Towards a Spacefaring Civilization

by Gordon R. Woodcock, Boeing Defense and Space Group, Huntsville, United States,

Abstract: Three questions are addressed: (1) Is the U.S. a spacefaring nation? (2) Are we a spacefaring civilization? What are the benefits of being one? If we are not, how do we become one? (3) What is the significance of expansion of human presence into the solar system? The paper considers these questions from a technical/economic viewpoint, i.e. what things are or could be feasible? For example, one can dismiss such notions as growing food on Mars for supply to Earth on the basis of fundamental lower bounds to space transportation cost. One cannot similarly dismiss notions of supply of energy to Earth from space, but great progress from today's space operations costs towards lower bounds is necessary. Cost reduction goals, means, and prospects are described. It is concluded that: ... The U.S. is a spacefaring nation. The U.S. citizenry are not a spacefaring civilization nor are any others on Earth. To become a spacefaring civilization, we must have a growing space industry. The necessary growth must be generated in the private sector, i.e. commercial space. New markets are needed; space communications alone is not enough. These new markets cannot develop at today's space transportation cost. The most logical next step towards more economic space transportation is a commercially operated, production engineered ELV with about 50,000 lb. payload. Purchase of these commercial launch services, by a major government program such as SEI, as anchor tenant, would benefit both SEI and commerical users. The combined market base is estimated as large enough to stimulate commerical development of a genuinely economic reusable launch system. Commercial ventures supporting a spacefaring civilization can initially prosper only in symbiosis with major government space programs that develop critical high-risk technologies and share costs and markets. Resulting cost reductions and market growth could lead to meeting all criteria given in the paper for a true spacefaring civilization. 'Expansion of human presence into the solar system' could begin on a meaningful scale.

Subject Headings: Space exploration | Human factors | Economic factors | Government | Mars | Power supply

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