More Lunar One-Way-To-Stay (For-a-While) Thoughts

I’ve had a few more ideas on the Lunar One-Way-To-Stay concept that I figured it would be worth posting now before I forget them.  I still think this is pretty much the only way that there will be a human foot on the Moon this decade.  More importantly, this is the only cost-effective way short of an architecture using both cryogenic depots and RLVs of doing the actual development on the Moon that would be necessary to lay the groundwork for affordable settlement and economic development.

Horse-Trading on Even Earlier Markets
A good point that was made on the same day by Wes Johnson in comments, and my boss Dave on the carpool down to Mojave, was that the “horse-trading” trick at the center of the business concept I gave could work even before manned landings. One of the big challenges with any lunar surface robotic exploration is the lack of a suitable lander. The big up-front development cost of a lander (especially one done the traditional way, without leveraging the capabilities of us VTVL developers) usually makes it harder to get these projects funded. If you could do a deal where the PI for a proposal only had to come up with the launch costs plus the marginal cost of the science payload such as rover(s), ISRU technique demonstrators etc., it might make it easier to close their proposal. More importantly, as Wes pointed out, PI’s on science missions have a lot more leeway on negotiating details of how to get the payload to the destination. You’d give them the same deal as the others–in exchange for covering the launch cost, you give them free delivery to the lunar surface, and get to sell the other half of the payload.

Robotic Precursor Missions
An interesting development in the NASA budget proposal that has gotten almost no real discussion in the blogosphere, was the funding for a series of robotic lander missions on the Moon and possibly other destinations. These could be a very interesting potential market for the initial lander work. I could imagine the private entity trying to build up to the manned one-way missions could set up a Space Act agreement with some of the groups at NASA to facilitate sharing of information on lander systems, then possibly using a combination of more traditional aerospace and newere entrepreneurial space entities (“OldSpace” entities since they tend to have a wider range of specialized knowledge, and “NewSpace” entities since they tend to have ways to flight test hardware cheaper, and to do cheaper rapid prototyping), could develop the lander in support of these missions. The money for the lander development could be mostly made back by selling the remaining hardware space to one or more up-and coming space countries that wants to get a leg-up on their competition (say either India, China, Japan, or South Korea). Groups that aren’t actively planning lunar landers in the near-term, or which might be a bit behind their competitor might be the most natural targets. Imagine South Korea being able to beat Japan to the lunar surface by partnering with a private space company? Or India beating China. South Korea has already demonstrated its interest and willingness to partner with commercial space companies to get a leg-up in regional technical rivalries. Just food for thought.

Also, this might tie into stuff like Project M, a youtube of which has been floating around the intertubes for a week or so. JSC has been working in the background on trying to put together a plan to do a quick robotic lunar lander, “within 1000 days of go-ahead”. If they don’t get the money to do such a project entirely themselves as-planned, teaming with a private entity might still allow them to pull such a feat off.

Lunar Surface Systems
After thinking this over and talking with some of the commenters, I think this is one area that I was being overly optimistic on. There is going to be a fair deal of expense for lunar rovers, life support systems, habitats, ISRU experiments (including stuff like systems to try out regolith fusing), power sources, etc. Some of these could be supplied as “demo units” by companies interested in selling future versions to other private or public expeditions, some could be supplied by governments wanting to pretest systems before sending their own people, but ultimately some of these systems would likely need to be developed by the private developer running the project. The good news is that if you can get initial revenue from selling some robotic flights on the lander, it might be possible to raise enough money to invest in the lunar surface systems.

Anyhow, just some thoughts. I just think it would be ironic if due to the lunar precursor lander funding, Obama’s “Evil Exploration Eradicating NASA Budget Proposal” somehow enabled the US to beat the rest of the world back to the Moon and ultimately cemented its lead in lunar exploration. All without having to blow tens of billions on new launchers.

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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.
Jonathan Goff

About Jonathan Goff

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.
This entry was posted in Lunar Commerce, Lunar Exploration and Development, NASA. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to More Lunar One-Way-To-Stay (For-a-While) Thoughts

  1. Hey Jon, you’re getting there.. now please tie this into GLXP.. give Bob a call at Odyssey Moon (just don’t tell Dave you’re talking to the enemy).

