The Space Reviewin association with SpaceNews

Asteroid mining
Utilizing the resources of space has long been a vision of space commercialization proponents. (credit: NASA)

Space commercialization: the view from 1966

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The available radiations of space are so varied that we will be able here only to hint at their manifold uses. Temperature maintenance is elementary. Generation of electrical power from sunlight is useful in today's satellites. No doubt more efficient and cheaper converters will be developed, particularly when the materials can be mined on a captured planetoid and converted into solar cells in ground-controlled factories in orbit. This will have to wait, however, until a planetoid program is set up and carried out, a matter of at least 10 years. Let us return to the exploitation of the resources currently available Manufacture of our solar cells from materials transported from earth will be one of the early practical processes in space.

Radiations of every conceivable wavelength abound in space. The utility and the cost of some of these are wel1 known to industry, others are as yet little known. For instance, the means for investigating the generation and assessment of the utility of monochromatic X-rays and infrared radiations are just now being developed in the laboratories at Varo. Many useful processes will soon be available. They will also be useful in space with the sun providing the radiation.

Development of the subject of the optics of coherent radiations has shown that the image can indeed be at higher temperature than the source. This relieves one of the limitations previously believed to exist in heating by concentration of radiant energy.

Because of the forthright championship of astronautics by our President, we are ready to undertake the development of this new frontier many years earlier than would have been the case.

The structures and systems needed to carry on profitable manufacture in space will take many forms and perhaps occupy many orbits. Continuity of communication and control suggests the special utility of the 24-hour synchronous orbit. We will not herein try to anticipate the forms of these facilities but only suggest that occupation of discrete positions in synchronous orbit by competing organizations is reasonable.

Looking into the longer future for a moment, it is conceivable that a series of structures in synchronous orbital positions be connected together to constitute a 150,000-mile long continuous structure around the earth in the equatorial plane. Structures in sub- and supra-synchronous orbit could be rather easily bound to those in the synchronous orbit, constituting a washer-like band of structures similar to the rings of Saturn, but having all parts thereof synchronous with the control stations below.

Let us return, however, to present technology.


We have touched on some of the resources of space, let us now turn our attention to the role of people in the exploitation of these resources.

Great credit and honor should and will be given to those in our Government who have boldly espoused the cause of astronautics. Because of the forthright championship of astronautics by our President, we are ready to undertake the development of this new frontier many years earlier than would have been the case.

Astronauts today possess the working knowledge required to implement the conversion of the resources of space to the end products required. Planning, organizing, constructing, financing and legalizing programs, all, in the long run, depend on and are, therefore, limited by the training, skill and courage of the astronaut. All the resources, planning and manpower of an army are often focused on the skill, daring and training of a small patrol, or even a single soldier whose actions set the pattern of the total result of a war.

Many, but by no means all, who are now active astronauts will find that their engineering, managerial or financial skills can be developed. Others, however, will have to be trained to take their place.

Members of the American Astronautical Society are scattered through many of the segments of the industrial world. Their skills will be required for the exploitation of the resources of space. The areas of available opportunity for each of you will be multiplied when your specialties become direct requirements of industrial ventures, rather than requirements within corporate stepchildren precariously bidding for Government-sponsored research and exploration.

Most, if not all, of the technological advances required to launch the exploitation or orbital space, utilizing the known resources of space, have been made. It requires only that most valuable of ingredients, an idea.

At first glance, it would seem that large numbers of people would be required for commercial space ventures, but this problem may be largely avoided by the recent improvements in telemetry and computer-controlled automation. Orbital distances being small, the time delay involved would not be a serious handicap. Satellite communication links would provide continuous control, although they would not be required if synchronous orbital positions were used. Since the control of processes would remain in the hands of earthbound technicians, construction assemblers and maintenance workers only will be required in orbit.

In the development of the resources of space, the building of facilities on earth, the communities to serve them, and the auxiliary services to the people of these communities, many new opportunities for employment will be opened up. Labor will benefit as much as any other segment.

