• April 12, 2020, 11 p.m.

    I have a deep concern about the near future that I'd like to see addressed. Perhaps anyone else here feels the same?
    Suppose all government funding around the globe for space exploration dries up in our post-Covid19 world, leaving the private sector as the only means to advance humanity's presence into space. What will this entail?
    -Continued research and development into space-access technologies that are cheaper and safer than anything we have now. 
    -Crowd-funding. Perhaps much of it may be earmarked for space-access to build a "highway" for thousands and eventually millions of us to emigrate from Earth. (heck, I'd certainly contribute to that endeavor!)
    -Exploration programs will be focused on how the moon and asteroids can be exploited rather than on learning for the sake of knowledge itself.
    -The establishment of off-world mining and manufacturing infrastructure may take precedence over Mars exploration and settlement.

    Has anyone else asked these and related questions? I'm hoping Isaac Arthur can devote perhaps a whole series to this possible scenario.

  • April 17, 2020, 12:52 p.m.

    I too am concerned over the depleted budgets of governments world-wide, and the pressure (and inevitable further funding cuts) on space programs.

    However, I think the era of sole-government funded programs and projects is receding, and already there is a transition either to public / private partnerships or further to full private. The global trend to privatisation is unstoppable and COVID-19 (and it's consequences) I foresee merely accelerates this due to upcoming public debt.

    It is not all bad though, private enterprise has much to offer, in many ways more than government could. There just needs to be a commercial imperative behind everything. Space X is in a way already a direct result of NASA budget cuts, with many NASA engineers now simply working for Space X. Space X has the advantage of being lightweight, lean and optimised for a market.

    Opportunity exists where governments are actually a customer, not a supplier. This is already sometimes the case. Smart companies see future value in this field, and may actually see more government customers as a result of COVID-19 as governments seek to outsource capabilities to reduce debt rather than do them in-house. This may actually be a 'golden era' for private space development and exploration.

  • April 18, 2020, 2:29 p.m.

    I have a feeling that the private sector will be more broke than the governments. The private sector is much more dependent on short-term profit, especially in a depression, and there's nothing short-term about space investment.

    That said, if I were a private business trying to start a space revolution, I would want my operation to pay for itself as quickly as possible. Few investors are willing to take big risks in a bad economy. You will have to start small and grow big, and cut expenses by maximizing efficiency.

    Small and efficient means robots first, people later.

    First cash in on the existing space economy through telerobotic satellite repair. Keep a portable 'garage' in orbit that maintains satellites for a fee, and accumulates a junkyard of dead sats as raw material for eventual in-orbit meltdown and remanufacturing.

    A second, or parallel business model is robotic sample return from the Moon and asteroids. You may scoff, but how much would you pay for a box of raw Moon dirt, sealed in its original vacuum? I would pay $50 for a gram of real Moon rock in a glass paperweight, which alone makes it as valuable as gold, multiplied by thousands of customers. Beyond that though, if you were a corporation interested in prospecting, or a university interested in science, you might pay a lot more for a lot more dirt. It would be a business of just scoop and return. No refining, construction or life support.

    In both of these models the spacecraft can be cubesat-sized, which puts launch costs in the crowdsourcing range, and makes occasional failures survivable.

    After profits, self-invest and start developing on the Moon. Melt and refine regolith, launch bricks of material into low Earth orbit and build absurdly large satellites for cheaper than ever in history. Harvest power, support human life, or whatever else your imagination can dream up.

  • May 16, 2020, 7:30 a.m.

    If the Covid-19 economic down turn becomes so severe that government funding for space exploration ceases, you won't care because you will have much bigger problems on your hands. I'm not worried about space funding ceasing. Economic down turns usually only last a year or two. We will learn to live with Covid-19 and people will go back to work. During the downturn governments are going to be interested in keeping people working. Cutting funding to NASA or canceling the ISS would be counter productive to that end. Stimulus programs might even expand funding for space exploration(write to representatives and tell them you want to see people put to work exploring space!).