Astronomy on the Moon?

by guest blogger Ken

Dan Lester is back, and with a vengeance. Mr. Lester works at UT Austin and has a strong interest in IR astronomy. He really wants an instrument in free-space (SAFIR), and is convinced that there are few astronomical applications that are better served by being on the Moon than in Free Space. Part of the issue is that it has been often proposed that IR telescopes be placed in the everdark craters at the Lunar poles, providing free cryogenic temperatures to the instruments. So there are competing architectures at play.

Dan Lester and Giulio Varsi have a compelling article over at The Space Review entitled “Destinations for exploration: more than just rocks?”, which calls for a re-examination of where we want to conduct our astronomical sciences. He makes a lot of good points, most of which I agree with, though as usual I don’t entirely agree with his conclusions, though in this case it is because I don’t think the authors take the argument far enough.

The authors open with the entirely reasonable question of whether the architecture that is being developed to implement the VSE is going to enable the capabilities to build, maintain and oversee facilities in free space as well? Both Jon and I are clearly both in favor of such a thing, and even the CBO Report called orbital construction something that NASA is just pushing into the future with the ESAS architecture. Or as I noted in the referenced post:

The report also makes the very salient point that for future NASA MARS missions the mass in LEO requirements have ranged from 470-1500mt. So once NASA is done with the Moon they STILL have to face the task of on-orbit assembly to meet their “next” objective (which the report also notes was not a requirement set in the VSE – these guys really did try to lay out all the facts and be impartial). All NASA’s doing with ESAS is pushing the learning curve farther into the future. Penny wise, pound foolish is an old folk wisdom that comes to mind.

Or as the authors note in the article:

On the one hand, NASA plans to have us travel vast distances to Mars while, on the other hand, it seems willing to abandon the very in-space construction and maintenance capabilities [learned from ISS and Hubble (and I would note some shuttle flights)] that may be necessary precursors to such long voyages.

They decry the lithocentrism of most space exploration and note that the vacuum of free space is the perfect reflection of the new Information Age. Wait, maybe I said that wrong. They think that operating outside of gravity wells reflects the free flow of electrons around the world in the Information Age. Or something like that. They question the marketability and feasibility of ISRU, though they do note that it would affect in-space operations, which NASA is abandoning, so they’re losing their justifications for going to the Moon to do ISRU in the first place. Good point.

I disagree, though, with their contention that most of the science objectives can be achieved robotically. A lot of folks smarter than me also think that humans have to go out with the robots to achieve maximum benefit from each. The authors do note that the Earth-Moon Lagrange points are connected to the Sun-Earth Lagrange points by low-energy trajectories, meaning that instruments like the JWST could be ‘kicked’ back to a facility at an EML point for servicing,a la Hubble, making it an enabling job site. I’m 100% in agreement, and have said the same thing many times, such as in my “Why Mars Again?” post where I noted:

From EML-1 we have an on-ramp to the Interplantary Superhighways which connect all of the lagrange points of the Solar system. We can have platforms out at the Sun-Jupiter L-2 point that periodically return to EML-1 for servicing and upgrade. We can have Asteroid Belt watchers at Sun-Mars L-1 and L-2 showing us the lay of the land there. We can have a communications platform at the Sun-Venus L-4 or L-5 point to provide communications around the Sun to Mars when its occulted. We can have Sun watchers at the Sun-Mercury L-2 point (okay, those might not be coming back). The point is that we can have a robust program of monitoring our near-space environment for threats, that can be upgraded as we learn more, and in a relatively simple and low-fuel-cost way.

