Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Scottish Space Policy Options 2
Following up the previous blog on a Scottish space policy here are a couple of ideas to enhance #6 the Scottish X-Prize foundation:
1 - I previously said that with £150 million a year put into the fund (half of Scotland' share of taxes paid by the industry) and assuming it would take a minimum of 5 years for all the prizes be won, we could immediately offer £750 million.
However this assumes the prizes are simply for the first Scots company to do something. Suppose, instead it becomes for an achievement, if and only if first achieved by a Scottish company. Scotland makes up about 0.2% of world gdp so the assumption should be that only 0.2% of all prizes offered would then be won. Even assuming we are particularly smart (which our record of scientific citations says we are) it is still not likely we would, on current conditions, get more than 0.5%. In which case the optimum would be to put up prizes totalling (£750m X 200) i.e. £150 billion. Which would basically be enough to fund the exploration and settlement of the entire system with solar power satellites, orbital industry and asteroid mining thrown in.
OK not that simple. Those are the odds but we are gambling on getting results close which are not particularly unusual. That is only a safe gamble if the £150bn is made up of a lot of small prizes. If our funs is £750 million in the 1st 5 years we can't afford to have somebody win £6 bn (Pournelle's proposed prize for a Lunar settlement). But there are a lot of smaller achievement prizes, like the $20 million Google Lunar Rover prize which we can do and each one of these may be smaller steps to space development but they are a lot more of them.
With that much money on offer we also have to be much more careful about making sure a foreign company can't just set up a shell company here and claim - but that is a matter for lawyers.
One thing which is not a problem is that it is likely offering prizes would encourage inventors here or indeed get companies to genuinely relocate here. I expect and hope that would happen. If it does the size of space industry here would automatically rise, as would its tax payments, and as we are only taking half for prizes, if the number of prizewinners rose fairly closely in line with the development of the industry here that would pay for the extra prizewinners - indeed, because only half the tax paid goes to the prizes the Exchequer comes out well ahead, and the country far moreso.
I suspect what would happen is that the prize liability would be split 3 ways between prizes for building something here (eg launch sites) and for prizes simply for the first Scot (eg first Scottish company to have a 5 ton satellite launched); prizes for the first achievement (1st landing on a specified asteroid as long as it is a scots company; and prizes for 2nd, 3rd and so on (£300 million for 1st commercial shuttle if Scots, £150 m for 2nd, £80 for 3rd etc. in which what is actually won is 7th up there for £20 m. As long as the odds are properly calculated and the single item risk kept fairly low that would still allow about £50 bn on 1st place prizes, and £500 m on the lower prizes. Still world changing.
2 - Following on from that we could offer a commercia international agreement (i.e. not a treaty so both soverign states and provinces can join) whereby any other country, or province willing to put up the same proportion of gdp that we do can join our fund. Keep the fund run from here - the advantage of coming up with the idea and while everybody else would want the HQ nobody would agree on moving it to a 3rd country.
Suppose Scotland, Ireland, Singapore, Texas, California, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Finland, Israel and the UAE sign up, all contributing proportionately to their gdp. I wouldn't say all of those would be interested but equally I wouldn't say interest would be limited to these. That looks like about 70 times our current gdp with a prize fund of £54 billion over 5 years.
Which is certainly world changing.