Employment opportunities

It is quite likely that the need for further research in space and exploration of the moon and more distant space will require continued expansion of the present transportation system and of the agencies planning, managing and manning the facilities. This will provide abundant opportunities for the individuals in agencies concerned with space.

The opportunities for the financial group working to gather the sums of money required for the various commercial exploitations will be even greater. This is because they invest their time, knowledge and creative ability. Even failure cannot deprive the promoter of the knowledge gained in each venture.

Educators will be pressed to expand their activities into interdisciplinary areas never before related. Both highly specialized people and people knowledgeable in many diverse disciplines will have to be prepared to cope with the gigantic task ahead.

Most, if not all, of the technological advances required to launch the exploitation or orbital space, utilizing the known resources of space, have been made. It requires only that most valuable of ingredients, an idea. This idea must be developed into a completely workable plan, including all the elements discussed here and, perhaps, a number of others.

Leadership must, and always does, arise to put plans into action. It is, of course, uncertain which segment of our society will supply this leadership. I believe that it will come from individuals who have the breadth of knowledge, the drive and perseverance to carry these plans to completion.

It is realized that the basic plan of organizing an entity capable of the necessary steps, managing that organization to plan in depth, arranging financing, negotiating governmental assistance, acquiring all necessary rights to use required inventions and technologies, acquiring personnel and facilities, and then the carrying out of such a plan successfully is a task that must be conceived and executed by an individual or, at most, a very small group. Few companies are successfully started on any other basis. Individuals capable of this task will appear. The time is now.

The problem of providing the means of capturing and bringing into earth orbit planetoids from the trans-Martian asteroid belt is a venture presently outside the capabilities of commercial enterprise. Perhaps, when the pattern is established, venture capital would be able to prospect the belt, particularly if profits from orbital space ventures provided a reasonable part of the required venture funds.

The financial opportunities created by the exploitation of the resources of space will be substantial. One reason is that it is recognized that the risks in new ventures are greater than the old. This will hold true for the investing public. However, it will not be difficult to persuade investors to venture into buying stock in the new companies for three reasons. First, the predictions of the early advocates of astronautics have been fulfilled; second, the efforts of space agencies have been spectacularly successful; and third, because the Comsat venture seems to be sound and popular.

The capital required to break into the industrial race for space will, of course, be large. The size of the individual enterprise depends largely on the means of cooperation between the government agencies and the exploiting company.

There is, of course, an inherent danger in the continued operation of the transportation system by the Government.

Discovery of new frontiers is a function of a few. Larger numbers complete the exploration. Exploration requires organized effort. It was so with the discovery of the New World and the opening of the West. In the latter case, the Federal Government supplied the backing for exploration and purchase and, finally, the means of transportation, which was the key factor in the development of the West. These investments have paid enormous dividends to the taxpayers of our country.


The United States has invested billions in research and development of the means of transportation to space for the purpose of exploring space. It was expected that the chief return would be indirect through the extension of our basic scientific knowledge and the technical fallout applicable to many phases of civilized life.

In developing the transportation capability, our government has opened a new frontier, a frontier so vast that James E. Webb, administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, recently said:

“…many nations and hundreds of thousands of their citizens must find the ways to effective cooperation.”

It will be necessary for the government to make this transportation system available at nominal cost to industry while industry invests its resources in the development of the requisite technical facilities.

This will make it possible for a much larger competitive number of companies to enter the field. It will multiply the chances of overall success in space and reduce the time required.

There is, of course, an inherent danger in the continued operation of the transportation system by the Government.

Government management tends to be more expensive and wasteful than competitive management. Costs will be higher than necessary when reduction of cost is imperative. Bureaucratic caution multiplies when the possibility of profit to the members of industry arises.

It is, therefore, advisable to set a course of relinquishing control of and ownership of the transportation system at a fairly early date.

As a businessman, I will strive to place an organization in the forefront of this new frontier. I welcome the combination of sharing knowledge and experience with the strong competition which will develop. It is my task and my pleasure to call to your attention the opportunities that are available now and to urge you to make plans whereby you may share in the riches of this new frontier.