It is likely that the US will be integrating combat lasers onto planes, ships and vehicles over the next ten years and deploying hypersonic missiles. However, China, Russia and other nations are roughly keeping pace with US development of hypersonic missiles and planes and are not that far behind in combat lasers.
China is at 60% of the US economy on an exchange rate basis and 120% on a purchasing power parity basis. China’s economy will continue to grow faster than the USA and will likely be about 150% to double the size of the US economy on an exchange rate basis in 2050 and triple on a purchasing power parity basis.
The US with Europe, Japan, India and Canada as allies would match China’s economy.
Once a country catches up they tend to stay caught up and competitive. This can be seen in the case of Airbus and Boeing.
Germany, Russia and the USA were clearly comparable economically around the time of World War 2. The US had economic advantages then but increased them. A key difference was the US had decades of effective immigration of highly educated people from around the world.
The Spacex Falcon 9, very soon Falcon Heavy and soon the Spacex BFR and the Blue Origin Glenn reusable rockets give the US several times the capability of Russia and China and at lower cost.
The US has a far more dynamic and active new Space startup environment.
The US has leadership towards developing asteroid resources (Planetary Resources, Deep Space Industry) and with cubesats and with lunar development (Moon Express.)
Nextbigfuture reviewed the precursors of exponential robotic manufacturing in space by looking at existing automated mining and automated factories on Earth and the robotics being developed for space mining and space operations.
The bootstrapping plan talked about using improving robotics to use a 12 metric tons (MT) seed system landed on the Moon to scale up over a period of about 20 years to 40,000 tons built from lunar materials and getting to 100,000 humanoid robots.
However, using Spacex BFR that can take 150 tons from Earth to the moon by using orbital refueling. Each reusable Spacex BFR could make 50 trips to and from the moon each year to get to 7500 tons delivered to the moon. The end result of the bootstrap goals could be achieved with 6 Spacex BFR in one year.
They describe an evolving approach described that reduces the cost of material transported to the moon by eight times. Lower cost launch providers like Spacex are altering the cost equation.
This robotic industry in space leads to a grand vision. After the industry becomes self-supporting it can be sent to other parts of the solar system. The asteroid belt has everything necessary for it: water, carbon, silicates, metals, oxygen, solar energy (with much larger collecting arrays), etc. The ices in the lunar poles are a limited resource so it will be important to move the center of industry to the asteroids as quickly as possible. There, the billion-fold greater resources could allow the industry to expand exponentially until it dwarfs that of the entire Earth within just a few decades. Continued advances in artificial intelligence will be needed to control and manage such a large industry. The United States economy uses 10^20 J of energy per year including fossil fuels, nuclear, and renewables (Department of Energy 2010).
Gen. 5.0 (at 70% duty cycle) using 10^15 J of energy per year. Multiplying this by a factor of 3 per year, it would exceed the energy usage of the US within 11 more years. After 12 more years it would exceed the US economy by a factor of a million. After another decade it would exceed the US economy by a factor of a billion.
Aggressive use of Spacex reusable launch, focused robotics automation development could achieve the critical mass of moon based industry within 2 years after the reusable Spacex BFR is fully operational. The planned date is about 2022 for the Spacex BFR. So 40,000+ tons of lunar industry and robotics manufacturing could be available by 2024. Then development of lunar and near earth asteroid resources with colonization assisted exponential development could get to a multi-trillion dollar orbital, cis-lunar, lunar, Near Earth asteroid and beginning of full asteroid development in the 2040-2050 timeframe.
This would move the needle on future US economic development. It would be the resources and the technology developed from this effort.