CNN’s Business 2.0 has a great story about the future of private space ventures and the incredible multi-billion dollar opportunities that lie ahead.
In this Entrepreneur’s guide to space the magazine gives ten examples of ideas that companies are currently working on, and what the expected market size will be. This includes space hotels, asteroid mining and microsats. The latter is a new generation of tiny satellites no more than 4 inches wide that would take a fraction of the cost of launching a regular satellite.
What is especially interesting, according to me, is the idea of building a 62,000-mile space elevator that could bring freight and people into orbit. This has been science fiction since Arthur C. Clarke posed the idea in his 1978 novel The Fountains of Paradise, but recent developments in the creation of nanotubes have made several companies, including NASA, think seriously about the idea.
Until recently no substance came close to being strong, lightweight and durable enough to make the rope necessary to build the elevator. It would be attached to the surface of the Earth, probably close to the equator, and have a counter-weight at the end that would be in orbit around the planet to keep the 62,000 mile rope straight. Then a Japanese scientist stumbled on an arrangement of carbon atoms that became the strongest material ever tested: carbon nanotubes. These things are 100 times stronger than steel, yet weigh only a fifth as much.
NASA, as part of its Centennial Challenges, even has some contests to find the best way to power the space elevator, create the tether and climb it. The next Space Elevator Games are in June and the prize money is $400,000.
Companies and countries are already working hard on developing technology for the space elevator. “Whoever builds the first elevator will have a virtual monopoly on all future ones,” said Brad Edwards in the Business 2.0 article, a former Los Alamos National Laboratory astrophysicist. “The political and economic structure of the world could be completely different 50 years from now.”