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Space Resources
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1Quantum Revolution& Advanced AI2HumanAugmentation3Eco-Regeneration& Geo-Engineering4Science& Diplomacy1.11.21.31.42.12.22.32.43.13.23.33.43.54.14.24.34.44.5HIGHEST ANTICIPATIONPOTENTIALAdvancedArtificial IntelligenceQuantumTechnologiesBrain-inspiredComputingBiologicalComputingCognitiveEnhancementHuman Applications of Genetic EngineeringRadical HealthExtensionConsciousnessAugmentation DecarbonisationWorldSimulationFuture FoodSystemsSpaceResourcesOceanStewardshipComplex Systems forSocial EnhancementScience-basedDiplomacyInnovationsin EducationSustainableEconomicsCollaborativeScience Diplomacy
1Quantum Revolution& Advanced AI2HumanAugmentation3Eco-Regeneration& Geo-Engineering4Science& Diplomacy1.11.21.31.42.12.22.32.43.13.23.33.43.54.14.24.34.44.5HIGHEST ANTICIPATIONPOTENTIALAdvancedArtificial IntelligenceQuantumTechnologiesBrain-inspiredComputingBiologicalComputingCognitiveEnhancementHuman Applications of Genetic EngineeringRadical HealthExtensionConsciousnessAugmentation DecarbonisationWorldSimulationFuture FoodSystemsSpaceResourcesOceanStewardshipComplex Systems forSocial EnhancementScience-basedDiplomacyInnovationsin EducationSustainableEconomicsCollaborativeScience Diplomacy

Emerging Topic:

3.4Space Resources

Associated Sub-Fields

Humans already depend on and utilise off-world resources. Almost all of our energy ultimately comes from the Sun, and we are protected from dangerous radiation by the magnetosphere that encircles our planet. The region just beyond our atmosphere has become a resource for communication, observation and exploration. But our ambition, as well as our requirement for resources, is greater still.

In the half-century since humans last landed on the Moon, rapid progress in science and technology has led to robotics and automation enabling the remote exploration of planets, moons, asteroids and comets beyond our own Earth-Moon system. In this same period, our population has doubled, while our use of resources has grown rapidly in quantity and diversity. The motivations for exploring the environment beyond Earth include enhancing scientific knowledge, mitigating hazards, as well as utilising extraterrestrial resources.

The potential detection of life beyond Earth will be a profound contribution to scientific knowledge and our understanding of what it means to be human. The search for evidence of life on Mars is underway with three active rovers on the surface, sent by NASA and more recently China, while evidence from flyby missions to icy moons like Europa and Enceladus reveal that subsurface oceans in the Outer Solar System are also potentially habitable environments.

The ability to study Earth from space has changed our understanding of the planet and the way humans are altering it. This will become increasingly important in the years ahead as we attempt to limit global warming and better understand and simulate the weather. At the same time, remote sensing and signals satellites will continue to provide an indispensable strategic resource for navigation, for trade and for military operations.1 Innovation will play a key role in the next generation of these satellites, with private companies leapfrogging and complementing the ability of state-run constellations.2 As low-Earth orbits become more crowded, orbital management and the removal of debris will become a major ongoing focus of attention.3

Many nations and entrepreneurs are eyeing space as a commercially exploitable resource: there is no shortage of solar energy to harvest; space tourism is an emerging business; the Moon has resources of helium-3, a potential fusion fuel, and water, which can also be converted into fuel; passing asteroids are potentially lucrative sources of minerals and other resources, such as ices and rare metals and Mars has some of the building blocks necessary to support a human presence, such as water ice.

