Astronauts are millionaires

May the gold be with you

| Topic in ak 655: Cosmonism

Why the universe could be taken over by billionaires and corporations

From Baha Kirlidokme

When western meets space opera, it means either a new Star Wars movie - or the future of humanity. Because this is just about to start the next gold rush. Space takes on the role of the "Wild West". The space cowboys will likely look less like Han Solo from the Star Wars saga and more like the astronauts we already know. At the forefront are private companies, above all Elon Musk's SpaceX, Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin from Amazon boss Jeff Bezos. They have all recognized the economic potential that space has.

In doing so, they concentrate on very different areas. The billionaires Bezos and Branson are initially relying on tourist flights. At least economically, that makes perfect sense. Due to the falling marginal costs of space travel, the tickets can even be afforded by ordinary millionaires, who of course would otherwise have remained completely on the ground. $ 250,000 for a 90-minute flight with Virgin Galactic, including a few minutes of weightlessness, must sound like a bargain to non-normal people. Musk, on the other hand, relies primarily on contract flights for NASA or other private companies, be it to shoot satellites into space, or in the future also astronauts. There are also other companies such as HyperSat, Rocket Labs, Boeing, Airbus, AXA XL or Marsh that work on space technology or offer insurance for satellites.

Not everything is bad

Of course, there are also non-capitalist reasons to open up space. We are in the process of making our planet uninhabitable. So it's good to have a plan B for humanity. The moon or Mars colonies planned by NASA and SpaceX could ensure the survival of mankind and mean a new start. Quasi a second chance in the not unlikely event that humanity on earth destroys itself. It is of course an open question whether humanity would learn from its mistakes and live ecologically on Mars.

But it also makes sense to get raw materials such as gold, platinum or other metals from asteroids in the future in order to stop the overexploitation of the earth and to close inhuman mines on earth. These metals are more or less indispensable for our technologies, as gold is even in our cell phones. The technology and plans for space mining have long been there at NASA. However, the gold rush has been delayed due to insufficient government funding.

For example, we have long since been able to land space probes on small celestial bodies that are several hundred million kilometers away. For almost 20 years. Japan only proved this again in February when it dropped the Hayabusa2 space probe on Comet Ryugu to collect rock samples for research. NASA started the New Asteroid Initiative research project in 2014, which was supposed to guide small asteroids into orbit around the moon. There, astronauts were supposed to use probes to test rock mining. The technology behind it was quite simple and had existed for a long time. The first practical tests should have taken place this year, but the US Congress no longer wanted to fund the project in 2017.

States are to blame

Most governments are unwilling to put a lot of money into their space programs. Because of this, billionaires like Musk have easy market entry and create an oligopoly. The annual turnover in the space industry is currently 400 billion US dollars, according to the Swiss megabank UBS. By 2030, sales should even be twice as high. These are revenues that the states of the world miss out on.

It looks similar in Germany and Europe. Airbus, for example, supplies NASA with the service module for its manned Orion capsule, i.e. the module that is attached to the capsule and moves it. The capsule is expected to bring astronauts to the moon again in 2024. At the same time, more and more companies are emerging in Germany that work for space projects. The federal government, on the other hand, slept a long time. In the Handelsblatt newspaper, the Federal Government's space coordinator, Thomas Jarzombek, was dissatisfied with the Federal Ministry of Economics' financing policy. For the 2020 federal budget, he would have liked to see funding for the ESA amounting to one billion euros. However, the federal government has decided to subsidize the European space agency with only 855 million euros, the German space program only with 297 million. The ESA's Ariane rocket has long been considered out of date, at least since the innovative Falcon rockets from SpaceX, whose launchers are reusable. (See ak 653)

The space economy currently has an annual turnover of $ 400 billion. By 2030, sales should even be twice as high.

At the end of November, however, the 22 member countries of ESA met at the Space19 + Ministerial Council and agreed on a record budget of 14.4 billion euros for the next three years. ESA Director General Jan Wörner was pleasantly surprised by this funding. "That is more than I had suggested," he is quoted in Spiegel Online. With 3.3 billion euros, Germany is now the largest contributor. In the past three years it was only 1.9 billion. In contrast to the private sector, the money should also be used for protection against asteroids, for science or for earth observation due to climate change, for example to enable more precise CO2 measurements.

On the one hand, there are the neoclassical economists who warn against pumping more money into state space programs. That would only damage the technological innovation of the private sector, which is just so important for space travel. So it was Elon Musk who developed the reusable stages of the Falcon missiles due to the economic pressures he is under. Most of the cost of a missile is actually the missile itself, 99.6 percent to be precise. The remaining 0.4 percent of the costs are attributable to the fuel. Until now, rockets were nothing more than disposable containers, but SpaceX models are reusable. The Falcon 9 rocket currently costs around $ 54 million. After launch, their launchers separate, like any other rocket, to reduce weight. However, the SpaceX stages then land on platforms under computer control, while the stages of other rockets simply burn up in orbit. However, this may just be wild west rhetoric. Who said NASA hadn't developed reusable missiles too, had they had more money to spend on development research?

The technology is there, the interest is lagging behind

When governments see a concrete benefit for themselves, they sometimes invest money in space travel. Some states are actually developing a slowly growing interest in space, as shown not only by the new ESA funding. In 2015, when he was President of the United States, Barack Obama declared the United States to be the mining rights administrator of the universe by law. Theoretically, the US Department of Defense, the US Department of Transportation and NASA have since been able to decide who is allowed to fly into space and for what purpose. A law that may well become relevant in the future. And that should actually have led to an outcry (but it didn't). Because - extraterrestrials have to listen for a moment - this US law violates the Outer Space Treaty, the space law in which the United Nations agreed in 1967 that no state in this world can claim space for itself because it belongs to all of humanity .

NASA is currently working on plans for the very useful Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway, a space station that should facilitate traffic for Mars missions. Space expansion also includes plans to produce fuel such as hydrogen or helium-3 in different corners of the solar system. NASA's Glenn Research Center, for example, is researching this. Gas stations in space would mean greater ranges for spaceships, and larger spaceships, perhaps even transporters, could be put together in space. Because in order to escape the gravity of the earth, you have to expend a lot of energy. The bigger a rocket, the more fuel it uses to launch. With several space stations, spaceships would not have to land and take off on planets all the time, which would be more economical, safer and easier.

China specialized in the development of spy satellites years ago. Russia has had a military space department since 2001, which officially looks after the protection of its own satellites. So it is only logical that US President Donald Trump signed a decree in February of this year to establish his own space force. The US has also been working on the Boeing X-37 military space fighter, whose unmanned missions are under strict secrecy, for years. Germany is also considering its own spaceport that can at least launch smaller satellites into space.

If the development remains as capitalistic as before, space travel could look like this in the future: The USA and China are building new space stations and bases on the moon as starting points for missions. SpaceX receives a special contract from the US government for government contracts. Companies get the right to mine on asteroids. Anyone who crosses borders has to deal with the respective space force of the other state and is sanctioned. That could lead to a new cold war. If capitalism on earth continues to escalate and the climate catastrophe is not stopped, the millionaires and billionaires will save themselves on the Mars colony planned by SpaceX. So that would actually have something of a second »Wild West«.

Baha Kirlidokme

is a freelance author and founder of the political online magazine Relevant Magazin. He enjoys writing about left-wing issues, right-wing extremism, and DC comics.