The Vision for Space Exploration: After the Vision, What Next? (Part 5)

A reachable, affordable and useful goal for the American civil space program: Cislunar space

Many of us working in or with NASA recognized that the 2004 Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) was a breakthrough, the necessary fulcrum needed to change our approach and direction to spaceflight.  It was a program that would have opened the door to a wide variety of previously unobtainable missions.  In this five-part series to establish and clarify the history and intent of the VSE, I’ve shared my insider’s perspective on why and how it was conceived, executed and eventually terminated – a cautionary tale, if you will, and hopefully, an instructive one.  In this last post, I want to examine what lessons should be drawn from this history and how we should move forward in a positive way to have and to build a U.S. space program truly “worthy of a great nation.”

Because the agency’s initial response to the VSE was to focus on a human mission to Mars, NASA began to devise an Apollo-style architecture (as the Apollo program was the one successful operational template with which the agency was familiar).  These decisions effectively derailed the incremental and sustainable approach for lunar return intended by the VSE.  Such a result was not the intent of the program architects, nor that of many of us who were working with NASA in the immediate years following its announcement.  Certainly I was not interested in participating in a new “Mission to Mars” effort doomed to failure from the beginning – many of us had already experienced this during the years of the Space Exploration Initiative (1989-1992), an earlier attempt to re-create the Apollo zeitgeist.

The relief many of us felt at the beginning of the VSE resulted from the belief that the lessons of the previous decade had been well learned and that a long overdue change was upon us.  We soon became disabused of such a notion.  Although many in the space community understood both the possibilities and the pitfalls of the new effort, the dominant culture in both the agency and industry was wedded to the old template.  The effect of this attitude was to cement in many minds, both the impression and the reality, that we were “repeating” our previous space experience in an attempt to re-gain the glory of Apollo.  Such a mindset eventually led to the inevitable characterization that the VSE was both “old hat” and unaffordable.

The current program direction (one of technology development coupled to the time honored promise of a human Mars mission – as yet unachievable but “perhaps twenty-five to thirty years down the road”) is a roadblock to implementing a program based on the use of off-planet resources.  Flights to supply the International Space Station (ISS) using non-NASA spacecraft are portrayed as a “new” goal and direction for space, even though vehicle development (and now, its operational costs) have been and will continue to be largely billed to the American taxpayer.  These days, getting our astronauts to the ISS (the space station we primarily designed, built and paid for) requires paying the going rate (get in line and reserve a seat) to fly aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, or else stay home.

We find ourselves in the untenable situation of having a U.S. civil space program in complete disarray.  NASA has a shrinking budget and no strategic direction.  Our nation’s dire financial situation is rapidly approaching crisis proportions.  It is highly likely that future space budgets will be flat at best, but more probably lower than current funding levels.  Given this fiscal reality, how can we move forward in space?

Our current model of spaceflight (established sixty years ago) is to custom design and build spacecraft and then launch them on expendable vehicles – build, fly, use and discard.  Born of necessity, this operational template ensures that spacecraft are complex, expensive and serve for a limited lifetime.  It demands that we launch everything we need from Earth – from the bottom of the deepest gravity well in the inner Solar System – requiring significant energy (read “cost”) to reach an intended destination.  Because we launch all mission pieces at once, spacecraft are mass- and power-limited and therefore capability-limited and they will remain so until we approach the problem of spaceflight using a different template.  Expensive and difficult goals are achievable under constrained budgets by taking small incremental steps (affordable given yearly budgets) that build on and work together, thereby creating a large capability over time.

The difficulty of reaching low Earth orbit (LEO) limits our activities beyond.  Yet nearly all of our modern space assets reside above LEO in cislunar – the zone of space between Earth and Moon.  These satellites comprise the backbone of modern technical civilization and conduct such critical functions as communications, positioning, remote sensing, weather monitoring and national strategic surveillance.  The size and capability of space assets are limited by the size of the largest rocket that can launch a given payload and on their preordained operational lifetime.  But our experience working with the Shuttle and ISS programs has demonstrated that people and machines working together over time can assemble and maintain space systems as large, and operated as long, as desired.  The problem is getting people and robots to these various points in cislunar space.

A major step towards becoming space faring is developing the freedom of movement and action throughout cislunar space.  Recent robotic missions surveying the Moon show that the lunar poles contain significant amounts of water ice, perhaps the most useable resource for humans in space.  As a consumable, H2O (water and oxygen) supports life.  As shielding, a water barrier protects people from cosmic radiation.  Water is a medium of energy storage; it can be dissociated into its component hydrogen and oxygen using electricity generated by sunlight.  During local night or eclipse, these gases can be combined back into water, generating electricity.  Finally, hydrogen and oxygen are the most powerful chemical rocket propellant, which opens the possibility for the Moon to becoming our first “off-shore” coaling station in the sea of cislunar space.

Because the Moon is close, the time-delay for a round-trip radio signal is less than three seconds. This gift of proximity makes it possible for machines under the control of operators on Earth to begin the initial work of establishing a demonstration resource processing facility on the Moon.  Transit times to the Moon are as short as three days and launch opportunities are always available.  Some peaks and crater rims near the ice-rich lunar poles experience nearly constant sunlight, permitting near-constant generation of electrical power with solar arrays.  The individual pieces of equipment needed to begin the harvesting of lunar ice are small and can be launched on small and medium-lift rockets.  This means that we can begin to install and operate a lunar polar resource extraction facility now, without waiting for the advent of a new, heavy lift launch system.  This scaled, incremental architectural approach can fit under nearly any budgetary envelope and offers numerous, intermediate milestones to document accomplishment.  Finally, the use of multiple, small steps facilitates participation of both international and commercial partners in the development of cislunar space.