The authors note a recent article in the Society of Logistical Engineers journal Logistics Spectrum. I think they are talking about this article here. (alternate site). It’s by some familiar names, but does make a number of very good points, such as:
-the Moon is 20 times further than any logistics support of a remote base on Earth
-Over 70% of the energy is getting over the first 200 miles from Earth
-They see 5 emerging enabling technologies:
*autonomous rendezvous & docking
*new autonomous payload transfer system
*new s/c2s/c cryogenic propellant tank transfer system
*autonomous propellant tank tapping system
*autonomous lunar payload offload system
-they propose staging at MEO and EML1. The system they suggest will initially transfer 800kg to the Lunar surface directly, 4x that if refueled at EML1, and 10x that if refueled in MEO and EML1.
-the development cost of a significant new launch capability represents at least 100 launches of existing EELVs and many years of Lunar transport operations
-they then go on to talk about PPPs and that sort of thing.

It’s an interesting article, and a nice find. That an article on Lunar Logistics would appear in a trade journal does kind of support the notion that the giggle factor is starting to go away a bit regarding private space efforts. The amount of cost associated with establishing the depot chain is one of the key drivers in getting ISRU established early.

Which brings us to the NRC report on “The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon”. I had some commentary on the draft version of the NRC report last year, and the final version fleshes it out pretty thoroughly. Notably, Daniel Lester is one of the committee members who prepared the report, and his influence can be found in chapter six – Observations and Science Potentially Enabled by the VSE. The idea of astronomy from the Moon is an old one, in part because of the obvious differences from the traditional terrestrial scopes: lack of atmosphere, less seismic activity, extreme cold/sensitivity during night viewing. Physics Today had a pro/con debate last year on Build astronomical observatories on the Moon? between Mr. Lester and Paul Lowman Jr at Goddard. Dr. Lowman is one of the lecturers at the NASA Academy, and I still have his handouts somewhere in a back corner of the Lunar Library. The debate raises a lot of really good points, and I think Dr. Lowman makes some good points about the laser reflectometers left by the Apollo astronauts are still returning readable signals to the McDonald Observatory (with which Dr. Lester is associated in the NRC report), calling into question the severity of the levitating dust issue. But the whole question of astronomy is really just a side argument in the much larger context of science from the moon versus science from free space.

My personal feelings are that we know how to build on rock. We’ve done a lot of it here on Earth, and pretty much everything we’ve learned to do here will be even better on the Moon. The wild cards are free space instruments. The Hubble isn’t an interferometer. Dr. Lester admits in the Physics Today artice that “Design studies of formation flying…make astronomers optimistic that precision fringe tracking for such large-baseline free-space interferometry is achievable.” Okay, but we do know now how to build on rock, and do interferometry on rock. Not that we shouldn’t develop the capability for more sophisticated free-space observations, but my conservative side says let’s start with what we know, and build going forward. I will note the efforts of ESA’s Cluster suite of instruments, which is building lessons-learned in formation flying. A good start, but we’re still pretty darn close to the starting line in that regard.

My preference is for things like a slow sky survey from each of the Lunar poles, radio scopes on the far side, and maybe some others at different locations. For free-space I’d like to see more small-body searching scopes, first pointing sunward, and then outward. This is part of the reason that I differ with Dr. Lester. My interests are local both temporally and spatially. I have much more interest in the small bodies of the Solar system than in things like galaxies 14Bn light years away in time and space. Dr. Lester is interested in the cosmological stuff and fundamental research in that field. This skews our perceptions of what sorts of instrumentation are necessary/likely/possible. Dr. Lester sees scopes at SEL-2 looking into the depths of the Universe. I see scopes at EML1, SEL1, SEL2, SVL4, SVL5, SML2, SML3, SML4, SML5, SJL1, SJL2, and so on looking at the small bodies and characterizing them, watching the Oort Cloud and Kuiper Belt for disturbances and incomings.

Stuff that is relevant now for the kinds of things humans want to do in the near future. Fundamental research is important. Let me repeat that so that everyone understands that I understand. Fundamental research is important. We should never completely stop doing it. Nevertheless there are a variety of compelling priorities and we have to be careful how we allocate resources to achieve the greatest number of goals. I think that Solar system studies are more relevant to the implementation of things like the VSE, and should therefore have priority over instrumentation not dedicated to Solar system studies. I also want free-space instruments, just of a different sort, spread over a larger number of alithic destinations. That’s what I meant when I said I didn’t think the authors took their argument far enough. Because with the right plan of attack we can all get most of what we want.

