The next seven years could see space habitation increase hundreds of times. We can go from about three to six people in space to hundreds in a larger rotating one gravity space station and a lunar mining base.
There was a 250 NASA environmental assessment of the SpaceX Super Heavy Starship. The plan is to fly the Super Heavy Starship up to 24 times per year.
It seems that an orbital flight of the SpaceX Starship prototype could happen as early as the end of this year. The orbital test flight of the Super Heavy Starship should happen later in 2020. The Super Heavy Starship should ramp up operations and flights in 2021 and a fleet of 3 to 6 could be at a full 24 flight per year operation by 2022.
SpaceX Starlink Will Already Be Operating by 2021
SpaceX has already successfully deployed sixty production versions of the Starlink Satellite. They are targeting six Starlink launches through the next six months. Those six launches will place 360 Starlink satellites into orbit. The pace of Starlink launches will increase with six more launches by the end of April 2020. This will enable SpaceX to generate a lot of revenue for service to North America, Europe and Asia. The revenue will be from reducing latency in financial trading communication.
In capital markets, low latency is the use of algorithmic (programmed) trading to react to market events faster than the competition to increase the profitability of trades. In 2007 a large global investment bank has stated that every millisecond lost results in $100 million per year in lost opportunity. Laser light communication in a vacuum is physically 45% faster than communication through a fiber.
SpaceX will start generating substantial revenue in 2020 equal or slightly exceeding launch revenue. This was based upon 2017 SpaceX revenue projections from a 2017 Wall Street Journal article.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 24, 2019
Falcon 9 launches 60 Starlink satellites to orbit – targeting up to 6 Starlink launches this year and will accelerate our cadence next year to put ~720 satellites in orbit for continuous coverage of most populated areas on Earth pic.twitter.com/HF8bCI4JQD
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 24, 2019
Five to Ten Launches Would Be Able to Establish a Lunar Base and Fuel Production
Fuel production from water on the moon would reduce the cost of space operations. Setting up a major lunar base would be trivial with a SpaceX Super Heavy Starship. The Starship could land with 100 tons of mining equipment and could stay on the moon as a major habitat with nearly the volume of the International Space Station.
Fuel derived from water on the moon would further cut the cost of near earth operations by about three times.
Philip Metzger has a study of mining water on the moon. If water is mined on the moon then it could save satellite missions to geosynchronous orbits about $100 million.
Currently it costs over $100 million for the extra stage to move from low earth orbit or the use of ion thrusters that take one year to move the satellite. The delayed operation is close to the cost of the boost stage.
Water can be mined on the Moon, delivered to a gas station, sold to operators of the space tug, who will then boost the satellite to its final orbit for much less than $100 million per spacecraft.
The study identified a near-term annual demand of 450 metric tons of lunar-derived propellant equating to 2,450 metric tons of processed lunar water generating $2.4 billion of revenue annually.
It has been discovered that instead of excavating, hauling, and processing, lightweight tents and/or heating augers can be used to extract the water resource directly out of the regolith in place. Water will be extracted from the regolith by sublimation—heating ice to convert it into water vapor without going through the liquid phase. This water vapor can then be collected on a cold surface for transport to a processing plant where electrolysis will decompose the water into its constituent parts (hydrogen and oxygen).
To achieve production demand with this method, 2.8 megawatts of power is required (2 megawatts electrical and 0.8 megawatts thermal). The majority of the electrical power will be needed in the processing plant, where water is broken down into hydrogen and oxygen. This substantial amount of power can come from solar panels, sunlight reflected directly to the extraction site, or nuclear power. Because the bottoms of the polar craters are permanently shadowed, captured solar energy must be transported from locations of sunlight (crater rim) via power beaming or power cables. Unlike solar power sources, nuclear reactors can operate at any location; however, they generate heat that must be utilized or rejected that may be simplified if located in the cold, permanently shadowed craters.
The equipment needed for this lunar propellant operation will be built from existing technologies that have been modified for the specific needs on the Moon. Surprisingly little new science is required to build this plant. Extensive testing on Earth will precede deployment to the Moon, to ensure that the robotics, extraction, chemical processing and storage all work together efficiently. The contributors to this study are those who are currently developing or have already developed the equipment required to enable this capability. From a technological perspective, a lunar propellant production plant is highly feasible.
The initial investment for this operation has been estimated at $4 billion, about the cost of a luxury hotel in Las Vegas.
40 Launches for a Von Bruan 1500 Person Space Station
It will take about 30-40 launches of a Super Heavy Starship to launch the Von Braun Station. This would be fewer launches than the International Space Station. The costs will be far less because Gateway will try to use $40 million Super Heavy launches instead of $1 billion or more for Space Shuttle launches.
Again leaving some Starships in orbit makes new instantly habitable space stations with nearly the size of the International Space Station.
The Von Bruan Station could be occupied and begin operation with as few as 4-6 launches. They would create the hub and the ferris wheel frame, elevators and place the first two modules and Dream Chasers onto the station. Even with two modules the Von Braun would have about twenty times the volume of the International Space Station.
There is a plan to add large amounts of solar power. This could be 4 megawatts or more. This is thirty to fifty times more than the International Space Station.
To build the Von Bruan Station Gateway they will first construct an automated space drone robots called GSAL. The GSAL will create segments that are each unique for that part of The Gateway: For instance, to create the Hub we will weld together a series of square segments; to create ring sections the GSAL will reconfigure its beam guides to fabricate wedge-shaped segments.
SOURCES – Gateway Foundation, Open Lunar Foundation, SpaceX, Metzger Lunar Fuel report
Written by Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com