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The Chelyabinsk meteor (above) is one event of several that could help trigger a discussion of space issues among ghe G20 nations. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Space industrialization and the G20


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In 2010, Dr. A. P. J. Kalam, former president of India, addressed the International Space Development Conference in Chicago via video link and suggested that the G20 study space-based solar power (SBSP) as a means to fill the looming need for electrical power worldwide. While the G20 did not add SBSP to its agenda, SBSP continues to be pursued by various groups around the world. As Dr. Kalam has pointed out there is no available alternative to meeting the expected 66% increase in global energy demand from conventional and existing alternative sources by 2050, especially for remote areas in India, Africa, and Asia.

The heightened interest in space, resulting not only from the Chelyabinsk event but also from achievements and developments in commercial space, suggest that the topic of space industrialization has a reasonable chance of being considered on the agenda of the G20.

Russia is currently the presiding nation of the G20. By coincidence, G20 meetings were underway in Moscow at the time of the meteor explosion over Chelyabinsk, a major industrial city in Siberia. Russia is the only country in the world that has suffered significant damage from impact by cosmic bodies in modern times. In 1908, the Tunguska region of Siberia witnessed a major explosion of an extraterrestrial object that burned and leveled trees for an area the size of Los Angeles. Understandably, Russia is now considering a significantly expanded planetary defense initiative against asteroid and comet impacts. It’s possible planetary defense will be discussed during G20 meetings that will continue throughout 2013, culminating in the G20 Summit Conference in St. Petersburg on September 5-6. However, the primary topics on the G20 Agenda are to develop a plan to drive global economic growth:

The discussion of the whole range of the closely intertwined items of the G20 agenda has been planned around the three overarching priorities, all focused on igniting a new cycle of economic growth. We also look upon them as the three watchwords for the Russian G20 Presidency:

  • Growth through quality jobs and investment;
  • Growth through trust and transparency;
  • Growth through effective regulation.

More information about the G20 can be found at http://en.g20russia.ru/.

In our recent essay here (see “Back to the future: Space and escaping the gravitational pull of economic crisis”, The Space Review, November 19, 2012), we suggested that space industrialization can pull the world out of economic crisis. The heightened interest in space, resulting not only from the Chelyabinsk event but also from achievements and developments in commercial space, suggest that the topic of space industrialization has a reasonable chance of being considered on the agenda of the G20. There are multiple upcoming meetings of various G20 working groups primarily in Russia, but also in Washington, Geneva, and Paris. Space development advocacy groups should be able to find ways to present their views to delegates to these various sessions that come before the September Summit. What’s needed is a position statement similar to the NSS-Kalam SBSP initiative launched on November 4, 2010.

Below is a draft position statement for presentation to the G20. We welcome comments and suggestions. Ideally, a group would meet physically or electronically to develop a statement that would satisfy the members of the NSS and other groups, and then inform multiple G20 delegates about the topic. If a delegate buys into the idea, then a press conference could be organized similar to the NSS-Kalam event. Note that while Russia is presides over the G20 in 2013, Australia will follow in 2014 and Turkey in 2015.

Space presents humankind with the need for international action to realize opportunities and to prevent catastrophe
Position statement prepared for consideration by the G20

The recent Chelyabinsk meteor impact is a reminder of the potential for great destruction from asteroid impact and the need for planetary defense. Concurrently, asteroids, the Moon, and other planetary bodies have resources with considerable economic value with some asteroids estimated to hold trillions of dollars worth of valuable resources. Technologies are under development for both planetary defense and for mining the Moon and asteroids with states, private companies, and numerous non-governmental organizations involved.

We call on the G20 to organize a global space summit conference in 2014 to address three interlinked space challenges.

The Outer Space Treaty, first published in January 1967 and now signed by over 100 countries, is the basis for international space law but does not provide clear guidance for commercial activities by private firms nor by the various non-governmental actors. Yet the essentially limitless resources in space hold the potential to accelerate global economic growth, create millions of good jobs with the sustainable capacity for stable growth for decades to come, while defending the Earth from asteroid impact and mitigating the effects of climate change through carbon-free delivery of electricity to the remotest regions of the world.

We call on the G20 to organize a global space summit conference in 2014 to address the following three interlinked challenges that require a shared framework of legal understandings and infrastructure:

  1. Develop an international program for planetary defense from asteroid, comet, radiation, and other threats. There is room for considerable international action, including by governments, voluntary organizations, and private business. Private public, cross-border cooperation can amplify the efforts of governments. Such a project would not only create a much-needed defense against extra-planetary objects, but would have three important ancillary effects. One, it would foster international cooperation. Two, it would advance the development of technologies promoting future economic growth. Three, it would provide economic stimulus and make recourse of underutilized scientific infrastructure in several economies, Russia in particular.
  2. Accelerate commercial activities to exploit resources from the Moon, asteroids and other commercial bodies to drive more rapid economic growth for all nations. The Outer Space Treaty, formally the “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies,” is a treaty that forms the basis of international space law. The treaty was opened for signature in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union on January 27, 1967, and entered into force on October 10, 1967. As of October 2011, 100 countries are states parties to the treaty, while another 26 have signed the treaty but have not completed ratification. The salient point of the treaty is that it explicitly forbids any government from claiming a celestial resource such as the Moon or a planet, claiming that they are the common heritage of mankind. Article II of the Treaty states that “outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.” Greater clarity is needed to fully unleash the power of commercial enterprise to address the challenge of opening space resources for the benefit of mankind. The chief impediment to future economic growth is the limitation of natural resources and further technological development. This project would advance both.
  3. Accelerate development of space-based solar power (SBSP) to meet terrestrial needs for electrical power that does not threaten the environment and that accelerates economic development to meet the needs of all nations. Rather than launching material from the Earth, SBSP powerplants should be built from resources on the Moon or from asteroids. The lunar regolith contains resources in abundance required to build solar cells and other components. Material can be launched from the surface of the Moon using electromagnetic launching systems that can be powered by solar energy collected on the Moon. While there may be unknown unknowns that are showstoppers, decades of research by engineers and scientists in the US, Russia, the EU, Japan, China, India, and other countries suggest that such a strategy is feasible.

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