They’re spot on about EML1, a location that more and more folks are realizing is an absolutely phenomenal phenomenon, and I maintain that we are truly blessed to have an on-ramp to the Interplanetary Superhighways (IPS) so close to home. No other Solar planet can make that claim by anywhere close to what we have. I’ve said before that if there was one thing that could sway me (an atheist) towards some kind of intelligent design, it would be the closeness of our Moon (essentially a double planet system, some maintain) and the gravitational warps that give rise to the saddleback of EML1.

In the first stages of free-space astronomical instrument architecture development, you would want to use EML1 to give the instruments a last go-over before deploying them onto the IPS to their respective stations:
Sun-watchers at SEL1 (I think the most important suite of instrumentation)
Deep-space watchers at SEL2
Relay stations at the Venus Equilaterals (SVL4 & 5)
Forwarding of asteroid belt watch instrumentation to the SML1 Marsport (for forward deployment to SML2, 3, 4 & 5)
Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud watchers at SJL2 and SSL2
Sun-watcher at SMercL2
and so forth. A comprehensive suite of instruments that addresses everyone’s interests.

What will happen is that as more and more instruments deploy, a regular stream of returning instruments will be coming in for servicing, upgrade & refueling. So you’re developing an economy of technical services for a really robust program of data collection. My goal is to do it commercially, while providing both security and scientific benefits.

I am happy to see more constituencies looking at the EML1 option. The fact that it gives 24/7 access to the entire surface of the Moon for about the same dV (about 2.52 km/s) is of partiular interest to me. We can do sorties to anywhere we want to go from EML1 once we get a fuel depot established. Which plays into the whole development of ISRU as a priority thing so that we can start shipping LOX at least from the Moon.

I’m currently reading through “The Modern Moon” by Charles Woods, and his comprehensive overview of the face of the Moon identifies a number of compelling destinations for sorties. Reading this book, and the NRC report on the science rationales for the Moon, really make clear that there is a lot of really solid science to do right here in our backyard. Science that also feeds into my commercial goals for cislunar space, and science that helps answer planetary security questions. I can’t believe we’re letting ourselves wait so long to get back there.

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5 Responses to Astronomy on the Moon?

  1. tankmodeler says:

    >>My personal feelings are that we know how to build on rock. We’ve done a lot of it here on Earth, and pretty much everything we’ve learned to do here will be even better on the Moon.

    Ken,

    While I am all in favour of manned expeditions to the moon, I am not sure that the fact we can build on earth translates very well to the Moon. I suspect that there are enough differences in _how_ to build on the moon versus Earth that they would outweigh the problems in stationkeeping needed for formation flying.

    The instruments we would place in free space would be built on Earth in ways we are extremely familiar with and launched in a conventional manner. The difficulty is one phase, stationkeeping.

    Designing things for the Moon may not be particularly hard; as you say, the basics are well known and pretty much transferable from here on Earth. However, construction techniques and the associated infrastructure needed to do it will be significantly more complex than any construction job ever attempted on Earth. From abrasive dust, to minimal crews to teleoperating to the huge costs of getting anything to the moon itself, I have a gut feel that they will all add up to significantly more risk, time and money than developing free space stationkeeping.

    Building materials alone could be a big enough problem to kill any attempts to perform sizeable instrument construction on the Moon. Eithe we’re talking a lot of expensive, dumb supply flights or a major effort to develop in-situ resources that can be made into precision instruments on the Moon. They both translate into big bucks and a lot of years.

    The one problem with all of that is that this would be done by government funded institutions, whether NASA or the Science foundations or whatever. They are not commercial and return no financial profit (except to those doing the bulding of either system). I just don’t see a science effort being sustainable in the fiscal environment we find ourselves in today or for the foreseeable future. Governments ahve different reasons for doing things and percieve different benefits for doing what they do. Cost or time effectiveness is seldome part of that equation.

