July 7, 2020

Towards the commercial colonization of space | Innovation

Human beings are implacable creatures. We need the new and the unknown to decode what we already handle. What we still do not know affirms us in the world and reconciles us at the same time with our origin and our destiny. This is the case with explorations from the first humans who sought more fertile valleys to Marco Polo, Erik el Rojo or Cortés. Today, when there are hardly any aboriginal tribes on the sidelines of cultural unification and the top of Everest is both a theme park and garbage dump, our next space opens up to a new dimension and is not that of its exploration, but that of its commercial exploitation . Fifty years after the arrival of man on the Moon, and almost 60 of Yuri Gagarin's mission, the space age forgets the race between blocks to launch probes and opens up for exploration by private companies.

As of now, the immediate orbits of space are for entrepreneurs. This supposed liberalization passes from government space agencies to the free market in the advent of a new economy of opportunity beyond the atmosphere. The benefits of this revolution say they arrive in the form of new business opportunities, starting with pharmaceutical applications, telecommunications, research or space tourism. In a few years, they promise, thousands of drones will take the internet to where there is none., the absence of gravity will favor investigations and selfie space will be a new and profitable hashtag Instagram Thousands of pots will be irretrievably put in orbit over us to, experts say, improve life below.

  • Isse Laissez faire ’rocket

The journalist of The Washington Post Christian Davenport deals in his book The lords of space of the space conquest raised by billionaires like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, in whose dreams there are differences. "Musk intends to build a city on Mars as a backup for humanity in case something happens to Earth; Bezos wants humans to spread to the cosmos, not to colonize a single planet, and Richard Branson intends to start a suborbital space tourism company that takes those who can afford it beyond the edge of space to contemplate the Earth from above. ” Explain.

Davenport certifies that private initiative in space goes “further and faster than the government's space programs have achieved” and does not hide its concern about the ecological, social and economic impact, particularly with the projects of the owner of Amazon “Jeff Bezos talks about how Earth's resources are finite, but those of space – from solar energy to precious metals – are apparently infinite. He wants to bring all the heavy industry into space while the Earth is preserved as a kind of national park. All this is far in the future, of course, ”argues the journalist.

Antonio Abad, technical and operations director at Hispasat, says for his part that the closure of the space without control is not opening, but rather that “a new step forward in the evolution of space communications technology” is taking place. For this expert, these advances will always benefit humanity and will provide "evolutionary advantages that will allow man to keep moving forward." The dangers, he says, depend on the use or abuse of space, stars, comets and other celestial bodies: “If we manage to maintain a coordinated and sensible control between all the initiatives that are going to be carried out in the future, promoting international cooperation, the potential risk will be much lower. ”

In a recent interview with THE RETINE COUNTRY, Charles Bolden, former astronaut and NASA administrator in the Obama era, assured that the role of the private sector will be fundamental to the success of space exploration. For him, the business opportunities are many: “From NASA we promote (the commercialization of space) because we believe it is a great opportunity and a necessity. All the space agencies in the world agree on what the objectives are: return to the Moon in the 20s and reach Mars in the 30s. Someone has to continue operating in low Earth orbits, and not necessarily governments, because there are startups and companies that can do it. We need the private sector in this adventure. NASA no longer builds rockets. That has to be provided to us by a company. ”

From the suborbital orbits, which are located between 100 and 150 kilometers from the earth's surface, to the geostationary and geosynchronous orbits, about 35,000 kilometers from Earth, a dark and silent enormity awaits to be distributed by private initiatives. As the Bankinter Innovation Foundation in its study Commercialization of SpaceIn 2016, investments in new space-related companies set a record with 280,000 million dollars. A market that, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimates, will reach 2.7 trillion dollars in 2045. While, in Spain, according to the Bankinter Innovation Foundation report, the space industry ranks fifth in Europe and its turnover exceeds 800 million euros. A figure that has doubled in just 10 years and encompasses a business network that employs about 3,500 technicians.

  • Applications of a liberalized space

Experts recognize that the reason to go to space is because we want to industrialize it. Jason Dunn, co-founder and director of Made in Space, an American company specializing in the manufacture of three-dimensional printers for use in terrestrial space, said during the Future Trends Forum that humans can turn to space to manufacture there, thus protecting the Earth. Companies like Nano-Racks, which help institutions and other companies in the process of designing their own experiments and putting them into orbit, expand this segment of the market. In that same forum, Álvaro Giménez, director of the CSIC Foundation, praised the benefits of space for scientific research by ensuring that commercialization "will produce infrastructure and access to space at lower prices to be able to conduct scientific research with the same money." An opportunity beyond Earth "to improve life on Earth."

