The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Lunar Transportation Schemes: Part 2–The Beachhead Analogy

This observation may already be bleedingly obvious to everyone else, but I feel it is worth explicitly stating:

One of the top priorities of early missions to any destination in the solar system should be to drive down the cost of future missions and increase their safety and reliability as quickly as possible.

While traditionally NASA missions have been of the one-off sortie/expedition variety, if we hope to thoroughly explore our solar neighborhood, and more especially if we want to  settle it and bring increasing portions of our solar system into humanity’s economic sphere, following this priority would be a good way of showing that we’re actually serious about it.

I’m no military historian or strategist, but I think using the analogy of a “beachhead” may be appropriate and illustrative. When conducting airborne or amphibious invasions, one of the important goals of the attacking force is to quickly secure the area in a way that enables lower-cost, more reliable transportation of people and material to reinforce the initial beachhead. While the initial forces can use inefficient transport such as paradrops or amphibious landers, the sooner they can secure a port or lagoon or airstrip from enemy operations, the faster they can bring in reinforcements using more efficient means of transportation such as passenger/cargo planes or vessels. In military campaigns, that ability to rapidly reinforce the beachhead can often be a matter of life-and-death.

While space operations may not be quite so dire, there are strong incentives for also trying to quickly transition to more affordable, safe, and efficient means of getting goods and people to and from the destination. The sooner you lower your cost of say delivering objects to the destination, the more exploration/settlement/resource-extraction you can perform with a given amount of money. The sooner you lower your cost of returning material from that destination, the lower the cost of reaching that destination (if you’re producing propellants), and the more competitive you become with shipping material from other locations. Because so much of the cost of human space exploration or settlement is in the transportation of people and goods, the sooner you can lower the transportation cost, the bigger the impact. This is why driving down transportation costs should be such a high priority for early missions to a given destination.

I originally made this first point in the context of Mars missions1, where instead of focusing on sorties, I feel that we can get a much better return on investment by having early Mars missions focus on lowering the costs of future missions by: a) establishing a landing site with good landing pads and navigation aids at a location with good ISRU potential, b) getting as quickly as possible to the ability to produce steady quantities of high-performance fuel and oxidizer (LOX and either Methane or LH2), c) getting a depot/staging base setup in low Mars orbit, and d) getting reusable tankers regularly traveling from the landing site to the depot, stocking it with propellants for future landers and return vehicles.

In this series though, I’d like to focus on some interesting options for pursuing this Beachhead strategy for lunar missions. While I agree with many lunar resource advocates that the Moon can potentially play a significant role in the exploration, settlement, and commerce of the inner solar system, the gear ratio math I discussed in this series’ first blog post suggests that while having highly reusable rocket-powered landers may be a necessary starting point for lunar development, we may need to move beyond the rocket equation to truly unlock the Moon’s potential. Fortunately, unlike most other places of interest in the inner solar system, there are several potentially realistic ways of propellantlessly landing and launching materials and equipment, and eventually people from the Lunar surface. As I mentioned in the first post, most of this series will focus on introducing some of these concepts, and explaining how they might fit into lunar development plans.

Next Up: Intentional Hard Landings

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Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff

President/CEO at Altius Space Machines
Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
  1. Made here: https://twitter.com/rocketrepreneur/status/733833004158574594
This entry was posted in ISRU, Lunar Commerce, Lunar Exploration and Development, Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Lunar Transportation Schemes, Space Settlement, Space Transportation. Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Lunar Transportation Schemes: Part 2–The Beachhead Analogy

  1. gbaikie says:

    “While traditionally NASA missions have been of the one-off sortie/expedition variety, if we hope to thoroughly explore our solar neighborhood, and more especially if we want to settle it and bring increasing portions of our solar system into humanity’s economic sphere, following this priority would be a good way of showing that we’re actually serious about it.”
    NASA has been exploring Mars and the Moon and elsewhere for decades which I describe as one-off. But such exploration is not really exploration. They more like adventures- though they will have specific purposes of one kind or another. It’s we going send some robotic lander to Mars, and want should the lander do. And with mars exploration they has been some effort of finding life on Mars- which will influence where one wants to land the lander and a instruments it carries. And looking for life on Mars is more like something one call exploration. I don’t particularly think
    it’s a good idea to explore for life,. and problematic on number of levels, with one general problem of not knowing if any life exist anywhere on Mars.

    One basic problem is NASA doesn’t have good idea of what it should explore in space rather what NASA has is a collection of interests. One can say that NASA has been interested in mapping planets and there numerous of ways to map a planet. And mapping is a part of exploration. One needs maps to explore, and maps can help find something you want to explore.