    My personal feeling is that Lunar exploitation and development on anything larger than NASAs outpost scale will only occur is there is a commercial reason to do it. If (just to pick a possibility out of the air) there actually are a lot of PGMs on the Moon and if the fuel cell economy actually gets going, then that would drive companies to go to the moon and build, both in the most expeditious and profitable way possible. It’s at that point where the fuel depots and EML1 construction shacks & reusaeable tugs and all the other really proper Lunar exploitation technology will come to fruition.

    When you look at it, if there was money to be made, major corporations could raise the capital for a $20 billion program with little trouble (OK maybe a bit of trouble, but less so as they proved resources and developed the technology). Airbus is spending $9 billion on the A380. Boeing is spending $7 billion on the Dreamliner. A lunar mining operation worth $20 billion is _not_ out of realms of possibility. But what is needed is a) a market and b) a resource to fill that market.

    At the moment there is no hydrogen (or methane) fuel cell economy, so demand it low. Platinum prices are really high and may be enough to pay for developing an initial small capacity minimg operation to meet current demand (I kinda like Dennis Wingo’s discussions on this as you might be able to tell). As demand increases (and prices fall) more development can garner more supply. You know the drill better than I. The first thing, though, is to prove the resource.

    While supporting the efforts to go back to the moon, what we should really be doing is trying to interest one of the mining conglomerates in PGM mining on the Moon. To have them start the ball rolling to support and, dare I say it, partially fund an exploratory prospecting mission to try and assess the resource.

    Of course, even before that happens the one absolutely key stumbling block is ownership of Lunar mineral rights. No-one is going anywhere unless they know, rock solid, that they will own what they find.

    If space advocates want to get us off this rock, the single best thing that they can do is lobby their local governments to recognise Lunar property ownership. Once that happens a lot of other things start to happen in very well-known ways. ROI and risk/benefit calculations will determine if we can get big companies to spend money on missions. They do this crap every day, it’s just on a somewhat larger scale. And the scale isn’t that much larger than some big terrestrial projects. The lack of environmental assessments (and the vast anmounts of money and time they consume) alone may be enough to tip the scales. We’ll never know until somebody can stand up in a court and have a judge acknowledge that they OWN that piece of the Moon and anything they can pull from it.

    That is the key to the Moon. The technology will follow the money as it always does.

  2. David Stever says:

    Tankmodeler hits the nail on the head here. We need to figure out where the resources that we can recover are located. This might be done on th epublic dime, else someone else will put boots on the ground and examine the mining sites. Once that has been determined, and property rights have been dealt with, in a world venue, then we are going to go BIG TIME into lunar mining and asteroid harvesting. I don’t know what the lead time will be (and I hope to hell I’m alive to see it), but we will explode off this rock on that day.

  3. David Stever says:

    …and going back to the original point, once we have the boots on the ground, and we are out there pulling ice and gases out of nearby asteroids, then we will be in a position to have the science infrastructure and the solar system equivalent of the communication system and bridges in place at all the LaGrange points around the place. VENUS EQUILATERAL, anyone? I just don’t see that happening until the investment is in place on the moon and many a few asteroid mines. The science will ride on the coattails until that tipping point.

  4. murphydyne says:

    Tankmodeler,

    You make a lot of good points, but I have a few questions.

    You note some concern about “I suspect that there are enough differences in _how_ to build on the moon”. I am curious as to what these hows are. The reason I ask is that I have noted previously that the “Handbook of Lunar Engineering” remains to be written, so I agree that there are issues to be worked out (just like with free-space engineering). Seems as if from a terrestrial engineering standpoint you’re looking at significantly less weight-bearing structures, mass-wise. This works to our advantage for things like solar power towers at the poles, which need to be tall to peek over the short horizon.

