Breakthroughs to Democratize Space

During our discussion on barriers to democratize space and meeting with Brain Trust members, we came across major constraints such as the need for an economic driver to space, cost, safe access to space, easy access to usable in-space resources, sustaining space settlements, understanding of health effects of living and working in space and connectivity and exchange with Earth.

What do you think are some of the breakthroughs we can expect by 2040, which could open up space for everyone?

Hi @manuel.ntumba and @derleth,
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the barriers. We now move on to the next phase wherein we are trying to identify breakthroughs solutions to overcome the barriers discussed. It would be nice to know what you think as the emerging solutions to democratize space.

I have been following progress in space exploration since I was 4 or 5 years old. Like many people I have been frustrated by the slow progress. I watched the Apollo 11 moon landing when I was 8 and I really thought that there would be a thousand people living and working on the Moon by now. Obviously that was overly optimistic. So, what is holding us back? When I look in the books written by Oberth, Von Braun, O’Neil, etc., one of the things that I see is that they all have a space tug of some sort. A small, cheap, and reliable space tug is something that we are lacking. The Agena upper stage was originally designed to fulfill the roll of a space tug, and it was used in the Gemini era when we were just getting our feet wet with manned space exploration. The problem is that the Agena was not small, cheap, or even all that reliable. In my opinion a major breakthrough in the democratization of space would be the invention of a small, cheap, and reliable space tug. It would dramatically lower the cost of putting satellites in LEO, GEO, and transfer orbit, and it would even reduce the risk and cost of deep space missions. A space tug development would be a real breakthrough.


This is such a timely conversation! SpaceX launched two tugs made by Spaceflight today:

SpaceX launches 88 spacecraft into orbit — including two of Spaceflight’s orbital tugs

I’m curious about your take on space tugs. It sounds like Spaceflight’s will be used for refueling services, satellite placement in LEO, and possibly for satellite adjustments/deorbiting.

Do you see a use beyond the ones here? Perhaps a way to take crewed missions from LEO to the moon? Or something more audacious? I’d love to hear more.

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One of the major uses I see for space tugs would be to extend the life of satellites in Geosynchronous orbit. Those satellites are required to conserve enough of their maneuvering propellent to put them in throw away orbits at the end of life. This usually means that they use about 6 month’s worth of fuel just to do that. A couple of space tugs in GEO could allow those satellites to continue to work and earn revenue for 6 months, that’s worth millions of dollars. Also, sometimes a communication satellite fails to achieve the proper orbit and they become orbital debris and a replacement has to be launched. A space tug system could retrieve that satellite and put it in the proper orbit, sort of orbital insurance. Also, the tugs could be used in tandem to put space probes on interplanetary trajectories and then bring themselves back to Earth orbit to be used again and again. Then at the end of their life, they could be used to deorbit other space debris.

Anyway those are some ways that I see that space tugs could be a real game changer and lower the cost of spaceflight by an order of magnitude, at least for some missions.

One last thought, a space tug system could have saved the Columbia.


Thanks @Ed_Larson for sharing these incredible insights!

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Hi @shl,

Welcome to the community!

You might have some thoughts on the emerging breakthrough solutions to democratize space. Please share it with us.

Hi @drjewellmd and @peregrinus - Curious to know your thoughts on the emerging breakthrough solutions to democratize space.

Hi @Basia and @AngeloVermeulen,
We feel you might have inputs to share on the emerging breakthrough solutions to democratize space. Please share it with us.

Hi @jmasiero and @nstavros,
Curious to know if you have inputs to share on the emerging breakthrough solutions which could democratize access to space.

One of the biggest barriers is the high cost of launch. As that comes down to the point where many people can consider going into space, then some people will figure out what to do with lots of people in space.

Problem with that, there’s no place to go. So there’s a lot of interesting thoughts people have been having about orbital hotels, or even permanent residences. I think there’s a lot there that could make sense from an investor viewpoint. There are probably a lot of people who could afford to have a cabin on a space yacht if they were staying in the cabin for only a week or so a year. I hope some of these companies manage to get funded and build something. There would be jobs for people on stations like that, as well.

Of course, without some sort of killer app, it’s going to be hard to justify the expense. And there will be other issues. I think carefully thinking about Space Ethics as we move forward into space will be absolutely essential for the human race. That, or we’ll end up with a permanent underclass of near-slaves mining the belt for raw materials so that a few space barons can get rich.


We rarely talk about cultural, ethical or even spiritual matters when discussing space exploration, but I believe it is precisely culture that will give us a purpose in the future, the power within ancient forms of knowledge and the role our cultures play in maintaining a fragile cosmic balance. These are unique pieces of wisdom we must definitely bring with us, into the future.

