Open Lunar Foundation Believe $2-3 Billion Could Create a First Lunar Settlement

Open Lunar Foundation is a San Francisco based non-profit that had the goal of creating settlements on the moon.

Steve Jurvetson and executives from Planet Labs are among those involved. There is $5 million invested in the organization. They were founded in 2018 and recently have appeared in Bloomberg.

Their analysis is that will be possible to create a small lunar settlement for about $2 billion to $3 billion. This is based upon the lowering costs of SpaceX Heavy Lift and the possibilities from the SpaceX Starship Super Heavy.

“The picture that emerged out of those meetings was that you could create a permanent, economically self-sustaining presence on the moon that could be done for the single-digit billions,” said Steve Jurvetson, a venture capitalist, who provided the initial Open Lunar funding.

Improving Zubrin’s Moon Direct Plan Would Be the Starting Point

Moon Direct Program

Robert Zubrin points out (in an article at New Atlantis) has an updated write up of his Moon Direct program proposal. Moon Direct requires relatively little launch mass and largely uses existing technologies.

Launch costs and non-launch costs could be roughly equal. Moon Direct setup missions (two flights for Phase 1 and two Phase 2 missions) could cost about $1.5 billion. Recurring missions will cost $420 million per year. This is two percent of NASA’s current budget. This is very inexpensive by the standards of human space programs. NASA’s human spaceflight program total budget is currently around $10 billion per year with little clear purpose.

Robert Zubrin, a New Atlantis contributing editor, is president of Pioneer Astronautics and of the Mars Society. Robert Zubrin, “Moon Direct,” The New Atlantis, Number 56, Summer/Fall 2018, pp. 14-47.

The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (formerly known as the Deep Space Gateway) is receiving some money. The gateway will be a waste.

Some areas on the moon have water ice concentrations of 30 percent by weight in the topmost layer of soil.

PNAS – Direct evidence of surface exposed water ice in the lunar polar regions

Missions and Phases

There are three phases for the Zubrin plan.

● Phase 1: Unmanned missions deliver the materials for the lunar base to the Moon.

● Phase 2: Piloted missions make the base operational. A key objective of this phase is to bring propellant production online and make it continuously available.

● Phase 3: This is the long-term phase, with recurring piloted missions using propellant produced on site.

In Phase 1, two Falcon Heavy boosters are used to deliver the materials for the base and other cargo to the Moon.
In Phase 2, one Falcon Heavy and one Falcon 9 are used to deliver the crew to the Moon in a fueled LEV.

In Phase 3, only one Falcon 9 is used to deliver a new crew to orbit in a Dragon 2, exchange crews, and refuel the LEV. The new crew then flies to the Moon in the LEV, which refuels again at the lunar base, while the Dragon 2 returns to Earth with the previous crew.

Producing water and fuel on the moon

The top priority is propellant production. Each Moon Direct mission requires 6 metric tons of propellant to be made on the Moon for the LEV’s flight back to Earth orbit. It also requires 6 tons of propellant for each long-distance surface sortie from the base to a distant location on the Moon and back. For purposes of analysis, we will assume that once the base is operational, every fourth month there will be a round-trip mission from the Moon to Earth to exchange crew, and in each other month there will be one long-range exploration flight. The propellant manufacturing requirement will be 6 tons per month or 200 kilograms per day.

Engines running on liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen use a higher ratio of hydrogen to oxygen than what is found in water. To get our 200 kilograms of propellant, we would need to electrolyze around 260 kilograms of water (about 70 gallons) per day. The happy side effect is that this would leave about 60 kg of leftover oxygen every day, which could be used for crew breathing supply.

The dominant power requirement will be for vaporizing and electrolyzing the water. To electrolyze 260 kg of water per day will require 56 kilowatts of power. We can estimate that water could be vaporized at the same rate using beamed microwaves with about 26 kilowatts of power. Cryogenic liquefaction of the hydrogen and oxygen products — aided by the extremely cold temperatures on the Moon — will add about 25 kilowatts, and life support and other equipment will also add another 13 kilowatts to the power needs. The estimate is 120 kilowatts for our total power requirement. This could be supplied by either a solar array or a nuclear reactor. Either solar or nuclear can be built with 4 tons using proposed technologies.

