Monday, 11 June 2012

On a UK space programme

As anyone unfortunate enough to be within 5 feet of me in the last month has undoubtedly gathered, I have recently become somewhat enamoured with space. Because of this I have decided to do a blog about why the UK should have a space programme.

In order to consider the merits of such an endeavour we must first look at the cost. The total, inflation adjusted, lifetime budget of NASA between its creation and 2008 was $851.2 billion. Dividing this by 50 we get $17.02 billion, NASA's current funding is about $18billion. A quick google reveals these to be around £11 billion and £11.6 billion respectively. This is of course quite a large amount of money. For the sake of safety I often overestimate costs, so for the sake of example we shall assume that a UKSA, after start up costs, would cost about £12 billion a year. This would represent 1.7% of total government spending and 0.005% of GDP.

So here I shall present the various benefits of a UK space programme.

1. Moon Silver
There's silver on the moon so lets go get it. Furthermore, there is also the notion of asteroid mining which is already receiving attention. Both of these present examples of resources in space that we could sell here on Earth.

2. Being the "Silicon Valley of Space"
Firstly this argument assumes that there will one day be the commercialisation of space, with various companies doing various things across the solar system. If we take that to be inevitable then we must ask, where will these companies be based? Where will these companies set themselves up? The answer is wherever the experience and technology for going into space is, so if we want the worlds space entrepreneurs to set up companies in Britain, we need to be showing that we can go into space and the best way to do that is to just go into space. This is also an argument for a space elevator, if we build one then this removes the main obstacle to private firms operating in space, specifically that escaping Earth's orbit is hard. If we build a space elevator, which estimates suggest would cost $40 billion or £25 billion for a one off investment, then we will make Britain the place to launch stuff into space from.

3. Attracting investment.
Other investment could also be attracted by the British space programme, not just space relevant investment. This is because it would create give an impression of a technologically advanced country, on the cutting edge of scientific advancement, hence attracting firms that are technologically sensitive.

4. Inspiration.
This is a point stolen from Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Specifically it refers to giving public presence to science and promoting a sense of wonder in young people. Space is something children find cool and if we make space travel something that exists rather than the preserve of science fiction, then we are more likely to have people wanting to grow up to be engineers and scientists. Engineers and scientists create new technology, new technology leads to economic growth, economic growth leads to lower unemployment, lower unemployment leads to an improved government budget as they will have higher tax revenues and lower unemployment benefit expenditure.

5. Beating China to it.
Not strictly an economic argument, but I don't much like the idea of humanity being represented outside of Earth by the "People's Republic of China" for reasons that should be plainly obvious to anyone with a shred of humanity.

6. It's awesome.
Yup. It is. Deal with it.

Also this probably won't be the last I talk about space and economics, though I will try to keep in confined to the blog. Although a bunch of people don't read my blog, so I'll have to tell them in person. So to conclude if I'm talking about space and you're bored by it, just say "I've read your blog about it" and I'll shut up.