According to Cox, the cheapest rate a rocket could launch mass into the lower earth orbit would be $2,000 per kilogram – and to blast it further out of the earth’s orbit would cost even more.

In a keynote speech he gave today at the Resource & Waste Management show in Birmingham, Cox jokingly told a packed theatre of waste experts that they might want to consider space disposal as an alternative option to landfill.

“I looked at the numbers, and how much it would cost to give a sense to the industry if it was viable to do that. You be the judge on whether that is economically feasible and competitive with landfill,” he said.

Cox, whose talk centred around the origin of resources, said that the most successful rocket in human history in terms of lifting mass into orbit and depositing it onto the moon was Saturn V used by NASA’s Apollo and Skylab programs from 1967 until 1973.

“It managed to get 140,000kg into lower earth orbit and 50,000kg to the moon at a cost of $1.71bn per launch – we’ve not got a huge amount better since then,” he said.

Addressing issues of resource scarcity, the professor added that there were “unlimited and fascinating beautiful stores of resources out there in the solar system” if future human endeavour could work out a way to tap into them.

He pointed to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, which has a thick dense atmosphere on it and is covered in oceans of liquid methane and potentially mining the moon for helium 3 which could be used as fuel for future generations of commercial reactors.

At the end of his talk, Cox was presented with a solid lead bar from one of the delegates. Holding it aloft in his hands, he said: “That came from a supernova explosion, that’s why there isn’t a lot of lead about and why it should be recycled back into the industrial system.”

Maxine Perella

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