- policy recommendations for the current administration -


From a policy standpoint, very little needs to be done to advance space settlement. As noted in the settlement pages settlement is when people sell their homes, move off Earth, and settle down. It starts with just the first few settlers. This initial settlement differs little with a permanent government base in that both need habitats, utilities, life support, utilization of local resources, radiation shielding, and an indoor centrifuge. Really, the only difference is that the settlers are moving off Earth to stay as long as they can. So, this means that a government program to establish a permanent government base is exactly the sort of foundation that private settlement needs to take it to the next level. So, to set the state for the first settlers, governments need only to pursue the traditional government objectives of national prestige and science.

A policy position supporting space settlement is not bad but not particularly necessary either. A policy supporting technical sustainability and reduce the cost of people moving off Earth would be the thing that would help space settlement the most.

It is practically a mantra with many (most?) space advocates that space settlement is impossible unless we figure out how to make it economically profitable / sustainable. And so the never-ending search for some "unobtainium" or intellectual property explanation for how settlers can turn a profit. Historic analogies of situations with very different factors are appealed to make the case for the need for profitable mining. Failing to make that case convincing, space settlement is declared to be something for the far future or attention is diverted to any commercial space activity regardless of whether it directly relates to settlement or not. But there is a very clear path to space settlement that avoids these mental roadblocks.

Settlement is fundamentally enabled by two things:

    1) Lowering the cost of going and remaining
    2) Making the settlement attractive enough to draw people to use their savings to move
Notice that making a profit is the motive for those providing transportation and housing but not the motivation for the settlers themselves. So the analogy of retirement communities is more accurate than mining town analogies.

There is a very helpful intermediate stage between NASA establishing a permanent base and private settlement. Almost always, governments have far deeper pockets than even their richest citizens. For example, the US federal budget for only one year is 41 times larger than Jeff Bezos' entire life savings. From a space budget standpoint, NASA spends 20 times more per year than Jeff Bezos sets aside for Blue Origin. Other nations have similarly deep pockets compared to their citizens. The relevance of this point is that international countries can afford to send their national astronauts to the Moon while the per-seat price is high. As a lot of international astronauts explore the Moon, the increasing flight rate, economies of scale, recycling, utilizing local resources, and reusability will reduce the price of flight tickets and living expenses to the point where it makes it a lot more affordable for private settlers.

SpaceX's Starship may prove critical to space settlement. Even if only the first stage proves reusable, the cost of going to the Moon will be far less than a government-only, SLS approach. And if the Starship itself can be made to be reusable then the cost for private individuals to move off Earth will get down to where many thousands could choose to do so.

But there is an important work that someone needs to do while SpaceX is pursuing the development of the Starship. Someone needs to get moving on developing cost-effective habitats and in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). We in the Space Development Network (SDN) have produced a series of presentations addressing the various approaches to making a colony increasingly Earth independent. In May 2020 we intend to conduct a series of demonstrations at the space advocate level illustrating that these processes are entirely doable. But a professional development program is needed. This could be done either by NASA or a philanthropic donor.

The government can enable settlement by working with companies to establish a permanent base serving as the foundation for private settlement.

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