    With the Moon there seems to me to be one thing to explore, which is whether lunar water can be profitably mined.
    Re:
    “While I agree with many lunar resource advocates that the Moon can potentially play a significant role in the exploration, settlement, and commerce of the inner solar system, the gear ratio math I discussed in this series’ first blog post suggests that while having highly reusable rocket-powered landers may be a necessary starting point for lunar development, we may need to move beyond the rocket equation to truly unlock the Moon’s potential. ”
    I would say we may and eventually will need this. But I would say we first need to explore the Moon. Or NASA should explore the Moon.
    I could entertain idea of not needed NASA to explore the Moon, but someone needs to explore the Moon before doing anything with the Moon.
    With NASA exploration of the Moon, I think the purpose should be to determine if and where there is minable lunar water.
    If instead it was be attempted without a NASA lunar program, then I would make best
    guess and land crew at the area one thinks there might be best chance of minable lunar water. This would a stunt which included exploration for minable water and the return of lunar samples. And from the results of that crewed mission to the Moon, one could consider whether that area was indeed minable.

    Whereas with NASA exploration program the question is not, is there one place which one selects which is minable, but rather determining if anywhere in lunar polar region is minable lunar water and which are best regions one is capable of finding. So that require many robotic missions which are followed by a few crewed landings and lunar sample returned to Earth. So result of NASA lunar exploration is the best answer [within reason] is there minable lunar water, and which locations may be the better places which could be minable. So NASA attempts to answer the question there there minable water deposits on the Moon. Yes or no?
    The party which ultimately answer the question, is one that invest the money and attempts to see if it’s minable. But they have the data from NASA which allows one to get to put of planning such a venture.

    Let’s imagine that NASA finds lunar deposit which has 5% per volume of water- and lots of other stuff which could be relevant.
    One party maybe determine this is not minable, and another party may decide it is.
    Or it might minable if some kind of technology is developed or found. And it might take a year or two to get such technology.
    Or it might be that the current economic environment is not a good time to mine the Moon- perhaps 5 to 10 year later it is.
    But in the meantime, NASA explores Mars.

  2. Of course, if you establish simple outposts on the surfaces of the Moon and Mars, you don’t need sorties to explore those worlds. Permanent outposts would allow humans to continuously explore the other regions on the Moon and Mars.

    On both worlds, robots could be used to explore regions far away from the outposts and return samples to the outposts for eventual return to Earth.

    On the Moon, a reusable lunar shuttle could also be used as a lunar hopper, making crewed parabolic missions to all areas of the lunar surface.

    On Mars, methanol rocket powered hydrogen airships could be used for crewed exploration of the rest of the planet.

    Marcel

  3. Paul D. says:

    I like the beachhead analogy. Catchy names matter.

    And looking forward to the next installment. 🙂

  4. Paul,
    Thanks!

    And you should hopefully like tomorrow’s post. After all, you inspired it with one of your recent comments.

    Jon

  5. Andrew Swallow says:

    Tools, vehicles, ground equipment and raw materials can be sent on cargo only flights in advance. Some may work from remote control but others will have to wait for their operators to arrive.

    Construction crews will need to bring all the food, water, air and other life support consumables with them. Possibly as separate cargo landings.

  6. Paul451 says:

    Using a single primary landing site as a staging post for “exploration” requires a way to move around the moon/planet to sites of interest. The surface area of the moon is slightly greater than the entire continent of Africa. (Mars has roughly the same land area as Earth.) You aren’t getting around via rovers.

    If you have fuel you can use something like your main lander as a point-to-point hopper, you’re talking about a procedure nearly as complex and dangerous as the original landing … every single time.

    Given that you want the initial crew to “establishing a landing site with good landing pads and navigation aids”, you recognise the danger of having even a single landing per mission on unimproved terrain. But the moment you use that primary site to stage exploration sorties elsewhere on the moon, you lose that advantage anyway.

  7. Paul451 says:

    (That was a response to the main article, not a reply to Andrew.)

  8. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Gbaikie:
    To be clear, I still think doing a few robotic prospecting precursors, and maybe even a manned sortie mission to make sure the beachhead is placed in the right location, the goal should be to transition as quickly as possible into lowering the cost of future missions. Even if it turns out that the first site is only decent, just by having some ISRU and other transportation cost reducing infrastructure, we can lower the cost of exploring the rest of the moon more thoroughly and figuring out where we actually want the rest of the settlements/outposts located. The problem is that by saying we’re going to thoroughly explore the moon first, the hard way, without any cost-reducing infrastructure, you make that phase far slower and more expensive than it needs to be.

    So yes, scout out your landing zone before you turn it into your beachhead, but then get on with building up transportation infrastructure (ISRU, landing pads, nav aids, propellantless launch and landing locations), so you can do that more thorough job of exploring the rest of the Moon that much faster and more affordably.

    ~Jon

  9. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Marcel,
    Exactly. Once you have a beachhead, it dramatically lowers the cost of exploration missions to other locations on that planet.

