The Apollo 11 space mission captured our imaginations in 1969. And it was painfully evocative to hear the recordings of Michael collins, who passed away last week, explain how looking at Earth from space has brought home how precious our planet is.
Last week also marked three more milestones for the space. A recording $ 8.7 billion has been raised by venture capitalists over the past year to support companies in business opportunities from space; Eutelsat of France joins UK as shareholder of satellite communications company OneWeb; and China launched the first part of its own space station to accommodate three “taikonauts”. We go beyond the wonder of watching Collins’ colleagues Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk the moon toward something transformational.
Space is at an inflection point, on the verge of joining electricity, computers and railways as one great all-round technology that will transform economies and societies. To those who dare, whose capitalism and governments have the right chemistry between entrepreneurial zest and the public goal, and who have the sheer chutzpah to see the possibilities, will fall great prizes. Britain could be one of them.
Worried about the impact of nearly 10 billion people in 2050 burning fossil fuels that would raise the Earth’s temperature unbearably? Relax. Space is at your fingertips. By then, the power plant spacecraft in fixed orbit with large solar mirrors will capture the sun’s rays 24/7, transform them into microwaves and transmit them to solar panels on Earth.
Sci-fi romanticism? It’s already within the realm of possibility – and it’s one of the goals of the Chinese space station, with China promising to provide space electricity as soon as 2030. It also informs the thinking behind Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Its reusable rockets can transport material into space to build such power plants at a fraction of current costs.
Musk is the man behind Tesla. The global auto industry has dismissed its view of battery cars as fanciful. Now Tesla is the coolest line of cars out there, including stock market value worth more … than the rest of the automotive industry combined. The introduction of materials into space at a lower cost – satellites, power stations of spacecraft and factories – is one of the technologies which accelerate the opening of the territory. I would support his vision a second time.
Factories? The only way to make a flawless fiber optic cable, print exact copies of body parts such as hearts and lungs, create ultralight metal alloys from materials like magnesium that can be used in our body, and – more fancy – to reproduce an exact mock meat is to do it where there is no gravity. In a generation, there could be space factories manufacturing all of this and more. Back on Earth, we’ll be transported in satellite-guided autonomous vehicles powered by electricity generated by the satellite, eating meat made in space.
GPS navigation systems are already activated by satellite, and this is just the beginning. Spatial imagery is becoming more and more clear and precise; satellite imagery identified the vast concentration camps used by China for its forced “rectification” programs of the Uyghurs. It is also possible from space to see who is fishing and mining illegally; which factories use child labor; what infrastructure is reaching the end of its life; identify which rock formations could contain vital precious metals; anticipate droughts and floods; track the movement of troops and military equipment. Companies proclaim their commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, but do not and cannot fully audit more than a fraction of their global supply chains. The answer is simple: do it from space.