    Abrasive dust
    I can think of a couple mitigants. Dust travels in basically two ways on the Moon – ballistically and electrostatically.
    -Put a cap on the telescope until it is emplaced. Keeping the tube sealed should keep the dust out.
    -During the ‘fairy dust’ seasons, the scopes could be pointed low to the horizon away from the direction of passage of the terminator. Let the dust settle, then point back up.
    -Flaps over the opening during the levi-dust times.
    -The “elephant trunk” regolith ‘vacuum’ might be used for periodic touch ups.
    -I’ve heard stories of the dust seeming to ‘migrate’ up the astronaut. Don’t know if they’re true or not, but they suggest some kind of weak electromagnetic field in the base of the scope to ‘repel’ any electrostatically frisky regolith.

    Construction techniques
    I’m all for the lowest tech possible. I prefer slusher-bucket for regolith gathering, solar furnaces for processing, light pipes for buried base illumination. The only early robots I foresee are utilitarian things like a flatbed lorry that can carry things from place to place. What are the complexities that you foresee?

    Associated Infrastructure
    I’m guessing largely lots of spare parts, string and paperclips to fix things early on, but eventually somebody is going to have to pay to ship a small machine shop up to the Moon. That’s going to be a huge day for the base. One early application that I can foresee is extrusion technology. If you’re processing the regolith, especially at really high temperatures, you’re going to be throwing off a lot of metals. Extruding them into useful shapes (like Solar power satellite structural elements) seems like a sensible thing to do with it.

    Transport costs
    Always an issue, but I don’t see us going to the Moon TO put up astronomical scopes, so I’m envisioning that the mass shipped will be a marginal additional cost in an established transportation infrastructure. I do note that in the Physics Today face-off that the article noted that Dr. Lowman cited two 1990s studies of Lunar telescopes wherein each anticapted a cost capof $150Mn, versus an estimated $4Bn for JWST, which Dr. Lester doesn’t address. Dr. Lester does note that free-space doesn’t have sub-micron levi-dust, but I wonder the extent which that’s true when I think about the zodiacal lights.

    I’ll also note that there is a fair amount of private money associated with terrestrial telescopes, and I would much rather see consortia of universities and private benefactors paying for them moreso than Uncle Sugar, but if it takes both I’ll just have to deal.

    As for the larger commercial development, you know that I advocate an aggressively commercial development of space. I don’t foresee us going directly back to the Moon, but rather building up in LEO, pushing to EML1, doing lots of useful stuff there, and using that as a platform to get back to the Moon. Because by that point the materials scientists will have had some time to get some real research under the belts and we can start anticipating what sort of raw materials they’ll be needing from the Moon. Any kind of servicing of satellites in GEO will create an immediate demand for LOX. Operations in GEO will build confidence for the construction of larger structures, such as Solar power satellites. Which will require structural elements that can be produced on the Moon and shipped for significantly less transportation cost than from Earth. By the same token, that means that you can launch a larger volume of the higher-tech components shipped from Earth.

    As for ownership rights, I’m not convinced that a traditional terrestrial title structure is the way to go. I’m a much bigger fan of the “peaceful use” doctrine, whereby if you invest the capital to go out there and set up operations, no one can disturb you or interupt what you’re doing. Why should I have to pay money to someone for title to a crater that they’ve never been to, just because they paid some other entity some money. No. Put the capital into setting up shop, not trading paper.

    This complies with existing treaty law, and basically creates a first come, first served environment that is ripe for a rush. This also creates a huge demand for data (which I’d like to sell you for a nominal charge) to figure out the best places to go.

    The problem is that the U.S. government has to back the commercial interest in international court in the event of tort. Companies cannot bring claims against nations in the U.N., only other nations. If you set up shop and the South Africans decide that they want some of what you’ve got, what recourse do you have? (Or you could slap them with your title policy and scare them off)

    I think the solution is for the nations to get together and collectively punt the issue to some kind of jurisdictional setup, perhaps within OOSA, that can resolve the legal claims of parties operating in space, be they nationally or commercially flagged.

    So while I agree that there are challenges, I don’t think the situation is quite as dire as you suggest.