    ~Jon

  10. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Paul,
    Reusing a lunar lander for rocket-powered landing is dangerous yes, but no more dangerous than doing that on one-off sortie missions. I think this beachhead approach lowers the cost *and* risk of further exploration in a few ways:
    1- The availability of propellant and propellantless launch/landing facilities at the main base mean that subsequent sorties are going to be dramatically cheaper than Earth-based sorties. It may also be possible to reuse a lot of the sortie hardware for multiple missions, enabling further savings.
    2- If the beachhead facility has rest and repair infrastructure, a single exploration crew could fly to another lunar location, explore for a few weeks, fly back, repair and rest up, and then go on to their next expedition. Maybe keeping at it for a year or two before rotating back to Earth. If they’re reusing their exploration gear (with periodic replenishment from Earth), this means you can dramatically slash the cost of each further exploration mission, even if those missions don’t have the benefit of landing nav aids, etc.
    3- Also theoretically, if you make reusable robotic landers, you could theoretically pre-emplace landing nav aids and maybe even rudimentary pads before each sortie mission, and then recover and reuse that robotic hardware for the next mission.
    4- By having a base with more people at it, you have the possibility of rescue operations if something goes wrong in a survivable way. Instead of rescue operations having to come all the way from Earth, they may be able to be there in a couple of hours instead of a couple of weeks.
    5- One other component of the beachhead that I’m neglecting is the orbital support facility (likely at one of the L-points or one or more Near-Rectilinear Orbits). That can also play a role in support and rescue operations. Having a useful orbital facility becomes a lot easier if you also have a lunar facility that can resupply it with cheap propellant and consumables.

    Ultimately though, sortie missions are always going to be more dangerous and expensive than missions to an established base, but having the established base of operations can lower the cost and risk at least somewhat compared to trying to do that all the way from Earth.

    ~Jon

  11. Andrew Swallow says:

    Within a couple of years Astrobotic Technology should be able to land 260 kg payloads on the Moon. That is more that adequate for solar powered navigation aids.

    Once in place the aids can just be left there, if anything interesting is found we will want to revisit the location.

    One of the jobs of a lunar orbiting spacestation (or satellite) is to act as a radio relay. The Moon has not atmosphere to bend short wave radio signals.

  12. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Andrew,
    You need to get a better calibrated reality detector. Sure, Astrobotics has announced a lander, but they’ve only raised $2.5M to-date, and their lander still looks totally like a mockup, not a flight vehicle. Might they be able to raise the $10-20M more needed to make a lander design work, and the $10-20M more to get a ride? Sure. But they’ve barely raised the amount it took Masten to get to a functional NGLLC vehicle. They’ve got a ways to go yet, as do all of the other GLXP teams. Having large numbers of miniature robotic landers to emplace nav aids, fuse landing pads, and do preliminary prospecting would be great, but we’re nowhere close to there yet.

    I do agree though that for lunar global exploration you’re likely going to need a constellation of comms relay satellites, and that the orbital facility can play a role in that.

    ~Jon

  13. David says:

    I know it’s a chicken and egg thing… but I really think that first you need to find a reason for people to want to go. So either something like homesteading, mining, etc…. that will make people want to go. Then second, make getting there cheap. Safety and reliability come last. Looking at history, people were more than willing to risk their lives to leave Europe. Looking at the present, people are willing to risk their lives to leave multiple failing nations to get into Europe. They have in common the willingness to get onto transportation systems that are incredibly unsafe, but at a price they deem ‘affordable’ – all for the chance of a better life.

    So yes, a beach head is in general a good idea. But we attacked by beach because we had the goal to roll in millions of troops to conquer an enemy. It was a means to a goal.

    We need that goal still.

  14. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    David,
    I do think there are potentially good reasons for going to the Moon that we already know. I went into them a bit in the ESIL-8 post a few months ago, but was trying to focus on the “how” in this thread more than the why. Specific reasons I can see for the Moon include the following:

    1- Mining water for supplying propellant for depots/distributed launch applications in Cislunar space. ULA has stated that if they could get LOX/LH2 in LEO at an affordable enough price, that they’d baseline using it for their GTO/GSO insertion missions. And that’s based off of existing commercial demand, ignoring the potential of providing propellant for other cislunar or Martian activities. This will have to compete at least in LEO with terrestrial RLV-launched propellants, but I think that it can be done in a competitive way.
    2- Providing raw materials for assembling large space structures (GEO mega-sats, LEO settlements, etc)
    3- Tourism. Unlike Mars, the Moon is close enough for people to take reasonable-duration vacations (more like a cruise or Europe trip than an African Safari, where you’d disappear for a year or more).
    4- International interest in science and exploration on the Moon.

    But in each of these cases, making transportation to/from the lunar surface is a common element. I guess I’m just saying that there are plenty of plausible reasons for wanting to access the Moon, and that you don’t necessarily need to know exactly which reasons will end up making the most sense in order for a focus on lowering the cost of access to/from the lunar surface to be a good way of pursuing those goals.

