Insane Waste of the Lunar Gateway

The Lunar Gateway that NASA plans to build will end up costing about $40+ billion. It is being built to justify $60+ billion for the Space Launch System and the Orion capsule. The two together will be well over $100 billion. We have already spent about $30 billion on Space Launch System and the Orion manned vehicle.

Its the Logistics Stupid

Going to the Lunar Gateway adds 17% to the fuel cost for the trip to the moon.

Here is the analogy to explain the insanity of Space Launch System-Orion and the Lunar Gateway. Let us equate the exploration of the continent of Antarctica with exploring the moon.

We are taking two decades to build special one time use heavy cargo planes. The development has been costing $1 to 2 billion per year. It was based upon old 1970s and 1980s technology. It has still not been test flown for the first time. Costs have gone up to $4-5 billion per year.

Now we want to explore Antarctica so we create a plan to use about ten flights of this expensive and never flown cargo plane project to assemble a system of oil rig-like platforms off the coast of Madagascar. There will be landing pads at this floating platform. This will then be the base of operations to send drones and missions into Antarctica. You are going from America to something you make at great cost before flying over to Antarctica. You could go directly with a vehicle that has already flown successfully.

The claim is that the Lunar Gateway will only cost $2.7 billion up to 2023. However, that is for the first module or two. Space Launch System (SLS) will not have its first test flight until 2021. Each SLS launch is about $1 billion. The International Space Station cost $150 billion. Even at one fourth the scale, the Lunar Gateway will easily cost $40 billion.

You will spend $100+ billion to not add new capability and to make it harder and longer and more costly to do things on the moon. Lunar Gateway, SLS and Orion costs need to be added together because they are all justifying each other. Build SLS to launch and build Lunar Gateway. If we are building Lunar Gateway then we need the SLS.

Moon Direct Plan and Mining the Moon

Instead we should use the Zubrin Moon Direct plan. This involves using existing SpaceX Falcon Heavies.

Build moon mining operations on the moon. 2.5 acres of the best lunar ice areas can be mined every year for 2400 tons of water to make 1640 tons of fuel per year.

SpaceX Falcon Heavies can land 8-11 tons of equipment and materials on the moon. This is an 18-wheel moving truck full of gear.

A series of missions at $150 million each would build the moon mining facility and we could be making fuel that would replace 200 delivery missions.

It would be $2 billion to get the first things set up on the moon and about $10 billion for the first full moon mining operations. We would then start making back $2 billion on lower fuel costs for satellites and other space operations. The more we end up doing in space and farther we go then the more we get from moon water and moon fuel.

We can then use robots to convert lunar soil into lunar cement. We can use lunar caves.

We build multiple drone bases on the moon. How many drone bases does it take to cover Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. It takes a couple dozen drone bases and airports.

We can build bases like McMurdo station and other science stations in Antarctica. McMurdo has up to 1000 staff.

There are dozens of bases in Antarctica. You need dozens of bases to explore and research a continent.

The moon is the eighth continent.

31 thoughts on “Insane Waste of the Lunar Gateway”

  1. There is just one problem with the Moon concept as much as I like it. International law prohibits it and so far there is no way of changing it. Like it or not, NASA has to follow the international law.

    Then you have the fact that surviving on Moon is with current technology impossible. The Lunar dust will destroy any equipment on the surface of the Moon, and due to radiation everything has to be built under the surface. Moon village is still far away, even more than the Gateway.

  2. Since taxes collectively constitute about 25% of just nearly all business budgets/conduct, your numbers must be exaggerated.

  3. Still only 1/6th of USA’s annual defence spending and only 2 years worth of war spending in Afghanistan. Priorities?

  4. Moon has nearness to earth and the ability to deliver 20x the cargo per spaceship due to shorter transit times.

    Mars has Carbon, Nitrogen, Potassium, Hydrogen.

    I like Moon first and using BFS with ISRU LOX. I like the rumors of a possible Russian nuclear powered SSTO rocket.

  5. No, the premise of the article is that the alleged point of the space station is to allow exploration and development of the moon, but that it would actually make it more expensive, not easier.

    In your analogy, we want to build the house, it’s on a nice island that would be good to live at, but someone comes up with the idea of building a new, smaller island 500 m away from the first island, then shipping all the building equipment to the new island, and then transferring it to the main island where the house will be built. And instead of using the existing ferry a brand new one needs to be developed and built.

  6. Current estimates are that between 82% and 97% of all Hollywood budgets go to pay off the actresses, actors, stuntmen, gaffers, grips, building contractors and trained animals that are molested, harassed and outright raped during the production.

    Others claim that this understates the problem.

