November has been an eventful month for the spaceflight industry. The U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, or the U.S. Space Act, was signed into law, legalizing mining for resources in space and reducing regulatory barriers for space startups. This creates the first legal framework for property rights in space, and makes it easier for new space companies to get started. The importance of this legislation is made even more relevant with Blue Origin’s successful launch and landing of the New Shepard rocket: the first reusable sub-orbital launch vehicle. The former establishes the legal infrastructure for private companies to operate in space, and the latter takes the first steps toward a dramatic drop in the cost of space travel. Together these actions lay the groundwork for a gold-rush in space.
Right now, if you want to put something into space, it costs roughly 10,000 dollars for every pound going up. The primary factor in this cost is that most rockets up until now have been built to fly once and only once. There have been some exceptions, for example the Space Shuttle and the SpaceX Dragon, but even those vehicles effectively destroyed most of their launch-mass to get to orbit, which kept launch costs high. SpaceX and Blue Origin are both racing to make rockets and spacecraft that can be reused after flight, as are many other companies through DARPA’s XS-1 space plane program. The New Shepard rocket is only the first of these rockets under development to achieve reusability, and if the industry continues to develop these reusable rockets we will see a dramatic drop in launch costs in the next decade. A fully reusable spacecraft and launch vehicle would reduce costs to flight prep and fuel, which account for around 2 percent of the total cost to orbit. To put that into perspective: imagine if you had to build a new plane after every trip? Air travel would be prohibitively expensive, much like space travel. If the cost of launching a payload fell to 2 percent of present costs, flying people and materials back and forth from space would be inexpensive enough to become routine. Space travel would be as valuable to the global economy as air travel is today.
Less expensive launch costs equals more access to space for more people, and that’s where the Space Act comes into play. With cheaper access to space comes cost-effective asteroid and Lunar mining programs, which will provide the world with a new, virtually limitless source of raw resources, all accessible under the legal framework of the Space Act. More importantly, it won’t just for would-be asteroid miners flying to space, but for everyone looking to support the activities of those mining operation. In-orbit refueling and repair for spacecraft, spacesuit outfitters, rover manufacturers, asteroid surveying satellites, to say nothing of the countless services on Earth that will have to be expanded or created to service an expanded launch capacity to meet the needs of companies that don’t even exist yet. The Space Act sets up the means for all these industries to be established, and lays the foundation for what you could call “the Space Boom.”
So where does RedWorks fit in to all of this? We want to provide all these emerging services with the means to live and operate in space via a lightweight, 3D printer for building basic infrastructure and habitation. RedWorks will provide the means to build the mining camps, the fuel tanks and refueling stations, the ore processing facilities, all from the regolith found on the surfaces of asteroids and the moon. Now that the legal framework is set, and the technologies to reach space at relatively low cost are coming to fruition, this last piece of the puzzle is all that is needed for the world to reap the limitless bounty of space.