    ~Jon

  15. gbaikie says:

    “Gbaikie:
    To be clear, I still think doing a few robotic prospecting precursors, and maybe even a manned sortie mission to make sure the beachhead is placed in the right location, the goal should be to transition as quickly as possible into lowering the cost of future missions.
    ….”
    But establishing the beachhead is private sector, not government [NASA] task.
    Or in general lower cost is something that only the private sector does- or Govt has never lowered cost doing anything and this includes using subsidies.
    But govt can lower cost by doing enough exploration to determine if and where there
    is minable lunar water. The exploration itself will be expensive- far more total cost than compared to a commercial attempt of exploration.
    Or I would say the NASA exploration of the Moon as program should cost about 40 billion- which would be impossibly expense if private sector had to spend this amount
    and private sector if had to explore the Moon for lunar water, would take short-cuts,
    and basically do a stunt, flags and footprint type thing.
    Whereas NASA should to more comprehensive program- explore both poles [robotically] and possibly landing crew at both poles [depending on results of robotic exploration]. Plus as part of NASA Lunar program NASA should get depots from experimental to operational status- and can do this by refueling at LEO robotic and crew lunar mission [and any other robotic mission elsewhere]. And continue using depots for Mars exploration program [which are funded by Mars exploration program].
    The main thing about Lunar exploration is the emphasis of doing it cheap- 40 billion for entire program is cheap. And finishing it from start to finish within 10 years.
    And if Mars program needs testbed type stuff done on the Moon- that would paid for as part of Mars exploration program. For Mars exploration, NASA needs to made a bases [or many bases all over Mars] and part of making a base is the need to make a landing and launch site- so Moon might be used to prove certain techniques for making landing zone on Mars [despite the Moon being different in this respect as compared to Mars].
    Or exploring the Moon is political way to get a NASA Mars program- NASA offers to do Moon exploration program at low cost, and NASA deliver what it promises, therefore when NASA says Mars program going to costs, say 100 billion in first 10 years, Congress can have evident that such a promise could be delivered.
    Also if NASA does Moon program and one gets commercial lunar mining as result of NASA program, then idea that Mars exploration could lead to [commercial] Mars settlements is also plausible- to the US Congress.
    And in terms NASA job program- one gets more job program if NASA does short lunar program and has the longer Mars program. Or if NASA spends a long time fussing with the Moon, Musk might be on Mars before NASA finishes Lunar program- and not have helped explore Mars for benfit of such settlers [and such settlements could more dangerous] and why should NASA explore, Mars if Mars settlements are already there.
    So exploring the Moon and than exploring Mars is a way for NASA to remain relevant- and generally seen as very important, and so get more support for Congress and the US public. Or allowing NASA to explore Mercury, Venus, and outer worlds.

    also seems likely.

  16. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Gbaikie,

    I didn’t say anything about “who” should be doing the beachhead. But in fact I think it makes sense to be done as a public-private partnership. Saying that “we’ll let NASA explore the moon the expensive way for a decade, then think about doing a beachhead” really loses a lot of the advantage of doing one early.

    ~Jon

  17. Hop David says:

    In my view transition from a lunar beachhead to useful infra structure would depend on abundance of volatiles. If Spudis’ estimates are correct, there are very rich volatile ice deposits at the poles.

    However the LEND data don’t support Spudis’ optimistic predictions. The first LCROSS results published in the journal Science estimated the ejecta was 5.5% water by mass. A correction published a year later said they over estimated volatile concentrations by a factor of 5.5. If the richest volatile deposits are 1% water by mass, I am not sure lunar propellent mines are worthwhile.

    I’m not saying Spudis is wrong. But I would want some prospector rovers to check out the cold traps before we lay massive bets on this horse.

  18. gbaikie says:

    –David says:
    May 30, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    I know it’s a chicken and egg thing… but I really think that first you need to find a reason for people to want to go. So either something like homesteading, mining, etc…. that will make people want to go.–

    The reason one wants lunar water mining, is to make the Moon a viable destination.
    Once the Moon is viable destination there is lot thing why people want to go to the Moon.
    Now to do lunar water mining the activity must be profitable. One do not mine lunar water to make rocket fuel if it cost more then delivering rocket fuel from earth to Lunar surface.
    So very simply, how much does it cost to deliver 100 tons of rocket fuel from Earth to the Moon. It could be around 30 million dollar per ton- 100 tons is 3 billion.
    So if costs around 3 billion dollar to mine 100 tons of lunar water and make 100 tons of rocket fuel, one is in the ballpark of what one call profitable. If instead it costs
    30 billion per 100 tons lunar rocket fuel, it’s not in realm of what one could call profitable.
    Now the second 100 tons of rocket fuel “should” be cheaper than first 100 tons.
    So if cost 30 billion for first 100 tons and 20 billion for next 100 tons- that is more clearly not anywhere near profitable.
    But if it cost 3 billion for first 100 tons and 2 billion for second 100 tons one is doing fairly well towards being profitable.
    Generally with all businesses it takes a while to become profitable- or one needs capital
    to start a business. And becoming profitable within 2 to 3 years is not unreasonable-
    I believe Amazon is still not profitable- it’s expanding [spending more capital in order to build it’s business- of course even mature business do this to some extent- if they do this they rewarded with tax reduction- because they taxed on profit. The important aspect in regard to Amazon [why it’s worth billions as business] is if you exclude the expansion cost they are making a profit.