  7. Mars is arguably a distraction from the goal and should be put on the back burner.
    But there were some cool SF books written about Mars a century or more ago and so that’s where people think of going.

  8. Geologists now claim that New Zealand counts as a continent, according to geological standards of being a separate floating continental plate with appropriate structure.
    Google “Newzealandia”

    I suspect that a bunch of geologists were sitting around, after a few beers, complaining that in the old days you could actually discover a new continent but… “Hang on, guys… I’ve got a plan!”

  9. The primary goal is always finding new ways to justify funneling billion to certain local districts, doing as you’ve suggested does not help.

  10. The premise of this article is strange. If you disagree with the object being built fine. But you could say the same thing about building anything. We make flat bed trucks to support building a house. Obviously if you don’t want to build a house, the truck seems wrong. Space stations are cool, if you want to give NASA 2% of the gdp again I’m sure they can land on mars.

  11. I mean… at least use the Falcon Heavy if they want the Gateway so much. Putting money into Falcon Heavy will help fund the BFS.

  12. Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, North America, South America, and Antarctica. Unless you’ve found Atlantis, I’m counting 7. Which would make the Moon the 8th, if you consider that it’s slightly larger than Africa by area (and slightly smaller than Asia).

  13. As the administrators and big contractors gnaw of the last bones of the once proud dinosaur that NASA has become expect it to get more bureaucratic, more risk averse and more irrelevant in the coming space age.

    NASA has put itself on a path with no future and I will shed a tear for the end of an era and the waste of the great engineering talent that drove the dreams of the current generations.

  14. “”We can build drone bases to cover the moon” (you realize that there’s no atmosphere, right?)
    You realize drones are more than robots that fly, right?

  15. Lets ditch Gateway. That is my considered opinion. I am a Ph.D. Astrophysicist. Age 73. In all my years, I have never observed NASA doing anything as stupid as this. They’ve made stupid mistakes, yes. But no errors of judgement as egregious as this.

  16. “We can build drone bases to cover the moon” (you realize that there’s no atmosphere, right?)
    “we can land a couple semi’s worth of equipment to mine, synthesize, and *STORE* millions of tonnes of hydrogen fuel”
    “we can just simply land a falcon heavy on the moon”
    I’m sorry, but you just don’t know or understand anything about space travel, the complexity or the logistics of such engineering, or the risk involved to investors (including our government), and risks to human lives. I’m not saying that NASA’s plan is the best. But your argument is wildly unfounded, ill-supported, and devoid of scientific reasoning.

  17. The Lunar Gateway is misnamed, it’s not just a way to get to the Moon. It can still cut the cost of other missions, though it’s true that having a way to produce fuel in space would seem to be higher-priority. They’ll be much more comfortable building facilities on the Lunar surface once they have a station in orbit there, though–it’ll provide a way to salvage missions without aborting back to Earth.

    I think being able to survey the surface from Lunar orbit will help with the next step, too. I’d be nervous about just going straight to mining.

  18. If you didn’t know it, much of NASA’s staff are ex-military double-dippers who think nothing of spending $1k on toiler seats.

  19. That’s correct, for ancient Greeks. They considered any celestial object that wasn’t a star to be a planet. Hence the sun and the moon were planets, along with Jupiter, Saturn, Mars and Venus. Then we added Mercury, Neptune, Uranus, and eventually Pluto, but kept right on going with Ceres and other asteroid belt objects. When it started getting to be too many and it was obvious hundreds more could eventually be added, they took the asteroids out of the planet category, then eventually took Pluto out too (which was originally thought to be larger than Mercury, but obviously wasn’t, and there were various other objects about the same size as Pluto even farther out). Probably more than you wanted to know, or at least more than what is relevant to the discussion….

  20. The Moon is not the goal, Mars is. Gateway is a proving ground for Mars like missions…but within a few days from Earth if there is a problem.

  21. I am always looking for analogies to explain the silliness of the Lunar Orbiting Giveaway … you have really detailed this out! It’s just NASA biz as usual … money for ULA (and it components) and the rest of the regular crew. This is why we need SpaceX and SpaceX is not longer bidding on this DoD or NASA foolishness after the delay disaster that is Dragon Crew (or is it really Dragon NASA)?

  22. why not create an orbital space ferry which will cruise between LEO and Moon orbit? a literally just engines and tanks, payload would just dock itself to it, much like how ferries carry cars

  23. NASA isn’t oriented towards efficient results. It just isn’t what they do.

    If they wanted efficient results then they would reserve half their annual budget and make X-prizes for certain goals.

    First 24 person perpetually manned lunar base gets $4 billion, etc. Let the people who can execute with efficiency make things work out.

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