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.
The kickoff meeting for the Open Lunar Foundation, at our beach house with astronaut @Cmdr_Hadfield, @PlanetLabs founders @Will4Planet & @Schingler, @GJurvetson, @OpenLunar's @JessyKate, and NASA folk, like CTO @Kemp.https://t.co/WR3kfkrzHV
Get updates: https://t.co/ZPgGN9BGdU
— Steve Jurvetson (@FutureJurvetson) September 5, 2019
"Why colonize space before fixing Earth?"
I tried to crystallize my reaction to this. In short, these efforts are deeply synergistic. Living is space is the ultimate sustainability challenge, inspiring us to breakthrough solutions. Thoughts?
My blog ✑ https://t.co/SA2CEzIklv
— Steve Jurvetson (@FutureJurvetson) September 9, 2019
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