The space race

The space race

Space is the final frontier and there is a race for it. Many countries are trying to increase their capacity to reach for the stars. The latest move has come from India. Almost a year ago in February 2017, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) had launched 104 satellites on a single PSLV rocket, a world record. The launch on Jan. 19 included a Cartosat-2 Series Earth Observation satellite, along with 30 other micro- and nano-satellites from six different countries.

Meanwhile, lots of private companies joined the race too. I am not talking about Space X alone. Rocket Lab, a California-based start-up, launched three small satellites into orbit from New Zealand over the weekend. It plans to eventually carry out 50 launches per year—almost one every week. Rocket Lab was founded more than 10 years ago by Beck, a New Zealand aerospace engineer. The company’s backers include the United States aerospace giant Lockheed Martin (LMT) and several venture capital firms. We can see new launches by Virgin Orbit and Vector in 2018.

For now, most of these launches have been dedicated to putting satellites into orbit. The manned missions and exploratory missions are still held by national agencies but in the coming years, we can see private businesses putting people on the moon and elsewhere too.

So, why this sudden interest in space? After all, space programs were somewhat frozen after the end of cold war. There are three reasons for this. First of all, space technologies became much more cost efficient with technological developments. The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had put a man on the moon with computers as big as a room, which had computational power much lower than a single clever watch that everyone is wearing these days. Think about the possibilities with all the computing power of the latest computers.

Secondly, with private companies stepping in, a new wave of human resources could be devoted to these projects. The kind of people who are uber talented, crazy about technology and space but don’t want to turn into a bored government employee have new outfits to help them realize their curiosities. Finally, but perhaps the main reason why there has been any race to anywhere in the history of mankind, is the abundance of resources in space.

Asteroid mining is the exploitation of raw materials from asteroids and other minor planets, including near-Earth objects. Minerals can be mined from an asteroid or spent comet, then used in space for construction materials or taken back to Earth. These include gold, iridium, silver, palladium, rhenium, rhodium, ruthenium and tungsten for transport back to Earth, iron, cobalt, manganese, nickel, aluminum, titanium and molybdenum for construction.

Since the dawn of mankind, perhaps all wars have mainly been fought for resources, whether it be land, animals, strategic metals, people, oil, or gold etc. Now, there is a new frontier in front of us. Will we read about wars for cobalt rich asteroids? Are we going to hear stories about how a single company has bought all the rights of interspace mining? What will the future of the space race hold for us? Maybe, after we find unimaginable richness within the comets, we will stop wanting to have so much in our possession. Maybe the future will be anarchist after the Earth will be flooded with resources or maybe it will be a peaceful capitalist society.

I wish I could talk to Ursula K. Leguin about these issues, may her soul rest in peace. Since we have lost another great mind who could imagine futures that many of us could not, we have to force ourselves to think about the future of mankind. Will we really go on this way even after we conquer space?

Ersu Ablak, hdn,