2014 Moon Colonization Meeting that Led to Open Lunar Foundation

In 2014 there was a weekend retreat to explore the possibility of a moon base at a price 10-100x lower than commonly believed. The $5 billion or less resulting price was so low that it begs the question: could a single wealthy individual decide to finance the establishment of a permanent human lunar settlement?

Wealthy Venture Capitalist Steve Jurvetson asked the question in 2014 and then a few years later funded $5 million to start the Open Lunar Foundation.

An economically self-sustaining lunar base could be established for less than $5 billion. Not only could this be achievable within current space program budgets, it offers the tantalizing possibility that a single passionate individual could fund the entire program (think Page or Bezos).

The cost estimate was surprising and significant for the space community, about 10-100x lower than commonly believed. Cost drivers include: SpaceX every-day-low-prices posted online for planning, abundant water (especially at the poles, for life support and hydrolyzation into fuel), areas of near-continuous sunlight (for PV) and shade (for thermal management), 3D-printing of structures for ISRU (in situ resource utilization), inflatable habitats, a rail gun to send water to LEO, and various other advances in commercial space price points. We also assumed a commercial space approach, where the base needed to be economically self-sustaining once established.

Going into the meeting, a sizeable portion of cost and time was allocated to the presumed need to send several scouting sorties before finalizing the ideal base location. But one of the participants from NASA Ames offered that he knew exactly where to land — the lip of Peary crater at the lunar pole — because he had spent decades studying the maps and analyzing the data from missions like the recent LCROSS and Indian Chandrayaan missions. For example, our moon has 600 million tons of relatively pure frozen water at the North Pole. That is a game-changer. Prior to 2009, most lunar base forecasts had to factor the insanely expensive transport of water from Earth.

Given lunar tidal lock, you can have a launch site permanently pointing to LEO or GEO-insertion, and given 1/6 gravity and no atmosphere on moon, it is 25x cheaper to place in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) than launching from Earth. Water in incompressible and could take the g-forces of a rail gun, and it is essential for life and can generate H2 and O2 rocket fuel with electrolysis.

Zubrin Moon Direct Plan

Open Lunar has not published their plans yet. However, the plans will be leveraging SpaceX launch capabilities. The best public moon plans using SpaceX capabilities are the Zubrin Moon Direct plans. Clearly, any Open Lunar plans would incorporate many aspects of the Zubrin plans with updates to leverage the SpaceX Super Heavy Starship as soon as its capabilities are available. It seems certifying Dragon for a moon lander might not be worth it if the SpaceX Super Heavy Starship became available in 2020 or 2021.

Zubrin proposes sending two such landers to a planned base location. There are spots on the moon’s poles where sunlight is accessible all the time, as well as permanently shadowed craters nearby where water ice has accumulated. Moon ice could be electrolyzed to make hydrogen-oxygen rocket propellant, to fuel both Earth-return vehicles as well as flying rocket vehicles that would provide the base’s crew with exploratory access to most of the rest of the moon. The moon base would enable access to the entire moon.

The first cargo lander carries a load of equipment, including a solar panel array, high data rate communications gear, a microwave power beaming set up with a range of 100 kilometers, an electrolysis/ refrigeration unit, two crew vehicles, a trailer, and a group of teleoperated robotic rovers. After landing, some of the rovers are used to set up the solar array and communications system, while others are used to scout out the landing area in detail, putting down radio beacons on the precise target locations for the landings to follow.

The second cargo lander brings out a 10-ton habitation module, loaded with food, spare spacesuits, scientific equipment, tools and other supplies. This will serve as the astronauts’ house, laboratory and workshop on the moon. Once it has landed, the rovers hook it up to the power supply and all systems are checked out. This done, the rovers are redeployed to do detailed photography of the base area and its surroundings.

SOURCES- Flickr Jurvetson, Twitter Jurvetson, Zubrin Moon Direct and Case for Space Videos and interviews, Open Lunar Foundation
Written by Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com

19 thoughts on “2014 Moon Colonization Meeting that Led to Open Lunar Foundation”

  1. Wot if someone claims the entire polar region?
    Remember when the world was divided up between Spain and Portugal?

  2. …it offers the tantalizing possibility that a single passionate individual could fund the entire program…

    The program being an “open” base or a private estate?
    Will the great unwashed masses be allowed pass the moat if they manage steerage accommodations on a slow rocket?

  3. If I had to make a back-of-the-email calculation (which would be wrong, see my comment above) I’d say the question comes down to

    • Cost of finding+capturing+moving+refining asteroidal material to a space station location


    • cost of doing so on a planet + extra cost of moving any exports plus returning people back out of the planet’s gravity well

    If you are sending the material from a planet (where Luna counts as a planet) up to the space station, then you have no advantage over living on the surface of Luna, plus the extra cost of sending it all up.

    If someone DOES make an Asteroid capture mission that can fetch multi hundred tonnes to a convenient orbit running on solar powered ion drives using asteroid water as propellent, then the stations look like a winner.

