$4 Billion Moon Water Mining Operation for $2.4 Billion Per Year Business

Philip Metzger has a study of mining water on the moon. If water is mined on the moon then it could save satellite missions to geosynchronous orbits about $100 million.

Currently it costs over $100 million for the extra stage to move from low earth orbit or the use of ion thrusters that take one year to move the satellite. The delayed operation is close to the cost of the boost stage.

Water can be mined on the Moon, delivered to a gas station, sold to operators of the space tug, who will then boost the satellite to its final orbit for much less than $100 million per spacecraft.

Here is the link to the 189-page water mining on the moon report.

A wide range of potential customers for hydrogen and oxygen products has been identified. They can be used to fuel reusable landers going back and forth between the lunar surface and lunar orbit. They can make travel to Mars less expensive if the interplanetary vehicle can be refueled in cislunar space prior to departure. Operations closer to Earth can also benefit from this new, inexpensive source of propellant. Refueling in Low Earth Orbit can greatly improve the size, type, and cost of missions to Geosynchronous Earth Orbit and beyond. This study has identified a near-term annual demand of 450 metric tons of lunar-derived propellant equating to 2,450 metric tons of processed lunar water generating $2.4 billion of revenue annually.

It has been discovered that instead of excavating, hauling, and processing, lightweight tents and/or heating augers can be used to extract the water resource directly out of the regolith in place. Water will be extracted from the regolith by sublimation—heating ice to convert it into water vapor without going through the liquid phase. This water vapor can then be collected on a cold surface for transport to a processing plant where electrolysis will decompose the water into its constituent parts (hydrogen and oxygen).

To achieve production demand with this method, 2.8 megawatts of power is required (2 megawatts electrical and 0.8 megawatts thermal). The majority of the electrical power will be needed in the processing plant, where water is broken down into hydrogen and oxygen. This substantial amount of power can come from solar panels, sunlight reflected directly to the extraction site, or nuclear power. Because the bottoms of the polar craters are permanently shadowed, captured solar energy must be transported from locations of sunlight (crater rim) via power beaming or power cables. Unlike solar power sources, nuclear reactors can operate at any location; however, they generate heat that must be utilized or rejected that may be simplified if located in the cold, permanently shadowed craters.

The equipment needed for this lunar propellant operation will be built from existing technologies that have been modified for the specific needs on the Moon. Surprisingly little new science is required to build this plant. Extensive testing on Earth will precede deployment to the Moon, to ensure that the robotics, extraction, chemical processing and storage all work together efficiently. The contributors to this study are those who are currently developing or have already developed the equipment required to enable this capability. From a technological perspective, a lunar propellant production plant is highly feasible.

The initial investment for this operation has been estimated at $4 billion, about the cost of a luxury hotel in Las Vegas. With this investment however, a scalable market can be accessed. As refueling decreases in-space transportation costs, entirely new business and exploration opportunities will emerge with potential to vastly benefit the economies of Earth. Even with the early customers identified within this study, it has been determined that this could be a profitable investment with excellent growth opportunities.

SOURCES- Metzger Report
Written By Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com

73 thoughts on “$4 Billion Moon Water Mining Operation for $2.4 Billion Per Year Business”

  1. Truth in advertising: This was me, before I created a real account. I thought the system had eaten my comment, so I re-posted. I wasn’t intentionally trying to sock-puppet.

    Reply
  2. I completely agree. As you see, I haven’t signed up for the latest iteration yet…

    Maybe have a forum system, including a section for discussing the forums?

    Reply
  3. I’m still not sure if I should bother signing up for this comment system, or wait a week or two for the next one… Can you at least edit your comment if signed in?

    Reply
  4. It’s really hard to overstate how much I hate the multiple friggin’ comment systems on NBF. Given that everything is already pretty much unreadable without an ad blocker, maybe we could just get something semi-trustworthy for the comments? People come here for the comments, and blowing their threads and identities away every few months really kinda makes me want to stop coming here.

