Focus on space in Germany’s G20 agenda
by Vidvuds Beldavs et al.
|The G20 process, which is focused on global economic issues, is the proper forum to address steps to create a space economy that may eventually dwarf the present global economy.|
The European Union has unique capacities to provide leadership in the process of creating a space economy. Such an economy could generate extraordinary wealth from space-based resources. Achieving this potential will create hundreds of thousands of well-paid jobs and drive innovation and scientific discovery. Building the space economy will also create tools and capabilities to address global challenges like climate change and planetary defense, while advancing security for Europe and the world.
The EU is structured to foster collaboration among sovereign states to meet grand challenges. The capabilities that the EU has demonstrated through the Horizon 2020 research and innovation funding program can be applied to challenges such as industrial development of the Moon, or mining the asteroids, or creating infrastructure in cislunar space to dramatically lower the costs and risks of operating in space. The EU has demonstrated leadership in addressing challenges of comparable complexity like climate change. The EU also has a track record of accomplishments in space together with ESA, and has been active advancing space policy through the International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities.
|This paradigm shift—from government-financed and government-led space exploration to a self-sustaining space economy based on resources in space—calls for a dramatically increased role by the private sector.|
ESA, the EU’s partner in space, provides space leadership by organizing non-binding forums such as the International Space Exploration Working Group (ISECG), whose membership includes 15 leading space agencies. ISECG responsibilities include the development of the global space exploration strategy and global space exploration roadmap. ISECG does not address economic development in space. To develop a self-sustaining space economy, a global forum is needed that can address economic issues such as mining rights and claims, the creation of markets for space resources, and the financing of space infrastructure. No doubt the financial systems to serve the space economy and to facilitate its development will require significant financial innovations, including a space economy currency. Such issues are the domain of the G20 and of the financial institutions associated with the G20 process, including the World Bank and the IMF, among others.
We therefore propose that the 2017 G20 theme be long-term and break new ground in global collaboration, in the spirit of the IGY. We propose that Germany’s G20 lay the foundations to build a positive, sustainable, long-term future for humanity through international collaboration toward creation of a self-sustaining space economy.
Economic activity in space is already large, and the pace of growth is increasing exponentially. But currently there is no economic activity in space beyond communications satellites in geosynchronous orbit. No asteroids have been mined. In fact, a business case for ventures beyond Earth orbit that does not depend on space agency funding does not yet exist. There is no commercial law for doing business on the Moon, or to mine the asteroids. Yet the technologies to enable these things are under development by many countries. Launch costs are coming down. The pace of creating new space businesses is accelerating. Indeed, we are fast approaching an historical inflection point.
This paradigm shift—from government-financed and government-led space exploration to a self-sustaining space economy based on resources in space—calls for a dramatically increased role by the private sector. While Elon Musk and other billionaires are inspiring a generation of new space entrepreneurs, sound business models will also be required. As presently structured, a business case cannot be made for industrial development of the Moon. Both government action and intergovernmental collaboration will be needed to create economic structures for the space economy. Valuable resources have been identified in space, but to transform these resources into capital-creating wealth will require new infrastructure and new technologies.
Space projects also tend to require more time than prudent business decisions would permit under present criteria. Yet facilities such as power plants have been built despite generating no cash flows for a decade or more. Innovations such as 30-year mortgages created the basis for a stable housing sector. Financial innovations and innovative actions by governments are needed to transform the long-term possibility of a self-sustaining space economy into a reality. NASA public-private partnerships are helping to drive down launch costs. Much more is possible through concerted public-private action. Making this future possible will generate hundreds of thousands of jobs, as well as develop technologies with broad near-term applications on Earth. Innovative actions initially building on private-public partnership models will draw increasing private investment, lured by the potential for extraordinary wealth creation as the space economy unfolds.
ESA has proposed an international Moon Village. Such a project could grow to significantly exceed the financial scope of the International Space Station (ISS), whose total construction and operations costs has been estimated to be over $150 billion. The ISS involves contributions from 15 nations: the US, Russia, Canada, Japan, and ESA member states (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.) The Moon Village promises to be more inclusive, with room for all nations on Earth as well as for involvement by private businesses, both large and small. The Google Lunar X PRIZE, which has motivated many small entrepreneurial groups to reach for the Moon, suggests what may become possible. Reaching the Moon and getting stuff done in space is no longer the exclusive province of NASA and other major powers’ space agencies. Development of Moon Village promises to be a laboratory piloting the global collaboration needed for a sustainable space economy.
|The G20 is the forum where leaders and experts from around the world can discuss financial innovations and economic measures to develop the space economy. Germany’s G20 Presidency is the ideal time to raise this proposal.|
Space is a field marked by significant international collaboration, despite sometimes serious political differences among countries. The ISS has been in orbit since 1998, and more than 220 people have visited, including three from Germany. Many more will follow in the coming decade. Enabling technologies are being developed to mine the Moon and the asteroids and to open prospects for human settlements in space. While economic crises have resulted in delays and cancelations of some space missions, economics has also driven innovations that promise to dramatically reduce costs to launch payloads to low Earth orbit and beyond. Reductions in launch costs are creating opportunities in a widening range of applications, which are expected to increase launch rates, thus further driving down costs, increasing reliability, and lowering risks.
Private industry is key to innovation, but space ventures are expensive, have long payback times, and will remain largely driven by strategic government investments until a space economy becomes self-sustaining. A self-sustaining space economy is no longer a vision for the long-term future, but rather a near-term realizable prospect. Given an effective strategy that enables international collaboration and marshals increasing levels of private investment, a strong case can be made that a tipping point for the emergence of a self-sustaining space economy could be achieved by 2030. After the tipping point is reached, private investment will grow exponentially, as will jobs and wealth.
Key to reaching this tipping point is the engagement of all of the major economies of the world in a strategically driven program. That process will be marked by exponentially increasing economic activity in space, as robust business models become possible for a widening range of commercial and industrial opportunities.
The International Lunar Decade embraces a broad vision for promoting international collaboration to create a self-sustaining space economy, where wealth will be generated on the basis of resources in space. The G20 is the forum where leaders and experts from around the world can discuss financial innovations and economic measures to develop the space economy. Germany’s G20 Presidency is the ideal time to raise this proposal. We urge you to place the International Lunar Decade Campaign on the agenda of the G20 as a bold unifying vision that can enable a most promising future for all of humanity.
It is urgent that the decision to include space economic development on the 2017 G20 Agenda be made as quickly as possible. The issues are complex, and working groups need as much time as possible to begin to address the multifold issues involved so that they can report out at the G20 Summit in Hamburg in July of 2017.
Respectfully submitted by:
Vidvuds Beldavs, member of the International Lunar Decade Working Group.
This open letter to Chancellor Merkel reflects the input of the members of the ILDWG as individuals but does not reflect the official position of NASA, ESA or any other organization with which the members may be affiliated. The letter has been revised from the original form that listed members of the ILDWG and their affiliations at the request of members listed.