Fund Progressive Space Development Via a Private Corporation

by J. David Baxter

Utah Space Association, President

Benefits And Limitations of Government-Funded Space Programs

Mankind has not seen a manned spaceflight beyond low Earth orbit since 1972. A competing higher priorities argument, combined with false perceptions of cost versus benefits, has influenced public opinion and government, resulting in a stagnant manned space program. The public majority tends to vastly overestimate the annual cost and percentage of federal budget, required for an Apollo Program-sized national space commitment. Also, the word "spinoff" seems to imply a rare accidental discovery, found useful to the public, but not worth the billions of dollars required to send astronauts to the Moon or Mars. The actual economic impact from the many spinoffs is largely misunderstood.

The economic impact argument can make a strong case for a major government funded Apollo-sized manned spaceflight commitment, such as a manned mission to Mars. The nation, as a whole, would benefit from a stronger, more stable national economy. The people with a vision for mankindís future in the space frontier, would prosper along with much of the population who donít currently share in that vision.

An Apollo-sized space commitment, involving a broad range of technological research and development, would expand the nationís total technological base with the creation of many innovations. This major national commitment approach to research and development tends to uncover previously unforeseen new technologies useful in the private sector. Electrical engineers were satisfied with vacuum tubes prior to the development of integrated circuits for Apollo.

During the Ď60s, the U.S. gross national product doubled. Half of this growth was due to investment in research and development; 25 percent of the nationís total research and development during the 60s, was invested in a space program aimed at sending astronauts to the Moon.

An Apollo-sized space commitment, with special emphasis on breakthrough-oriented research and development, would lead to the creation of millions of good paying private-sector industry jobs, an expansion of goods and services, an expanded national tax base, the opportunity to lower individual taxes, a rise in the public standard of living, a reduction in inflation, and increased opportunity to reduce the national debt. These benefits would be worth many times the cost of the major manned spaceflight commitment that made them possible.

The economic-impact argument can be supported by the 1973 Standford Research Institute Report, the 1975 Chase Econometrics, Inc., Report, the 1986 Ben Bova study for NSS, the 1989 Chapman Research Group Report, and the 1990 Enterprise Institute Study.

If coupled with improved economic freedom and educational opportunity for the general population, development of a vast array of new marketable technologies, could help lift the desperately poor people (i.e., in the third world) out of poverty. Countries with industrialized economies also tend to have stabilized populations.

However, there is a catch 22 with the economic-impact argument to justify increased government space funding. The space economic-impact studies have also shown that it takes from five to 10 years for a major research and development-oriented national space commitment to bring about a significant impact on the national economy. Perhaps a major government-sponsored PR campaign would help make such a commitment politically viable.

But, as a general rule, the White House and Congress prefer their national economy-related decisions to bring about a significant impact, prior to the next major election. Otherwise, they could be voted out of office. Pres. Bush made some hard economic decisions that hurt the short-term

national economy, but benefited the long-term national economy. As a result, he lost the 1992 election, and the space exploration initiative left with him. The economic boosts made by White House decisions, are usually short lived. So, politically, funding for a manned mission to Mars and further space development, could be seen as being too costly and too risky for the short-term political desires.

Creation of the Space Development Corporation

A largely privatized space program, with major long-term space development as its goal, is possible through direct public and corporate investment. However, in order to be commercially viable, treaties must be established recognizing outer-space property rights. Research-and-development tax credits, and federal government-backed research-and-development risk insurance, would open the space-development market for private inventors and corporations.

Licensing the spinoffs, as well as space tourism, space manufacturing, and space mining have limitless potential to produce substantial return on all investments made, especially when space transportation costs and the cost of working and living in space can be brought down substantially.

For the best form of direct public investment, the government needs to allow a substantial portion of long-term pensions and social security funds to be voluntarily made available, for space-related investment, no less than 10 years in advance of retirement.

The nationís pension-related resource is substantial. Entitlements are the federal governmentís top priority for funding, and this resource is used to back the national debt. The public could also invest in future space development, using current funds available. The advantage of using entitlement money, is that the public can afford to wait a decade or more to see the significant returns on their investments.

To make such investments desirable to the public and corporations, investments need to be backed by federal research-and-development risk insurance. Should a research and development project, construction project, or operational system fail, the government would pay back the investors for their losses, even if the federal deficit has to be expanded to cover it. However, such a crisis would be highly unlikely.

First, all projects would be fully funded to minimize the delays and related redesigns that would otherwise escalate costs and reduce efficiency. Also, any emerging physics-related new technologies would have to first pass a scientific peer review based on experimentation and testing that is repeatable upon command. The process would go as follows.

Prior to qualifying for research-and-development funding, a good scientifically solid theory would have to be written up. This would qualify the emerging new technology for state or federal grants, and corporate-venture capital, for low-cost experimentation and testing of the foundation concepts the new technology is based on. The results would meet with Space Development Corporation peer review, to determine if it meets the corporationís current needs, and is worthy of research-and-development funding.

Basically, the investors would have nothing to lose, and the government would have a low risk of failure, based on a corporate process of success building on success.

The government leadership would benefit politically from the promise of an expanding national economy and impressive space achievements, with very little short-term loss in tax revenue, and a very low risk of failure. The investors would have nothing to lose and everything to gain in the long term. The first returns on investments would come from the licensing fees associated with the many spinoffs that would be created. This would be followed by revenue generated from low-cost space manufacturing, space tourism, and outer space mining operations.

Corporate goals would be aimed at minimizing space transportation costs, as well as the cost of living and working in space. Use of outer-space resources would lower the cost of living and working in space, while breakthrough propulsion physics technology would radically reduce the cost of space transportation. Transportation speed would also vastly improve, opening the whole solar system to development.

The NASA Lewis Research Centerís breakthrough propulsion physics program has shown considerable interest in the possibilities for electromagnetically-induced propellantless propulsion that shows potential for control over inertia, very low transportation cost, and vastly improved transportation speeds. In recent years, private researchers have done tests in this area that lead some researchers to believe we are closer to these major physics breakthroughs than commonly believed.

Once low-cost space transportation is established, Earth orbital platforms would be constructed for space manufacturing operations, the beginnings of space tourism, and launches to the moons, planets, and asteroids of our solar system. With fast, low-cost transportation, mining operations, and expanded space tourism would become established. Emerging from this would be establishment of space colonies in high Earth orbit, on moons, livable planets, and asteroids in the solar system.

Finally, there exists the possibility of future star travel at acceptable speeds, and at acceptable energies. The NASA Lewis Research Centerís breakthrough propulsion physics program recognizes that loopholes exist in well established physics, as well as possibilities in newly emerging physics that could open up the possibility of star travel. The authorís contribution to their 1997 workshop, included evidence for special condition speed of light variations that open up the possibility of breaking the light barrier at acceptable energies. With star travel in our future, the expansion of human knowledge and wisdom would be unprecedented.