  4. Right. Lantz is treating a complex, detail dependent decision as though it was an obvious no brainer.

    On Mars or the Moon, a habitat can be nothing more than a sheltered balloon with life support. All the material you need for radiation shielding is already there, and so is the gravity. (Setting aside the question of how much gravity is really needed; If a full 1G, Mars suffers, because it’s easy to build a huge centrifuge on the Moon or in space, much harder if you have any kind of atmosphere to cope with.)

    In space, you’ve got nothing you don’t bring, and bringing stuff isn’t cheap.

    The big long term advantage of the O’Neil colony is actually that it’s a more efficient use of matter, getting gravity from mass requires a LOT of mass, and habitation of planets is restricted to their surfaces. The same mass will house a lot more people as a rotating colony.

    But that’s a future constraint, not relevant today.

  5. The minimum investment for a viable Mars or Moon colony is smaller than for a viable O’Neil colony.

    Well, is that true?

    Because as you suggest that really is the crux of the matter. So it deserves more than a casual stating of the claim.

    And I think it takes a LOT of working though details to get the answer.

    And no, a book written decades ago will have a lot of the details wrong for answering the question now.

    • Many details depend on questions about the resources available in different sites, and we have a lot more information than even 10 years ago.
    • Many other details depend on tech that is available, both now and within a plannable tech development cycle. So a compact fission reactor is within such a cycle, a fusion reactor is not.

    I think it would take something like a team of cross disciplinary experts months to years to get a real solid answer here, which would have all sorts of contingencies built in (eg. If airtight lava tubes are discovered within 1000 km of significant (see appendix F) ice deposits then reduce cost element Qa) by a factor of 500/ distance to deposit…)

    I like the idea of going straight to space settlements. But all the organisations that actually have put in years of planning by experts seem to be leaning the other way.

  6. On the contrary, I’ve been paying taxes for Mars Only for 40 years. As has all of humanity by the delay of ISRU! Only recently some have a little private activity, but SLS is still a Mars project.
    Limiting O’Neill to Island 3 or nothing is a total denial and avoidance move. You can make an O’Neill rotating hab with three Musk rockets, as our favorite site displays. O’Neill is correct at all scales, from ISS v Moon base on up. As we have already shown.

  7. “I don’t give a flyin’ Falcon what they *want*,”

    Well, there’s your problem, since you’re not paying for it. So your opinion doesn’t mean squat, does it?

    I’m a fan of O’Neil colonies, even helped found a chapter of the L-5 society back in the 70’s, but the case for O’Neil colonies, especially in the near term, isn’t as one sides as you make it out to be.

    Planets have *gravity*, which O’Neil colonies have to expend vast infrastructure to provide. That’s going to make a big difference in early colonization efforts.

    They also have hydrothermal mineral deposits, which are really nice to have available.

    In the long run, once we have replicator techology that can just eat rocks and churn out infrastructure, O’Neil colonies will be clearly superior. For the initial colonization efforts? Not so. The minimum investment for a viable Mars or Moon colony is smaller than for a viable O’Neil colony. And that matters.

  8. I don’t give a flyin’ Falcon what they *want*, it is whether what they want is correct. If we do not realize that O’Neill’s insight excludes planets, including the Earth, from future growth plans, we do not understand his basic point. (edit: O’Neill has always been clearly exclusive of planets)

  9. Because you didn’t say that these were two people both claiming it was the best overall choice. That may be what you meant, but what you actually said was that each person wanted to live in different locations.
    Which, as everyone keeps pointing out, is not at all incompatible with each other.

  10. I stand by my logic. The claims are exclusive. Live on planet such as Moon, or in Space, as an “expanding tech civilization”. Both are not possible “right” places, given the basic Physics. O’Neill observation is *more* true the further out you look.
    The notion that pointing out varying tastes is in any way relevant to this important topic is troublesome.

  11. Everyone is making fun of you because your statement had incorrect logic in it.

    Just accept the fact that you wrote it wrong and correct the wording:

    Zubrin thinks that the best place for humans to concentrate on colonizing at this point in time is a planet, the Moon.

    O’Neill sez that the best place for humans to concentrate on colonizing at this point in time is Space. They are not both correct.

    Now you are no longer presenting a false dichotomy.

  12. Arguably neither are correct. I’ve heard it gets so cold that it snows in both locations. Humans would not be able to survive outside without protective clothing. Just like Mars.

    And they have wolves and bears and things.

  13. “We” as a species, neither Europe nor Western Hemisphere, nor whole planet, not even including Mars and the Moon, are sufficient. Sorry!

  14. Some people want to live in the city, some want to live in the suburbs. They are not both correct.

    Some people want to live near their work, some want to live far away. They are not both correct.

    Some people want Thai food, some people want Japanese food. They are not both correct.

  15. Zubrin wants to live on a planet….They are not both correct

    I want a new boat, my girlfriend says get a chopper. We are not both correct.

  16. Zubrin wants to live on a planet, the Moon. O’Neill sez live in Space. They are not both correct. (edit: tho many go into strange denial mode at mention of O’Neill)

Comments are closed.