Important questions remain over the legal rights we have to exploit areas beyond Earth (whether, for instance, it is a matter for state or private entities), how we should govern our behaviour in space and to what extent we should preserve what we find for the future. These questions are already being tackled in countries like the United States, which in 2015 became the first country to entitle property rights for resources extracted beyond Earth4, and Luxembourg, which is creating a legal framework for space mining so that businesses can be confident of their rights to the resources they extract.5 Last year, the European Space Agency established the European Space Resources Innovation Centre in Luxembourg, as a centre of excellence related to the exploitation of space-based resources.6

Key reports

The European Space Agency recently published its "Voyage 2050" recommendations for future mission themes1, focusing on the moons of the giant planets, potentially habitable exoplanets and better understanding the origin of the universe.7 The US National Academies regularly surveyed space science priorities in its "Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey 2023-2032".8 In the half-century since humans last landed on the Moon, rapid progress in science and technology has led to robotics and automation enabling the remote exploration of planets, moons, asteroids and comets beyond our own Earth-Moon system. In this same period, our population has doubled, while our use of resources has grown rapidly in quantity and diversity. The motivations for exploring the environment beyond Earth include enhancing scientific knowledge, mitigating hazards, as well as utilising extraterrestrial resources.

The potential detection of life beyond Earth will be a profound contribution to scientific knowledge and our understanding of what it means to be human. The search for evidence of life on Mars is underway with three active rovers on the surface, sent by NASA and more recently China, while evidence from flyby missions to icy moons like Europa and Enceladus reveal that subsurface oceans in the Outer Solar System are also potentially habitable environments.

The ability to study Earth from space has changed our understanding of the planet and the way humans are altering it. This will become increasingly important in the years ahead as we attempt to limit global warming and better understand and simulate the weather. At the same time, remote sensing and signals satellites will continue to provide an indispensable strategic resource for navigation, for trade and for military operations.1 Innovation will play a key role in the next generation of these satellites, with private companies leapfrogging and complementing the ability of state-run constellations.2 As low-Earth orbits become more crowded, orbital management and the removal of debris will become a major ongoing focus of attention.3

Many nations and entrepreneurs are eyeing space as a commercially exploitable resource: there is no shortage of solar energy to harvest; space tourism is an emerging business; the Moon has resources of helium-3, a potential fusion fuel, and water, which can also be converted into fuel; passing asteroids are potentially lucrative sources of minerals and other resources, such as ices and rare metals and Mars has some of the building blocks necessary to support a human presence, such as water ice.

Important questions remain over the legal rights we have to exploit areas beyond Earth (whether, for instance, it is a matter for state or private entities), how we should govern our behaviour in space and to what extent we should preserve what we find for the future. These questions are already being tackled in countries like the United States, which in 2015 became the first country to entitle property rights for resources extracted beyond Earth4, and Luxembourg, which is creating a legal framework for space mining so that businesses can be confident of their rights to the resources they extract.5 Last year, the European Space Agency established the European Space Resources Innovation Centre in Luxembourg, as a centre of excellence related to the exploitation of space-based resources.6

Key reports

The European Space Agency recently published its “Voyage 2050” recommendations for future mission themes1, focusing on the moons of the giant planets, potentially habitable exoplanets and better understanding the origin of the universe.7 The US National Academies regularly surveyed space science priorities in its “Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey 2023-2032”.8 NASA has considerable investment in human spaceflight with its Artemis programme expected to return humans on the moon within the next few years.9 In 2016, China set out its ambitions in space in an English-language white paper and has outlined its next five-year plan with the details expected later in 2021.10,11 The United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs explored the nature of space-related commerce in its “Space Economy Initiative 2020 Outcome Report”.12

Space represents a new frontier for humanity with almost limitless resources if we can learn how to exploit them. But the consensus among respondents was that it’s likely to be two decades before we see significant breakthroughs in anything but deep space observation. This is down to the cost and complexity of space flight and the legal and geopolitical concerns raised by the use of space resources, issues that all increase the need for anticipatory planning. Another notable trend is the high variability in awareness, with human presence in space receiving considerable attention while space-based power remains largely neglected, pushing up its anticipatory need.

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