The more I think about the Lunar One-Way-to-Stay concept, the more intriguing it is. Fundamentally, it’s one of the only ways with existing transportation systems to get the cost of early lunar experimentation anywhere near low-enough to be useful and interesting. Ultimately, for thriving two-way cislunar commerce, you need tugs, and depots, and high-flightrate RLVs. But this approach might allow you to work the problem from both ends.
As far as implementing this idea, the technology isn’t the hard part. Technologically, this is something that could’ve been done in the 70s. Modern technology and modern launch services make it a whole lot easier and more feasible, but the technology isn’t the key obstacle. Money is and always has been the biggest obstacle. But I think I have an idea, and it’s just crazy enough that I want to share it.
Any business plan whose first step is “first we convince a billionaire to give us lots of money” usually deserves to be laughed off the stage. But this isn’t a business plan competition entry, or some pitch before VCs that I’m demanding to be taken seriously, so I’m going to suggest just that. Even with a wealthy philantrocapitalist, I think you’d still want a concept that both gives you a reasonable chance of making the money back if things go well as well as minimizing your losses if it doesn’t work out.
Anyhow, this is a bit of a long-shot, and definitely not fully-baked, but here’s what I have so far. The business case revolves around a few core concepts:
- A privately developed simple lander and an ITAR approved method for launching it on both US and domestic launchers.
- Using barter with various space agencies with domestic medium-lift vehicles to provide both the startup launches and the sustaining launches
- Making revenue off of selling remaining space to corporations, research institutions, and smaller countries that are interested in lunar experiments, but lack indigenous launch capabilities
- Possibly offsetting initial lander development by selling rover delivery services to NASA or other large space agencies.
Some of these sound a bit crazy, so why don’t I explain them in turn.
The key technology piece in the project is obviously the lander. As discussed before, I’m thinking of something in the 10-20klb IMLEO range, with a payload in the 4-6klb range. The propellant combination for the lander doesn’t hugely matter. It could use storables like Martijn likes, it could use space storables like LOX/Methane or LOX/Propane. Heck, it could even use LOX/LH2. While the state of the VTVL industry isn’t quite mature enough where you could just order one of these custom and have it delivered to your launch pad 6 months ARO, a lander in these capability ranges isn’t a huge stretch for the commercial space industry, especially if they can partner wisely with some of the more traditional space companies or work with NASA via Space Acts. DC-X was actually a much bigger, probably more complicated system, and was done by a traditional aerospace company for around $100M in current dollars. A bare-bones lander, developed leveraging the emerging capabilities in the entrepreneurial community could probably be fielded for less than that. Possibly in the $50M range. You don’t need to push too hard on mass fractions or engine performance (you need to push a bit, but it isn’t as weight critical as some of the Apollo LM systems), and the technology is a lot more mature than it was in the 60s.
An important part of this process is not just developing the lander, but also working from the start with ITAR to make sure a process is in place that will allow you to launch on as many international launch vehicles as is feasible. This may not be fun, but is probably doable with appropriate precautions.
Most space agencies prefer to spend money within their own borders, and interact with other agencies on a barter basis as much as possible. While this can sometimes lead to suboptimal solutions, it might just work in this situation. On the launch side, the barter would go something like this–the private entity would provide a lander, all lander ops, and physical launch integration work, and the space agency (NASA, ESA, RSA, JAXA, ISRO, or CNSA) would provide the lifter and upper stage for the mission. The launching country would get a certain share of the lander’s cargo space for their own experiments, a certain portion would be reserved for consumables and spare parts, and the remainder would be owned by the private entity to resell to other countries without launch capabilities (say a 40/40/20 split). In addition to transportation of the space hardware, the launching country would also get a share of the astronaut’s time on the surface. So basically you’re providing them with transportation and manned experimentation on the lunar surface in exchange for them providing a launch done by their own people. If one of the countries is willing to take some additional risks, they could even “buy” one of the two initial astronaut slots, in exchange say for a commitment to a certain higher share of the logistics launches per year. In exchange they’d get both the prestige of having one of the initial lunar crew, as well as a higher share in the available time. Over time, as the risk decreases, the initial crew could also be expanded (once again on barter terms that would have the agency in question shouldering a larger share of the required launches).
