Falcon 9, a rocket of SpaceX, has launched to reach the International Space Station.
/Extracted from National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
On February 5th, the first space background science fiction film of Korea, “Space Sweepers,” was released on Netflix, one of the most popular content platforms. It gained a huge popularity and took the first place of the Netflix worldwide film ranking for six days. In the movie, a space exploration company, “UTS,” builds an artificial human habitation in the Earth’s orbit due to global climate change, environmental pollution, and ecosystem destruction in 2092. Space exploration is an up-and-coming field that several major companies and start-ups are paying attention to. Also, there are some predictions that the company just like UTS will soon emerge. Companies are investing in space exploration for some promising possibilities, but several problems are also involved.
Space exploration is on a rapid progression
In the past, only participation at the level of a nation could lead space exploration since it was a special field that required large capital. However, the cost for space exploration has decreased due to the development of low Earth orbit satellites, and reusable launch vehicle systems. In fact, there are several enterprises that are currently carrying forward the related businesses actively. For example, Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) is a giant space exploration start-up that was founded by Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla. SpaceX is aiming to reduce the space transport cost innovatively and eventually colonize Mars. SpaceX is developing technologies such as retrieval of launched spacecraft. Also, it is accelerating the construction of satellite Internet networks. On January 24th, SpaceX sent up 143 satellites with the rocket “Falcon 9.” Blue Origin, which was founded by Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, is also planning to launch a space trip product for the public and build a city on Mars ultimately. They are designing the space trip that carries the passengers up to the elevation of 100 kilometers. In Korea, there are a few space exploration enterprises as well. Hanwha Aerospace develops the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-2, which is planning to be launched this October. Satrec Initiative is the only private enterprise in Korea that can develop the whole satellite system autonomously.
Lee Kwan-soo, a lecturer of Dharma College, said, “Space development accelerated due to the growth of Asian economic powerhouses like China, India, and Japan. In addition, the United States of America (USA) supports the private enterprises and they could grow fast. Therefore, there are now two forms, nation leading and privatization. They usually concentrate on satellite Internet networking, and it is more than 10 times bigger than the spaceship business. Korea is not stable in this area yet since the budget is insufficient.”
Space exploration brings diverse benefits to society
There are quite many advantages that space exploration can bring. Firstly, space exploration enables satellite Internet networking. It uses the low Earth orbit satellites and makes people use a broad Internet system anywhere on the Earth. People can use high-speed and stable Internet anywhere. Moreover, it requires lower cost than the existing system. Secondly, space trip will be possible if space exploration technology develops. Space trips are expected to pay back the companies in a short term. Blue Origin announced that they will sell the ticket of space shuttle “New Shepherd” soon, and the competitor, Virgin Galactic, said that they are recruiting the celebrity passengers for their space shuttle. Thirdly, rare-earth elements can be mined in asteroids. The rare-earth elements are the core materials of a semiconductor and a battery, but mining destroys the environment severely. Mining the elements from asteroids can protect the environment on the Earth. Furthermore, tremendous amounts can be used. Lastly, the terraforming can be studied and developed. Terraforming means a process that changes the temperature, atmosphere and the ecosystem of other planets similar to the Earth, so that people can live safely there. The seriousness of the environmental pollution of the Earth is increasing, and it seems that people are going to study and research about terraforming more actively as soon as possible. Currently, Mars is being mentioned as a prime planet.
Many problems caused by space exploration arise simultaneously
As such, space exploration has many positive effects, but on the other side, it also carries several problems. For example, it costs an enormous amount of money. Space Angels, a space exploration investment corporation in the USA, reported that more than 166 billion dollars were invested in the private enterprises in the field between 2009 and 2020. In addition, they expect that more than a trillion dollars will be invested by 2040. However, pumping money into space while there are still various unsolved issues on the Earth like environmental pollution, wars, starvation, and poverty is controversial. Also, some point out that overmuch capital will be wasted in the middle of this speculation frenzy.
Furthermore, there can be property disputes about the resources and technologies between countries or companies. In 1967, the United Nations (UN) made an agreement of “Outer Space Treaty,” and in 2020, seven countries gathered and agreed to the “Artemis Accords,” to prevent countries or individuals from owning part of space. However, the contents about using space resources lack the details, making countries reinterpret the agreement arbitrarily. Also, space exploration has been excessively privatized, so the possibilities of resources and knowledge leakage is emerging. If the leaked information is used for negative purposes, it can cause serious harm to people.
Another problem is the increase in the number of space debris. Rapidly moving debris crashes and destroys other equipment like satellites or spacecraft in orbit. Only 1,950 out of 5,000 satellites operate normally. People expect that about 46,000 satellites will be launched in 2030, then the possibility of collision is also estimated to increase. In this regard, Lee Kwan-soo said, “There should be an international treaty or regulation limiting the number of launching satellites. Corporations plan to launch a number of satellites and the space debris will be a serious problem if the plans are all carried out.”
He also mentioned astronomical observations. He said, “When there are numerous satellites in the orbit of 800 kilometers, astronomers are obstructed in observation. They are already expressing their inconvenience, but it is not certain that the nations or corporations will accept their voice since satellite networking services bring big money.”
The space exploration progress has a high barrier of entrance since it requires a high technological level, and it is still considered as a vain story. However, given the degree and speed of the current technology developments, the scenes of Space Sweepers are not completely unrealistic. Space exploration could provide various benefits to our society, and it seems that it can solve more problems in the future. However, hasty and excessive explorations can intensify existing problems, so the negative aspects should also be considered carefully.
Hwang Chae-yeon firstname.lastname@example.org
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