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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