    So since one can borrow and the plan is to mine 100 ton first year and reach 400 tons
    by year 4, the “if it cost 3 billion for first 100 tons and 2 billion for second 100 tons” is even more profitable. Or if profitable without expanse costs and one starts with 7 billion to spend over 3 years, our company could be worth 5 to 10 billion within 4 years
    or it’s quite profitable [even insanely profitable]. Main thing is getting the capital- and one has to prove that it’s a good bet that in coming year, one is going to get closer to being debt free- and not just in terms company value vs loan debt.

    Now Moon value is not just about rocket fuel, but rather having rocket fuel available
    at lunar surface allows one cheaper access to the Moon- one is making the Moon a viable destination. And part of Moon being a viable destination is future costs of getting
    to the moon will lower with a short period of a decade.
    So seat cost starts at 250 million and within 10 years, it could be less than 100 million per seat, and in another 10 year, less than 50 million per seat- a round trip, earth surface lunar surface, and returning to earth surface. And the faster this price drops over time, the more value it has at the present time.
    Besides the rocket fuel, the Moon is viable place to harvest solar energy. One can get electrical power from solar panels continously- unlike Earth where is averages 6 hours per 24 hr day. And one more solar energy per hour as compared to any hour of 6 hours one get per day on Earth.
    Or within a couple decade after making lunar rocket fuel, one could be selling about 1
    trillion dollar of solar generated electrical power on the Moon. In order to do this much
    money of power, one needs to doing a lot more than just making rocket fuel.
    The Moon has huge amount of iron which is available- if lunar iron “mining area” were available on Earth, it’s where we mine iron on Earth. And basically entire surface of the Moon is such lunar iron mining area- though of course, one would mine area which are the best regions on the Moon to do this. Though on per lb basis, on the Moon water is more valuable, one could have more need of more tons of iron, than tons of water [which is very different than on Earth- on Earth iron about 50 times more valuable per lb than water]. And if using electrical power to make iron and steel, the cost of that energy could a large fraction of the price of iron or steel [as it is on Earth].
    So rough guess one might have 100 billion of 1 trillion of electrical energy related to making iron/steel. One can also make aluminum on the Moon- the Moon isn’t a great place to mine aluminum ore- or Earth has better mining area as compared to the Moon, nor like on Earth, aluminum has higher value/price. Or lunar aluminum might be priced 10 times more than Lunar iron, where is it about 4 times on Earth.
    One might make more iron on the Moon, but could require more electrical power to make the Lunar aluminum, so + 100 billion of 1 trillion per year.
    Say 100 billion of energy for general transportation, another 100 billion for rocket fuel. Which only account for 400 of the 1000 billion- One assume there is other energy needs, or instead of 1 trillion per year it’s closer to 1/2 trillion per year. But my point is in terms total valuation it’s not only about rocket fuel.
    The big item in terms of future use of the Moon is to provide solar collection in GEO, for Earth use- and this a trillions per year in terms of electrical power- electrical power
    able to be transmitted globally on Earth. And one get this when cost to transport stuff off the Moon is about $1 per lb- which probably will not be using chemical rockets for such low transportation cost- or generally the topic of this post.

  19. gbaikie says:

    –However the LEND data don’t support Spudis’ optimistic predictions. The first LCROSS results published in the journal Science estimated the ejecta was 5.5% water by mass. A correction published a year later said they over estimated volatile concentrations by a factor of 5.5. If the richest volatile deposits are 1% water by mass, I am not sure lunar propellent mines are worthwhile.

    I’m not saying Spudis is wrong. But I would want some prospector rovers to check out the cold traps before we lay massive bets on this horse.–

    I agree and I think investor would tend to imagine it’s of lower concentrations.
    But if it was 1% water by mass this talking about a large area, and one does not need to mine large area. So could have 1% over large region and have 10% within a area of less than 1 square km- and commercial lunar water mining needs less than 1 square km at 10% concentration. Also it matter where on the surface one has a concentration.
    5% in top 10 cm, could be better than 10% concentration, if 10% has less than 1% at top 10 cm of surface. Or in other words, the Moon requires further exploration before
    one can commit billions of dollar to mine the Moon and NASA is suppose to be an agency which should do this type of exploration- or it’s fundamentally why we paying it, tens of billion of dollars over these decades.