    Reply
  5. Brian, I really do enjoy the conversations here, but I think this latest iteration of the never-ending succession of your skeevy, fly-by-night comment systems is really close to the last straw. For f**k’s sake, the site’s already utterly unreadable without an ad blocker. I don’t know if whatever attempt is being made here to wring the last drops of monetization out of things with these weirdo systems is actually costing you traffic yet, but it’s getting awfully close to driving me away.

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  6. As Gerard K. O’Neill already noticed, it will be the best mining operation outside of Earth’s gravity well, once we get this whole space mining and industry thing going.

    EM launchers are still very viable there given its low gravity and lack of atmosphere.

    Plus the added advantage of not having to push a dreadful asteroid near Earth.

    Reply
  7. oh good God.. what an extremely idiotic idea. Be thankful for every pint of water you don’t have to bring TO the Moon. Whatever plans will eventually work regarding the Moon, having water there will always be an asset. Few greedy idiots see some money for themselves now, sod the next generations. Exploitative economics again.

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  8. “The initial investment for this operation has been estimated at $4 billion, about the cost of a luxury hotel in Las Vegas.”
    Ohhh! What a comparison! People think of space projects as being fantastically expensive, only the puview of great power nation states. They were never as expensive as people thought, but this really puts in perspective how much costs have come down. Now, even if this particular project is technically unfeasible, or actually costs significantly more than this, we can see that we are truly reaching a point where extraterrestrial resources can be exploited profitably. Once that happens, the first time anybody lifts anything off of the moon or an asteroid and sells it for more than it cost to get it, the greatest land rush in history will begin.

    Reply
  9. The requirements for heat rejection in space make big nukes really, really heavy. Until you have some exotic radiator technology fully mature (and there are a few of them out there, but they’re nowhere near ready), space nukes are going to limited to well under a megawatt.

    Reply
  10. Except for that “it doesn’t have an atmosphere” problem.

    The point where off-Earth colonies are a viable lifeboat for the species is so incredibly distant that I can’t even think about it seriously. Jack up the global average temperature by 15 degrees C, make the oceans anoxic, salt the earth with a few Curies of Cs-137 per km^2, and Earth is **still** about 100x more habitable than anywhere else in the solar system.

    That doesn’t mean that colonies are a bad idea. Indeed, it doesn’t even mean that the bulk of the human population living off-earth is a bad idea. But it does mean that we’re all going to be tethered to the Earth for a lot longer than you might like.

    Reply
  11. A comet impacting the moon vaporizes its water. The only water that will actually stay is stuff that deposits in cold traps. That’s gonna be like 0.000000000001% of the total.

    Tethers are OK if the momentum budget is balanced in both directions. But if you’re having to import something like water, that’s not going to be the case. Beyond that, getting a tether close enough to the lunar surface to be useful is problematic because of the instability of low lunar orbits. I’d just as soon have a space elevator–and those are unstable on the Moon, too.

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  12. Great idea! I believe that there should be a permanent underground human colony on the moon before we ever tackle Mars. The moon has a low gravity well and would be an ideal base to supply orbiting space stations as well as exploration of Mars and the asteroid belt. In addition to producing water, hydrogen, and oxygen for export, there are many other mineral resources to exploit. Sunlight provides an enormous energy resource for mining and smelting as well as launching finished products into orbit via electric rail gun launchers.

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  13. BFS (I’m not gonna knuckle under to this stupid “Starship” thing until it’s for-sure that it’s gonna stick!), is a great platform for landing on Mars, an OK one for landing on the Moon, but a terrible one for moving stuff around outside of a deep gravity well. It has way, way, **way** too much dry mass.

    Launching water off the lunar surface to make hydrolox in orbit somewhere isn’t a terrible idea if a big chunk of your space economy is moving time-critical payloads from orbit A to orbit B. Then a low-structural-coefficient tug starts looking pretty interesting, and the penalty for supporting LH2 tanks on-orbit is outweighed by the gain in specific impulse.

