On 14 February I wrote an e-mail to the Rt Hon Lord Drayson PhD, Minister of State for Science and Innovation, at the Dept for Innovation, Universities and Skills (email@example.com).
I referred to his Royal Society speech 10 days previously, in which he offered three criteria for identifying areas of innovation which are worthy of greater focus in this country:
I argued that these criteria clearly indicated that Britain should support the ground-breaking work on developing reusable spaceplanes being done in this country, and singled out by name the two longest-established companies: Reaction Engines Ltd and Bristol Spaceplanes Ltd.
I concluded with the words: “I therefore urge you to ensure that British spaceplane developers are given vigorous official encouragement and are supported at every possible opportunity.” (NB this was a week or so before the announcement of a significant ESA contract awarded to one of these companies.)
About a month later I received from the minister the following highly encouraging reply, which I reproduce here in full.
From: Rt Hon Lord Drayson PhD
Minister of State for Science and Innovation
Department of Innovation, Universities & Skills
12 March 2009
Dear Mr Ashworth
Thank you for your e-mail of 14 February, about the interesting work being done by both Reaction Engines and Bristol Spaceplanes.
Space research is an area that I am particularly enthusiastic about and a field in which the United Kingdom (UK) is both a serious and important player. We are already host to the world’s most successful mobile satellite communications company and the most innovative satellite manufacturer. We maintain a world class research capability in space science and in the use of satellite data, in addressing climate and natural disasters.
Space Research and Development consistently presents new economic opportunities and I am eager to see that UK companies make the most of these exciting challenges. The work of Bristol Spaceplanes and Reaction Engines are perfect examples of British companies developing innovative and disruptive technology. Such innovation could revolutionise the future of space and maintain the UK’s position at the forefront of space technology.
With the help of the British National Space Centre, Reaction Engines have recently won a European Space Agency contract to complete a proof of principle study and I eagerly await the completion of this work. The current work being done is most encouraging and I wish both companies every success in moving their ideas forward.
Minister for Science and Innovation
Kingsgate House, 66-74 Victoria Street, London SW1E 6SW
Tel: +44 (0)207 215 5555 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Investing in our future
What is the most efficient relationship between the space agency and private enterprise? How can the space mission and the space business work together, efficiently and creatively? Or should they be advised not to attempt to do so at all?
From time to time people share with me their view that the conventional space agency paradigm for manned spaceflight will have to give way to commercial exploitation if progress is to be made. For example, my piece on the ISS and other space stations (AE 39, 6 Dec. 2008) inspired the comment that the only practical footing for space stations is to base them on commercial activities such as tourism and industrial research.
And Charles Lurio recently wrote in The Lurio Report: “As usual, I am loathe to waste energy on NASA-related space policy -- as long as that policy neither materially aids nor harms the entrepreneurial developments essential for a practical, growing human future in space.”
An idea sometimes mooted is that an international commercial consortium might be formed to take over the ISS, thus saving governments, who have meanwhile lost interest in running it themselves, from having to explain to their electorates why a facility built with many tens of billions of dollars of public money is now going to be deorbited and totally destroyed. If in the intervening 10 years or so a more economical transport system can be developed, perhaps based on the spaceplane designs now attracting interest in the UK, we may yet see this happen.
In the essay printed as item (3) below, Dr Marco Bernasconi offers his own reasoning as to why the current government-led paradigm of space exploration should be viewed skeptically.
I must emphasise that Marco’s essay is a response to proposals to increase and/or refocus global government space spending with the aim of more effectively promoting the space exploration vision, and not a condemnation of public-private partnerships as such.
He has written elsewhere (personal correspondence, received 22 March 2009) that he finds it perfectly acceptable if an existing company with a well-defined product strategy receives a contract from a space agency, and so he has no difficulty in joining with myself and many others to congratulate Reaction Engines on their recent ESA contract (while advising Alan Bond and his team to look to the protection of their proprietary knowledge!).
The danger in his view is of monopolistic government control over extraterrestrial development, and in this I find myself in agreement.
In 2005, I argued: “The transformation of society [...] from a global to a multiglobal level [...] cannot be decreed from above. It must take place as an evolutionary, system-level phenomenon, one in which all parts of society play a role, but where no single part succeeds in controlling the outcome.” -- the opposite to the currently fashionable approach of uniting the world’s space agencies into a global space cartel focused on fulfilling a global exploration strategy.
For my full meditation on this question, see my essay “The Mission, the business and the tandem” (part 1, 31 January 2005, and part 2, 31 January 2005).