  20. gbaikie says:

    “Jonathan Goff says:
    May 30, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    Gbaikie,

    I didn’t say anything about “who” should be doing the beachhead. But in fact I think it makes sense to be done as a public-private partnership. Saying that “we’ll let NASA explore the moon the expensive way for a decade, then think about doing a beachhead” really loses a lot of the advantage of doing one early.”

    Most of the decade is robotic and the developing of operational depot. Or 8 years or less of that and 2 years or less of manned lunar missions. And is occurring during ISS program and need to end the billions of dollars per year on ISS, before end of lunar exploration program or before starting Mars exploration program.

    It should also be noted that other nations space agencies will probably be doing stuff on the Moon [and unlikely be doing much with Mars]. Also Congress might require NASA to do further things on the Moon.
    But I think way get most political support is low cost lunar program and to do this requires a tight focus on things done on the Moon [there is a lot thing NASA could do on the Moon- and see that as problem. Also I can imagine NASA trying not do a through job of exploring the Moon to determine if and where there is minable water [this is my primary worry]. And more distraction and unknowable elements added would seem to dilute a through lunar exploration and make program longer than 10 years.
    But if what you talking about is cheap and can done in robotic phase of lunar program- and even risk delaying the robotic part [and thereby making entire lunar program longer] that might worth considering in terms of the Lunar program.
    Another aspect is, I think you want to start Mars robotic mission before ending Lunar program, because once one gears up to to crewed missions [which are inherently faster than robotic missions] one might want to make Lunar and Mars crewed mission as seamless as possible. And it should noted that robotic lunar and Mars would be seamless- or robotic part starts immediately and goes for decades. Or large portion of Lunar and Mars program in terms monetary cost is the robotic programs. Or one could think a purpose of a Mars Base[s] is as enhancement of the robotic program and be continuum of a robotic program operated by humans which are a couple light seconds away.

  21. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Hop,
    I definitely agree that getting some more ground-truth data on lunar polar volatiles concentration and extractability would be good. I’m not sure what concentration is necessary for the Moon to be an interesting propellant source, but even if it doesn’t have a useful level of extractable water or hydrogen, it might still be a useful destination for oxygen, other raw materials, tourism, and science. That said, if it does have useful concentrations of water, I think everything gets a lot easier. So getting ground truth (preferably significantly more than one lander) prospecting data would be super useful.

    ~Jon

  22. David says:

    I agree there are a number of POTENTIAL reasons to go to the moon, mars, or elsewhere… but they are for the most part still potential benefits. Elon has a plan – we wants to go to Mars and he has figured out a path to get there. A path that he believes can make money at at the same time allow him to reach his ultimate goal. So he has invested his money (and others of course), and time to implement his plan. He sees the end goal.

    For the moon, or elsewhere, we need to find ( or more likely create ) some end goal. NASA did this with COTS – opening the station as a delivery point created a new business model that SpaceX, Orbital, and now Sierra are going after. Evening Boeing, and old school company went after it. The US, or perhaps the UN, could make it legal to own land or lease (for a long time) land on the Moon, or Mars, etc. if you mine it, or otherwise use it’s resources. The government could push to create new markets – and if those markets are viable then companies will compete. Just waiting for something to happen – well, we’ve been doing that.

    Cargo to ISS really makes no economic sense – except to NASA. But it has had a huge impact on the space industry. Likewise, NASA deciding to do a moon base and up front saying all the cargo would be delivered commercially would also have a huge impact. I am not saying that is the specific thing to do… But I am saying that someone needs to get the government to do SOMETHING and in turn create a new market by leveraging the commercial sector.

    This is of course not a new idea. Trains, planes, automobiles… it’s time for the government to invest in infrastructure so we can finally have our space ships.

  23. DougSpace says:

    I think that the most straight-forward way to go is to send a refuelable lunar lander one-way with telerobotic ice-harvesting equipment with the expressed goal of attempting to produce ascent/descent propellant as the first objective. Do this and the amount of payload that a refueled lander could bring down from an EML point would be, I believe, about three times as much per launch meaning the equivalent of reducing launch costs by about two-thirds. The propellant production also means far more than enough water, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen needed by a recycling base. So that reduces the amount needed to be launched yet further. Percent mass independence from Earth could get to something like 80% prior to the arrival of crew. Each refueling and LLO Circuit would also gain a lot of flight experience which means earlier human-rating of the lander for fewer launches. All of this bootstrapping would mean a lower-cost and hence more sustainable approach to lunar development. Lowering costs frees up budgets which could then be directed more towards Mars development. With crew on the lunar surface, more challenging approaches could be developed which would further lower transportation costs. At some point the cost of traveling to the Moon becomes low enough such that lunar retirement could take over as the main economic driver and we’re off to the races.

