It’s not an optical illusion. Space really is closer than ever before.
The physical distance might remain the same, but technological advances have closed the access gap between our Earth and the vast expanse of space. Governments no longer hold monopoly on space travel; academia, private companies, and hobbyists are now vying for their place in this new frontier.
What are the broader implications of our changing relationship with space?
The burgeoning space industry is creating new vocations that will need to be filled. So, if you have an interest in the stars and an affinity for rocks, why not take a class on asteroid mining? College students interested in space can now pursue an education in “Space Resources.”
As the first program of its kind, Colorado School of Mining is leading the charge in the education of future space. The inaugural semester kicked off this August, offering post-bachelor students courses including geomechanics, robotics, remote sensing, and electrochemistry. Yes, much of this sounds like science fiction, and we’re still years away from harvesting resources from asteroids. However, this program is designed with the future in mind: setting up a new workforce for the possibilities presented in the space industry.
No doubt most have heard of the exploits of SpaceX and the lofty goals set forth by its eccentric-seeming founder Elon Musk. Aside from launching sports cars into orbit, the company took a landmark step by booking the very first tourists who are planning to take a rocket ride around the moon in 2023.
The man with the “right stuff” to herald in this new age of tourism is Japanese billionaire Yusaka Maezawa, founder of the Zozo clothing company. He’s calling the project #dearMoon, and Maezawa isn’t going alone—he’s bring a team of artists along for the ride. Maezawa has yet to choose the artists who will accompany him; however, a few lucky creatives will soon find they’ve attained a golden ticket to this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
As the closest celestial body to Earth, the Moon has long been thought of as the first stepping stone in future expansion to the stars. To this end, Japanese company ispace is cultivating plans for the first stations on and around the Moon. Currently, the startup has secured just under $100 million, enough to fund initial rover exploration missions. These will reportedly lay the groundwork for industrial stations focused on resource gathering and the possibility for something truly inspiring: Moon Valley, the moon’s first colony. A concept straight out of an Andy Weir novel, we could see the reality of humans living on the moon within the next 20 years.
The not-so-sexy side of human expansion to space is the mess we leave behind. An estimated 750,000 pieces of debris larger than half an inch are zipping through near-Earth orbit at around 20,000 mph. This poses a real risk to both satellites and a growing number of human space travelers.
Here’s an example of what such a high-velocity impact can do.
To combat this growing problem, Airbus and the UK’s Space Agency have teamed up to create the RemoveDEBRIS experimental satellite—a sofa-sized satellite tasked with harpooning and netting space junk. The satellite will target large debris weighing tons, since these objects pose a significant threat of breaking up into still smaller and more numerous fragments. To demonstrate proof of concept, on September 16, 2018, the group was successful in its first test of the netting system. The net sprang out of the satellite, snagged a beacon specifically released for the test, and both are expected to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere in the coming months.
Humanity’s growing presence in space is exciting. Space travel may be inaccessible for 99.9% of the population today, but, as technology advances, the table is set for a larger swath of humanity to traverse the void in years to come.
So buckle up for the future. Because when the stars align for additional exploration, anything could happen.
Space: The Final (Commercial) Frontier is a topic in our current quarterly report, which you can download here.