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.