All Astronautical Evolution posts in 2016:

Elon Musk and Mars: Looking for a Snowball Effect (Oct.)

The Citizens’ Debate on Space for Europe (Sept.)

Creating a self-sustaining desert civilisation: Aridopolis (Aug.)

Lecture by Professor Wörner: United Space in Europe (July)

Brexit! Thoughts on the UK Referendum Result (July)

The Pillar versus the Pyramid (June)

The Way Forward (May)

Manned Spaceflight Statistics (April)

When Will Jan Wörner Get His Moon Village? (March)

Interstellar Travel and Straw Men (Jan.)

A Strategic Goal for Humanity on Earth and in Space in 2061 (Jan.)

Back to 2015:

Britain Takes the Wrong Approach to Manned Spaceflight (Dec.)

New in 2020:

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AE posts:

2021: New space company Planetopolis…

2020: Cruising in Space…

2019: The Doomsday Fallacy, SpaceX successes…

2018: I, Starship, atheism versus religion, the Copernican principle…

2017: Mars, Supercivilisations, METI…

2016: Stragegic goal for manned spaceflight…

2015: The Pluto Controversy, Mars, SETI…

2014: Skylon, the Great Space Debate, exponential growth, the Fermi “paradox”…

2013: Manned spaceflight, sustainability, the Singularity, Voyager 1, philosophy, ET…

2012: Bulgakov vs. Clarke, starships, the Doomsday Argument…

2011: Manned spaceflight, evolution, worldships, battle for the future…

2010: Views on progress, the Great Sociology Dust-Up…

Chronological index

Subject index

General essays:

Index to essaysincluding:

Talk presented to students at the International Space University, May 2016

Basic concepts of Astronautical Evolution

Options for Growth and Sustainability

Mars on the Interstellar Roadmap (2015)

The Great Sociology Debate (2011)

Building Selenopolis (2008)


Issue 125, 1 May 2016 – 47th Apollo Anniversary Year

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The Way Forward

Towards meaningful progress in spaceflight

Following my criticisms of the space plans of the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency, it’s heartening to read an interview with a man who has his plans clearly set on the right track.

By the “right” track I mean a trajectory leading towards the sustainable growth and progress of civilisation into the Solar System, with all that implies for the long-term security and further unfolding of our human heritage. By the “wrong” track I mean spaceflight regarded as a specialist monopoly hobby of rich governments, sending small numbers of machines and astronauts on occasional high-cost exploration missions in the service of science, prestige, spinoff and “inspiration”, but producing no permanent, let alone growth-capable, extraterrestrial infrastructure.

For the progressive view, read Alan Boyle’s interview with Jeff Bezos at the 32nd Space Symposium, reported on GeekWire. Key points, in Bezos’s own words:

Meanwhile an insider’s view on the relationship between OldSpace and NewSpace can be found in Lori Garver’s contribution to a recent discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations, reported on ArsTechnica. Note especially:

But wasn’t Apollo already a state socialist solution to the problem of getting to the Moon? Given the size of the problem, that was clearly the only solution available at the time, but, once the precedent had been set, a change of course to an entrepreneurial approach was difficult enough to have taken 40 years to get underway.

A scenario for progress

I presented a scenario for progressing into the Solar System and growing ultimately into an interstellar civilisation in October 2012. A reminder of key steps needed in the next 20 years or so:

  1. Government space agencies explore low Earth orbit and establish an outpost there. – This is now complete!
  2. Based on the exploration in step 1, private enterprise now markets low Earth orbit for commercial passenger spaceflight, dominated by space tourism but also featuring commercial space manufacturing and university-funded science, and creates a growing, economically self-sustaining low Earth orbit infrastructure. – Now just beginning. Expect this phase to unfold during the 2020s, with ultimately thousands of passengers flying to orbit and back every week.
  3. As low Earth orbit becomes more populated and costs of access fall, a market will appear for lunar flyby trips. These are satisfied by adapting existing space hotel designs for injection into Earth-Moon cycler orbits, thus ensuring that full solar flare protection, repair facilities and buffers of consumables can be built up in cislunar space. – Late 2020s to 2030s.
  4. The growing space hotel system and the demand for translunar propellants create a large-scale market for volatiles, especially water, in orbit which can be satisfied by robotic mining of the near-Earth asteroids. Again, government exploration, in this case robotic asteroid exploration, is needed now to develop the technologies towards eventual commercial sustainability. – 2030s to 2040s.

An initial traffic level on the order of 10,000 fare-paying passengers to and from low Earth orbit every year, thus 40 every working day of the week worldwide, should be seen as a rough guide to a fully sustainable, permanent industry, capable of further growth without any need for government subsidy. (The current level is 12 astronauts/year, or 15 when the Chinese bother to launch, all of whom are government specialists – see last month’s graphs.)

With the levels of production and maturity of space hardware resulting from daily passenger flights to multiple space hotels and laboratories, the next phase of manned exploration of the surfaces of the Moon and Mars, and setting up of settlements there, will be a vastly easier problem to solve.

Note also the interesting prospect of having international political meetings into space, as I discussed two years ago.

Just as NASA did not have to invent the aircraft in order to ferry its Apollo astronauts between Houston and Florida, so it should not find itself building special, government-only spacecraft to get around the Earth-Moon system when it starts on its “Journey to Mars”.

Elon Musk and Mars


Of course NASA isn’t the only one with its eyes on Mars. What are we to make of Elon Musk’s announcement a few days ago that SpaceX was almost ready to start sending Dragon spacecraft to land there?

(See reports in Wired and Time magazines. More links and comment from Rand Simberg here, here and here.)

I suggest that what applies to NASA also applies to SpaceX (and to the Russian, Chinese and European space agencies). Namely:

So while we can look forward to new and more realistic hopes for astronaut exploration of Mars in 10 to 20 years time, those of us interested in permanent colonisation must not skimp the preparation that is needed on Earth first!

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