15 September 2003
Reports - Other (Bad)
EU Space Study Missing Key Opportunity in Space?
Result of months of effort ignores space tourism
by Patrick Collins
By Dr. Patrick Collins

The European Commission is planning to publish a "White Paper on Space Policy" in late 2003. Unfortunately, judging from reports of preparatory activities published to date as reported here the result does not look likely to be very important in terms of economic value.

Unless the white paper carries a recommendation to focus efforts on developing passenger space travel services, then it will have failed to break the cycle of self-interest that monopolistic government space agencies have perpetuated since the Cold War.

One reason for this lack of commitment toward changing current space policy is that government organisations have a very strong bias to trust other government organisations. And so the European Commission seems to have taken it as a basic assumption that ESA is "doing a wonderful job" (like other government space agencies).

But the history of economics has proven that monopolies--whether government or private--raise costs and suppress innovation. Logically, economists and analysts within the European Commission should question the fact that ESA and national space agencies are all effectively monopoly sources of space funding. The predictable results of this were revealed strikingly clearly in April 2001 to anyone who cared to look. But most of the media (who so much enjoy the indefensible "Invitation Only" press briefings which monopoly space agencies love to use) failed to highlight two important points:

Nail in the Coffin 1
In April 2001 Dennis Tito flew to orbit on the cheapest and safest rocket available--which was essentially the same rocket that carried Yuri Gagarin to orbit 40 years earlier. But Western space agencies have spent US$1 TRILLION since then, without reducing the cost of getting to space by a single cent. So what have they been doing with all that money? NOT trying to reduce the cost of getting to space. Not wishing to have this embarassing fact revealed so starkly was surely one of the reasons why the heads of NASA and ESA made such public efforts to prevent Tito's flight.

Nail in the Coffin 2
When the first privately-funded team flies to space and back--hopefully on December 17, 2003, the centenary of the Wright Brothers' world-changing first flight--it will reverberate around the world perhaps even more than Tito's flight did. The total development cost of Scaled Composites' vehicle, one of the leading contenders of the X-Prize, will have been what government space agencies spend EVERY 12 HOURS. And the cost per flight will be about 1/1,000 of the cost of Alan Shepard's first flight to space, a similar sub-orbital flight lasting just a few minutes. Coupled with the investigations in the United States as a result of NASA's loss of a second space shuttle, this should finally focus public attention on the fact that space agencies spend some US$30 billion of taxpayers' money every year yet generate almost nothing of economic value. This is for the perfectly simple reason that they refuse to even investigate the only activity that offers to link the economic energy of consumer spending to space development. And without that, space agencies will remain a burden on taxpayers.

The European Commission should consider it a priority to see Europe's economy grow, to reduce its record unemployment, rather than preserve the appearance that ESA is doing a good job. Only by developing new industries can the European Commission replace the work that is now either automated or done more cheaply in India, China, and other later-developing countries. Just as air travel has created 50 million jobs world-wide, space travel can do the same.

But as of today, government space agencies refuse even the smallest funding create this new industry.

If the European Commission's report does nothing to correct this decades-long failure of economic policy, industrial policy, and space policy within the EU (as in other advanced countries), the exercise will have been yet another waste of taxpayers' money. Indeed, it might even entrench "space sclerosis" more deeply into the system.
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Patrick Collins 15 September 2003
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