A scenario for the ten-billion-times growth factor
Within this middle way scenario, I would envisage the following sequence of events for the future of manned spaceflight merging into Solar System colonisation.
1. Government exploration missions to low Earth orbit, and establishment of an outpost there. (Now complete.)
2. Based on the exploration in step 1, private enterprise now markets low Earth orbit for commercial passenger spaceflight, dominated by space tourism but also featuring commercial space manufacturing and university-funded science, and creates a growing, economically self-sustaining low Earth orbit infrastructure. (Now just beginning, and dependent upon SKYLON-type vehicles for full success. Expect this phase to unfold during the 2020s, with ultimately thousands of passengers flying to orbit and back every week.)
3. As low Earth orbit becomes more populated and costs of access fall, a market will appear for lunar flyby trips (Space Adventures has announced it already has one committed client for a flight around 2015). These are best satisfied by adapting existing space hotel designs for injection into Earth-Moon cycler orbits, thus ensuring that full solar flare protection, repair facilities and buffers of consumables can be built up in cislunar space. (Late 2020s to 2030s.)
4. The growing space hotel system and the demand for translunar propellants create a large-scale market for volatiles, especially water, in orbit which can be satisfied by robotic mining of the near-Earth asteroids; again, government exploration, in this case robotic asteroid exploration, will be needed to develop the technologies towards commercial sustainability. (2030s to 2040s.)
5. Based on the infrastructure in steps 2, 3 and 4, governments, singly or in collaboration, now launch new exploration missions to the Moon very much more economically than could have been achieved with an Apollo-style system, and establish one or more outposts there. (2050s.)
6. Based on the infrastructure in steps 2, 3 and 4, the construction of solar power satellites to serve Earth now becomes economically attractive, and the conversion of Earth from fossil fuels to solar power begins. (2030s to 2050s.)
7. Based on the exploration in step 5, private enterprise now markets the Moon for commercial passenger spaceflight, dominated by space tourism but also featuring lunar surface science, and creates a growing, economically self-sustaining lunar surface infrastructure. (2060s.)
8. Based on the infrastructure in steps 2, 3 and 4, government now launches exploration missions to Mars and Venus, and establishes outposts there. (2080s.)
9. Based on the exploration in step 8, private enterprise now markets Mars and Venus for commercial passenger spaceflight, dominated by science and colonisation. Interplanetary transport will use a network of cycler stations based on several decades of experience with Earth-Moon cycler stations. (Into the 2100s.)
10. Outposts on Mars and Venus grow into colonies, and meanwhile the cycler stations also grow into substantial transit cities, supplied from asteroids rather than from Earth. (First half of the 22nd century.)
11. Based on the existing interplanetary infrastructure, government now launches exploration missions to the Main Asteroid Belt, Jupiter and further afield. (Mid-22nd century.)
12. Based on the exploration in step 11 and several decades of experience operating interplanetary cycler stations, private enterprise sets up mining and construction ventures in the Main Asteroid Belt to create self-sufficient colonies there. New cycler stations link these colonies with the inner planets. (Mid-22nd century.)
13. At the same time, private enterprise sets up cycler stations to serve Jupiter and Saturn, serving growing colonies on the respective giant planets’ moons and among the Jupiter Trojan asteroids. (Late 22nd century.)
14. The interplanetary economy is now growing independently of Earth, but at the same time the commerce (material, energy, information) between the colonies and Earth enriches civilisation at all locations. (The state of play at 1 January 2200.)
This scenario thus completes the transformation of civilisation from monoplanetary to multiplanetary status, and sets up the conditions under which economic and population growth may now proceed without interruption until the limits of the carrying capacity of the Solar System are reached.
Nextbigfuture – A newly discovered comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) is projected to make a close pass by the sun and then a close pass by the earth at the end of 2013. With a perihelion passage of less than two million kilometres from the Sun on 28 November 2013, current predictions are of an object that will dazzle the eye at up to magnitude —16. That’s far brighter than the full Moon. If predictions hold true then C/2012 S1 will certainly be one of the greatest comets in human history, far outshining the memorable Comet Hale-Bopp of 1997 and very likely to outdo the long-awaited Comet Pan-STARRS (C/2011 L4) which is set to stun in March 2013.
Nextbigfuture – Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic is shooting for the moon and the $20 million Google Lunar X prize. It developed the solar-powered Griffin landing module and a smaller Red Rover wheeled explorer as one of a handful of entities hoping to win the prize. But Astrobotic developed the larger, heavier Polaris lunar rover to explore one of the moon’s poles and to drill for water.
The Polaris rover, which when it lifts off aboard the Spacex Falcon 9 rocket will weigh about 518 pounds and carry sophisticated imaging equipment, carbon-fiber and composite material, other payload and a drill to search for the water that scientists believe is buried in the lunar surface.
Nextbigfuture – Spacex has a successful launch of a resupply mission to the space station. The secondary mission to launch a satellite ended up failing because for safety protocols they could not boost it to the higher orbit