It should be mentioned how crazy of a bargain this really is for them in comparison to the typical lunar mission approach. Look at Constellation. It will be a lot more capable, but ultimately, somewhere around $10B/yr (and about $150B up-front), you get 4-person years/yr (2x 4-man crew rotations) and about 75klb of cargo (2x 17mT landings) on the moon once you have a base setup. Calling it a 60/40 split on costs (for manned vs cargo flights), that comes out to $1.5B per person-year, and about $53k/lb on the lunar surface–ignoring development costs. With a program like this, say you gave a country 1/4 of a man-year per launch, and about 1800lb, at a cost to them of call it a $200M launcher plus extra upper stage for the transfer. Splitting that $200M the same way (60/40), that gives you $480M per person year, and about $45k/lb on the surface. You don’t save a huge amount per pound of cargo on the surface, but your cost per person hour is about 1/4 as much (which is once again not too surprising–you’re not rotating crews, and not having to carry enough propellant to get them home–which takes about 4x as much mass per mission compared to a one-way manned landing). And you don’t have to spend tens of billions up-front, and you can buy your lunar program “by-the-slice”. Paying for an extra launch every year (and some lunar systems costs) is well within the budget capabilities of many of these agencies. While they might not be willing to take the risk of flying their own astronauts, or of “owning” the program, they are a lot more likely to be interested in a program like this, where someone else is shouldering the key risks, and they’re just getting a cheap deal. Even if they have their own lunar ambitions down the road, using a service like this would allow them to drastically reduce their technological risk moving forward, and might allow them to get a lot more benefit out of their investment when they eventually get that capability themselves.
One of the key markets Bigelow is looking at for his inflatable space habitats is providing smaller countries with a way to participate in space for much cheaper than trying to do everything in-house themselves. By lowering the cost to participate, it makes it a lot more feasible for smaller countries, and even some corporations or research institutions to participate. This may be a country like South Korea wanting to send a rover that can get maintained by the astronauts over time. It may be a country wanting to do its own sample return mission–with the ability to have a human on the ground helping to presort/preprocess samples to maximize the bang for the buck. It could be a company like Catepillar that wants to get involved in lunar surface systems for future exploration programs sending a bunch of bearing concepts to test exposed to the lunar environment. It could be some small startup that has a crazy idea for lunar dust mitigation that it wants to try selling to future government programs, but needs testing and debugging first. There are many possibilities. The key here is that since the launch is already paid for, the private entity running all this can price the payloads however makes the most sense. You do need to cover lander costs, ground-ops costs, and the time of the scientists, but it might be possible to offer these slots at a price that is lower than they could buy commercially to try and stimulate demand, or if there is enough demand already you could price it high enough to make a decent profit. If there’s enough demand, you might even be able to justify paying for an additional “purely commercial” flight or two per year. You would want to save up some of the money to cover contingencies–like if something breaks down and you have to fly an emergency resupply flight on short notice, or if you decide for one reason or another to throw-in-the-towel after a few years, you can send enough propellant to get the settlers home. But depending on the interest level, this could easily be a business that has revenues in the low hundreds of millions per year.
Minimizing the Initial Risk
One additional market for the lander, and one that could allow the initial investment to be recovered a lot faster, would be to see if you could sell it to one of the space agencies for landing a rover or some other scientific package. The key here is that the lander is getting developed, on the philantrocapitalist’s own dime regardless of if he can presell any lander slots. This makes it easier to sell it as a commercially available service instead of a government funded development program. Using a light Atlas vehicle for instance (maybe with one or two strapons) you could probably short-load the vehicle enough to put a couple hundred pounds of useable payload onto the lunar surface. For a bundled price of say $200-250M for the launcher and lander, it would still be a steal transportation-wise for your customer, but could possibly pay off the initial costs of the project in one shot, even before the initial landings. The good news is that while its great if you can presell the landers for other applications, it isn’t the end of the world if you can’t.
One other way of minimizing the downside may be to see if you can prearrange the initial several launches. If you can line up enough international partners, it may be possible to get the initial setup done without having to actually buy any of the launches yourself. You’d still have to pay for the landers, but this way your total capital at risk for the startup is only the cost of 3-4 landers.
Anyhow, comments? thoughts? attempts to send nice young men in their clean white jackets to cart a certain space blogger away?
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So with this new perspective (tell me, been drinking today? I kid, I kid!) has your opinion of GLXP changed at all? I stand by my declaration of last year, or the year before, I forget, that the prize pool is entirely too small for the challenge, but many of the competitors don’t seem to care because they are already finding funding sources willing to pay for slots on their landers.. and the demand seems to be there for more landers after the first winning ones. I just hope it doesn’t turn out like the Ansari X-Prize..
