SpaceX – Our Future│ Angus Gillan
49 Years since the Moon landings we’ve seen the ISS, the Hubble, and a host of NASA missions.
“On Tuesday, Feb. 6th at 3:45 PM ET, Falcon Heavy successfully lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.” Falcon Heavy is the most powerful operational rocket in the world… “with the ability to lift into orbit nearly 64 metric tons (141,000 lb)–a mass greater than a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel.“ – SpaceX.com.
I believe most people would read the above statement with awe, marvelling at the progress the aerospace sector is currently making under the leadership of Elon Musk and SpaceX, along with other private companies such as Virgin Galactic. I personally find it inspiring, and I see the UK government’s recent focus on the Space Industry Bill as exactly what we need as a nation, and a party.
However, the other day, Nathan Robinson wrote for the Guardian that “Elon Musk’s SpaceX launch is utterly depressing.”
The article was a not so thinly veiled argument in favour of a socialist society: “If wealth were actually distributed fairly in this country, nobody would be in a position to fund his own private space program.”. Robinson concluded that the work of SpaceX is ultimately “an indefensible waste of resources”. Below I will outline why such a mindset is not the one we need, and why it is inherently wrong.
The 6th February launch is without a doubt this is one of the most stunning technological developments of our time and will go down in history. We are witnessing the creation of viable, privately owned space sector companies. These private enterprises are pushing the boundaries of what is possible and surpassing state-run household names, such as NASA. Five years ago, the notion of reusable rockets launching into space, turning heel, and landing back on Earth on autonomous barges, to take part in future missions was the stuff of Sci-Fi dreams and scientific theory. SpaceX has cut the monetary cost of moving a kilogram of material into space by a factor of 10; despite launching heavier-lift rockets these are cheaper and reusable, hence they will conserve resources and speed up exploration processes. Astronomical leaps in our technical abilities are occurring right now.
Musk states that technology doesn’t just evolve, which is something many of his critics do not seem to grasp. If we, as a civilisation, as a species, wish to advance, then among us there must be individuals and groups challenging what is possible.
This concept is central to human existence. We as a species are designed to survive, and thus far we have been quite successful. SpaceX now gives us a glimmer of the future. From a Conservative perspective, the party stands for hard work and reward, ambition, success, and development. Should we not therefore champion aerospace as the crucial sector it undoubtedly is?
Vanity Project? – No. Humanity’s survival? – Yes
Musk’s mission to have a million people living on Mars is not a vanity project. In May at TED 2017 in Vancouver, Musk eloquently outlined why Mars colonisation is his vision: “It’s important to have a future that is inspiring and appealing. I just think that have to be reasons that you get up in the morning and you want to live. Why do you want to live? What’s the point? What inspires you? What do you love about the future? And if the future’s not including being out there among the stars and being a multi-planet species, it’s incredibly depressing if that’s not the future we’re going to have.”.
The truth is people may decry SpaceX as the embodiment of capitalism, but if we look at the figures, SpaceX is a necessity. In 2017 at the Tencent WE Summit in Beijing Stephen Hawking warned that overcrowding and energy consumption would cause our world to burn up in a “ball of fire” within 600 years.
600 years doesn’t sound long, until its put in perspective that humans have been on earth for hundreds of thousands of years.
- As of 2014 Earth has 40 years of oil left.
- As of 2012 Earth has just over 100 years of coal left.
- As of 2015 our consumption of water has reached a level where we don’t actually know how much freshwater is left.
Now while other reserves of natural resources are likely to be found we cannot rely on these any longer, not only due to the negative environmental impact that fossil fuels have. California is a prime example of the necessity to take pressure off of natural resources. In California underground aquifers have been drained so rapidly that tens of thousands of square miles of land sinking. Causes of such events are linked to overpopulation and ever increasing pressure yearly on natural resources.
The current global population is 7.6 billion.
In 2016 it was 7.44 billion.
In 2020 there will be an estimated 7.75 billion people.
By 2100 there are likely to be 11.2 billion.
Our planet will continue to be put under pressure as humanity expands. If we don’t relieve that then Hawking’s prediction may just come true.
What about the U.K. and the wider galaxy?
The government has just passed the Space Industry Bill through the House of Commons, showing Elon Musk is not the only one reaching for the stars. From the UK’s first launch in 1971 the UK’s space industry is now worth £250bn to the economy. The government is now committed to securing 10% of the global commercial space market by 2030 (currently the U.K. has 6.5%).
As Conservatives we should celebrate the government’s actions. We have for a while now, myself in particular, called for aspirational and inspirational policy. Now we have an endeavour to create the UK’s first spaceports, to launch small satellites from our soil. The bill does not appear to provide much support for private companies, but should allow the licensing of companies to build and engage in work connected to the spaceports and launches.
While I would not advocate for an overbearing state I do believe that to build a successful sector in the short opening we have requires the government to take a more active role. SpaceX receives government grants, discounted loans, support for factory building, and other financial incentives and paybacks. This has been essential in their success and we must learn from it.
If we want to succeed, if we truly dream of a future for humanity among the stars then we must be dedicated fully to the realisation of this dream. The alternative to such innovation is, to put it bluntly, to keep consuming resources on Earth at an unsustainable rate until we end up in Mad Max style world. Every civilisation in history has fallen. However, given resource pressures and over population, the end of the modern world could be the end of the world altogether. It would be arrogant and naïve to think we will just be fine without bold innovation that transforms not just the world and how we live, but the galaxy itself.
By Angus Gillan (@angusfgillan)