As an amateur futurist I’ve always been fascinated by astronomy and science-fiction. I grew up reading science fiction books like Asimov, Dune and Kim Stanley Robinson as well as many others. As we live in a golden age of astronomy, space-technology is about to see a significant shift into the mainstream. It won’t just be Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and NASA to thank but China’s significant endeavors, particularly in the later half of the 21st century.
The Russian and China alliance in Space could also do great things. Sixty-three years ago, the Soviet Union put the first satellite in space. Nearly four years later, it sent the first man into orbit, Yuri Gagarin. So how are Russia and China planning to work together? They have teamed up for a robotic mission to an asteroid in 2024. They are coordinating a series of lunar missions intended to build a permanent research base on the south pole of the moon by 2030.
That’s how we set the story, a lingering prediction of our humanity venturing into the unknown. China and Russia have grown increasingly close under their current leaders, Xi Jinping and Vladimir V. Putin and while the United States might not approve, it could actually be very good for innovations in the space industry. The United States or SpaceX does not have a monopoly on space, and some of the greatest ideas about space architecture and space engineering didn’t actually originate in the U.S.
Why Space Technology Aligns with Green Technology
Space isn’t just the final frontier, it’s a field of technology that will enable us to improve our sustainability models, ecologically efficient transportation, energy sources, rocket technology and eventually our ability so travel through space, colonize planets and explore life at a scale we are only now beginning to imagine.
As we are in the middle of a golden age of astronomy, there are now some serious signs the Earth is entering another golden era of space exploration and space tech innovation. Not only are we understanding space even more we are understanding our own place in the Galaxy better with a 2021 that has been a climate change and sustainability wake up call. Massive floods, forest fires, droughts and a water shortage crisis are pushing us to a new planetary awareness.
Humanity is on the move. We’ll be a spacefaring civilization by 2035 (some put this at 2050, depending on the definition). How we do it is by focusing on clean technology, accessibility, sustainability and green technology that will be a key driver (more on that later). In this article I want to conceptualize how global an endeavor this is and how we are on the cusp of a space-technology revolution.
The Deep Romance of Space and the Search for Life
The history of space is a field of dreams, nations and now the domain also of space tech firms as new industries and related companies are being born. All measures of science, engineering and human collaboration will eventually lead to greater things in how we envision and experience human life. Our scale as a species won’t just be augmented by AI, but lead us to travel to distant shores.
Each small step in the history of space is symbolic for our achievements in new horizons, in maturing governments (think India), and in milestones of private firms that will surround space. Space tourism, construction, mining, exploration and colonization will be just beginning in the decades to come.
As humanity casts an ever wider net across the cosmos, capturing evidence of thousands of worlds, the probability indicates that we won’t just find life – we’ll likely find life everywhere. From super Earths (like our planet but bigger) to ocean worlds with hydrogen-rich atmospheres, the galaxy likely has a few surprises in store for us in how plentiful the opportunities for life will be.
We don’t need Earth replicas to find a new home. Super Earths may be some of the most common planets in our galaxy. Hycean (ocean) worlds are also much more common than we once believed. We don’t need to imagine that life can exist only on an Earth-like planet in a star’s perfect habitable zone. That’s an outdated model. Life even on Earth can surmount obstacles and thrive in unusual, even extreme environments.
In 2021 alone quite a few space related events have occurred and once you add them all up you realize we’ve entered a new phase of acceleration of space events and space related technologies. In July 2021 something incredible happened. Russia’s 20-ton Nauka (“Science”) module successfully docked to the International Space Station. It was the first expansion of the Russian segment of the station in more than a decade.
While the environment is changing on Earth and there is a pandemic, the human will for adventure still brings us together. People are still fascinated with our greater understanding of the galaxy, the challenges space presents us, and the pioneering allure of space exploration. There is a hunger in the human spirit to be curious, explore and build towards the stars.
We Must Marry Space Technology with Green Sustainable Endeavors
Never before has humanity realized the importance of marrying green technology with space technology. Cheaper and reusable rockets are making space flight more common and new projects more feasible. However for less pollution in space, we need space elevators that lead to an orbital ring to really enable Earth to enter the next era of space tourism, construction and colonization.
Of course these are not new or novel ideas. This article is going to briefly touch upon that from an unusual vantage point. Let’s also give credit to the Soviet Union, the birthplace of space tech and China, its most probable future.