Simplify the lander so ITAR is not involved, avoiding bureacratic overhead. ITAR-ability can be added in lander V2.0.
Approach the horse traders one at a time; see if they bite. Rather than approaching all the “partners” at once.
My opinion on GLXP has changed a little bit based on some recent information I didn’t know about (and haven’t taken the time to verify yet). Basically I was told that they modified the rules so that the deadline is now 2015 or whenever NASA puts a rover on the moon. That gives enough time that I think someone can win it. Whether you can find a lot of markets with the size of lander you would have to do to be able to afford launch costs for the prize is still an open question. The landers I’m talking about here, while not needing to be a lot more sophisticated, would be a lot bigger. The trick is that you aren’t having to foot the launch costs for each of them before you can make money.
How do you “simplify” a lander so that ITAR isn’t a concern while still allowing it to be launched on a foreign launcher. It’s the act of taking it to a foreign country to have it launched that makes you have to face ITAR head-on. If you don’t, you get stuck with only using US boosters, which means you’d only be able to get NASA as a potential customer, making the necessary commitment from them a lot higher.
No, if you don’t work out the ITAR angle, from the start, I think at least this business concept implodes.
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Need help writing a business plan? In all seriousness, this is an appealing idea that is worth taking to the next level. If ITAR is as big a roadblock as you think it might be, I would draw up two plans: one assuming access to American technology, and another that substitutes foreign suppliers. Then I would take the plan to the top ten richest space heads on the planet (Sir Richard Branson, Paul Allen, etc) and make my pitch. You’re so well respected that this crowd knows that if you say you can make it happen, you will. Besides, for some of these guys it would be the perfect crescendo to a storied life to be the thirteenth man to walk on the Moon.
Heck, if your dog and pony show is compelling enough, you might leave the room with a check. Also, this crowd is tied in enough that I’m sure they could find a Senator to attach an ITAR exception to some military funding bill or something.
Hm… I’m still thinking it would be best to create an unmanned bare-bones commercial lander first and sell cargo/experiment space on that, and then use the money from that to launch another copy of the lander with a person on it.
How do you keep your crew alive over a lunar night?
How do you keep your crew alive at all I think your grossly underestimating the payload needed to keep a man alive on the lunar surface for years….
Regarding how to survive lunar night, while there has been a lot of suggestions on how to do this (such as nuclear power or regenerative fuel cells), I think the best approach may be to punt on the question, and start at one of the poles. Even if there aren’t areas of 100% continual sunlight, IIRC there are areas that at least have much shorter night periods than elsewhere on the moon, plus the thermal cycles are smaller in those regions.
Your second question makes me think there may be a bit of a misunderstanding about what I am proposing. I’m not at all suggesting that the 3-4 initial flights would provide everything needed for a multi-year stay. Especially with life support systems, habitation room, ISRU tools to try out, etc. Those first prelaunched systems are likely only going to be enough supplies and materials to dig-in, figure out which of our assumptions are most broken, and hang in there for the next delivery. There definitely will need to be a steady stream of fresh consumables, replacement parts, repair components, upgrades, new tools, and other raw materials. I haven’t tried to go into detailed numbers yet because I wanted to get the basic concept out–but I have looked at them in the past. How feasible this concept is will depend a lot both on a) how well certain life support loops can be closed, and b) how many launches you can barter for in a given year. If the water and air loops can be mostly closed, and you can sign up 3-6 flights per year from space agencies, then I think you’ll probably be in good shape. If the life support can’t be made to work reasonably close to closed loop, and/or you can’t get enough interest, then you would need to look at other business models. I can probably go into some more of the numbers in a future thread, especially if the old ASI.org database is still up–I haven’t checked in a few years.
That might be a possibility, but the problem there is that it’s not at all clear if there’s much demand for unmanned scientific landers, or that work on small scientific landers would really prepare you any better for building man-carrying landers (really the people are probably going to be pretty similar to generic pressurized cargo for a system like this). It’s worth trying to sell the lander initially for unmanned stuff while you’re trying to build up enough commitments from various launch companies/countries to be able to start the mission. But I’m not sure if the bootsrapping approach in this case really gets you very much.
Interesting ideas. Please keep up the good work. The cost of transporting anything to the moon are still pretty high, but this proposal could open the market to a lot more players. It certainly doesn’t look like space can be settled by one big government program.
