Postulate: While launch costs remain high, in-space manufacturing is paramount to development.
Right now, our process for creating structures in space goes like:
Gather --> Construct --> Launch --> Assemble
Of these, launch is the most costly by far. [5/20/20: Actually not sure about the math on that.] So, it seems like we should aim to cut it out of the process as much as possible. To do this, we need to move the "Gather" and "Construct" phases into space. Can we modularize our current industrial complex to the extent that it can be launched off-planet, or simply reconstructed in space using matter and energy harvested there?
Some relevant sub-threads:
- How far are we from a real space elevator? (How long will launch costs remain high? If not too long, then maybe developing our in-space manufacturing capabilities isn't so important after all--but I doubt that this is the case.)
- Where do we get the materials for in-space manufacturing? (Near-Earth Asteroids come to mind; so does the Moon.)
- What will mining-in-space look like? What about construction? How do we accomplish them most efficiently? To what extent can they be roboticized?