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Jul 22 2015

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To the Moon! Cheaply!

COLONIZING THE MOON MAY BE 90 PERCENT CHEAPER THAN WE THOUGHT AND THAT IN TURN COULD HELP US GET TO MARS, SAYS NASA-COMMISSIONED STUDY. Lots of good stuff in the article (though why it’s yelling at us is a mystery):

  • The assumption of 90% cheaper seems to hinge on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 development (cost of $443 million compared to an estimated $4 billion for NASA to do the same thing). To me, it’s doubtful that we’ll see industry-wide 90% reduction in manufacture and labor costs (even the Falcon 9 development is only an 89% reduction), though I do believe private space development sprinkled liberally throughout the human passenger/crew space industry will reduce costs significantly…my WAG would be somewhere between 25% and 50%
  • SpaceX’s general approach influenced the thinking of the analysis in other areas as well. The panel saw rocket and lander reuse as the way forward to significantly reduce costs across the board.
  • Mining water from the moon and its regolith will be a key industry. Hydrogen could be staged in orbit so that ships/probes going to Mars or elsewhere could tank up there on their way out.

    Such an endeavor could shave off $10 billion per year in the cost of getting to the red planet. The report estimates that this industrial base would house four astronauts, and within 12 years of the initial landings, provide 200 megatons of propellant at a total cost of $40 billion.

  • “Now and forever, the most valuable thing in space is people,” says Gary Oleson from the Space Frontier Foundation’s board of directors. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Moon development would be a 3 phase approach:

Phase 1

  • Robots determine how much hydrogen is in the lunar crust, and where it’s located. (Note: this step is crucial. If hydrogen is not plentiful and easy to mine from the lunar crust, then the plan to return to the moon is not viable.) One such robot has been proposed by NASA scientists. TheResource Prospector would deploy a rover that can search for hydrogen, drill into the lunar regolith, and heat samples to see what’s inside. If the mission gets funded, it’ll be the first mining expedition on another world.
  • Develop reusable spacecraft to get humans to and from the moon
  • Land humans at the equator, probably using SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, which is still in development but estimated to cost $1700 per kilogram

Phase 2

  • Develop technologies to mine the lunar ice
  • Develop reusable lunar lander to carry equipment back and forth from lunar orbit to lunar surface
  • Send humans to the lunar poles
  • Select a site for mining

Phase 3

  • Use lunar lander to deliver Bigelow Aerospace inflatable space habitats to lunar surface for human occupation. The habitat modules could be located in a lava tube for protection against radiation.
  • Deliver a crew of four astronauts to live on the surface and assist in repair of the largely autonomous mining equipment.
  • Begin mining for hydrogen
  • Lunar lander delivers 200 metric tons of propellant per year to a depot at Lagrange point L2–a stationary spot in lunar orbit on the far side of the Moon

 

The article notes that NASA has not committed to this plan — it is just a recommendation from the advisory board. I think it’s clear, though, that as soon as Obama is out of the White House, NASA will be pushing hard for a return to the Moon.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.newspaceraces.com/2015/07/22/to-the-moon-cheaply/

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