    The interesting question would be whether launching lunar LOX and mating it with earth-launched LCH4 would outperform an all-lunar hydrolox architecture for a tug. I’m pretty sure that the answer to that question is “no”, but I admit that it’s not a computation that I’ve done. At the right $/IMLEO price point for BFR, things might get pretty interesting.

    The other issue is the relative cost of LUNOX production vs. just producing hydrolox on-orbit from water. I’m pretty sure that it’s always cheaper to launch water and electrolyze it on-orbit, rather than storing even LOX on the surface as you accumulate it. So you get the LH2 almost for free on-orbit. Given the tech being discussed for harvesting volatiles, it looks like that’s going to be a lot cheaper than mining rock and reducing it.

    Bottom line: hydrolox tugs look like a pretty good business if the scale of time-critical payloads is high enough.

    Reply
  14. I’m thinking the main reason lots of folk end up living on the Moon, mid term, will be tourism. They will be the service forces insuring the best of experiences for large numbers of transient tourists.

    I would go, if I could afford it.

    Reply
  15. Here’s a thought. Before large scale volatile mining begins, a thorough survey of Lunar ices should be performed to determine whether or not they host life-forms.

    WHAT!? Life on the Moon!? Idiot.

    Well, I’m not saying there IS life, but consider this.

    1) It is not a too wild thought when people talk about the possibility that life may
    have been transferred between Mars and Earth, or vis-versa.

    2) If at all possible, it would be far more likely that life-bearing chunks of Earth have
    reached the Moon than Mars.

    3) Water ice does exist on the Moon: in the polar craters where Sunlight never
    shines, and probably in the lava tubes scattered around the face of the Moon.

    4) There’s an area around every shaded crater where the Suns light comes and goes.
    Therefore, there is a point deeper in the soil where cold and warm cycle.
    That means there is a sub-surface zone – lets call it a torus for easier visualization,
    that exists around each crater where embedded ices thaw then refreeze on a
    regular basis.

    Water. Energy. Life-seeds.

    There are worse places in the solar system to look for life, and few that are easier
    or cheaper to check.

    Reply
  16. End of the day managing cryogenic H2 is just such a pain.

    Land the Falcon Starship with enough methane for the return trip and fill up with lunar LOX.

    No need to mine lunar H2 for fuel. Save the H2 for water.

    Reply
  17. I like the moon for colonization and species survival. Its near by and it doesn’t have an atmosphere. Less of a shock wave from a large impact. And it will cool down faster. Have all of our eggs in one basket. Not good.

    Reply
  18. This environment of cold dark crater in permanent shadow with ice and a mirror providing concentrated sunlight sounds perfect for a stirling engine.
    The main reason to live on the moon as opposed to working remotely from earth is to fix things that break. Just try taking something apart and fixing it remotely with a robot sometime. For this reason we will have human auto mechanics for a long long time.

    Reply
  19. Kilopower nuclear should be sufficient for the near term.
    For this application mirrors would likely be the way to go.
    Sublimation of ice to gas for water recovery sounds like a sensible option to consider.
    Preliminary surveys would have to be conducted.
    The illustration depicts a smooth ground surface. This would be unlikely.

    Reply
  20. Redirecting comets to impact the moon using the comets’ own ice might be practical in the near future. Lunar impacts are of no concern, aside from loss of ice, which could be controlled by the sizes and velocities of the pieces impacting.
    Aerobraking to land on the moon is not a great problem if we place a momentum exchange tether / rotovator in lunar orbit.

    Reply
  21. In the permanent shadow is fine.

    You’d have perpetual solar just beyond the rim and still be protected from solar flares.

    Mirrors would give you the light you need; where you want it, when you want it.

    And – reduce, reuse, recycle. This would be the lunar equivalent of shipping container housing.

    “…who would want…”? Plenty of people.

    Just playing Devils advocate.

