The New Space Race Is Heating Up: Asteroid Mining, Reusable Rockets, and Water on Mars

Entrepreneurial space is looking up, way up. It’s almost time to start drinking Tang again…

This post is about three exciting developments and what they mean:

  1. The Asteroid Resource Law: President signs Asteroid Resource Law
  2. Bezos vs. Musk: Race for reusable spaceships
  3. Finding Water on Mars: We found water! Now what?

New Asteroid Resource Law Signed by POTUS

After nearly three years of work, President Obama just signed into law a piece of legislation that allows for private ownership of asteroids and space resources.

Called the “Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act of 2015,” the POTUS signed it into law as Title IV of H.R.2262.

Let me explain.

Over the last 15 years, we’ve discovered a large population of asteroids that come very close to the Earth — I call them the “Manhattan Islands” of space.

They are resource-rich, composed of materials that we find extremely valuable: fuels (hydrogen and oxygen), construction materials (nickel, iron, and cobalt), and platinum group metals (platinum, palladium, osmium, iridium) for strategic uses (like electronics).

Most of the large 250 meter to 1 kilometer rocks are worth trillions of dollars, and as such, they represent some of the most valuable real estate in our solar system. Even better, most of them are energetically easier to reach than the surface of the Moon.

This piece of legislation describes how a private company can mine, own and sell materials taken off asteroids.

Let the next “gold rush” begin.

Musk vs. Bezos: Private Reusable Spaceships

You might have seen the headlines that read, “Jeff Bezos beats Elon Musk in space race to create reusable rocket.”

What is this all about?

Building reusable rockets is really the key to low-cost space travel and therefore opening the space frontier.

On November 23rd, the day before Thanksgiving 2015, Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin pulled it off — they launched their New Shepard rocket to 329,839 feet (officially space, which is defined as 328,000 feet or 100 km), and it landed vertically back on Earth, with the ability to refuel and launch again.

Massive congrats to the whole Blue Origin team!!

The flight attracted a lot of media attention.

But while the news media attempted to create a “Bezos vs. Musk” space race, they missed a few critical points:

  • SpaceX had already demonstrated reusable vertical powered rocket landings years earlier with the Grasshopper “test vehicle” (as had SpaceShipOne with horizontal landings).
  • And, while New Shepard returned from 100 km altitude, it was only a suborbital vehicle (like SpaceShipOne) reaching a maximum velocity of Mach 3. This is in stark contrast to SpaceX’s Falcon-9 first stage return from near orbital velocities (Mach 3 vs. Mach 30).

Check out Elon’s Twitter storm below…

Putting the media frenzy aside, what is most significant here is the growing commitment of private capital by billionaires like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Paul Allen, Richard Branson and others in their attempt to open the space frontier.

Finally the future of space exploration and commercialization is no longer solely in the hands of a political process.

Water on Mars… Life on Mars… Humans on Mars

Recently NASA announced that their “Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has provided the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars.”

Using an imaging spectrometer on the MRO, NASA identified hydrated minerals with patterns unique to flowing water.

Based on what we know about living organisms, you need to have water to have life.

In my opinion, our next Mars mission, scheduled to land on Mars in 2020, will discover that life exists there now.

The Mars 2020 Rover is a car-sized (10 x 9 x 7 foot) vehicle whose primary mission is to search for habitability and signs of life.

But this is just the beginning of a much larger initiative around the Red Planet.

Elon Musk’s primary stated purpose in creating SpaceX is to help colonize Mars, to “make humanity a multi-planetary species.”

More specifically, two years ago he announced more concrete objectives to provide a roundtrip price of $500,000 per person to Mars within the next 20 years (actually, he said 15 years, but let’s cut him some slack).

An Exciting Time to Be Alive

Finally, while the race for asteroids, reusable rockets, and Mars is heating up, yet another race, the $30 Million Google Lunar XPRIZE, is about to take another leap forward. Stand by for news next week!

We are living during an age of incredible progress, where ideas once considered science fiction are now becoming science fact.

The rate of this progress is accelerating. With growing access to large sums of private risk capital, and powerful exponential technologies, there is little that we can’t try.

We live during the most exciting time ever in human history.

Image Credit: SpaceX

Peter H. Diamandis, MD
Peter H. Diamandis, MD
Diamandis is the founder and executive chairman of the XPRIZE Foundation, which leads the world in designing and operating large-scale incentive competitions. He is also the executive founder and director of Singularity University, a global learning and innovation community using exponential technologies to tackle the world’s biggest challenges and build a better future for all. As an entrepreneur, Diamandis has started over 20 companies in the areas of longevity, space, venture capital, and education. He is also co-founder of BOLD Capital Partners, a venture fund with $250M investing in exponential technologies. Diamandis is a New York Times Bestselling author of two books: Abundance and BOLD. He earned degrees in molecular genetics and aerospace engineering from MIT and holds an MD from Harvard Medical School. Peter’s favorite saying is “the best way to predict the future is to create it yourself.”
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