Today, we are witnessing a growing consensus that the next frontier for space commerce and space settlement is Low Earth Orbit (LEO). While ‘space’ is usually envisioned as being at a great distance from the Earth, it is actually quite close. In fact, the distance from the Earth to LEO is far less than the distance the Puritans had to travel from England to New England. The challenge to space commerce and settlement has always been cost, not distance.
Satellites are already a LEO commercial success because of the return on investment (ROI). Lifting a satellite into orbit is far less expensive than putting a person there, and the financial return makes the investment worthwhile. The real payoff, however, will occur when the cost of access to LEO is low enough that it is profitable to send people there. When observers talk about what is next, they most often mention space tourism, hotels, and similar translations of Earth-based activities to the space environment. Ultimately, to create a spacefaring civilization, we must assume that whatever human communities do on the surface of the Earth, they will do in LEO as well.
If this is so, then education, one of the most essential of human activities, will also take place in LEO.
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|This paper was first published as part of Space Commerce, The Inside Story, published by the Aerospace Technology Working Group (ATWG) and included on this site through the courtesy of ATWG, ISU and the individual authors.
Other extracts from this publication can be found here.