The Next Space Race -- by Multinationals


Changes in the internet Age
Generation Next in Satellite Families
How To Be The Next Bill Gates
How To Beat Bill Gates
If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em
More Power To You
The Next Space Race
Blueprint For The Future
So Who Do You Want To Be?

The Buddhist way of life teaches that nothing is permanent except change itself. Not Bill Gates' newcome personal fortune, not the current phone company giants who we currently buy dial tones and long distance from, not the USA superpower, and not the current incarnation of PC's and internet. How fast will the change be? For all this, we're not talking hundreds of years from now, but potentially just 5 to 25 years for all of the above, based on one decision discussed in this article. The world has changed dramatically this century, yet the rate of changes continues to accelerate.

Since time immemorial there have been ways to make money on the edge of changes, and indeed to bring about the change itself.

Changes in the internet Age

The 1980s saw the advent of the personal computer (PC). Can you imagine life before the PC? It wasn't that long ago, and it happened quickly within our generation.

The 1990s is experiencing the advent of communications between PC's and information providers -- the internet. The world is becoming smaller, fueled by increasing business reliance on computer systems and international networks to stay competitive and keep up with events in timely ways. Consumers are exerting pressures by buying into ever more enhanced services.

Microsoft rose to be one of the biggest companies in the world within only 15 years of its birth, now with a near monopoly on software (Windows 95, Word, Excel, etc.). Bill Gates, now the richest man in the world, isn't satisfied with having conquered the computer world but has set his eyes on competing with the big communications companies like AT&T, MCI, Sprint and others by providing his alternative satellite system, Teledesic.

However, the world will change to a different system which will make Teledesic obsolete, as well as the rest of our current communications infrastructure. It also has the clear potential to make someone much richer than Bill Gates.

"Generation Next" in satellite families

Currently, the vast majority of international communications services are offered by a small number of companies, led by AT&T, MCI, Sprint, British Telecom, Telstra and a few others. These use first generation satellite technology, whereby the satellite is assembled entirely on Earth as one cargo launched up on one rocket. The satellites usually are stationed in high Earth orbit -- so-called geo-stationary Earth orbit 36,000 km (22,500 miles) above Earth's surface where one orbit takes a full 24 hours, thereby matching Earth's rotation so that the satellite stays directly overhead from its ground-based station. The distant, small satellites broadcast all their channels at low power so that personal hand-held communications is infeasible using this generation of satellite. Instead, there are central receiving stations which link the satellite into the local telephone grids.

With the advent of demand for personal computer data communications internationally, there are some new firms which are attempting to bite into satellite communications services, using an extension of this first generation satellite technology. These concepts put the satellites into low Earth orbit, around 1,000 km (600 miles) above the surface, close enough for smaller antennas to engage in two-way communications with the satellite. However, none of these satellites offer communications directly between a handheld mobile phone and the satellite, because the satellites are still too small due to the high launch costs per kilogram and the absence of construction equipment in Earth orbit. It's this latter market breakthrough issue that this article gives a solution to.

Putting satellites in low orbits complicates things. As seen from the ground, a satellite in a low orbit moves very fast, e.g., covering a given service cell for only about 10 minutes, so there must be many satellites to provide constant coverage. As seen from the satellite in low orbit, it can see only a very small part of the world at a given time, unlike a geostationary satellite which can see roughly half the world. Satellites in low orbit must depend heavily on relaying signals between each other more than communicating with the ground. Low orbit constellations require hundreds of satellites, as compared to the single satellite in geostationary orbit.

However, as long as satellites are small due to launch costs, they need to be close to the customer if they are to provide two-way personal communications. To improve services to users, the satellites need a bigger antenna to collect the fainter transmission from a small handheld device, and more power to transmit back down. A bigger antenna also allows better focusing on the ground area of service so that the same allocated frequency can be used for multiple areas on Earth. If the satellites are moved to a higher orbit for better coverage, they need to have even bigger antennas to maintain the same footprints on Earth's surface. If the satellites are moved to a lower orbit, they become more sensitive to orbital perturbations by the Moon and Sun since small perturbations have them dip lower into the outer fringes of Earth's atmosphere which slows them down, and hence they need more stationkeeping fuel propellant.