  24. gbaikie says:

    –For the moon, or elsewhere, we need to find ( or more likely create ) some end goal. NASA did this with COTS – opening the station as a delivery point created a new business model that SpaceX, Orbital, and now Sierra are going after. Evening Boeing, and old school company went after it. The US, or perhaps the UN, could make it legal to own land or lease (for a long time) land on the Moon, or Mars, etc. if you mine it, or otherwise use it’s resources. The government could push to create new markets – and if those markets are viable then companies will compete. Just waiting for something to happen – well, we’ve been doing that.

    Cargo to ISS really makes no economic sense – except to NASA. But it has had a huge impact on the space industry. Likewise, NASA deciding to do a moon base and up front saying all the cargo would be delivered commercially would also have a huge impact.—

    We don’t need a moon base, we need a Mars base. Mars exploration can be commercially supplied at Earth Moon L-1 or L2.
    From L-1/2 one use ion engines or drop down to low perigee [apogee lunar distance] use chemical thrust and get an Oberth effect to get to Mars. Mars orbit will also need to be supplied [to leave Mars back to Earth and from Mars orbit to Mars surface].

  25. Andrew Swallow says:

    Spacestations in LEO and lunar orbit built to supply Moon bases can be used to send SEP tugs to Mars every two years.

  26. gbaikie says:

    –Spacestations in LEO and lunar orbit built to supply Moon bases can be used to send SEP tugs to Mars every two years.–

    We have ISS, it’s yearly budget is about 3 billion.
    I think NASA should develop a Depot [a robotic spacestation which can dock with supply spacecraft, and transfer LOX to another spacecraft which going beyond LEO] at KSC inclination, 28 degrees, rather than 51 degrees of ISS. Spacecraft which use depot can be lunar robotic missions to the Moon and after some robotic lunar exploration, this can follows with crew mission going to the lunar surface.
    Once NASA has developed operational status of LEO depot, the private sector could develop depots for their use of delivering rocket fuel and other supplies in other locations- such as high Earth orbits, lunar orbits, Mars orbits.
    Depots can seen as way of commercial resupply for NASA’s lunar and Mars exploration programs. In which NASA simply buys the rocket fuel [and other supplies] it needs to do it’s exploration.
    Meaning NASA doesn’t develop, and operate the depots beyond it’s first LEO depot, rather it buys delivered supplies at the time and place it needs them.
    So NASA by developing and operating a depot in LEO is establishing how future commercial resupply can provide the supplies for all NASA missions.

    Were NASA to build a lunar base, it would first need to explore the Moon to find where it wants to put to lunar base. I would suggest NASA explore the Moon to find possible sites where lunar water can be mine. And if the data indicates that some site can be commercially mined, then commercial investment of doing this can occur.
    And once one has commerical lunar water mining, near such operations one be put lunar bases- so can easily buy any water and rocket fuel they need to run the base.

    But what want NASA to do is explore the Moon for minable water, and then let the private sector determine if it’s viable to mine such discover locations of minable lunar water, but that NASA would not wait for such decisions to made, instead NASA explores Mars.
    Or the purpose of lunar water mining is not intended to provide lunar rocket fuel for NASA exploration of Mars [it could work out so it does]. Or NASA going to get it’s needed supplies for Mars exploration delivered from Earth, if Lunar water mining supply rocket fuel, it will do it at about same price as can done if delivered from Earth.
    Or lunar water mining will be competitive with earth resupply, or earth resupply will establish the price, and lunar mining will compete with such prices.
    The purpose of Lunar water mining is to lower the cost of going to the Moon, and a reason lunar water mining supplies NASA Mars exploration is to expand it’s market [by competing with earth re-supply].
    So what NASA Mars exploration mostly gets is possible addition of more competitive
    of resupply by adding in future possible source of stuff delivered from the Moon. And it’s only thru competition, that would gets lower prices and better services.
    Of course earth resupply if one has commercial lunar water mining , is increasing services by having customers on Moon and Mars which need stuff from Earth.
    So if NASA exploring Mars and commercial lunar water mining, one is going to increase earth launch rates, and thereby lowering the price of Earth launch. So rather than lunar water mining lowering Mars exploration cost, more earth launches will lower Mars exploration costs.
    And main thing lunar water mining will do, is lower cost of Mars settlements after NASA has explored Mars. And of course NASA exploring Mars to find resources usable
    by commercial Mars settlements will also lower cost of Mars settlements.

    And a primary purpose of NASA exploring the Moon is political, because NASA is proving the space development can be profitable/viable, therefore something Congress should fund. And if lunar exploration is limited and thereby cheap, Congress is more likely to fund lunar exploration program and the subsequent Mars exploration program.

  27. Andrew Swallow says:

    -We have ISS, it’s yearly budget is about 3 billion.-

    The ISS is a microgravity research station rather than a gateway spacestation. Since the bang of berthing upsets the experiments and the ISS is approaching the end of its life new spacestations will be needed.

