Rich Romp to the Stars: Fueling the $Trillion Space Economy

Planetary Resources
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Trillions, High and Low

The transition from a $hundreds of billions space economy to a $trillions space economy may be quicker than anyone thought. Cheap access to space opens all kinds of doors which were expected to stay closed for the next few decades at least. Everything is changing.

Space is already a $350 billion economy, or roughly half a percent of the world’s GDP, [Morgan Stanley] estimates. And as more investments pour into technologies like reusable rockets that make space exploration cheaper, that economy could grow to $1 trillion, especially as countries recognize the need for a space presence to maintain national security. __

The internet satellite business is expected to earn up to $1 trillion per year worldwide, in roughly a decade or two. SpaceX is in line to eat a significant piece of that pie.

Asteroids worth more than a quadrillion dollars are floating free, waiting for ambitious space miners to strike paydirt. Several earth-based companies are already scanning the skies for likely prospects.

The space tourism business is already worth over $1 billion, just for earth-based space tourism such as “the Air and Space Museum, the Kennedy launch site, space camps, etc“. Moving space tourism into outer space — sub-orbital flights, orbiting space hotels, lunar resorts, etc. could easily boost the industry into the $trillion range.

An emerging cis-lunar economy that will service lunar bases, orbiting habitats and hotels, and orbiting fuel and supply basis supporting missions to Mars, the asteroids, and deeper space, could easily be worth $1 trillion even in the early stages of development.

Another factor playing into the space equation is US President Trump’s proposed national “Space Force” which Morgan Stanley says can fuel a “$1 trillion intergalactic economy.”

Morgan Stanley has been bullish about investing in outer space enterprises ever since the new private companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin began testing their rockets.

In the last fifteen years, the business of space exploration has changed substantially, with private corporations joining governments in creating and launching rockets and satellites. The recent advent of reusable rockets is drastically cutting the cost of sending satellites into space, and the potential for mass production of satellites could slash those costs further. __ Morgan Stanley

The two quickest ways for a $billionaire to become a $trillionaire are through the energy business or the outer space enterprises. We were discussing this topic back in 2010 and 2012 on the original Al Fin blog. Since then, Elon Musk has developed SpaceX into a viable satellite launch company worth perhaps $50 billion. Not far behind is Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin space launch enterprise. Bezos is pouring $1 billion per year or more into his company and is planning to sell sub-orbital space tourism flights beginning next year.

If you have a good idea for a space enterprise, consult this list of US billionaires for possible backers or collaborators. It is never too early to begin lining up your capital.

No one knows what these first steps will lead to. But we do know that a lot of people will pay a good sum for just a taste of outer space. And we know that people will pay for broadband internet that can follow them anywhere on Earth. And we know that $trillion and $quadrillion asteroids are orbiting just within reach — if we set up the infrastructure to find them, then mine them.

In fact, we already know about significant possibilities for valuable resources on the moon, on Mars, in the asteroid belt, and beyond. All we need is a reliable and affordable way to get there, and the experience and expertise to do the job safely and profitably.

There is room on Earth for a trillion people to live in a pristine environment — but only if the people are smart people. Since the people currently on Earth are not particularly intelligent, we had best keep their numbers under 20 billion.

In outer space there is room and plenty of resources for several trillions of humans to live safely and abundantly — if they are smart people. Living in an island of atmosphere surrounded by a sea of vacuum, stupid people are likely to stumble drunk out the airlock. Best to ship anyone born stupid in space back groundside. 😉

Asteroids: Path to riches, path to ruin. Humans need to learn how to find the one and avoid the other.

Some interesting space musings from the original Al Fin blog

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16 Responses to Rich Romp to the Stars: Fueling the $Trillion Space Economy

  1. Abelard Lindsey says:

    I agree that the space frontier will necessarily select for “Heinleinian” competent individuals. This alone is the single biggest reason for space colonization.

    • alfin2101 says:

      Large colonies of many people will necessarily enforce strict rules on inhabitants to prevent catastrophic events. These are not likely to be libertarian societies. Most of them may even be closely tied to Earth governments.

      Smaller settlements of extended families or close associates may have a far wider range of accepted behavioural norms across their spectra. They may also be the greatest source for disruptive innovations that allow humans to go farther, faster, safer.