"How to be the next Bill Gates"

Countless times, I've heard yuppies talk about how they'd like to become the next Bill Gates. One would have to do something pretty revolutionary. I think there's no question but that space resources offers this opportunity, if only a few people have the courage to "just do it".

One step in the right direction is right down Bill Gates' alley -- beating the services provided by his Teledesic satellite constellation.

The key to developing better communications services will be in new ways to develop space on a large scale.

Material from near-Earth asteroids and the Moon can be used to make the large antennas, solar cell power sources, heat radiators, large satellite platforms (aka orbital antenna farms, or OAFs), and fuel propellants for stationkeeping. OAFs can contain multiple satellites which share the same power utility and antennas, and can be wired to each other by fiber optic cable so that different satellites communicate with each other better. Large scale space development will also put people into space to service and upgrade those satellites when desired. Communications may be the first large scale supporter of the creation of suburban Earth orbit real estate.

The intricate (and lightweight) satellite electronics will be made on Earth and launched up, but it will be integrated with the massive and simple satellite platforms which can be built from near-Earth and lunar materials early in a space resources scenario.

Whatever company establishes itself by developing this field first will be in a unique position to dominate the field, just like Microsoft and Bill Gates are now dominating the personal computer field based on profits from its cheap and basic MS-DOS operating system from the primitive 1980s. While many experts spoke in derogatory terms about MS-DOS, most didn't take any action to create a better alternative, and Bill Gates is the most successful person from that entire era, and can laugh to himself regarding all the former critics, sitting atop a fortune and best positioned for building the future.

What has yet to be determined is how many companies will be supplying asteroidal and/or lunar materials. It's possible that it could be just one -- the early bird -- supplying all these satellite companies. There are advantages to being the first to develop manufacturing with asteroidal and/or lunar materials, in terms of patents developed, bootstrapping and capability to provide more material at lower price. The first entity will offer asteroidal and lunar supplies at prices close to expensive Earth supplies -- it will be able to demand a high price in the absence of alternatives on the market. As others arise, they will have to compete with the early bird, who will then be able to drop prices. It has the potential to reign as a natural monopoly like Microsoft or Intel.

If a monopoly is to be prevented, it should happen by competition, not by stopping an innovative entity. As JFK said, what is important is not what you're against, but what you're for. If you want competition, then get on the stick. I'd suggest you start before Bill Gates' Teledesic satellite system is finished.

How to beat Bill Gates

Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, is worth more than $40 billion. (Actually, if I recall correctly, he's gone over $50 billion in worth as of the time of this writing, but I don't know the exact figure.) Bill Gates isn't stopping with Microsoft, but is still moving ahead. Bill Gates is investing heavily as the main controlling interest and will-be beneficiary of a $9 billion satellite system called Teledesic, which threatens to be the next big competitor to AT&T, MCI, Sprint, British Telecom, Telstra, and other traditional phone service providers.

The 288 satellites have already started to go up.

As discussed above, there are ways that utilization of near-Earth asteroidal and/or lunar materials will render Bill's expensive investment obsolete, eventually. But if you're going to compete with Bill Gates, you'd better get started sooner rather than later.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em?

To make money, you need money. Good ideas don't make money of their own accord. The best way get money is to locate the people who have money and who would benefit from one's ideas.

Big companies are probably not the best solution. As a company gets bigger, it becomes more bureaucratic and ossified, and moves much slower. Note that Teledesic isn't a project of Microsoft. It's a project of Bill Gates and cellular magnate Craig McCaw.

Would Bill Gates and Craig McCaw be interested in space resources? I doubt if they've even heard of PERMANENT. There are others of their magnitude who would be interested as well. That's one purpose of this book. May as well do the "full court press".

A critical mass investment to retrieve the first material from an asteroid near Earth would total roughly the same as exploring and developing one deep offshore oil platform. In other words, the initial investment is within the reach of a wealthy individual or small entity.

