Interview of Doug Plata on Developing a Moon Base With Current Technology

Doug Plata leads the Space Development Network. It is a space advocacy organization which has no member dues but asks that you spend 6 hours per year helping to advance toward the goal of space development.

Doug advocates for spending 5% of NASA budget on rapidly developing a permanent manned base on the moon and using the base to then lower the cost for Mars missions.

The large public-private programs (PPPs) have shown themselves to be very cost-effective as well as have been limited to no more than 5% of NASA’s budget. COTS, Commercial Cargo, and Commercial Crew have been budgetarily compatible with the ISS, SLS, Orion and other of NASA’s programs.

Doug Plata and the Space Development Network estimate it would cost 15.2 billion dollars for all steps leading to the first crew settling into the permanent habitat.

Doug Plata spoke with Scott Pace about this.

Scott indicated that if establishing a permanent America presence on the Moon had a sufficiently compelling case then either:
– budgetary priorities could be shifted around and the 5% of NASA’s budget could be found within the current budget,
– NASA’s budget could be increased slightly, or
– some combination of the two.
Doug believes establishing a permanent American presence on the Moon is in line with this Administration’s policy and would yield outcomes such as in terms of international leadership to justify the modest budget.

Space Development Network’s Moon Plan

* telerobotically harvest the ice at the poles of the Moon to refuel reusable landers,
* establish a permanent base starting with a commercial crew of eight,
* facilitate a great deal of international lunar exploration,
* gain experience of use for Mars while not slowing the Journey to Mars.
* set the stage for private individuals to move to the Moon (i.e. actual settlement).

The first uncrewed mission would deliver ten metric tons of payload with enough power systems, redundant telerobots, and spare parts to harvest lunar polar ice, process it, and electrolyze it to fully refuel the lander in a bit less than 30 days. This Plan proposes that NASA’s Space Power Facility be made available for telerobotic companies to immediately begin the development of the ice-harvesting robots in a laboratory environment simulating all of the known conditions of the lunar poles including suspending hardware with tethers to simulate the 1/6th gravity. In six years, highly robust systems should be able to be developed.

SpaceX Falcon Heavy and Modified Xeus Lander

United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Masten Space Systems have developed concepts for the development of a full-scale lunar lander by modifying a cryogenic, Centaur upper stage so that it could be a lander which could land, belly down, on the lunar surface. Most of the parts of this system have been proven.

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy could deliver the modified Xeus lander to lunar orbit and the system would be able to place 10 tons of payload onto the lunar surface.

ULA has lent a couple of Centaur upper stages to Masten Space Systems in the hope that they would attach four vertical modules onto the large Centaur tank and develop it to the point where it would demonstrate the full propulsive maneuvers required for a terminal lunar landing. Dave Masten has indicated that it would take only 1.5 to 2 years and only about $20 million to demonstrate a full-scale XEUS lander flying over the skies of Mojave.

A launch-ready lunar lander shouldn’t take more than $200 million to develop.

Solar Drapes

There are locations on the moon near the north and south poles where sunlight shines for greater than 90% of the time. There are locations which have a lot of sunlight and also have ice at the bottom of the crater.

The lander could drape a wire from the crater rim to the floor while it hops between those two points. Likewise, a small rocket could lay out the wire in a one-time shot. There are plausible ways of beaming power using either microwaves or lasers. The advantage of this approach is the savings of the mass of the wire. An interesting solution which could allow for a wide separation of ice and power would be to run the lander’s residual propellant through a fuel cell to produce electrical power in order to provide the telerobots their power and body heat. Once full with water, the lander could hop to the power.

Large and lightweight solar power drapes would be light enough so that over one megawatt of power could be produced from solar power carried in the first unmanned mission.

Ice Harvester

The key telerobot to harvest and process the ice will be the Ice Harvester. They would be operated by people on Earth doing shifts so that the telerobots could work 24/7.

2.5 metric tons of solar drapes would gather enough power to electrolyze the amount of water necessary to fully refuel the lander in about 22 days. The landers could be conducting flights about once a month. Refueled landers could conduct a variety of increasingly challenging missions throughout the Earth-Moon space. A fully refueled lander could also retrieve about 20 metric tons of cargo for each Falcon Heavy launch thereby allowing the Falcon Heavy to deliver more cargo to the Moon and as much cargo to the Moon as the SLS.

Refueled Lander Takes Off to Provide Fuel to Next Mission

Once lunar ice is processed into propellant, the refueled lander could ascend to an Earth-Moon gravitational balance point where the next Falcon Heavy could now deliver nearly twice as much payload.


The UniHab is a concept for a large, flat-roofed habitat providing all of the space necessary to support a crew of eight. Telerobotically covered with lunar dirt and with an indoor centrifuge providing up to four hours of full, artificial gravity. It is likely that even the first crew would be able to safely remain on the Moon for several years and perhaps indefinitely.

The UniHab would be delivered as a singular cargo module by a XEUS lander. A telerobot would wheel the compressed UniHab bundle to the center of the prepared area and snip the bundle’s ties. Then, a tank with a modest amount of condensed air would be activated to inflate and hence unfold the UniHab. If, by the time that UniHab is sent to the Moon, the telerobots are harvesting propellant-quantities of water ice then water could be pumped between layers in the outer wall as a good form of radiation shielding. If ice harvesting operations are not at that level by the time that crew are about to arrive then a more flat-roofed version of the UniHab can be shipped and telerobots can push lunar dirt on top of it prior to inflation. This would provide significant protection against radiation, micrometeorites, and thermal changes.

Doug Had a Presentation in 2017 on Developing the Moon