      The lower the costs of space access and habitation, the more examples of the latter type of settlement we are likely to see.

      • Abelard Lindsey says:

        What I meant by Heinleinian competent people are those who “have their shit together” enough that they can actually live in a space colony for a long time without damaging or destroying it. In other words, the kind of functional people you prefer to have as neighbors.

        They will have rules to prevent catastrophic events, sure. But these are the kind of rules that normal people consider common sense. These rules are analogous to like not trying to open the door on a plane while cruising at 40,000 feet. These are not the kind of rules that inhibit libertarianism.

        A socio-economic system (and people) like Singapore or Hong Kong would be perfectly suited for a space colony. In fact, when I image large scale space colonies (like those proposed by Jerry O’neill) I think of them as space-based versions of Singapore, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. That’s because I’ve lived in and visited all three of these places and they make me think of space colonies when living in them.

        • alfin2101 says:

          I see your point.

          For larger colonies especially, the Singapore ethic makes great sense. No special need to be omni-competent if you live with tens of thousands of other colonists. Basic multi-competence with high conscientiousness would be fine.

          The smaller the outpost or expedition, the more important Heinleinian omni-competence becomes, combined with the ability to improvise on the fly.

          Many space applications won’t need humans at all. But when a human presence is needed, Heinlein types should be close by.

      • Abelard Lindsey says:

        This discussion reminds me of many conversations I’ve had with my wife (who is Japanese). My wife came up with the notion of “exact” and “about” people. Exact people are those who are careful, do things in a precise manner, and make the effort to do it right. About people tend to do it in an about manner. If they don’t get it quite right, it doesn’t matter because “it’s good enough”.

        Japanese tend to be “exact” people, where as the Chinese tend to be “about” people. We lived in Taiwan and Malaysia following our marriage in Japan. So, we have had many interesting discussions about the various peoples that we have come in contact with. Lets just say that my wife is as keenly aware of the reality of HBD as anyone in any other these blog, even though her upbringing in the nuances of politeness of Japanese culture ensures that she would never discuss this outside our own home or car.

        You want “exact people” for, say the airlines where planes have to be maintained properly and flown by careful pilots (Taiwan-based China Airlines learned this the hard way). The same is necessary for precision manufacturing such as semiconductors and related. The Chinese are getting better about becoming “exact” people, especially compared to the 1990’s. However, they have some ways yet to go before they get there. South Koreans have probably achieved Japanese-levels of competence in this respect. Amongst Europeans you have the Germans and Scandinavians (who are certainly exact people) and some English and French as well. The Czechs and some Poles as well.

        Since you need an exact people to be able to colonize space without catastrophic failure. It is likely that effective space colonists will be found amongst these ethnic groups, as well as more enterprising and competent individuals of the anglosphere.

      • painlord2k says:

        I would suggest the strict rules will not be enforced by “a government” but the inhabitants themselves.
        I would see, more probable, in the long run, to see very modular colonies with individuals and families owning their own “house” with the bare minimum needed to survive in space and be able to move from colony to colony, if the government of one become inefficient.
        Like seasteading is imagined today.

        Even if million of people move and live in space (or billions) there will be plenty of resources pro-capita. This would allow people to own a lot of thing useful to be independent and mobile.

        In the XV century, Venice forced the glass foundries to move from Venice itself to the isle of Murano because of the risk of fires. I expect heavy dangerous industries will not be allowed to work inside a residential colony. They will be placed near but separated.

        The colony itself could be a network of corridors and big halls allowing separated house modules to be connected to the station when the needs arise. In this way, if anyone screw up, he will surely screw up himself way before he screw up the rest of the colony.
        Self selection at work.

  2. bob sykes says:

    The asteroid belt is fool’s gold. The belt ranges form 2.2 to 3.2 au from the sun, while earth is (by def.) 1 au. The closest asteroids are 93 million miles away, and the farthest are 360 million miles away, on the other side of the solar system. The asteroids are also thinly distributed in the belt, being on average 600,000 miles apart. The great majority have no minerals of any value. And there is a very large energy requirement to change the orbits from the belt to near earth.

