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Astropolitics: What Stands Behind Space Exploration?

Interested in modern technologies and how they correlate with society.

The space industry is generating a real buzz today. Barely someone hasn't heard the news about new rocket launches, Mars and lunar missions, and new countries joining the space race. Apart from the leaders in the space industry like the USA, Russia, and China, other states are also willing to get their stake. Great Britain, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, India are only some countries willing to get their share of space and world dominance.

Major powers and smaller countries spare neither effort nor money to send rockets into space. Statista.com shows that Japan's space budget has increased from $1.76 billion in 2014 to $3.32 billion in 2020. France's budget for the space industry has increased from $2.44 to $4.04 billion during the same period. And if we consider the US space budget, it has expanded from $19.19 billion in 2014 to $47.69 billion in 2020.

Throughout history, countries have led the game of space exploration. But everything gets even more exciting with businesses joining the race as it heats up. The "new space" representatives bring new approaches and deliver faster results. Meanwhile, the potential revenues are bringing even more players into the sphere. With the inflow of private capital into the industry and ever-increasing interest in humanity's final frontier, the Bank of America expects the space market to triple and reach $1.4 trillion value by 2030.

But what is so attractive about space that makes people gamble with tons of money at stake? Outer space offers a lot to those not afraid of the uncertainty it's surrounded by. It provides power, influence, financial opportunities, and control.

How humanity benefits from space exploration

First of all, it's mostly all about the collection of data. Humanity gets the most benefits from space exploration when they receive new knowledge. They do so by learning what happens on other planets and Earth, how the universe works and what resources space can offer. Satellites allow tracking changes on our planet, be it forest felling, the break of an iceberg, or the illegal extraction of valuable resources. With data obtained through remote observation, one can determine the actual scale of the problems and find effective solutions.

But that's not the only use case. People also get benefits in the form of inventions that they further use every day. Memory foam, stretch-resistant eyeglasses, solar cells, water filtration, air purifiers, workout machines, wireless headphones, and enhanced baby formula. Those are just some inventions that we obtained thanks to the space effort. Space exploration has always been associated with advanced and forward-looking tech, and so it remains, bringing the future closer. Rocket technologies might help develop a speedy connection between distant regions on Earth.

One more case for using space exploration is saving Earth by using resources from space objects. To some extent, Don't Look Up movie directors made fun of the idea. In the movie, the tech giant sacrificed humanity's life for an opportunity to get valuable metal from the asteroid. The film is a satire, but the idea of using resources from objects in space and saving humankind on other planets exists. The data by Marketandmarkets implies the space mining market might reach $2.84 billion by 2025 from only as much as $650 million in 2017. And though there're concerns associated with the cost of asteroid mining and related logistics, the US, Luxembourg, China, Russian Federation, Japan, United Arab Emirates, etc., join in the race. It remains to be seen who will come first and skim off the profit.

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The cost behind space exploration effort

Despite all the benefits, space exploration also has a dark side - the war for world dominance. Everett Dolmann, a Professor at the US Air Force College and author of the book "Astropolitik", has grasped the essence of the modern space war. He claimed, "Who controls low-earth orbit controls near-Earth space. Who controls near-Earth space dominates Terra. Who dominates Terra, determines the destiny of humankind." According to his vision, the whole space exploration activity has a single goal - to gain power and influence.

And that is why countries have been in a rush to get into space faster. The one that manages to fill the orbit with its own satellites, capture as much data as possible, and spread its technologies through as many territories as possible will gain world dominance. Just think about the GPS. It allows satellite owners to get information about almost anyone. Think about the security-related satellites. They can track the movements of the military and assist in predicting where the enemy is. In doing so, they hint at how to protect oneself better or where the weakness lies.

What's at stake with space businesses

But it's not only the countries that join the game. Private actors are also eager to fight for space domination. SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are the most notable names in the commercial space industry. If Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are willing to provide people with access to space, SpaceX has more ambitious goals. Unlike competitors, the company is eager to get to Mars. After reaching the red planet, the plan is to set up conditions for people to live there if Earth becomes inappropriate. On the other hand, Mars could serve as a backup resource provider.

Yet, if one chooses to treat Mars as a place for living in the future, Earth's problems remain pending. Would we allow damaging our planet to move into space?

To be honest, everything is not so simple about space exploration. Despite the venture's advantages, studying outer space and sending objects there poses a threat. Despite seeming borderless, space surrounding Earth is limited. Yet, people are sending more and more things into space, filling Earth's orbits with tons of smart machines. But with them comes tons of space junk. Today, millions of particles from rockets, satellites, and asteroids orbit our planet. And that is where a severe problem arises.

If space exploration follows the same pattern, there will be no chance to send new objects into space in several decades. This will mark the end of the space exploration race and the politics around the venture.

Reaching space as the final frontier was an immense achievement for humanity. And, omitting all the politics, space exploration pays dividends. However, one should not forget about responsible and sustainable use of outer space, so we could use it now for our benefit and still preserve it for future generations.

© 2022 Natali Zhuravel

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