Good start, but I would start one step lower. A basic lander capable of placing a 100-250 lbs payload on the lunar surface cheaply offers huge possibilities for lunar rovers. As you know the problem with lunar rovers is not their design, several models already exit, but a cheap way to get them to the lunar surface.
Basically I envision a simple “mass” produced lander designed just to deliver rovers to the Moon.
Actually this would also be a logical extension of the NASA Lunar Lander challenge.
Using this as step one has many advantages. Test and developing systems before humans ride them. Surveying base sites before you commit humans. Working the ITAR issues etc. Its also something that wouldn’t require a billionaire, just multi-millionaire. You might even set up a foundation to fund missions for it and get donors.
Just a thought.
When do the intrepid researchers return home? And how?
I discussed this in my previous article. Basically there are three options for how they get back:
1-They don’t come back. If things go well enough, they end up becoming permanent emigrees. If things go well, they’ll probably be joined by others (including some temporary visitors), and an actual settlement (or multiple settlements) get founded. They could choose at that point to go home, or to stay on. Most people who went to the new world never went home. Think intrepid colonists/pioneers, not intrepid explorers/researchers.
2-They wait until an affordable 2-way transportation network is established and come home on that. This may take a while, but not necessarily that long if you already have a lander, you only need a crew-transfer vehicle and maybe a depot to make that work.
3-In an emergency, or if it looks like it just isn’t sustainable, you could land enough propellant to make it home in 2-3 landings. It would cost a bit of money to do so (the better part of $1B I would think), but it is an option on the table.
So while I’m calling it one-way-to-stay, that’s a bit of a misnomer. Unlike Mars, you really can get back home if things go badly enough, even if no new hardware is developed. You’re just not going with all the goods to return home from the start. There’s an extra level of risk from that, for sure, but it’s not necessarily an impossible level of risk for a private endeavor.
Jonathan Goff wrote “3-In an emergency, or if it looks like it just isnâ€™t sustainable, you could land enough propellant to make it home in 2-3 landings. It would cost a bit of money to do so (the better part of $1B I would think), but it is an option on the table.”
For this you need a lander whose engines can restart and whose propellant does not boil off. The take off propellant can be landed before the people arrive.
A Falcon 1e will be able to carry 1 metric ton to LEO, Falcon 9 nearly 10 tonnes, Taurus II about 5 tonnes and Atlas V family around 20 tonnes. A way to find out if there is a market is to produce a drawing of an appropriate lander with a price estimate and see if anyone bites.
If a space station is built at EML-1 or EML-2 then a space tug with restartable engine(s) to carry cargo from LEO to the spacestation will be needed. This is a one way delta-v of 3.77 or 3.43 plus docking. There may be propellant depots at both ends. SEP tugs are very slow in low LEO due to air resistance so their may be an opening for a chemical thruster tug.
For this you need a lander whose engines can restart and whose propellant does not boil off. The take off propellant can be landed before the people arrive.
I’ve been thinking a bit about how to answer this. On the technical side, of course you could preland the propellant. It doesn’t even have to be “storable” per se, depending on the details. For instance, if you have a regenerative fuel cell system setup, then you probably have dewars and cryocoolers capable of preventing boiloff for LOX/LH2. Prelanding propellant isn’t that hard…
…but ultimately, what are you trying to accomplish. These aren’t just visitors, or explorers there for a short expedition. These are pioneers, settlers, colonists. Their ultimate goal is to find a way to make it so they don’t need to go home. Prelanding the return propellant and a return lander, and everything you would need for that might be better spent on providing them with extra provisions, backup lifesupport systems and tools, etc.
Henry Spencer has pointed out that there are times of the year where it’s almost impossible to get someone back from Antarctica for several months. I think I remember hearing a story about a female doctor who ended up getting appendicitis or something like that. Evacuation wasn’t an option, so she had to operate on herself. If it’s ok for people to willingly take those sorts of risks onto themselves for science missions to antarctica, why not for the Moon? Sure, the Moon is probably at least an order of magnitude (or two) more dangerous than the South Pole. But really, how many failure modes are there where you’ll definitely lose the crew if you don’t evacuate, but somehow they’ll be fine spending several days or even weeks trying to come back to earth?
I know that’s controversial, but I’m still not convinced that making it easy to abandon the base actually buys you as much as everyone seems to think it does.