It represents our chance to bring together once again science, art and ritual. This might be a personal or even utopian vision for our interplanetary future but perhaps through these utopian exercises we can break free from many of our prejudices here on Earth because we need more diverse personal naratives for our future.

A future where we don’t turn our backs to our cultures and the roles they play in shaping who we are today, a future that does not perpetuate the survival of the most priviledged at the expense of the most vulnerable but instead acknowledges a fragile position in this universe and our responsibilities towards it.

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Thanks @derleth for sharing your thoughts. Good points. Just wanted to further understand if you have come across any emerging solutions which are trying to overcome these barriers and likely to be successful to a certain extend in opening up access to space in the coming two decades.

Hi @SarahMGomez,
Welcome to the XPRIZE Community.
We are discussing breakthrough solutions to democratize space.
Given your experience in this field, we feel you may have thoughts to share on the emerging solutions which have the potential to open up space.

Our biggest limitation is the huge planet we live on, in particular its gravity and the energy intensive (polluting) process of getting into space: chemical rockets. A theoretical solution mentioned quite a lot is the space elevator. If materials science can make a sufficiently strong material then it might be possible to have elevators on the equator, with the space anchor consisting of solar panels to power its motion.

Another solution is to mine resources on the Moon and fire them up into space (lower energy requirements). Then robots and 3D printers assemble the materials into space infrastructure, etc. I’ve outlined this and other ideas for space here: Space Future Gallery.

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Well, sure. I mentioned Starship. There are a number of companies working on smallsat launch. There are some fascinating technologies coming out of NIAC that could help in the future. Several of those studies were completed by TransAstra Corporation which is an asteroid mining company. I think they’ve got the only architecture that could succeed, at least for now, in asteroid mining. Hopefully they’ll get a space flight test soon, in a year or two.

The problem is more fundamental than technology, though. Someone’s got to come up with a reason for thousands of people to go to space. Resource mining and habitat creation are probably the only combination that could work, though cheap access to space could tip the balance and enable enough people to go to space to come up with a “killer app.”

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Thanks @darleth for sharing these emerging solutions.

Hi @alexanderghayes, @AngeloVermeulen and @ncabrol - Given your vast experience and knowledge in this field, we feel you may have thoughts to share on the emerging solutions which have the potential to open up space.

Breakthroughs - Democratization of Space:
As I mentioned in Barriers - Democratization of Space: Interdisciplinary inclusion and public participation are very important factors for the Democratization of space. Because it requires experts from all the subfields of space studies: space law, policy, space commerce, space economy, space applications, and many more. The limited number of experts in these subfields represents a barrier for regulations and decision-making on space settlements, space mining, space debris mitigation, Human rights in space, and many more.

As breakthroughs, it is important to create international opportunities in space studies to motivate experts and scholars from different fields to specialize in the space industry. The limited number of opportunities in the space industry is one of the reasons experts choose to specialize in other industries rather than the space industry. The more we have incubation programs, jobs, entrepreneurship funds, grants, expert-level competitions sponsored by the United Nations, private companies, international organizations, governments; the more we will get high-level experts in the space industry - which is very important for the Democratization of space, especially on topics such as space policy, regulations, Human Rights in space, Lunar governance, space pollution tax (tax on space debris) and many more.

The CEO of XPRIZE Ms. @AnoushehAnsari, once said: “Democratizing space means helping all nations gain access to space and its resources. I think it would be great. Space Tourism, as much as i like it, is not the best or largest opportunity for building sustainable future for space for a nation. there are others, like communication, manufacturing, earth observation and research, climate mitigation, etc. that can be lower hanging fruit for a nation to start their presence in the space scene.” (Reference: Posted by @AnoushehAnsari on May 25, 2021). Thanks to her for these insightful thoughts.

Also, as per UN SDG 10 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Space4SDGs of the United Nations Office on Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), it is important to create equal opportunities for everyone in space and to expand space studies to every region across the globe through connectivity in remote and isolated areas, remote participation in democratic processes and reliable access to information. As per UN SDG 16 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Space4SDGs of the United Nations Office on Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), it is important to promote peace and justice in space through conflict monitoring, by enabling the participation of remote and isolated communities in democratic processes, enforcement of legislation and access to reliable information.

@Shashi @NickOttens @DavidPoli


Thanks @manuel.ntumba for sharing these insightful thoughts. We would further like to understand:

  • Have you come across any case study which has been successful in carrying out the ideas shared by you; even if it at a very lower level.
  • Secondly do you think any emerging technologies could potentially help in facilitating these ideas in the coming two decades.
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