[The following, originally written on 21 December 2008, is a response to the call to support the Space Renaissance Initiative launched by Adriano Autino and others around that time. See AE issue 44 (12 April 2009), items (1) and (2). -- SA]
As you may know, I fully agree on the importance of accessing, developing and exploiting extraterrestrial resources, as well on the feasibility of achieving these objectives using largely known technology, at reasonable costs, and within a useful time-frame.
I cannot, however, “add my signature” to the call to join the Space Renaissance Initiative, as it seems to ask for more influence by the most destructive entities that continue to associate with impunity: the so-called national governments. From the persons who live through these entities and operate them (for their own benefit foremost) proceeds the greatest menace for all people -- in the present century, as in the previous one.
The call (as originally issued in December 2008) seems to suggest that the G20 intend “to solve the economic crisis”. They may say so -- in truth, they neither wish it nor can do it. The individuals that come together under that moniker want to advance their hold on power by going through the motions of appearing to “do something” -- as politicians like to be seen doing. Accordingly, the probability that they will adopt a measure that could indeed contribute to bring about an open world compares to the survival rate of a proverbial snowball in hell.
The guys in government actually like closed worlds: control is a key word for them, and openings make it more difficult. This explains why, for them, road blocks become ever more necessary, more regulations are better than fewer ones, and cash-less transactions better than direct disbursements. The financial crisis resulted not from a failure of some “neo-liberal ideology”, but from the abuse of a fraudulent monetary system created, maintained, supported and regulated by governments. Unsurprisingly, politicians promise more government regulation to avoid future similar collapses! Quite conveniently they seem to forget that many of the features were governmental measures imposed after the 1929 crisis, to avoid any repeat events.
Before asking the G20 to support space industrialization, imagine how they would react to suggestions like:
I do guess that these suggestions wouldn’t meet with great success, although history shows these measures do work well towards the indicated objectives.
The current crisis -- which will cause huge suffering for untold numbers of real people -- represents an excellent opportunity indeed for the politicians, big and small, sane and psychopaths, more or less dishonest. It gives them -- ecozis and other socialist nationalists of the current crop -- a huge chance to acquire more power and to consolidate it (to their favour), for decades to come.
Implement the Space Option? What for? Politicians have plenty of food, energy, cars and planes, and swell residences. And we all will pay for this, and more. The US government alone has spent more than two trillion dollars in 2008 to support the crisis, sorry, the economy. Non-existing money, of course, created ad-hoc. It will translate into a nice inflation rate, the next couple of years. And who suffers more under an inflationary regime?
NB: Criswell and Waldron (1991) estimated the investment for developing their proposed lunar power system at $0.6 trillion over some ten years. Factoring some past inflation into that figure, it looks like the US federal crisis-related outlays during 2008 would buy TWO lunar power development programmes.
Can we only move the astronautical endeavour forward by reinforcing the states’ power and “authority”? Or do other approaches exist -- maybe even some that, at the same time, will reduce said power and undermine that “authority”? Here, I tend to answer affirmatively to the second question, with some evidence to support my choice.
In a proper ethical analysis, we would attempt to quantify our points in support of the different theses. By analogy with many processes observed in the physical world (and probably inspired by Asimov -- see “The End of Eternity”), I have argued that a proper ethical intervention ought to be “minimal”. Trying to set in motion processes (even correct and corrective) within the most inefficient entities known does not seem to qualify. Finally, we have to consider the probability of success. Observation of past events does not let an appeal to the “powers-that-be” look promising.
On the moral side, you may wish to consider a historical similitude. Nowadays, it has become fashionable to criticize von Braun and his team because they developed rocketry on military funds from the Third Reich. But, to paraphrase Heinlein: “Sure, they used money robbed by Hitler to develop weapons for him. But they didn’t know that when they started. You Space Renaissance guys would take money robbed by the G20 governments and support global control by them -- and you certainly do know.”
The most urgent issue for all astronautical humanists consists in identifying a way to get government out of the space business, because the last forty years have shown that no space development will occur as long as state agencies act as doorkeepers to this new arena for human activity.
The people promoting the Space Renaissance ought to focus on productive steps along that way -- in the awareness that, within the space establishment, very few people share or support these important visions and goals. For instance, the recent MIT report on new goals for future human space programs, while calling for a “more, not less ambitious” space policy, only addresses “long-term exploration”.
Dr Marco C Bernasconi
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