Imagine that there are mining communities on the moon and floating resorts in Earth’s orbit. People play sports in space, create energy in space, and even cultivate trendy, pricey coffee beans.
Not all of this is science fiction. Researchers at RAND Europe analysed how trends in over a dozen economic sectors could manifest in space by 2050. They discovered that significant technological advances would be optional to make space and space travel a larger part of everyday life. Instead, it would require a steady series of modest breakthroughs, with a single development as the tipping point.
Recently, the cost of launching people and cargo into space has decreased. The cost per kilogramme to reach orbit is still in the thousands of dollars, but this might drop to the tens of dollars by 2040. The cost would no longer be a barrier to the commercial development of outer space.
The researchers were not required to make wild predictions. Instead, they relied on government, military, industrial, and academic authorities’ official estimates of what space could look like in the next decades.
It may begin with a competition to extract valuable elements from asteroids or the moon. This could occur within the next decade, triggering the “Gold Rush of the 21st century,” as predicted by experts.
Long-term mining activities necessitate consistent transport, supply, and maintenance services. These, in turn, might promote the establishment of factories in outer space, where air pollution is not an issue. Large-scale mining and manufacturing operations would require new power sources. This might bolster the United States and other nations’ ambitions to create space-based solar farms that generate renewable energy and broadcast it via microwave or laser transmitters.
All of this would necessitate that more people spend more time in space. It would be easy for hotels to transform space into tourist attractions. If they are successful, new modes of transportation could emerge, such as magnetic space trains moving from one resort or factory to another.
By then, the space may be a sought-after movie site and an arena for extreme sports. Initially, space-based agriculture would be required to sustain lunar mining communities or industries. However, it would swiftly produce novelties for sale on Earth, such as space-grown coffee.
There are other factors preventing people from spending their spring vacation in space. Space travel must be viewed as safe and reliable. Additionally, the international community must address complex legal and regulatory issues. Who, for instance, is entitled to lunar resources? Who has jurisdiction when a crime occurs in space?
The purpose of the RAND Europe study was to present an overview of what might occur in space over the next three decades, not what should or will happen. As it prepares the UK’s national space strategy, the UK Space Agency commissioned the study to uncover high-risk, high-reward options.
The researchers admitted that space forecasting has a lengthy history. Physicists, astronomers, and science fiction writers in the late 19th century or the early and middle 20th century proposed many concepts of how space may look in 2050.