM
 
There is also an argument for making your explorer crews expendable.
I have plenty of more important things to do, if only I could bring myself to do them....
     
OAW
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Jan 24, 2012, 04:47 PM
 
I hear that unobtainium deposits are worth a fortune.

OAW
     
Athens
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Jan 24, 2012, 05:25 PM
 
And space colonization. Its not so different then how many of our cities have been created here too. Look at Kitimat BC, a small city in north western BC. It was created to house the work force of a smelter. A Dam, a smelter a mine and a city all created from a private company to the resources in the area. Lots of towns got created for the logging industry too. A lot of development on this planet has been around collecting resources. I can see the first settlements on the moon to be resource based communities paid for by corporations interested in profiting from the resources. Lots of expensive and complex issues to over come still but I can see the first colony in my life time. At some point in the future we will be in every part of the solar system with people being born on the moon, mars, asteroids and deep space stations. It will be hard dangerous lives not much unlike what the first trans Atlantic explorers faced.

I just wonder if we will ever make it to another star system.
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Shaddim
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Jan 24, 2012, 05:47 PM
 
Another star system? Maybe, if we don't all kill each other in the next 200 years while we mature. That would mean having to stamp out the radical religious factions, but I'm sure not too many around here would cry over that.
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SpaceMonkey
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Jan 24, 2012, 05:48 PM
 
Originally Posted by Athens View Post
And space colonization. Its not so different then how many of our cities have been created here too. Look at Kitimat BC, a small city in north western BC. It was created to house the work force of a smelter. A Dam, a smelter a mine and a city all created from a private company to the resources in the area. Lots of towns got created for the logging industry too. A lot of development on this planet has been around collecting resources. I can see the first settlements on the moon to be resource based communities paid for by corporations interested in profiting from the resources. Lots of expensive and complex issues to over come still but I can see the first colony in my life time. At some point in the future we will be in every part of the solar system with people being born on the moon, mars, asteroids and deep space stations. It will be hard dangerous lives not much unlike what the first trans Atlantic explorers faced.

I just wonder if we will ever make it to another star system.
The biggest obstacle to the settlement of space through "company towns" is that a lot of the practices that enabled companies to do that sort of thing are no longer legal, at least under U.S. law. Further, what's the incentive to spend so many resources to stick a bunch of employees up there and support them? You are more likely to see highly robotized environments, with some minor-to-nonexistent presence of human support personnel, as depicted in the film Moon.

Space will be colonized by robots.

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OAW
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Jan 24, 2012, 06:03 PM
 
Originally Posted by Athens View Post
I just wonder if we will ever make it to another star system.
Until we come up with a way to travel near the speed of light or invent some type of "hyperspace" or "wormhole" technology .... no time soon. The nearest star system to our sun is the Alpha Centauri system. It's a binary (perhaps even a ternary) system that's approximately 4.37 light years away. Now the speed of light is 186,282 miles per second. There are 137,812,320 seconds in 4.37 calendar years. So this system is approximately 25.6 trillion miles away (186,282 * 137,812,320 = 25,671,954,594,240). If a ship could travel at the speed of light (which is theoretically impossible) it would take 4.37 years to get there. If a ship could travel at a speed of 10 million MPH ... far faster than anything humans have ever even remotely achieved .. it would still take approximately 2.5 million hours to get there. Which would come out to approximately 293 years. The key takeaway here is this ....

Originally Posted by Douglas Adams
Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.
OAW
( Last edited by OAW; Jan 24, 2012 at 06:12 PM. )
     
Athens
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Jan 24, 2012, 06:14 PM
 
Originally Posted by Shaddim View Post
Another star system? Maybe, if we don't all kill each other in the next 200 years while we mature. That would mean having to stamp out the radical religious factions, but I'm sure not too many around here would cry over that.
Do you have any idea how much more complicated it will get in a solar system full of colonies. Forget about countries. The solar system will be made up of corporations that act like nations, and independent colonies along with the Nations. It would be the wild wild west again. You will see a lot more religious factions, and even people will evolve differently. Few generations of Martians will probably be taller for example.
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Athens
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Jan 24, 2012, 06:28 PM
 
Originally Posted by OAW View Post
Until we come up with a way to travel near the speed of light or invent some type of "hyperspace" or "wormhole" technology .... no time soon. The nearest star system to our sun is the Alpha Centauri system. It's a binary (perhaps even a ternary) system that's approximately 4.37 light years away. Now the speed of light is 186,282 miles per second. There are 137,812,320 seconds in 4.37 calendar years. So this system is approximately 25.6 trillion miles away (186,282 * 137,812,320 = 25,671,954,594,240). If a ship could travel at the speed of light (which is theoretically impossible) it would take 4.37 years to get there. If a ship could travel at a speed of 10 million MPH ... far faster than anything humans have ever even remotely achieved .. it would still take approximately 2.5 million hours to get there. Which would come out to approximately 293 years. The key takeaway here is this ....



OAW
The problem isn't speed but fuel. The research in Zero Point Energy or using space time as a reaction mass to propel against are making it seem more and more likely that one day we will travel to the stars. Even at 300 years, that would just be a multi generational ship but it would be more like 600 because for all the time you take to speed up you also must slow down.
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besson3c  (op)
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Jan 24, 2012, 06:31 PM
 
I just think that space colonization and other benefits from space exploration outside our orbit are mostly pie in the sky science fiction, non-guaranteed sorts of risks that most private companies would not make in their right mind. However, this thread has opened my mind to mineral extraction and perhaps other potential commercial ventures such as general space travel, so I'm certainly not opposed to more private sector involvement there, and certainly with projects within our own orbit where benefits are more assured (providing that these projects don't pose environmental risks, of course).

