The space business does not stand still. In the future, telecommunications and Earth observation will almost certainly cease to be its most profitable industries. They may be overtaken by mining and manufacturing of a wide variety of products in orbit, from human organs to spacecraft.
In the first part of the article, we talked about profitability of satellite communications and imaging of the Earth`s surface. However, all of this is a business that is directly related to meeting the needs of consumers on Earth. And the imagination is already picturing goods produced beyond its borders. And the first step is mining minerals that can be found on the Moon, Mars, or other celestial bodies. Space mining has long existed in the fantasies of engineers and writers, but no practical steps have been taken in this direction.
However, priority goals in space have already been identified.
First of all, water should be extracted on the Moon. It can be used for the domestic needs of people who will live on our natural satellite, as well as for growing agricultural products. It is quite possible that hydroponics there will produce enough food not only for the «locals» but also for export to future space colonies.
For the inhabitants of the Earth, these products will be too expensive compared to those grown on its surface. However, it may be more profitable to transport them from the Moon to other planets than to launch them into orbit from our fields.
Titanium, iron, and aluminum can also be mined on the Moon. All of these metals will be used for a long time to manufacture various equipment. However, the most interesting lunar resource is helium-3, a light isotope of the second most abundant element in the universe. Thermonuclear reactions involving it are extremely energy-efficient, and it is present in sufficient quantities in the lunar regolith.
Water and some metals will also be extracted on Mars in the first place. In fact, the range of resources that can be found on celestial bodies is quite limited. The fact is that minerals such as oil or coal on Earth were formed as a result of the activity of living organisms. Many others were formed by liquid water, air, and tectonic forces. All of this is long gone on most planets in the solar system.
Mining on asteroids can also be promising. Its main advantage is that gravity practically does not interfere with work there. As for the fact that some bodies of this class may consist entirely of metals, this is true only of few of them.
In addition, modern asteroid mining projects involve delivering celestial stones to Earth’s orbit, where they can be easily accessed. Therefore, the costs are quite high.
Production outside the Earth
It is easy to move from mining to organizing production right on the spot. The fact is that it is quite expensive to move the rock from the place of mining to the metallurgical plants, and it is even more expensive to bring it down from space to Earth, where it will be used to make something.
Therefore, sometimes it will be much more profitable not to send various materials into space from Earth, but to build a metallurgical plant directly on the Moon or Mars and produce at least the simplest products there. Among other things, this will help get rid of environmental problems that not only make life uncomfortable but also cost manufacturers a lot of money. In some cases, it will even benefit them. After all, low gravity and the absence of an atmosphere will allow the production of many materials that cannot be obtained on Earth. And then they can be used to make much more complex mechanisms.
This is especially true for metallic asteroids. They are rich in iron, nickel, and magnesium — very important materials for space industry. So why drag them to Earth to make spacecraft out of them, which will then have to be launched back into space with great difficulty?
Therefore, the best possible business is not just to mine metals in space, but to use them as much as possible “on the spot” to build spacecraft and stations. After all, even high-tech “clean rooms,” not to mention actual testing, are much easier to organize there. In addition, some hazardous industries can be launched into space, and finished products can be brought back to Earth.
Another industry that can be successfully developed in space is biotechnology. Many complex organic compounds are much easier to produce in zero gravity than on Earth. This opens up new horizons for pharmaceutical companies, especially those that create drugs “for a specific patient.”
The situation is similar with bioprinting. This is the name of 3D printing biological tissues. It allows you to create organs for transplantation without the help of donors. It is enough to simply clone the cells of the patient’s corresponding tissue and turn on the printer.
On Earth, this method does not work because tissues must be printed with binders that negatively affect their viability — otherwise, the printed organ just spread forming a puddle. However, it is quite possible to create human organs in microgravity. In the summer of 2023, a knee meniscus was created on the ISS in this way. It has already been returned to Earth, and experts have confirmed that it is no different from the usual one. Perhaps this kind of production will become the most profitable space production in the future.