    Reply
  22. I mostly agree with you here, but it’s worthwhile remembering that colonization of the Moon without its native water would be pretty ugly. It costs a lot to land water on the Moon–there’s no aerobraking.

    There’s an argument to be made that the Moon is a stupid place to colonize, and all you need is a few mining and scientific bases, with the real cis-lunar colonization happening in microgravity with rotating structures to provide 1 g. But I’d hate to rule out lunar surface colonization forever just because it was cheap to strip the water early on.

    If it’s truly for bootstrapping only, then we’ll stop launching it into space in short order, and there’s plenty left for future use. But that sounds like the sort of thing that ought to have a couple of caveats attached to it:

    1) We ought to inventory the water early on.
    2) We ought to set a limit of how much of that inventory is exportable.

    It’s a lot easier to set policy up front than when there’s cause for genuine hand-wringing. And by setting a limit early, you provide plenty of time–and maybe incentive–for the asteroidal water industry to grow.

    Reply
  23. ‘Once the mine is “dry”, you’d have the outer envelope of a lunar station’
    The water they’re looking for is in sunless deep polar craters – hardly the ideal position for a manned colony. Though why anyone would want to live in a lunar colony, when he could do the same work by remote control, and enjoy his time off on a beach on Earth, with his family, is beyond my ken.

    Reply
  24. If you read the linked post, you’ll discover that ULA was the corporate sponsor for this study, so it’s not too surprising that all the assumptions are oddly similar to the cis-lunar architecture ULA’s been proposing with ACES.

    That said, there’s some really weird stuff in that post. I think what happened is that Metzger just sorta assumed that there was going to be a reusable tug between LEO and GEO without mentioning explicitly, and then made the argument that an SEP version of that tug would cost $100M in delayed revenue for the sat operator, while a hydrolox tug could do it in a few hours–as long as it had hydrolox.

    Which is… true, but the arm-wave that says that there’s a dedicated stage to get to GTO is way, way off. However, it is also true that, even from GTO, it takes SEP between 2-3 months to get on-station. If you use the $100M/year revenue number, that represents between $16.7M-$25M in delayed revenue, which ain’t chickenfeed.

    So… sure, if you had a magic ACES tug with hydrolox falling off the Moon, it’d be pretty compelling. But it’s hard to imagine it being as compelling as a reusable Falcon Heavy directly inserting 5000-ish kg direct to GEO for $90M. Maybe they should check back when they’ve got a reusable version of Vulcan that can launch for $80M or so.

    Reply
  25. I wouldn’t worry about which sect people get their work ethic from, as long as they have a work ethic. India will be landing its rover at the Moon’s southern polar region in just over 10 weeks from now, as part of the Chandrayaan-2 lunar mission. It was the preceding Chandrayaan-1 mission which confirmed water on the Moon in the first place. A lunar sample return mission is planned as a joint collaboration between India’s ISRO and Japan’s JAXA. Meanwhile China is well on its way in getting ready for its own Chang’E 5 lunar sample return mission.

    The Moon is about to become a crowded place – and it’s long overdue.

    Reply
  26. It appears that Brian doesn’t know how to spell SpaceX let alone get reasonable cost figures. He lists ULA as a transportation entity but not a whisper about SpaceX. The Falcon Heavy has already sent a payload beyond Mars. Elon is planning an entire space eccosystem around the BFS/BFR. ULA is still dreaming about it.

    Reply
  27. “Currently it costs over $100 million for the extra stage to move from low earth orbit or the use of ion thrusters that take one year to move the satellite. The delayed operation is close to the cost of the boost stage.”

    I’m sure that SpaceX will be surprised to learn this, since they charge $62M to launch 5.3 tonnes to GTO all the time. (Block 5 is reusability at that payload mass.) From there, it takes about 3 months to be on-station with electric propulsion, or only hours if you’re willing to spend the mass for storable propellant. Or you can launch a reusable Falcon Heavy for $90M and take about 5 tonnes to GEO directly.

