Science-fiction and some well-known public figures like to depict a future where space is a reservoir of ressources for Earth's economy and where humanity can live on other planets. Unfortunately, very little is explained of what is required to bridge the huge gap between the baby steps we have achieved so far and the vast interplanetary empires of our dreams.
Generally speaking, space is incredibly hostile to humans. Expanding beyond Earth is both technically very challenging and highly capital intensive. As a result, contrary to popular beliefs, there is nothing obvious in our space future.
To really become a space faring civilization at scale, we need to find some very compelling reasons. Even more important, to be sustainable, those reasons need to be supported by solid economics and true utility. There are two ways the space economy can produce added value.
There are many ongoing discussions about going back to the moon, and developing a Moon base which would allow a long-term human presence. The decrease in launching costs is opening expectations and perspectives about economic benefits from such an endeavour. However, to date, plans for a lunar base are dependent on public investment and on the interest of space enthusiasts.
The long term sustainability of a major lunar project relies on the possibility to attract a wider support base, which would require that a viable economic model can emerge from the project.
Zenon Research is studying the economic models of a human presence on the Moon and is analysing the associated success criteria which would make them possible.
One common justification for space exploration is the tremendous resources that could be exploited to sustain a growing economy. Whether it is from the Moon or from asteroids there are in theory plenty of opportunities for mining and space resource utilisation, whether it is in-situ or on Earth.
Two typical examples are:
- near-Earth asteroids which are thought to contain high value metals with much higher concentrations than on Earth's surface. - Helium-3 which is in principle plentiful on the Moon and could be used on Earth as a fuel for aneutronic fusion reactors.
Zenon Research is studying the economic and technical possibilities of space resources utilisation.