  5. tankmodeler says:

    >>You make a lot of good points, but I have a few questions.

    >> Seems as if from a terrestrial engineering standpoint you’re looking at significantly less weight-bearing structures, mass-wise.

    Absolutely, my worries are less in the design of the structure (as alluded to above) bot more on the methods to be used to build them on the Moon.

    >>Abrasive dust //SNIP//

    Relating to the instrument these are design issues, see above. Relating to construction, they are critical, see below.

    >>Construction techniques
    >>I’m all for the lowest tech possible. I prefer slusher-bucket for regolith gathering, solar furnaces for processing, light pipes for buried base illumination. The only early robots I foresee are utilitarian things like a flatbed lorry that can carry things from place to place. What are the complexities that you foresee?

    Frankly, I don’t see any way, even with the best low cost access to space, of supporting a permanent (>24 months) manned construction crew using Earth-style construction equipment (even optimised for Lunar conditions) any larger than a dozen or so people for the next 70+ years. The infrastructure to support such a team would be enormous. Stupefying, in fact. Building a large scientific instrument on the Moon is going to have to be done with robots, with micro machines using in-situ materials, teleoperated from Earth and/or with low level AI.

    Gravity, in heavy construction, can be your friend (not in the design, the construction). Low gravity reduces your ability to brace, to grip with wheels/tracks, to stabilise.

    Lunar dust is, apparently an absolute killer on moving materials & joints. It is as abrasive as h*ll and will play havoc with maintenance and cleaning requirements.

    The obvious restraints on activities due to lack of atmosphere.

    The efect on the construction machinery due to the day/night temperature cycles.

    Getting construction materials at the site. How many flights if from Earth, how to turn regolith into materials if in-situ.

    Feeding the crew.

    Getting them home often enough to keep them from becoming stir crazy. Remember, this is a commercial operation and these won’t be the highly selected astronauts, they will have to be very skilled at the construction trades. They are in it for the money and not the glory. They aren’t going to want to live on crap food and crappier accomodations even if the money is outstanding.

    A number of these have no actual or even theorised solutions at the moment. They are as much an unknown as stationkeeping, but stationkeeping is the only real roadblock for space based constellations.

    >>Associated Infrastructure
    >>I’m guessing largely lots of spare parts, string and paperclips to fix things early on, but eventually somebody is going to have to pay to ship a small machine shop up to the Moon. That’s going to be a huge day for the base. One early application that I can foresee is extrusion technology. If you’re processing the regolith, especially at really high temperatures, you’re going to be throwing off a lot of metals. Extruding them into useful shapes (like Solar power satellite structural elements) seems like a sensible thing to do with it.

    Yes, it’s sensible to do lots of things, but we have no technology to do anything like that. We say “in-situ resource use” like it’s a done deal, and it’s not. Even assuming you have a smelter creating perfect aluminum extrusions from lunar rock (and that’s not even a glimmer in an engineer’s eye at the moment) you are then supplying a minimg operation in addition to your construction effort.

    >>Transport costs
    >>Always an issue, but I don’t see us going to the Moon TO put up astronomical scopes, so I’m envisioning that the mass shipped will be a marginal additional cost in an established transportation infrastructure.

    Ah! Now there’s the real issue. Why is anyone on the moon in the first place? Commercial reasons? Huge commercial reasons (and it would have to be huge to make the delta mass seem marginal)? What would that be? More importantly, when would that be? The article on space based exploration is definitely set nearer in the future than any larger lunar commercial exploitation, so transportation is the KEY issue. This isn’t going to be marginal mass within the timeframe of the article or my comments. Let’s face it, if you have enough mass going to the moon to make a big telescope & it’s observatory and construction crew and machines and infrastructure seem marginal, all my concerns will have been solved and we’re 100+ years in the future. The article is talking about where we focus today’s exploration policy.