    The gateway spacestations with require:
    lots of docking ports with navigation aids,
    the ability to pump fluids between the ports,
    the ability to transfer electrical power between the ports,
    the ability to transfer pressurized cargo between the ports,
    the ability to supply each visiting vehicle with say 3kW of electrical power,
    the ability to station keep,
    the ability to refuel and take on consumables for itself and crew,
    a place for the crew to live and work including the control room
    and arms able to transfer unpressurized cargo between visiting vehicles.

    To get the operating cost down the gateways will have to be maintainable by a single person (95% level) and have a Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) of at least a month. One month is 24 * 31 = 744 hours. Consequently the components will have to have a MTBF of say 100 * 744 = 74,400 hours.

  28. Hop David says:

    David writes “Elon has a plan – we wants to go to Mars and he has figured out a path to get there. ”

    I wouldn’t bet on SpaceX achieving the MCTs Musk hopes for. But I do agree having goal is important. (How are we going to achieve a goal if we don’t even have a goal?).

    The goal we should strive for is reducing the cost of space.

    Musk is working on a reusable booster. Bezos is also working on a reusable rocket that might be used as a booster down the line. I’d love to see my taxpayer money invested in both Blue Origin and SpaceX.

    A huge step in cutting cost of space will be successful ISRU. There are many companies striving to get a foothold on exploiting space resources. Should space efforts succeed at achieving ROI, humanities expansion into space will occur as a matter of course.

    Instead of repeating Apollo and building huge disposable rockets, I’d rather see NASA fund folks attempting to change the paradigm:

    SpaceX
    Blue Origin
    Astrobiotics
    Planetary Resources
    Deep Space Industries
    Altius Space Machines
    Liftport
    Tethers Unlimited
    Asteroid Initiatives
    and so on.

    A small handful of large entities isn’t the best way to develop new approaches. Smaller players can be more nimble and creative. Diverse corporate cultures are more likely to come up with game changing innovations.

    Instead of Apollo 2.0, I’d rather see Silicon Valley 2.0.

  29. gbaikie says:

    “Instead of Apollo 2.0, I’d rather see Silicon Valley 2.0.”

    Well, I suggest Apollo 2.0, sort of.
    Apollo was a stunt. It’s main value was beating an evil imperial power, called
    the Soviet Union. It was PR for the cold war- and it was inexpensive with a lot
    a bang for the buck. There were another things which were bought with Apollo-
    one of them was some exploration of the Moon. So the Apollo 2.0 would not be
    PR, but instead it would be some more exploration of the Moon.
    The purpose of the lunar exploration would be to determine if a new market in space
    could be started which involved lunar water mining and rocket fuel production.
    So explore the moon to see if the Moon could part of a market for rocket fuel in space.
    BUT NASA could start a market for rocket fuel in space without even including the Moon being place to make rocket fuel.
    So NASA does two things, starts a market for rocket fuel in space by developing the use of depots in space, and uses the depots to explore the Moon- to determine if there is minable lunar water at lunar poles and after this uses depots to explore Mars.
    The purpose of exploring Mars would related determining the viability of having human settlements on Mars. To do this NASA needs to make rocket fuel on Mars surface in order to return the exploration crews back to Earth. There number possible ways of doing this, one can include Robert Zubrin idea of bringing feedstock of H2 and using to to make rocket fuel from Mars atmosphere. And of course one also get Martian water and split it into rocket fuel, and other types of ideas.
    Another aspect about it, is one could delay crew return to Earth- sort of One Way Mars, but mainly it’s about lessen the need to make large amounts rocket fuel near the beginning part of crewed Mars exploration.
    So one send say 3 crew and keep 3 crew there for 4+ years, and add 3 more crew two year after first crew arriving. And basically after 4 years on Mars start working making return fuel, so at or before the 3rd crew of 3 arrive, 3 or 6 crew would leave Mars to return to Earth. Instead of something 30 days after landing, the crew must return to Earth. But with longer stay, one probably would have a emergency abort option so that if crew had to return to earth, they could. So that would be landing fuel from Earth, rater than making return fuel on Mars [though landed fuel could be the feed-stock H2 and making rocket fuel from Mars atmosphere].
    So immediate purpose of Mars exploration is getting to point of making return rocket fuel for crew- so that one return crew every two years [every/any available return launch window]. But longer term purpose is exploration of Mars to find usable resource which could used for human settlement. So things like underground caves, sites that one drill for water- which are large quantities of ground water are available.
    Looking glacier of frozen water which could mined.
    Of course another thing early Mars explorer would be doing is establishing a launch pad and landing zones, and for settlers have will need cheap ways of safely landing supplies. Studying what causes global duststorms and being able to predict or prevent them would also be something NASA Mars exploration could focus on.

  30. Pingback: The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Lunar Transportation Schemes: Part 4–Propellantless Horizontal Soft-Landing Methods | Selenian Boondocks

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