    If you had the largest payloads you could launch arriving in LEO with no additional prop and you wanted to move the whole thing to GEO, the $100M would probably be pretty close. But those applications don’t exist today.

    Lunar hydrolox for building out space solar power would be a big deal for exactly this reason, but you have to get the cost to LEO down substantially, and the specific power up substantially, before that kind of application is going to be viable.

    Reply
  28. Its the other way around, wee need it for bootstrapping, once you have an real space economy its peanuts, Ceres has more water than Earth, going to the gas giant you have much more, even more in the cupier belt.

    Reply
  29. On a side note: What has happened to APEMAN?
    Has he been kicked off NBF (Please!).
    Has he taken a new moniker (More likely).
    I shouldn’t even be asking…

    Reply
  30. Multi megawatt nuclear power generation for space and off-earth use is going to be needed if we are ever going to industrialize the solar system. Solar works in some limited locations but there is no getting around this problem. Developing such systems should be one of the top priorities.
    A modular format with dimensions and weight so it can be landed on Mars with something like BFS would be a good first target.

    Reply
  31. A hot, higher pressure volume. A cold lower pressure volume. A stream of gas moving between the two.
    I think this advanced exoindustrial device is what is called a “still”.
    It occurs to me that by making a stronger “boiler”, with a “lid” that would contain higher pressures. Higher pressures wold allow volatiles to be mined much faster, from deeper strata, since heat would travel downwards more easily.
    Once the mine is “dry”, you’d have the outer envelope of a lunar station, or a field ready to grow crops from amended regolith, and/or hydroponics, which would double as sewage treatment, and O2 production. If the heat to mine the volatiles was provided by solar energy, light for photosynthesis would be immediately available from the existing optics.
    The perfect agricultural model would likely be the “food forest” where fruit, and vegetable bearing trees, and vines get full sunlight, likely brighter than on earth, there is a middle level of small trees, and vines that provide food, and then shrubs, and ground cover below those. Food Forests are the most productive form of agriculture known, and in the tropics provide food year round, as they would on the moon. One of the greatest advantages, is that as plants die, or become nonproductive, they can be replaced on an ongoing basis.
    There are other advantages, such as continuous food supply for pollinators, and other beneficial insects, and the resiliency of a complex ecosystem, as opposed to a simple one. A food forest can easily have hundreds of crop species, and an unknowable multitude of other organisms. One thing you’d want to do is to import soil microorganisms from earth, as well as earthworms to recycle fallen leaves, and till the soil.

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  32. ” Surprisingly little new science is required to build this plant.”

    I expect it requires absolutely no new science at all. Probably a bit of new *technology*, though.

    Science and technology aren’t quite the same thing…

    Reply
  33. Your high level numbers look high when compared to projected SpaceX BFR transportation costs from earth. You might want to run the calcs again. BFR can deliver 450 tons of propellant to LEO for less than $50M, assuming current projected a $10M launch cost carrying 150T to LEO per launch. The projected $2.4B is really high in the age of reusable rockets. Is this a NASA project?

    Reply
  34. The requirements for heat rejection in space make big nukes really, really heavy. Until you have some exotic radiator technology fully mature (and there are a few of them out there, but they’re nowhere near ready), space nukes are going to limited to well under a megawatt.

    Reply
  35. Except for that “it doesn’t have an atmosphere” problem.

    The point where off-Earth colonies are a viable lifeboat for the species is so incredibly distant that I can’t even think about it seriously. Jack up the global average temperature by 15 degrees C, make the oceans anoxic, salt the earth with a few Curies of Cs-137 per km^2, and Earth is **still** about 100x more habitable than anywhere else in the solar system.

    That doesn’t mean that colonies are a bad idea. Indeed, it doesn’t even mean that the bulk of the human population living off-earth is a bad idea. But it does mean that we’re all going to be tethered to the Earth for a lot longer than you might like.

