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Origin:Proceedings of IEEE Aerospace Conference

With the end of the Cold War, a huge quantity of economic, technological and human resources have been released from military work to be used for more economically productive purposes. However, instead of a "golden age" beginning, in many countries there is a pervasive feeling of uncertainty. With slow economic growth and high and/or rising unemployment, there is widespread concern that global business competition and rationalisation makes increasing unemployment inevitable. The aerospace industry, which earned much of its income from defence work, is undergoing particularly severe restructuring, and millions of people have left the sector.

Yet there are enormous new business opportunities awaiting in the commercial development of space. There is no necessity for present difficulties to develop into a vicious circle of slow growth and unemployment in the rich nations. With appropriate innovation there is a golden age ahead - provided that the industrialised countries advance in the right direction.

In the past the most economically dynamic eras were times when new frontiers were being pioneered - the Roman empire, the British empire, the economic development of the "New World" - or new transport industries were being pioneered - roads, canals, railways, steamships, cars, aeroplanes. Today the technology exists to open the frontier of space; the cost to innovate the reusable launch vehicles needed for this is trivial compared to the scale of modern business or even compared to today's government space expenditures; and market research statistics show that it will be an immensely popular project.

Yet the feasibility of this exciting, prosperous future is not yet widely recognised; space industries are still stuck in the Cold War way of thinking, with government monopoly agencies continuing unprofitable activities at annual enormous cost - instead of vigorously innovating to cut the cost of travel to space and open it to business activities.

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