Innovative ways to make money before the first space product is sold is discussed at

More Power To You

A related product is Solar Power Satellites. Not just the big ones, but small ones as well.

Everything in life needs energy. That market will not change as long as this universe exists.

The first customers will be satellites wanting a large solar cell array mounted on them, as well as space stations, electric powered interorbital vehicles, and other applications.

You can also deliver energy the same way you deliver communications -- by beaming it. Beaming energy by ordinary and safe radio waves has already been performed for experimental electric helicopters and airplanes with no fuel. The only problem is having a power transmitter within view. The best solution is to put the transmitter in geostationary orbit.

Solar energy best belongs in geostationary orbit. The sun shines there 24 hours per day as if it were noontime at the equator with no clouds and indeed no atmosphere. A solar collector will get about 10 times more energy in a day than a collector on the ground. There's no need for expensive energy storage at night. There are no clouds or weather events to cause reliability problems with utilities and economies.

The US Department of Energy spent tens of millions of dollars during the 1977-1981 Carter Administration studying mammoth-sized Solar Power Satellites (SPS) to beam electrical energy to economies on Earth, a result of the oil shocks of the 1970s. The world's economy's energy vulnerability has not gone away, and has in fact increased because the world now consumes more energy due to less developed countries growing up. We are ever more dependent upon Middle East oil, and ever more vulnerable to a Saddam Hussein, an Arab-Israel war, etc. While government spending on alternative energy went down as soon as oil prices fell again, we are spending far more on military preparedness. Indeed, with a fraction of the military budget, we could invest in a positive solution -- near-Earth asteroidal and lunar materials utilization. Currently, the Japanese are the only ones currently with an SPS development program (including experiments), looking to eventually turn a country heavily dependent upon energy imports into an energy exporter to the world, based on western ideas. Forget risky guerilla war Vietnam style in the Middle East or elsewhere. There are no crazies on near-Earth asteroids and the Moon. We need to work on implementing the positive alternatives already discussed in the open literature by mostly American researchers.

SPS is perfect for near-Earth asteroidal and lunar materials utilization. The satellite is made of a small number of simple parts mass produced.

Indeed, SPS promises to be the most economical energy source yet. Coal and nuclear power plants are made of a vast number of diverse, precision parts, and are mechanical systems which must be carefully managed. The SPS and its ground-based rectenna are the opposite. Notably, a coal and nuclear plant are both heavier than an SPS and rectenna combined, and the coal plant must mine, transport, burn and dispose of the ash of the equivalent mass of 35 satellites per year.

The DOE studies and experiments showed the safety of the beam to people and other life.

The only barrier to SPS is the cost of delivering the SPS to geostationary orbit. That barrier is lifted once we start to use near-Earth asteroidal and/or lunar material. There are various studies on making SPS from lunar or asteroidal materials, with reports published in the open public literature by General Dynamics, MIT, and the Space Studies Institute. The crudest reports had the satellite made from 90% lunar resources by direct substitution of parts for the Earth-manufactured DOE design. By redesigning the satellite, the later studies have the percentage over 99%.

The earliest SPS platforms will provide power to space based industry and in-space satellites because the value per kilowatt-hour to these competing interests will come first. However, the supply of electricity will quickly grow for supplying ground-based consumers with raw energy. Indeed, energy may become the second major export to Earth after communications... and soon thereafter the #1 megamoneymaker -- basic electricity.

Of course, as an aside, SPS solves the carbon dioxide greenhouse problem as well as nuclear materials production by power plants. With all the crazies in the world, we are fortunate that we will not need more nuclear power plants.

Make money and save the world, too.

The Next Space Race

In the past, the space race was between governments and countries, and paid for by taxpayer dollars.

With the advent of the personal computer and internet, power has become more decentralized, and cultural and business borders do not exist in cyberspace.

The next space race will be between multinational companies offering better satellite communications services, and then power to Earth economies.

It's possible that all these companies will be buying materials and services from one company. So will the power utilities.