SOURCES – Bloomberg, Robert Zubrin Moon Direct
Written By Brian Wang,

29 thoughts on “Open Lunar Foundation Believe $2-3 Billion Could Create a First Lunar Settlement”

  1. Mass driver launching in zero G…. yeah that won’t accidentally hit anything at all!

    Seriously though, at least with a cargo transport you can make thrust maneuvers in real time and avoid collisions, with a mass driver you have one chance – any screw up could cause a Gravity like chain reaction of shredded satellites.

  2. Depends what is in the scene I guess – if you are talking zero G scenes inside a craft then sure – it will be more effective than using those vomit comets to simulate the effect.

    On the other hand, anything like special FX fireworks that would normally be used to enhance the effect of CG explosions would be too dangerous to use in space.

    Zero G space walks would probably also require no small level of extra production insurance beyond merely being inside the craft – for that I’d say it would still be better to film inside on zero G green screen.

    Obviously space battles are still realm of CG, it would be an insane expenditure and safety risk to do such a thing in real space.

    In all honesty it sounds like a silly thing to do it in space however realistic – CG is not nearly as expensive to create if you have a small dedicated team of generalists rather than an entire studio of specialists working on it – yes a whole studio is faster but will cost you more too.

    Owning your own render farm would also cut costs too and bring CG rendering more in line with the editing process.

    In the days of Lord of the Rings, they were working with single core CPU’s – today we have 64 core CPU’s and GPU’s for rendering which means it is getting easier for a smaller outfit to render these things, even with Joven’s Paradox increasing the workload.

  3. Platinum metals, He3. And I am thinking U233 and P239 for nuclear rocket engines and power supply. You can use an accelerator to radiate stable isotopes to make fissile isotopes on teh Moon. Wouldn’t have to worry about NIMBY.

  4. They should plan to use Starship for two simple reasons:

    1. Starship is going to be done and flying before their equipment has been built.
    2. Starship has a much greater probability of success than their project.
  5. Probably. But they shouldn’t plan around something that isn’t flying yet. Falcon Heavy can do the job. Starship/Heavy Lifter can too if it is available at the time. The point is that they could make a credible start in a few months.

  6. Sure, but that’s some time down the road from the first colony, and I suspect a lot further down the road for the Moon than Mars or the asteroids, because the Moon is too close to Earth.

    Close to Earth makes the Moon strategic high ground, which no Earthly power is going to overlook.

    It also implies that there is less chance of a Moon colony becoming reasonably self-sufficient soon, because they’re close enough to be reliant on Earth for supply of low mass, high value items like electronics.

    And reaching the Moon with military force is logistically much easier and faster than Mars or the asteroids.

  7. Lunar lava tubes are in the Mare regions. The Mare region closest to a lunar pole is Mare Frigoris near the north pole. Look for a lava tube that might have ice in it near the north ‘shore’ of Mare Frigoris.

  8. It seems the big thing that can be done on the Moon is produce sheet metal and extrusions for trusses that can then be launched off surface with a mass driver like a magnetic rail gun to provide raw material for building space stations and even spaceships in space. This avoids the high cost of launch from Earth. The downside is that this will still depend on someone finding a viable economic reason to build lots of these stations.

  9. What if your company is very large? Say you get critical mass in space, and you have a large self sustaining colony. If you declare independence, and you can defend it, it’s yours.

  10. Man comes out of caves. Man invents fire, agriculture, metal working, maths, rockets. Man goes to moon. Man lives in cave. Beautiful symmetry.

  11. At some point it’s going to be cheaper to film space scenes for movies on location than to produce CGI versions that meet our ever rising expectations.

  12. $2 to $3 billion is not a lot in the greater scheme of things. If they are really serious about this, they need to do the following:

    Get enough funding to flesh this out. Right now, the biggest thing is to design and cost out Phase 1. Make everything modular so that it can be moved if necessary. The idea of locating in a lava tube next to resources is nice, but that can wait for Phase 3. Hit the deep pockets people.

    Use Kickstarter, GoFundMe or whatever to crowd source the money to actually build the payloads for Phase 1. Pebble Time raised $20 million in their Kickstarter. I wager that much more could be raised for this. If not, then retrench and try to line up some deep pockets and Kickstart the rest. If they want to be true to their mission statement, they need to try to crowd source it first.

