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Space is the next frontier for fuel, communications and commerce: Emtech

By Morag Hobbs (People's Daily Online)    15:42, January 23, 2019

Panelists sit down to discuss the future of the space industry at Emtech China 2019 on Jan.21, 2019. (People's Daily Online/Morag Hobbs)

Since China’s Chang’e 4 completed the first ever soft-landing on the far side of the moon on Jan. 3 2019, many have been wondering what the next big feat in space exploration will be. While many companies look at ways to produce more fuel, bring communication tools to more people and make life easier here on earth, speakers at this year’s Emtech China said that we should, in fact, be looking to space for our answers.

During Emtech China 2019, which took place from Jan. 19-21 in Beijing, scientists and hi-tech company leaders from around the world came together to discuss the current status of space ex-ploration and the future opportunities and challenges they may face.

Chris Lewicki, CEO of space start-up Planetary Resources, was first to speak during the morning session on Monday. He explained that we are entering into a new era where global infrastructure is expanding into space. He expects that within the next decade or two, space will become a com-mercial venture.

Today, the world is in an economic space race, with the first space tourists potentially shooting out of our atmosphere this year. On Sept. 17, 2018, SpaceX announced that fashion innovator and globally recognized art curator Yusaku Maezawa would be the company’s first private passenger to fly around the Moon in 2023. Founder and CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk, also stated last year that a passenger rocket to Mars could be in our not-too-distant future.

However, plans aside, the cost of space travel is still extremely high, partly due to high fueling costs. However, Lewicki said, we could use asteroids as resources in the future. Asteroids are abundant with hydrogen and oxygen, which can be used to create rocket fuel. He explains that as-teroids can be turned into gas stations in space, making them launch pads for long distance travel.

Resources drive growth, and for space travel, sourcing these resources from space would be 20 times less expensive than launching fuel from Earth, Lewicki said. He predicts that there will be a $6 billion market for fuel in space by 2032.

China started in the space business race much later than the U.S. However, in the last three to four years, China has come on leaps and bounds.

Xie Tao, CEO of Beijing-based private company Commsat Technology Development Co Ltd, ex-plained that China had entered its own commercial space era, with his company sending seven mini satellites into orbit last December alone, to help fulfill tasks such as tracing cargo ships and monitoring endangered wildlife.

Xie explained that China is currently focused on commercial rockets and low orbit constellations. For example, Commsat’s main satellite, Ladybeetle I, is equipped with five high-definition cameras and a LED screen, helping create commercial products such as a better spacewalk experience for virtual reality glass users, or a space scene for selfies, China Daily reported in December 2018.

While private companies are pushing forward with research and development, there are still chal-lenges in the industry. When asked, all panelists agreed that the next big problem is financing, and how to predict a market which doesn’t yet exist. If companies can mass produce space products, then the cost will come down, in turn making space travel a possibility for all. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Hongyu, Bianji)

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