Space journeys for $60,000 ... the coming boom in space-junk salvage ... and a settlement on the Martian moon Deimos. These are the long-term outlooks that emerged over the weekend from the NewSpace 2010 conference in California's Silicon Valley.
The annual meeting, organized by the Space Frontier Foundation, champions the role of private enterprise in space exploration. But NASA types are also well-represented on the list of speakers. There was lots of talk about how recent twists and turns in space policy might affect future exploration as well as the development of new players in the space game. You can rely on Clark Lindsey's RLV and Space Transport News for a blow-by-blow recap of the event.
Here are some of the NewSpace 2010 highlights on the Web:
• At The Space Review, Jeff Foust provides a detailed analysis of the current debate over commercial crew transport to the International Space Station. Most members of Congress are reluctant to give private enterprise a freer hand in developing launch systems to replace NASA's space shuttle fleet, but among NewSpace attendees, the sentiment is "full speed ahead." Space policy consultant Jim Muncy emphasized that the debate shouldn't be framed as New Space vs. Old Space, since long-established companies such as Boeing as well as upstarts such as SpaceX hope to get a piece of the commercial space pie. Instead, Muncy said, the real fight is between a "white-collar welfare state space program and a frontier-opening, settlement-enabling, future-changing space strategy." I wonder which side he's on?
• Sometime in the next couple of years, Virgin Galactic is due to offer suborbital space tours for $200,000 - but Space News quoted observers as saying they expect the price for such trips to fall to somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000 by 2014. That could be due to competition from outfits such as XCOR Aerospace, Blue Origin ... and Armadillo Aerospace, which recently partnered with Virginia-based Space Adventures. NewSpace Journal reports that Tom Shelley, Space Adventures' president, discussed the $100,000 price point in his NewSpace 2010 talk. Shelley also indicated there would be "some fun announcements coming out of us in the next few months," apparently relating to multimillion-dollar orbital trips.
• Parabolic Arc's Doug Messier provides bullet points about the opportunities for orbital-debris salvaging and asteroid mining. One possibility for profit is to bring together unused hardware in Earth orbit, and find ways to repurpose or reuse the less junky "space junk." Another possibility is to clear the junk away, just to keep the orbital pathways clear for current and future satellites. Governments or private companies might be willing to pay robotic trash collectors, thus reducing the risks posed by orbital debris. Just today, Space.com published a couple of reports that expanded upon the threats and opportunities associated with asteroids and orbital debris: One report says a NASA task force is recommending that the space agency create a Planetary Defense Coordination Office to deal with asteroid threats, while the other report notes that the European Space Agency's Envisat Earth-observing satellite could pose an orbital-debris threat for 150 years.
• Another posting to Parabolic Arc focuses on Deimos, the smaller of Mars' two moons. Putting human settlements on Deimos and near-Earth asteroids could avoid some of the problems associated with operations on the surface of the moon or Mars (such as radiation exposure and the need for heavy-duty landers). Space physician Jim Logan, who discussed zero-G sex at the NewSpace conference four years ago, proposed a 1,000-day mission to Deimos at this year's meeting.
We've already talked about missions to Mars' other moon, Phobos, as well as the possibility of taking shelter within pit craters on the moon or Mars. Is Deimos a better destination? Feel free to weigh in on Logan's idea or other long-term (as well as short-term) New Space outlooks.