    If funding the payloads prove fruition, beat on SpaceX to give them two Falcon Heavy launches at the lowest possible cost. Free if they could get it. Cost plus a little if not. It is in SpaceX’s interests to do this. Propellant from the Moon is going to be a lot cheaper than launching it from Earth.

    If the above has been accomplished, convincing Congress to fund NASA to complete Phase 2 and 3 should be a lot easier. Especially if China starts to move aggressively. Crowd sourcing and/or deep pockets are also options. At this point it is pretty much a no-brainer. The riskiest parts have been done. It is all about reaping the benefits of the work. Most of the gambles have alread

  13. Utilizing lunar resources can decrease costs but don’t do well as a source of profit as the demand is limited and whatever you produce will be quite expensive. Rather the service of transport and housing will be the real revenue generator. Initially it will be NASA that pays for those services followed by a fairly larger International Lunar Exploration Program (ILEP) followed mostly by the savings accounts of older passengers. Those savings will have been made in markets at other locations at other times.

    e.g. Bigelow has the right idea. He envisions his initial clients in LEO to be the space agencies of various nations doubt science and not turning a profit.

  14. You are still under the jurisdiction of whatever country your company is based in.

    For example, the 30 launches SeaLaunch conducted from 1995-2010 was under the jurisdiction of the Cayman Islands because that’s where the company was registered in. The 6 launches after 2010 was under Russia’s jurisdiction after Energia acquired the majority stake.

    So if SpaceX were to build an ocean platform in international waters and launch Starship/Superheavy from it, it will be under the jurisdiction of the United States because that’s where SpaceX is based in. They will still need a U.S. FAA license to launch.

    This is the reason why even though Rocket Lab launches their Electron rocket from New Zealand, every Electron launch still needs a U.S. FAA license, because Rocket Lab is an American company.

  15. Find a reason that pays and you don’t have to worry about the cost. Lunar mining and smelting could be one of the reason. Material processing using lunar sourced material that needs vacuum or weightlessness could be another reason.

  16. Well…at least with a moon base they have land to develop and have some where to explore… maybe you can play lunar golf… in contrast, all they do on space station is float around and talk to kids and science channel… and perform wierd experiments on ants on zero gravity…

  17. Relatively speaking $2 billion isn’t that much money.
    Economically feasible is a reality as soon as you exit the USA tax structure.

    Put another way, what is the economic case for settling in Puerto Rico nowadays? Because lots of very rich people went there to escape from the US tax burden.

  18. I’m a lifelong high-frontier dreamer. But the idea of living as a neo-feudal serf under a San-Fran/San-Jose style “meritocracy” run on the moon… yeah, no. Godspeed, and may they develop sufficient infrastructure that somebody ELSE can also do it.

  19. “Anyone who can operate there on a permanent basis will be their own jurisdiction, will make their own rules, and will not be threatened by terran powers. On the contrary, if necessary.”

    That’s not quite true. Whatever country you launch your mission from, that country has jurisdiction over your mission. That is specified in Article VIII of the Outer Space Treaty, of which all major space powers have agreed to, including the U.S., China, Russia, India, major EU nations, etc.

    So if you launch a privately-funded moon rocket from Russia, Russia will have jurisdiction over your mission. If you launch your privately-funded moon rocket from China, China will have jurisdiction over your mission. If you launch from the United States… You get the idea.

  20. Before any plans for a lunar base are made, already detected lava tubes must be investigated. Habitations within lava tubes solve the problems of ionizing radiation, meteorites, and hugely varying temperature. No doubt Bigelow could no doubt gin up an inflatable habitat, that would be designed for use in 1/6 gee, that would hold one atmosphere, and have enough thermal insulation for an initial home. Later, tubes could be sealed with materials derived from regolith.
    Finding a tube near lots of natural resources, particularly near the south pole would be quite the coup. Searching that area for lava tubes should be the top priority.

  21. A lunar base for the sake of a lunar base is a failed idea – failed since fifty years ago. For such a project to be viable, it must be economically feasible, it must pay its bills with a lot of margin to cover the risks and be attractive for re-investment. The economy of cis-lunar space is a real modern terra nova, with zero presence above GSO, and most importantly zero jurisdiction. Anyone who can operate there on a permanent basis will be their own jurisdiction, will make their own rules, and will not be threatened by terran powers. On the contrary, if necessary.

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