We are also in another race -- a race not between companies but a race against time. An important beneficiary will be Earth's environment. We are in a race against time to beat the greenhouse effect, acid rain from coal fired power plants, and development of poor countries before their populations explode and kill off most of the rain forests and jungle species. There's no place in the universe that's the same as Earth, and in a mere 100 years we may have succeeded in killing 90% of the species which have evolved naturally over millions of years. With knowledge comes responsibility, so think ahead to what will be going through your mind when you're on your deathbed -- will you be satisfied that you truly did what's right for life in your part of the Universe in your generation? Ultimately, there are no excuses, just opportunities developed or lost.

Blueprint for the future

One thing is for sure: There will be several competing satellite companies. There already are several which are launching this next generation of constellations, covered in the chapter on products & services.

These companies, especially Teledesic, are a clear threat to the phone companies all over the world, as there's no way to control wireless, space-based communications. They also will establish a user base who will be ready to shift service providers as soon as something better comes -- enhanced services.

None of the satellite constellations currently under development offers the ultimate -- a small, handheld phone similar to the mobile cellular phones currently available on the market based on local repeaters spread all over cities and along major highways, and able to communicate two-way interactively, not just passing on brief messages. For example, Teledesic "enables the use of small, low-power terminals and antennas, about the size of direct broadcast satellite (DBS) dishes. ... End-user rates will be set by service providers, but Teledesic expects rates to be comparable to those of future urban wireline services for broadband access." This is a far cry from truly personalized, decentralized communications services. Yet it's the best that's currently projected for the year 2002.

You know, I and my associates have worked from cellular modem transmissions for years, but once we get out of a good cellular area the signal degrades or fails because it's all based on ground-based relays to/from the satellites. Low orbit satellite based systems could offer crystal clear straight-up voice and data communications easily as soon as we have satellites with sufficient power and size. Since satellites in low orbit naturally go over the entire world, this means world coverage all the same. The surface-based copper wire and fiber optic cable networks will be looking at the competition in the eyes, and deeply shaking in their boots.

All the satellite systems currently under development will be made obsolete when bigger satellites come out, made from near-Earth asteroidal and/or lunar materials.

It can also be argued likewise that much of the current energy industry will also be heavily affected by the emergence of solar power satellites, and that energy will follow communications in the new space race.

What has yet to be determined is whether there will be just one entity monopolizing near-Earth asteroidal and/or lunar materials. While there may be multiple entities competing with each other trying in setting up the next generation of communications systems and trying to make a profit in that increasingly competitive field, there might be just one most competitive company in the cutting edge high frontier supplying them all with satellite hardware, while building up an empire as the Persian Gulf of space fuel propellants, the Boeing equivalent of space cargo vessels, and the most price competitive provider of power to Earth.

Hopefully, it will instead be a large number of companies -- mining, manufacturing, transporting, and so on, working in a decentralized space based economy. However, that has yet to be established.

So who do you want to be?

Do you want to be ...

The decision is yours, if you want to be any of these, or perform any of a great variety of other roles at all levels in this emerging realm.

In fact, there is no shortage of products and services from near-Earth asteroidal and lunar materials, as covered at

The page that covers communications satellites and the applications of near-Earth asteroidal and lunar material for communications satellites in much more detail than this article is at

The page that covers solar power satellites is at

All of the above is covered in chapter 5 of the book.

Many kinds of people will be needed, with rocket scientists making up a small minority.

You, too, can be a player rather than a mouse potato on the sidelines, so don't just talk the talk. The best place to start walking the walk is at Few things since the time of Buddha 2500 years ago have offered the potential to change your life and the world so permanently. And few opportunities for greatness come your way in a lifetime. Others won't stand still, as the world changes, so are you going to be just a talk-is-easy Monday morning quarterback could've-been, or are you going to join up and become an integral part of this evolutionary progress in our generation?

This page was last updated: 21 June 1999

Copyright © 1983-1999 by Mark Prado, All Rights Reserved except where specifically stated otherwise.

Projects to Employ Resources of the Moon and Asteroids Near Earth in the Near Term