Another area of ​​space marketing will be observation, thanks to which meteorological satellites launched with public money already they are dedicated to studying the vegetation cover of the planet, the level and temperature of seas, rivers and lakes, the thickness of the ice sheet of the poles or the presence of greenhouse gases and air pollution. However, now the observation takes a new look. Companies such as DigitalGlobe, ImageSat International or Planet Labs have begun launching their own satellite fleets to collect on their own data that they will subsequently process and sell privately. The Planet Labs satellite army, for example, is capable of taking large photographs of the Earth, which it sells to private customers.

On the other hand, communications, where satellites have specialized in carrying telephone, radio, television and data signals, promise a new revolution to interconnect the planet. It looks like, the atmosphere will be filled with drones and telecommunications balloons. “One of the lines of development that will be more relevant in the near future will be that of the so-called HAPS, or pseudo high-altitude satellites (High-Altitude Pseudo-Satellite), which will provide some advantages over the current satellites that they orbit in space around the Earth and will be a perfect complement for geostationary, ”confirms Antonio Abad, of Hispasat. The expert indicates that these platforms will be located within the atmosphere, about 20 kilometers above the earth's surface and that, in a few years, there will already be some solutions working in the sky of many countries, including Spain, and insists that the role of the satellites "to connect the internet to the unconnected will be essential, providing service in the coming years to those who live in regions where land infrastructure does not arrive."

In that sense, Charles Bolden recalls that Jeff Bezos, founder of both Amazon and Blue Origin, his orbital and suborbital flight company, "is very interested in controlling drone systems in the atmosphere." For the former director of NASA, this will be a trend in the future, underlining that some of the traditional distributors, such as FedEx or DHL, already use autonomous systems to carry packages. And he says that NASA's role will be to "try to help the regulator establish norms and standards that allow drones to integrate safely into the air ecosystem."

  • Cosmic garbage and outdated laws

According to the Bankinter Innovation Foundation report, the expansion of space commercialization will mean that there are more and more problems with space debris, "which will require an international effort to coordinate and monitor compliance with the agreements in this regard." Javier Ventura-Traveset, spokesman for the European Space Agency in Spain, says that "it is a disadvantage to comply with space debris protocols – since they are more expensive missions – if others do not and nobody forces them."

The lack of an updated global space law is disturbing. The agreements and treaties sponsored by the United Nations Space Commission in this regard, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the 1968 Rescue Agreement, the 1972 Liability Convention, the 1975 Registration Convention and the Treaty of the Moon of 1979, they are not binding and have been signed in an economic, social and technological context very different from the current one. It seems that we are facing an economic celebration in which an updated global space law seems necessary.

"The current spatial regulation, dating from the seventies, is, in effect, limited to face the expansion that will occur in the coming years in the exploration and domination of the cosmos," confirms Antonio Abad, who considers some non-negotiable points . To begin with, it seems especially important to maintain the principle of a peaceful use of space. Although that does not mean that it cannot be marketed. "Whenever these activities derive advantages for society as a whole, as is the case, for example, with satellite telecommunications or navigation systems such as GPS or Galileo, promoted by the European Union," he clarifies. For this expert it is also essential to regulate future uses of space such as mining or space tourism.

Other voices such as Ram Levi, CEO of Konfidas, an Israeli cybersecurity company, point out that the commercialization of space will require an international coordination and surveillance effort, as well as in the cybersecurity of the automatisms that govern shipboard, rocket and computer computers. satellites, likely to be hacked by computer terrorists.

Private space travel is another immediate application of its commercialization. NASA has announced the possibility of housing civil tourists on the International Space Station on trips made and coordinated by companies and at a price of $ 35,000 per person. A considerable price drop, because, as Abad recalls, “since 2001 the International Space Station has already received several visits from individuals who have paid more than 20 million dollars, and a plane has been developed for suborbital flights that will allow us to contemplate the Earth From space". Without forgetting that, in Spain, Zero 2 Infinity has developed a capsule hanging from a balloon that can rise to 36 kilometers.

Space tourism seems hopeless on a planet where the average traveler has no place for surprise and the Taj Mahal or Niagara Falls have become crowded places. Space travel test flights, such as those offered by Blue Origin by Jeff Bezos and Virgin Galactic by Richard Branson, are priced between $ 100,000 and $ 250,000. Experts like Abad point out that the development of technology and the consequent price reduction so that “this exciting experience is available to a greater number of people” will come in the not too distant future. Many point to 2021 as year zero for the first flights with paying passengers. Maybe then there is already wifi in the next space and space companies low cost allow thousands of space tourists to upload the photos on the spot.

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