    The best analogy is gold in the ocean. There is a huge amount, but it is very dilute, and the energy cost to recover the gold is prohibitive.

    • alfin2101 says:

      Most of the asteroids that have the space resources companies salivating, are the Earth crossing asteroids or “near Earth asteroids.” These enterprises are developing quite sophisticated ways of examining the composition of asteroids from a great distance, as well as devising small robotic mass spectrometers swarms that can examine asteroids on site, without human guidance.

      The asteroid belt is quite different, and is much farther away. Selected belt asteroids will play a role in solar system development — as will some of the moons of the outer gas giants. But humans must learn to build the basic cis-lunar infrastructures (including ones in the Earth and lunar orbits) first, make them pay for themselves, and learn how to make good bets on the further targets.

      Heaven has always been a long shot gamble. Affordable space launch and orbiting/space based infrastructures will help. But you always have winners and losers in any high stakes gambling arena.

    • painlord2k says:

      When you are in orbit of the Earth, you are halfway to everywhere inside the inner Solar System.
      Add some orbital elevators to Earth, Moon, Mars, there is a lot of places you can get to.
      And you don’t need to send humans to collect resources, just robots.
      it just needs time to see the exponential effect to pick up steam.

      In space a house like Versailles for a family will become normal.
      Dangerous children needs space and resources to play and experiment properly.

  3. Joe Wooten says:


    Back in 1974 when I graduated high school, I was leaning hard toward a degree in Aerospace Engineering and getting involved in the space program. By 1976, it became obvious that we (the USA) was not going to be going anywhere soon, so I switched my major to Mechanical engineering with a specialization on power systems. That way I could still get into the space program in some way designing/building/operating nuclear power plants on the moon. That dream died too as NASA kept screwing up big time with the shuttle. Now I am too old to attempt this and will easily be retired by the time we start building this sic-lunar/LEO infrastructure.

    Maybe my youngest son, who is also an engineer might get to do something in space. We’ll see.

    • alfin2101 says:

      Personnel recruitment for space jobs must emphasise competence, innovativeness, conscientiousness, and ability to react quickly to a crisis. Living and working in space is the equivalent of living under combat conditions at all times. Salaries should take that into account.

    • painlord2k says:

      Look to the work of Aubrey de Grey and Jim faloon about (healthy) life extension and aging reversal.
      There is a, not so slim, chance you can get alive to the time these therapies are available to the general public and nothing prevent you (or anyone else) from accepting some (small) risk and trying something we already know it is working (by scientific paper already published):
      acid acetylsalicylic
      and a few other drugs readily available over the counter.

      • Abelard Lindsey says:

        This is a good point and one made by a one Keith Henson at a space conference about 30 years ago. He said all real spacers are into life extension and cryonics.

        • painlord2k says:

          There is a lot to do in space and 30-40 years are not enough to just dip a toe in it.
          I highly recommend the Arthur Isaac youTube videos about space / future / life extension.
          Any developed nanotechnology can backup our brain in vivo and build a backup brain + body if anything happen to the original copy. We just lose the last few hours or days of recording. We already lose much more in our normal life anyway.

  4. johnnypate says:

    The phrase “pie in the sky” comes to mind. Why I think this… I’m sixty years old and this stuff has been, “just around the corner” my entire life. It will be, “just around the corner” the entire lifetime of anyone reading this blog… unfortunately I won’t be around to say, “I told you so” since the religion of transhumanism is just that, a particularly nutty religion not based in observable phenomenal reality.

    • alfin2101 says:

      The thing that separates “pie in the sky” from disruptive and explosive innovation, is the underlying details and realities. The cost of space access is significantly lower now than it has been in your entire life. Lower launch costs plus incrementally improving technologies for the profitable exploitation of the outer space environment make all the difference. If you are like most people, Johnny, you tend to sit back and wait for technological wonders to land in your lap, before you believe in them. You are in good company, so relax.

      If Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, etc. had taken the same approach, they would not be billionaires and we would not have a lot of the things we take for granted — which just fell in our laps so to speak.

      I appreciate the “wait and see while drinking booze and being cynical” approach, for I certainly know a lot of people like that. Have another one, and I promise before you are done you’ll feel right as rain. 😉

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