Therefore, I think we need a mix of public and private sector space research. The public sector is better suited to focus on projects that may not yield a short term benefit, stuff that cannot be easily monetized but paves the way to other kinds of useful projects and research (and potentially projects that could lead to profitable ventures), and the private sector with projects that represent profits (e.g. building better spacecraft, satellites, mineral extraction, etc.)

Does this make sense?
     
SpaceMonkey
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Jan 24, 2012, 06:35 PM
 
So, sort of like what we have now, then?

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besson3c  (op)
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Jan 24, 2012, 06:46 PM
 
Originally Posted by SpaceMonkey View Post
So, sort of like what we have now, then?
I guess... Does the private sector actually build spacecraft and send them up into space and stuff on their own?
     
ghporter
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Jan 24, 2012, 07:01 PM
 
Originally Posted by SpaceMonkey View Post
But for the same reason that companies (mostly) don't do basic scientific research, just the hope of spin-off technologies isn't really sufficient cause for investment.
This would not be basic research. It would be design and test with existing technologies to apply them in new ways, just as the Apollo program applied very solid basic technologies to the problem of getting men to the Moon. Lots of "free" advertising from the design/test part on Earth, then even more in the news about how their efforts are succeeding in space. Plus anything they can patent would be a license to print money in any number of fields.

Think of the space aspect as barnstorming, with the real business being the development of saleable technological solutions for air filtration, energy production (and energy efficient anything), water production and purification, and so on. Space is a huge billboard, the firms just need to get their messages up there.

Glenn -----OTR/L, MOT, Tx
     
SpaceMonkey
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Jan 24, 2012, 07:16 PM
 
Originally Posted by ghporter View Post
This would not be basic research. It would be design and test with existing technologies to apply them in new ways, just as the Apollo program applied very solid basic technologies to the problem of getting men to the Moon. Lots of "free" advertising from the design/test part on Earth, then even more in the news about how their efforts are succeeding in space. Plus anything they can patent would be a license to print money in any number of fields.

Think of the space aspect as barnstorming, with the real business being the development of saleable technological solutions for air filtration, energy production (and energy efficient anything), water production and purification, and so on. Space is a huge billboard, the firms just need to get their messages up there.
Right, I was just making an analogy to companies' reluctance to engage in basic scientific research. But in terms of space development, I'm looking at it as an extension of how companies operate in the aircraft sector. Aerospace companies do indeed design, build and test experimental aircraft that will not directly translate into a commercially viable product. But they do it to test innovations that they hope to incorporate into actual commercial products. They don't build test vehicles just in the hope of stumbling across a spin-off application. For obvious reasons, they also tend to be very secretive about what they are testing, so I'm skeptical of any publicity benefit.

Spin-offs can never be the main purpose, by definition. Apollo existed because the U.S. government for political reasons decided that we had to go to the moon. For a commercial space program there needs to be a similarly focused, albeit commerical purpose.

On a side note, I've been watching the old HBO series From the Earth to the Moon, and the portions covering the sometimes-frayed relationship between NASA and the main contractors, North American Aviation and Grumman, especially after the Apollo 1 fire and in the design and construction of the LEM, are some of the most interesting parts.
( Last edited by SpaceMonkey; Jan 24, 2012 at 07:34 PM. )

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SpaceMonkey
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Jan 24, 2012, 07:20 PM
 
Originally Posted by besson3c View Post
I guess... Does the private sector actually build spacecraft and send them up into space and stuff on their own?
Satellites, yes. The launch vehicles are usually at least partly owned/operated by governments.

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el chupacabra
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Jan 25, 2012, 04:01 AM
 
Originally Posted by besson3c View Post
I just think that space colonization and other benefits from space exploration outside our orbit are mostly pie in the sky science fiction, non-guaranteed sorts of risks that most private companies would not make in their right mind.
I think you mostly got this part right. I really don't think they are that interested in things outside our orbit at this time since any hope for colonization is probably 90 years away at best. The reason companies would show interest in this at all is simply because it's a new business idea/fad that they can use to raise funding from investors and get rich from; it's an excuse to create a company, do research, then get paid for working for said company. Businesses do this kind of stuff all the time.

Space is one of the things the government did best and it's sad to see them backing away from it. They give out trillions to banks and people who don't work; They save a few billion dollars by shrinking NASA so that now they can use that saved money to put all those unemployed scientists on unemployment benefits. Space city has pretty much become a ghost town around here, A LOT of people from all different industries are ending up unemployed down here.... Makes no sense... Did you know we were going to have our own hadron collider back in the day? The government started construction on it wasting billions then changed its mind and canned the whole project which cost more billions. This is the kind of stuff it takes a government to do, this is the research we need at this point in history. We're not going to be colonizing space as long as we're fixated on combustion/ rocket engines. This will require a quantum solution; and the government as usual just doesn't get it.
     
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Jan 25, 2012, 09:05 PM
 
I have plenty of more important things to do, if only I could bring myself to do them....
     
finboy
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Jan 28, 2012, 06:52 PM
 
Originally Posted by Athens View Post
Asteroids are a gold mine. So is the mining rights on the moon. Solar Energy production in Orbit. Helium-3 alone for the moon makes it worth it.
After studying this seriously for the last few years, these are the biggies. Add zero-G experimentation and production, especially for things such as pharma. Helium-3 won't be worth it, really, until we get a way to use it, but when that happens it will be essential.
     
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Jan 29, 2012, 12:00 PM
 
Originally Posted by Waragainstsleep View Post
Also, the first one to meet the aliens gets dibs on the cool tech/green ladies.
ebuddy
     
   
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