A bit of history you may not have heard about in your school texts.
Formative Russian thinkers like Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (whose life story is incredible) were among the pioneers of Soviet rocket scientists who pioneered astronautic theory and inspired generations. Such an unusual innovator, Tsiolkovsky eventually turned his eyes toward flight. He began to design airships, publishing his first work on the subject in 1892 and developing Russia’s first wind tunnel. An 1894 article proposed the idea of a fully metal aircraft and, in 1895, he turned his eyes toward settling space.
Making Mars a Green Colony
China, Russia and the United States all have unique approaches to Space and the colonization of Mars. In May of 2021, China landed its own rover on Mars, challenging how we see the future of space tech in the decades to come. In June 2021 China and Russia agreed to jointly build a research station on or around the moon. You might say 2021 has been an eventful year for space breakthroughs setting the way for the next space race.
To make Mars habitable we’ll need glass domes and underground colonies, we’ll need tunnels and robots and drones capable of setting up shop before humans arrive. We’ll need a plan of action to make Mars use sustainable energy from the beginning, with a huge emphasis on green technology, sustainable engineering and innovate solutions to the obstacles there like radiation.
In the meantime from NASA to Green Mars, we’ll need new industry leaders like SpaceX but also others from other countries. We’ll need to invest more into Space and firms that understand how profitable it will be and how important it is that humanity attain the mantle of being a space-fairing species.
NASA’s entire budget is only $25 Billion (May 2021), so we’ll need private space firms and countries like Russia, India and China to push the field forward. We’ll need finally a lot more funding than NASA is getting. A 2017 report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimates that the space industry could be worth up to $2.7 trillion by 2030. In fact, it will be worth a lot more than that in truth.
As our environmental crisis deepens on Earth, humanity must recognize that a push into space can complement our best achievements while keeping sustainability in mind. Colonizing Mars and building space habitats in our own solar system are the first steps in learning how to marry space technology with green technology.
To make a Green Mars, we’ll need to focus on our environment on Earth as well. Since even terraforming Mars could take centuries.
From the Dawns of Space History to Global Cooperation
Russia’s role in early space technology cannot be so easily forgotten. War War II may also have impacted how people thought in a new way about space. The history of Russia’s space efforts starts with World War II. At the end of that huge conflict, German rockets and rocket parts were captured by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
Long before the Russian Space Federation, the Soviet Union already had engineers like Sergei Korolev who experimented with rockets. However the chance to study and improve upon Germany’s designs led to new ambitions.
The Soviets won the first round of that race when they put Sputnik 1 into orbit on October 4, 1957. The Soviets followed up with the launch of the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin, in 1961. Two years later they sent Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman into space and the first spacewalk was performed by Alexei Leonov in 1965. We sometimes forget much of early space history began in Russia.
The United States and NASA brought humanity a step further in the decades that were to follow. Now in the 2020s, a new space race is emerging where private firms, state backed companies and new nations rise to push humanity even further. China is preparing its own space tech boom with a significant number of space related startups as well as large State backed endeavors.
In contemporary times SpaceX is a dominant U.S. figure that is inspiring a new wave of space-tech innovations and new space startups. In September 2021 it was announced that China aims to build a large space craft miles long. SpaceX is also making civilian launches a lot more commonplace. The idea of reusable rockets is creating a new space economy.
SpaceX was born in 2002, when its founder, billionaire Elon Musk, took the first steps in his grand ambition to send a mission to Mars. Twenty years later reusable rockets (see timeline in pictures) are now the norm. Other companies and organizations are racing to be part of the space technology scene. Green tech and Space tech are combining in ways never previously imagined.
New Ideas and New Missions Are Being Born
Increasingly space is the last frontier where we are looking to harness the powers of more sustainable rockets and a space tech foundation that will allow humans to explore the galaxy and colonize new outposts for humanity at large.
Space is also, like the climate change challenge, a challenge for the world to truly collaborate. Competing nations are now working together and government and private sectors are also collaborating. SpaceX has won many NASA contracts in the last few years.
Great inventors are born every century, without prejudice to location or socioeconomic class. We can learn a lot about the future of space technology from some of the ideas of the first pioneers of rocket technology and how what they envisioned we would do as a species as we got the necessary engineering capabilities and the economic will. Here we turn to a Belarusian scientist I’ve been watching.
