Editorial, Opinion

Refuel in deep space

In keeping with Obama’s call to address climate change, if a new private space venture succeeds, spacecraft may soon be mining asteroids for fuel and minerals as well as building spare parts in space, according to LA Times coverage of a Deep Space Industries conference at the Museum of Flying in Santa Monica on Tuesday.

According to the Times, officials from Deep Space, a privatized space-harvesting investment organization, claim there are a number of benefits to the venture. Harvesting the resources available in the massive space rocks that fly around in the solar system — which mostly include metals and fuel — could potentially permit spacecraft to build and repair parts when they break, or refill their tanks on long treks into space, i.e. those such as NASA’s most recent venture to Mars.

Deep Space is hoping to launch small, “low-cost” spacecraft (the privatized venture would ultimately cost customers $20 million) by 2015, according to the LA Times. The spacecraft are called fireflies, weigh about 55 pounds and would use existing technology to hitch rides with larger communications satellites being launched into space.

Still, there are a number of considerations that should be addressed before Deep Space should embark on this venture. It’s widely accepted that a new approach to the environment needs to be adopted. Deep Space’s mantra is that the resource potential of space “outstrips that of any previous frontier — without the environmental impacts.” Indeed, the earth’s natural resources are quickly being exploited — the hole in the ozone continues to enlarge. But are resources from space really the solution? Or should privatized ventures focus their large-scale efforts on finding more concrete solutions here on our own planet?

Moreover, do the supposed benefits of this experiment outweigh the cost of the resources needed to get to space — namely, the fuel-powered energy necessary to build and launch ships? And are these new space resources green? Just because we are not using the earth’s resources does not mean mining space would not do the same amount of, if not more damage to our own ecosystem as well as that of outer space. The effort to bring back resources to the home planet — after using up what’s available here — could backfire.

Of course, if a handful of billionaires are passionate about their cause, little can stop them. Space exploration is generally a good thing, discounting the amount of fuel it takes to launch a rocket. It allows for a wealth of technological advances. At least this privatized venture aims at doing good. And it should also be noted that mining asteroids assists in destroying them. You could thus think of the venture as a sort of homeland security.

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