    Reply
  36. A comet impacting the moon vaporizes its water. The only water that will actually stay is stuff that deposits in cold traps. That’s gonna be like 0.000000000001% of the total.

    Tethers are OK if the momentum budget is balanced in both directions. But if you’re having to import something like water, that’s not going to be the case. Beyond that, getting a tether close enough to the lunar surface to be useful is problematic because of the instability of low lunar orbits. I’d just as soon have a space elevator–and those are unstable on the Moon, too.

    Reply
  37. Great idea! I believe that there should be a permanent underground human colony on the moon before we ever tackle Mars. The moon has a low gravity well and would be an ideal base to supply orbiting space stations as well as exploration of Mars and the asteroid belt. In addition to producing water, hydrogen, and oxygen for export, there are many other mineral resources to exploit. Sunlight provides an enormous energy resource for mining and smelting as well as launching finished products into orbit via electric rail gun launchers.

    Reply
  38. BFS (I’m not gonna knuckle under to this stupid “Starship” thing until it’s for-sure that it’s gonna stick!), is a great platform for landing on Mars, an OK one for landing on the Moon, but a terrible one for moving stuff around outside of a deep gravity well. It has way, way, **way** too much dry mass.

    Launching water off the lunar surface to make hydrolox in orbit somewhere isn’t a terrible idea if a big chunk of your space economy is moving time-critical payloads from orbit A to orbit B. Then a low-structural-coefficient tug starts looking pretty interesting, and the penalty for supporting LH2 tanks on-orbit is outweighed by the gain in specific impulse.

    The interesting question would be whether launching lunar LOX and mating it with earth-launched LCH4 would outperform an all-lunar hydrolox architecture for a tug. I’m pretty sure that the answer to that question is “no”, but I admit that it’s not a computation that I’ve done. At the right $/IMLEO price point for BFR, things might get pretty interesting.

    The other issue is the relative cost of LUNOX production vs. just producing hydrolox on-orbit from water. I’m pretty sure that it’s always cheaper to launch water and electrolyze it on-orbit, rather than storing even LOX on the surface as you accumulate it. So you get the LH2 almost for free on-orbit. Given the tech being discussed for harvesting volatiles, it looks like that’s going to be a lot cheaper than mining rock and reducing it.

    Bottom line: hydrolox tugs look like a pretty good business if the scale of time-critical payloads is high enough.

    Reply
  39. I’m thinking the main reason lots of folk end up living on the Moon, mid term, will be tourism. They will be the service forces insuring the best of experiences for large numbers of transient tourists.

    I would go, if I could afford it.

    Reply
  40. Here’s a thought. Before large scale volatile mining begins, a thorough survey of Lunar ices should be performed to determine whether or not they host life-forms.

    WHAT!? Life on the Moon!? Idiot.

    Well, I’m not saying there IS life, but consider this.

    1) It is not a too wild thought when people talk about the possibility that life may
    have been transferred between Mars and Earth, or vis-versa.

    2) If at all possible, it would be far more likely that life-bearing chunks of Earth have
    reached the Moon than Mars.

    3) Water ice does exist on the Moon: in the polar craters where Sunlight never
    shines, and probably in the lava tubes scattered around the face of the Moon.

    4) There’s an area around every shaded crater where the Suns light comes and goes.
    Therefore, there is a point deeper in the soil where cold and warm cycle.
    That means there is a sub-surface zone – lets call it a torus for easier visualization,
    that exists around each crater where embedded ices thaw then refreeze on a
    regular basis.

    Water. Energy. Life-seeds.

    There are worse places in the solar system to look for life, and few that are easier
    or cheaper to check.

    Reply
  41. End of the day managing cryogenic H2 is just such a pain.

    Land the Falcon Starship with enough methane for the return trip and fill up with lunar LOX.

    No need to mine lunar H2 for fuel. Save the H2 for water.

    Reply
  42. I like the moon for colonization and species survival. Its near by and it doesn’t have an atmosphere. Less of a shock wave from a large impact. And it will cool down faster. Have all of our eggs in one basket. Not good.