In the 1980s an engineer named Anatoli Unitsky founded Ecospace to harmonize the technosphere and the biosphere on the basis of modern technologies. Real innovation is occurring in space technology. You can see innovative new ideas in Space here. This organization holds conferences in which the field is moved forward through exchanges of scientific and practical knowledge.
- On September 18, 2021 Ecospace’s conference begins in Belarus. In the rich heritage of Russian space history, NRNSI 2021 will explore resultative implementation of the cosmic vector of development through non-rocket near space industrialization. So what I like about this conference is it brings together professionals in engineering and the environmental, biological, social, economic, political and other sciences to influence making space truly accessible.
- Unitsky organize (his YouTube) the conference of non-rocket space industrialization. It gathers together scientists from different countries who together are trying to save the world from ecocatastrophe. The first conference was in 1988. This year on the 18th of September will be the 4th in Maryina Gorka, Belarus.
On colonies like Mars we might see a Unitsky GPV overpass for instance. That stands for General Planetary Vehicle. The launch overpass of the General Planetary Vehicle is a take-off, power, and communication hub for geocosmic transportation.
- Geocosmic transportation
- Take-off point
- Power node
- Communications hub
You can learn more about General Planetary Vehicle technology here. To be honest the scale of such a project is something China could build, either here, in space and potentially on Mars. As far as I can estimate, China will likely have a viable colony on Mars before Elon Musk.
From Space Conferences to Planetary Structures and Colonization – So It Begins
Accessibility is really a key point as space tech continues to take shape. Transportation and mega-structure construction are therefore very important engineering feats to make the future of space-technology and exploration viable. As the colonization of Mars begins in the 21st century, the Earth’s vantage point on the galaxy will be fundamentally shifted.
Just as we are discovering new planets we are realizing, if humanity can survive, what we can achieve. Studies estimate there may be up to 6 billion Earth-like planets in our Milky Way galaxy. Countless civilizations have bene born and gone extinct, we are just one of them and at any given moment in time, our Galaxy may not be so crowded by intelligent species.
While when we think of Space we typically think of the U.S., SpaceX or NASA, the truth is human beings have been dreaming about space since the dawn of history and scientists all over the world are working to bring humanity forward.
Back to Unitsky, the Belarusian scientist Anatoli Unitsky developed the idea of non-rocket space industrialization. He suggests using a general planetary vehicle (GPV) and building an Orbital ring that will help reduce pollution and could replace rockets. It will also move all harmful industry from Earth to Space.
Amazon’s CEO and founder of Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos, may work considerably in this area of space station structures, orbital rings and human habitats in space. In July 2021, Blue Origin made its first space tourism flight.
Space Conference in Belarus
The Conferences of Anatoli Unitsky have been on-going since 1988. Unitsky’s ideas on string transportation appear quite striking. A prolific inventor, this Belarusian scientist is not very well known in the West. Space tech will intersect with the future of transportation too, and we’ll need space elevators at scale to make space even more accessible.
The first conference was in 1988. This year on the 17th of September will be the 4th in Maryina Gorka, Belarus. You can check out more info here.
4.5 billion years ago Earth began, and we may be the last people on this planet. What we do with our environment, our smart cities and our space technologies can enable us to survive into the future that inevitably means venturing forth into the stars.
Humanity needs to build orbital rings, space elevators and not just go to Mars. We have to recognize Earth is the best planet but also that our future lies in the stars. These are not contradictory statements. Green technology and space technology will usher in a new era of business growth for our humble planet Earth.
China best known in the world for gigantic infrastructure projects are likely the best candidate to realize some of Unitsky’s best ideas. Realistically the era of futurist mega-structures like these are likely for the 2050s to begin. By that time we will have more than one viable colony on Mars. By then we may have space elevators that lead to the conception of the need for an orbital ring. We’ll be known in the galaxy as a new space-faring species.
Sending people to Mars is not the holy grail, making a viable colony is. Have a lunar base or better space stations is not the point. Having a mega-structure in space that can support human life and citizens is. In the 21st century humanity will become more ambitious about its place in the galaxy. The climate change crisis won’t go away, but some of us might one day be born not on Earth but rather somewhere human beings have never gone before.