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Alien, Avatar and Passengers are science fiction blockbusters with one thing in common. No, it’s not the earnings of the lead actors but the business model that underpins the plot. Each movie has a premise that involves long trips into space to transport something to or from Earth.

In Alien the crew of the ship is towing a refinery back home. The refinery has been stocked with materials extracted from another planet. The concept of resource exploitation is revisited in Avatar, where the exomoon Pandora is mined for a mineral that has enormous value on Earth. Passengers has a related theme—a company called the Homestead Corp. operates spaceships that transport thousands of people on one-way trips to colonize new planets.

Although science fiction aficionados will have no problem suspending belief about the technology imagined in each of these films, fans with a keen eye for profit may be left scratching their heads.

The reason is simple. Each of the journeys in these films—and others that share a similar plot—is presumed to take decades. In Passengers, for example, each one-way trip takes 120 years—and herein lies the issue. With time frames like this, the business model that is the foundation for these movies—and many others like it—is unlikely to be viable because of the delay involved in paying back any initial investment in the venture. This is important because it starts to throw light on how interstellar exploration is likely to evolve.

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Category: Science