    Reply
  43. This environment of cold dark crater in permanent shadow with ice and a mirror providing concentrated sunlight sounds perfect for a stirling engine.
    The main reason to live on the moon as opposed to working remotely from earth is to fix things that break. Just try taking something apart and fixing it remotely with a robot sometime. For this reason we will have human auto mechanics for a long long time.

    Reply
  44. Kilopower nuclear should be sufficient for the near term.
    For this application mirrors would likely be the way to go.
    Sublimation of ice to gas for water recovery sounds like a sensible option to consider.
    Preliminary surveys would have to be conducted.
    The illustration depicts a smooth ground surface. This would be unlikely.

    Reply
  45. Redirecting comets to impact the moon using the comets’ own ice might be practical in the near future. Lunar impacts are of no concern, aside from loss of ice, which could be controlled by the sizes and velocities of the pieces impacting.
    Aerobraking to land on the moon is not a great problem if we place a momentum exchange tether / rotovator in lunar orbit.

    Reply
  46. In the permanent shadow is fine.

    You’d have perpetual solar just beyond the rim and still be protected from solar flares.

    Mirrors would give you the light you need; where you want it, when you want it.

    And – reduce, reuse, recycle. This would be the lunar equivalent of shipping container housing.

    “…who would want…”? Plenty of people.

    Just playing Devils advocate.

    Reply
  47. I mostly agree with you here, but it’s worthwhile remembering that colonization of the Moon without its native water would be pretty ugly. It costs a lot to land water on the Moon–there’s no aerobraking.

    There’s an argument to be made that the Moon is a stupid place to colonize, and all you need is a few mining and scientific bases, with the real cis-lunar colonization happening in microgravity with rotating structures to provide 1 g. But I’d hate to rule out lunar surface colonization forever just because it was cheap to strip the water early on.

    If it’s truly for bootstrapping only, then we’ll stop launching it into space in short order, and there’s plenty left for future use. But that sounds like the sort of thing that ought to have a couple of caveats attached to it:

    1) We ought to inventory the water early on.
    2) We ought to set a limit of how much of that inventory is exportable.

    It’s a lot easier to set policy up front than when there’s cause for genuine hand-wringing. And by setting a limit early, you provide plenty of time–and maybe incentive–for the asteroidal water industry to grow.

    Reply
  48. ‘Once the mine is “dry”, you’d have the outer envelope of a lunar station’
    The water they’re looking for is in sunless deep polar craters – hardly the ideal position for a manned colony. Though why anyone would want to live in a lunar colony, when he could do the same work by remote control, and enjoy his time off on a beach on Earth, with his family, is beyond my ken.

    Reply
  49. If you read the linked post, you’ll discover that ULA was the corporate sponsor for this study, so it’s not too surprising that all the assumptions are oddly similar to the cis-lunar architecture ULA’s been proposing with ACES.

    That said, there’s some really weird stuff in that post. I think what happened is that Metzger just sorta assumed that there was going to be a reusable tug between LEO and GEO without mentioning explicitly, and then made the argument that an SEP version of that tug would cost $100M in delayed revenue for the sat operator, while a hydrolox tug could do it in a few hours–as long as it had hydrolox.

    Which is… true, but the arm-wave that says that there’s a dedicated stage to get to GTO is way, way off. However, it is also true that, even from GTO, it takes SEP between 2-3 months to get on-station. If you use the $100M/year revenue number, that represents between $16.7M-$25M in delayed revenue, which ain’t chickenfeed.

    So… sure, if you had a magic ACES tug with hydrolox falling off the Moon, it’d be pretty compelling. But it’s hard to imagine it being as compelling as a reusable Falcon Heavy directly inserting 5000-ish kg direct to GEO for $90M. Maybe they should check back when they’ve got a reusable version of Vulcan that can launch for $80M or so.