If I understand you correctly, you are advocating:
1. Multiple space agencies pay initial and ongoing launch costs
2. Billionaire fund new company for landers, habitats, astronauts, ground stations development and operations costs
3. Markets for experiments, astronauts (that donâ€™t mind going one way) from multiple nations and corporations.
Your idea makes me ask:
1. How do we handle the radiation risks to settlers with their stays on the lunar surface being measured in years and not weeks or months: http://commercialspacegateway.com/item/27803-spacefaring-our-real-prospects-for-homesteading
2. You discuss lander costs, but I donâ€™t see much discussion about the development and launch costs of outposts, rovers, and other costs associated with life on the surface. I agree that launch of these items could be done by participating space agencies. But there development surely won’t fit under your $100M start-up costs.
3. Bigelow recently spoke of concepts of dropping fully constructed lunar habitats on the lunar surface. http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/private-space-stations-bigelow-100120.html
4. Donâ€™t underestimate media revenue. Live streaming video and documentaries, naming rights to the habitats and rovers, etc. Exploration missions into lava caves and never-been seen before locations should bring top dollar. GLXP is obsessed over media rights â€“ for good reason!
5. I agree completely on the pre-selling of services to help pay for development. Elon has done this (cash flow positive after only a few flights due to pre-selling). Pre-selling is especially essential if your billionaire is only willing to put up a token of the start-up costs.
6. What terrestrial applications are there for landers or habitats or their components? Terrestial revenue streams makes this way easier!
And I echo Jim Gagnonâ€™s offer (comment #6) for assistance in developing the business plan further. How can I help?
Quick replies to some of your questions:
1-The most commonly suggested solution for radiation on the moon is digging in–bury the habitats, and try as much as possible to do your work below ground. That said, there is going to be increased risk from radiation. There might be other options as time goes on and our understanding and mitigation techniques get better.
2-A lot of that depends. Some of that could possibly be provided by the international partners, though some would likely have to be developed in-house. Honestly, I don’t have all the details. It’s quite possible that you’d have to do it all in-house, and that that would drive the costs to an unworkable point. Needs more work.
3-Yeah, I saw some pictures of that concept back when I got a tour of his facilities (I think that was in ’04 or ’05). It’s interesting, but would cost a fortune. You’d be talking about landing well over 100klb of material on the moon. At least his current concept didn’t seem to include cryo depots, so you’d be shipping a lot of that using storable propulsion…several billion at least in launch costs. Might make sense down the road when there are depots, cheaper cost access to space, etc…but even then, landing it all in one chunk is probably not the right approach.
4-Media revenue could offset some of the costs, and especially if you’re getting most of your launch costs paid for via barter, it might be a good way of offsetting some of the other costs. Unlike the Artemis Society, you’re not needing to cover $1B with media rights, in fact, even if you only got $50M or so it would pay for a lot of extra hardware development.
6-Not sure there is much. The landers at least could be based on VTVL suborbital vehicle technology. Some of the parts would be rearranged differently, and you’d have some subsystems on a lander you wouldn’t need for a VTVL vehicle, but there’s probably enough overlap to get some help there. As for the habitats and other systems…I’m really not sure how much overlap there is.
I’m semi-ambivalent about sinking a bunch of time into refining a business plan for something like this. It’s pretty clear that you probably can’t bootstrap your way to making this work without someone providing a very large chunk of cash up front. I’m not sure how much a typical business plan is going to do when you need someone to sink $50-100M into it.
I believe that Arctic and Antarctic bases cycle their people every few months. There are villages where people stay and bring up children, a Moon village would need the sort of support that those villages get.
A single early return ascent stage may be adequate. As to whether the fuel needs to be on the Moon or could be in orbit is an interesting question.
If the village’s job is mining liquid oxygen or a propellant like magnesium then regular cargo liftoffs will be needed. A village that does not trade will have to be self financed.
Antarctica: the winter crew stays for months and it’s almost impossible to get supplies, nevermind send people away. The bases have doctors. Also communications only intermittently.
My point is, just make the lander and launch it domestically. This would suggest that the international customers come here for their launches. It also presupposes commercial abilities here, which I think we’re on the verge of achieving. Are these two things bigger roadblocks than ITAR? How so?
For the thought experiment, let’s suppose that particular question has been answered for the moment. So then, about the biz plan. Who is first to the plate? The billionaire angel, the small countries, the consortium of business entities? The first will have control issues, the second pride and barter issues, and the third profit issues.