  2. Joel Raupe says:

    Interesting musing about the precursor missions. The first concern I read expressed among the lunar scientists was about the existing unflown precursor projects LADEE, GRAIL, etc. These first two are in the administration’s budget proposal, though there’s been little public conversation about ILM or the standard lunar lander being developed at MSFC, Huntsville.
    Now that the statements from those we might expect have circulated, it’s time to return to that subject. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Trent,
    GLXP might be semi-relevant, but you’d be talking about much bigger systems, and much different constraints. I guess if a team actually did get a lander all the way there, teaming with them to fill in some of the blanks wouldn’t be a bad approach. And as it is, I’m a fan of Bob Richards and the Odyssey Moon guys. I’m pretty sure that MSS itself has no dog in this fight, and would be more than happy to offer propulsion systems or hardware flight testing for any of the teams.

    GLXP could help, but ultimately this idea doesn’t have to be tied to it. Sort of like NGLLC. We existed before the NGLLC was announced, we would’ve kept going even had we lost, but it just happened to be a way to get some extra funding, and extra recognition for doing stuff similar to what we wanted to do anyway.

    ~Jon

  4. one says:

    I’ve always said (from 2005) that it’s a pure nonsense to spend $10+ billion for an one-week trip/exploration on the Moon, while, I’ve always advocated to build one (or more) Lunar Space Station and Lunar Outpost, to allow many months of exploration for (about) the same “price”

  5. One,
    I’ve been advocating something along this line for over a decade. But it’s nice to know that the famous Gaetano Morano once again is claiming that something I came up with he came up with first….

    ~Jon

  6. Doug Jones says:

    Gaetano, you are tedious. George Herbert published a one way to Mars proposal in 1990, and I was there to see his presentation. See

  7. Doug Jones says:

    Glarg. url was trimmed off- do a wiki search on “Mars to Stay”, or click on my name.

  8. one says:

    “I’ve been advocating something along this line for over a decade.”

    probably everything was already invented in ’50s by Von Brahun… 🙂

    what I’ve advocated from 2005 isn’t a generic “long travel on the Moon” but an architecture’s change of the (just released) VSE/ESAS plan

    however, I can’t be so “famous” if you write “Morano” instead of “Marano”… 🙂

  9. Frank Glover says:

    I’m reminded of the 1968 movie ‘Countdown’ (I never read ‘The Pilgrim Project’ [1965] on which it’s based) which was also the ‘send someone one-way to the Moon now (before the Soviets, in this case), and keep him re-supplied until return technology is ready’ concept…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Countdown_%281968_film%29

  10. That’s why its cheaper to go to the Moon and to Mars to stay rather than to simply explore for a few days or a few weeks.

    I conducted a poll on the Daily Kos a few months ago asking people how long they’d be willing to live and work on the surface of the Moon. The results were very interesting with 70% saying that they’d be willing to spend a year or more on the lunar surface. 38%, however, shocked me by saying they’d be willing to stay on the Moon– forever!

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/9/25/786215/-Funding-NASAs-Future

  11. Jon, I was jokingly referring to Dave’s contributing to Team FREDNET.

  12. Jim Gagnon says:

    It’s interesting you mention Project M. It’s one of the game changers Bolden has put front and center, as it allows a spacecraft designer to build ships suitable for humans yet still operate them via telepresence. Yet, the old guard sees red when you talk about Project M, as if they see it as a threat to human exploration of space; guess they’re forgetting about that 1+ second time delay.

    As a craft designer, you should see if Project M is designing some sort of plug in interface between their robots and other equipment. The time delay will be impediment enough for flying a lunar lander around; anything you can do to remove the robot’s mechanical delay can only help.

    The only other thing to think about is in-situ refueling. Even though the missions you envision are meant to be one way, your lander would be capable of long distance forays across the Moon as long as you can tank it up when you get back to base.

    Exciting times in space. Glad we’ve got guys like you stepping up to the plate.

  13. Pradeep says:

    “I still think this is pretty much the only way that there will be a human foot on the Moon this decade. ”

    No American foot maybe. But, the Chinese have revised their dates to 2017. So, there might be atleast a Chinese foot on the Moon before this decade is out and possibly an Indian one if they manage things by 2020, as planned.

    Interesting times.

  14. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    I’ll believe it when I see it. They might be able to do a stunt mission by then, but it’s definitely not going to be anything sustainable.

    ~Jon

  15. Pingback: More Lunar One-Way-To-Stay (For-a-While) Thoughts « The Four Part Land

  16. Ivan Vuletich says:

    This all sounds like another version of the Lunar Monastery project outlined in that excellent rocket geeks handbook “The Rocket Company”. Life is likely to be fairly monastic in the early years of such a project so sending the sort of people best suited to deal with the situation is a good idea.
    So maybe the Pope is the best person to make this happen 🙂

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