    Reply
  50. I wouldn’t worry about which sect people get their work ethic from, as long as they have a work ethic. India will be landing its rover at the Moon’s southern polar region in just over 10 weeks from now, as part of the Chandrayaan-2 lunar mission. It was the preceding Chandrayaan-1 mission which confirmed water on the Moon in the first place. A lunar sample return mission is planned as a joint collaboration between India’s ISRO and Japan’s JAXA. Meanwhile China is well on its way in getting ready for its own Chang’E 5 lunar sample return mission.

    The Moon is about to become a crowded place – and it’s long overdue.

    Reply
  51. It appears that Brian doesn’t know how to spell SpaceX let alone get reasonable cost figures. He lists ULA as a transportation entity but not a whisper about SpaceX. The Falcon Heavy has already sent a payload beyond Mars. Elon is planning an entire space eccosystem around the BFS/BFR. ULA is still dreaming about it.

    Reply
  52. “Currently it costs over $100 million for the extra stage to move from low earth orbit or the use of ion thrusters that take one year to move the satellite. The delayed operation is close to the cost of the boost stage.”

    I’m sure that SpaceX will be surprised to learn this, since they charge $62M to launch 5.3 tonnes to GTO all the time. (Block 5 is reusability at that payload mass.) From there, it takes about 3 months to be on-station with electric propulsion, or only hours if you’re willing to spend the mass for storable propellant. Or you can launch a reusable Falcon Heavy for $90M and take about 5 tonnes to GEO directly.

    If you had the largest payloads you could launch arriving in LEO with no additional prop and you wanted to move the whole thing to GEO, the $100M would probably be pretty close. But those applications don’t exist today.

    Lunar hydrolox for building out space solar power would be a big deal for exactly this reason, but you have to get the cost to LEO down substantially, and the specific power up substantially, before that kind of application is going to be viable.

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  53. Its the other way around, wee need it for bootstrapping, once you have an real space economy its peanuts, Ceres has more water than Earth, going to the gas giant you have much more, even more in the cupier belt.

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  54. Multi megawatt nuclear power generation for space and off-earth use is going to be needed if we are ever going to industrialize the solar system. Solar works in some limited locations but there is no getting around this problem. Developing such systems should be one of the top priorities.
    A modular format with dimensions and weight so it can be landed on Mars with something like BFS would be a good first target.

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  55. A hot, higher pressure volume. A cold lower pressure volume. A stream of gas moving between the two.
    I think this advanced exoindustrial device is what is called a “still”.
    It occurs to me that by making a stronger “boiler”, with a “lid” that would contain higher pressures. Higher pressures wold allow volatiles to be mined much faster, from deeper strata, since heat would travel downwards more easily.
    Once the mine is “dry”, you’d have the outer envelope of a lunar station, or a field ready to grow crops from amended regolith, and/or hydroponics, which would double as sewage treatment, and O2 production. If the heat to mine the volatiles was provided by solar energy, light for photosynthesis would be immediately available from the existing optics.
    The perfect agricultural model would likely be the “food forest” where fruit, and vegetable bearing trees, and vines get full sunlight, likely brighter than on earth, there is a middle level of small trees, and vines that provide food, and then shrubs, and ground cover below those. Food Forests are the most productive form of agriculture known, and in the tropics provide food year round, as they would on the moon. One of the greatest advantages, is that as plants die, or become nonproductive, they can be replaced on an ongoing basis.
    There are other advantages, such as continuous food supply for pollinators, and other beneficial insects, and the resiliency of a complex ecosystem, as opposed to a simple one. A food forest can easily have hundreds of crop species, and an unknowable multitude of other organisms. One thing you’d want to do is to import soil microorganisms from earth, as well as earthworms to recycle fallen leaves, and till the soil.

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  56. ” Surprisingly little new science is required to build this plant.”

    I expect it requires absolutely no new science at all. Probably a bit of new *technology*, though.

    Science and technology aren’t quite the same thing…

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