I like your idea in principle, that short loading the first vehicle could product income on the first flight. The two obstacles here are your suppostition of a $250M first flight, and your lack of supposition of what 100kG payload could possibly be worth that price. Pre-arranging launches seems only feasible only after the first launch in any optimistic case. I think that at least the first four launches will have to be paid for with cash, about $1B, then. The developmental costs, which will not be constrained by artificially induced political processes, will still be substantial. I think you should write, in pencil, on the envelope, $6B for this.
Maybe you could throw in a few more cost numbers, because it seems like developmental costs are under-represented.
I agree about a polar landing. Accept that you can’t close the life support loops, and work to minimize the launched mass necessary to plug these leaks. If you get to a point where all you have to launch is water, that would be pretty good, I think. Over time, the loops will be closed by empirical experimentation on site, and in conjunction with Earth experts.
In any case, the initial landings should certainly provide abort to ISS capabilities, so I think that possibility needs to be covered in the original scheme. What if the original participants want to come home? The contractural language that forces them to stay will be interesting to read, because the longevity of their stay, with no escape possible, may induce destructive behavior and cause the mission to fail. There should be an escape mechanism designed such that the mission can continue if the post is temporarily abandoned. This then means that there are additional developmental costs in the backup crew. Further, there are differing psychologies of “following orders” in the military and civilian personell markets that need to be addressed.
I believe that if the biz plan includes appropriately scaled depots that it may be more feasible.
My point is, just make the lander and launch it domestically. This would suggest that the international customers come here for their launches. It also presupposes commercial abilities here, which I think weâ€™re on the verge of achieving. Are these two things bigger roadblocks than ITAR? How so?
I’m not disagreeing with us having commercial launch capabilities here in the US–we already have them. I just don’t think you’re going to get major international partners to pay for a flight on someone else’s booster if they have their own that can do the job. Remember, the value proposition here is that not only do they get a way to deliver payloads to the Moon and get some surface time without having to do the up front development cost. They not only get that, but they also get the benefit that all of *their costs* are spent in their own country employing their own people, and increasing the flight rate of their own launchers. Not to mention that the cost to foreign governments of their own launchers are probably going to be cheaper than even SpaceX launches in many cases. Governments just don’t like buying flights from someone else if they have a domestic service available.
Not to mention, if they’re paying money to a foreign launch company (a US one in this case) for the launch, I doubt they’d be willing to let you sell the remaining space on the launch. Fundamentally, this concept probably only works if the foreign companies can barter their launch in exchange for the services you’re providing.
Trying to get foreign governments to buy launches on American boosters on a recurring basis like that is probably a much bigger roadblock than just working through ITAR. Remember, people work through ITAR all the time. It’s annoying, but especially when it’s something that isn’t explicitly a weapon, getting approvals is just lawyer work.
I’ll accept that explanation for the moment, that ITAR isn’t as big a bureaucratic problem as I thought. Today, the “other launchers” are really only Europe and Japan, correct? India isn’t quite ready to accept customers, and China may present additional ITAR issues of it’s own, eh? I mean, like CHITAR. I mention this point of clarification becasue “if they have their own [booster] that can do the job” is an externality towards the thrust of your idea. It’s outside of your control, in other words.
What’s your take on the several other issues I mentioned?
I think the key takeaway, and the part I really like, is that this plan gets people there and then starts getting data about what works and what doesn’t. A lot of discussion in these comments is still getting stuck on the details, and missing the really good essence of the plan:
Have quick version 1.0, and iterate from there. Get feedback, get results, get data from which to improve it. I think that’s the biggest and most important selling point. If we stop trying to over-engineer the idea and just think about what is the simplest and fastest functional landing that meets user needs (users are the ones paying, rather than the ones landing), then you start getting useful information about how to live on the moon, which we sorely lack. Forget all the other details, about how many people or how long the stay is, and just wrap our heads around the design philosophy of “iterate fast and early,” I think you’ve got the key to *discovering* the best results. That’s opposed to engineering what you think are the best results and discovering that you made an awesome moon base and then discovering it doesn’t actually do what you need.
Another way to approach it would be to approach science missions with free use of your lander. These type missions have the budget for the launcher, but have to develop their own landing stage. So you develop the landing stage and let them use it for free (it just happens to have more capacity than they want, which they agree to let you use). They provide the launch vehicle (mission rules include the money for the launch vehicles usually). You save them the money they would have had to spend on the lander and they can use that on their science mission. Maybe you could barter them buying some extra performance on the launcher for your astronauts time. Then you only really have to barter with one person, the science mission PI. Several of the recent NASA calls for proposals have been for lunar missions.