    >>I do note that in the Physics Today face-off that the article noted that Dr. Lowman cited two 1990s studies of Lunar telescopes wherein each anticapted a cost capof $150Mn, versus an estimated $4Bn for JWST, which Dr. Lester doesn’t address. Dr. Lester does note that free-space doesn’t have sub-micron levi-dust, but I wonder the extent which that’s true when I think about the zodiacal lights.
    I don’t for an instant think that you could build a JWST equivalent on the moon for $150Mn. Even allowing for inflation since 1990. Even allowing for inflation since 1890. 🙂

    You can’t break wind in space for $150M, much less build a ground based telescope.

    >>I’ll also note that there is a fair amount of private money associated with terrestrial telescopes, and I would much rather see consortia of universities and private benefactors paying for them moreso than Uncle Sugar, but if it takes both I’ll just have to deal.
    True and if the price for a space based (or lunar based) telescope could approach that of a terrestrial telescope, private concerns would be in on that as well. But it doesn’t approach it. Not by an order of magnitude.
    Or two.

    >>Because by that point the materials scientists will have had some time to get some real research under the belts and we can start anticipating what sort of raw materials they’ll be needing from the Moon. Any kind of servicing of satellites in GEO will create an immediate demand for LOX. Operations in GEO will build confidence for the construction of larger structures, such as Solar power satellites. Which will require structural elements that can be produced on the Moon and shipped for significantly less transportation cost than from Earth. By the same token, that means that you can launch a larger volume of the higher-tech components shipped from Earth.

    All of thse unknowns are more than the unknown of stationkeeping, leaving me to believe that getting instruments in space will be easier than the equivalent on the Moon, even if the engineering of an actual Lunar instrument is easier. And I’m not totally sure of that, either.

    >>As for ownership rights, I’m not convinced that a traditional terrestrial title structure is the way to go. I’m a much bigger fan of the “peaceful use” doctrine, whereby if you invest the capital to go out there and set up operations, no one can disturb you or interupt what you’re doing. Why should I have to pay money to someone for title to a crater that they’ve never been to, just because they paid some other entity some money. No. Put the capital into setting up shop, not trading paper.

    Well, apparently capitalistic business isn’t willing to go that route. Given the huge risks entailed with going off planet to do anything, I would say they want (and if I was on the board I ‘d want) a firm legal basis for their actions _before_ they put even $300M in the pot for a prospector mission, much less the umptie billion needed for a real operation. As has been said, there are a LOT of easier ways of making money on earth and until that isn’t true, businesses will stay where they are.

    >>This also creates a huge demand for data (which I’d like to sell you for a nominal charge) to figure out the best places to go.
    Well, you’d like to sell it to me, but as I have no intentions to go until I _know_ I can keep my profits, you don’t have a market, which makes the data useless. (that sounds harsher than I mean, but you get my drift)
    I fully realise that this is chicken & egg, but the first fertilizer for the first zygote (to stretch the analogy) has to be some government action stating that what you make on the moon, you can keep and be willing to defend those companies rights in national and international court (and to prosecute them under your laws if the mess up, as well). This is a huge thing and is not even a thought of a blip on any government’s radar at the moment.
    A private company with deep enough pockets can take the riskier approach and dare the world to step on them, but a publically traded company just isn’t going to take that risk. They’re not!

    >>I think the solution is for the nations to get together and collectively punt the issue to some kind of jurisdictional setup, perhaps within OOSA, that can resolve the legal claims of parties operating in space, be they nationally or commercially flagged.

    I agree that this would be good, but, not unlike the international Law of the Seas treaties, the UN members will try to get a share of the pie, whether they are in the game or not, thus penalizing the business who are trying to reap the rewards of their labours. It is that way with exploitation outside national juridictions now and look how much commercial activity there is outside national sea boundaries. Not much. Even when there is, like fishing, the UN can’t stop one country’s businesses from abrogating anything the country might have agreed to. The model doesn’t work.

    >>So while I agree that there are challenges, I don’t think the situation is quite as dire as you suggest.

    I suggest it may be worse than I am stating. I haven’t even talked about time scale, political will and terms of office yet. 🙂

    Paul

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