Making cislunar space our next strategic horizon in space solves many problems.  It creates a near term (decadal, not multi-decadal) goal against which progress can be demonstrated and measured – inviting a myriad of ideas and participation.  It can be built in incremental steps, tailored to be affordable under a wide variety of restrictive budget regimes.  It creates a lasting space faring infrastructure that allows people and machines access to all of the locations in cislunar space (location of scientific, economic and strategic assets).  We will finally have laid the groundwork necessary to navigate past self-imposed roadblocks, thereby opening the Solar System to exploration through the creation of a space transportation network that allows routine departure and return to low Earth orbit.

Because we have become so dependent on space assets – technology that controls, assists and enhances so much in our daily lives, the aimless direction of our civil space program not only endangers the agency’s future, it also jeopardizes our national interests.  By making routine access to cislunar space our goal – establishing a “transcontinental railroad” in space – we will have finally graduated from a “flags and footprints” model of human space travel to the creation, use and control of true, long term space faring capability.  And we can do this in a manner that is scalable and thus affordable.  It is the right direction for our civil space program in the new millennium.

Humans aren’t always smart enough to know in advance which scientific questions to ask.  Through exploration, answers to questions we would not even have imagined are revealed.  If we insist on knowing “Why?” before pushing forward with manned exploration, our nation will certainly suffer.  Developing cislunar space is a challenging but achievable goal.  We must proceed with the understanding that we will never be smart enough to know where this journey is taking us. But historical evidence proves that humanity always gains knowledge and reaps many benefits along the way.

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55 Responses to The Vision for Space Exploration: After the Vision, What Next? (Part 5)

  1. Pingback: The Vision for Space Exploration: A Brief History (Part 4) | Spudis Lunar Resources

  2. Pingback: Mission: Tomorrow » The Vision for Space Exploration: After the Vision, What Next? (Part 5) | Spudis Lunar Resources

  3. The extraction and storage of water and possibly other volatiles from the lunar poles should be NASA’s number one priority. And the nation, or nations, that lead in this effort will probably end up strategically and economically dominating cis-lunar space and possibly the rest of the Solar System for the rest of the 21st century.

    It is urgent that the US has robots and scientist permanently on the ground at the lunar poles to fully evaluate the nature and quantity of these precious resources. How much water and other volatiles are at the lunar poles and how easily they can be extracted could be extremely important for the future of our nation.

    How these lunar resources can be legally exploited by private industry is also something the US government must seriously address and work out with the UN in the near future.

    This is a moment in US history that could be as important as Jefferson’s decision to use public funds to purchase the Louisiana Territories from Napoleon in 1803. Many in Congress, at that time, attempted to stop this territorial acquisition. Fortunately, for the future of the United States, such opposition was narrowly defeated by a 59–57 vote in the House of Representatives. And the Louisiana Purchase would be the first major step towards US territorial and economic expansion towards the Pacific Ocean and beyond.

    Marcel F. Williams

    • Paul Spudis says:

      Marcel,

      How these lunar resources can be legally exploited by private industry is also something the US government must seriously address and work out with the UN in the near future.

      While I certainly agree with most of your points, the U.N. is the very last place I would ever go to to settle a point of law. There are many other precedents of international law that enable a legal regime for extraterrestrial mining. The U.N. should have nothing to do with it.

    • gbaikie says:

      “The extraction and storage of water and possibly other volatiles from the lunar poles should be NASA’s number one priority. And the nation, or nations, that lead in this effort will probably end up strategically and economically dominating cis-lunar space and possibly the rest of the Solar System for the rest of the 21st century. ”

      This assumes one extract lunar water and make rocket fuel, cheaper than you ship rocket fuel from Earth.
      So what you really saying is having available rocket fuel at low price at the lunar surface.

      In order to have low cost rocket fuel available on the Lunar surface, one must be able to sell a large amount rocket fuel within a short period of time.
      With large amount being more than tens of tons of rocket fuel and short time being months to years.
      Instead selling rocket fuel, one also used the rocket fuel you make. So for example, you want to spend 100 billion making lunar base, and mining the lunar water lowers the cost
      making a lunar base. But it’s same metric as for selling lunar rocket- you need to use a lot of rocket fuel within a short period of time. In order for to get to level being viable, even more rocket fuel is needed use to qualify as “NASA’s number one priority”.

      So to me it is not number one priority for NASA to mine lunar water and make rocket fuel,
      rather it should be a top priority for NASA to determine if there is minable lunar water.
      Or if NASA could do “stuff” that brings about commercial lunar water mining within the shortest period of time- assuming the commercial mining can offer a low price for lunar rocket fuel.
      So the ability of commerical lunar ming to be able to offer rocket at low price is dependent on the degree in which lunar water is minable. Or defines whether it’s minable or not.

      So first instance IF one mine 1000 tons of lunar water in a year and one needs to sell it for 20 million a ton- that is not minable. If one sell it for 10 million dollars a ton, that also is probably not minable. 5 million per ton could minable. 1 million per ton then maybe it’s has been the most highest priority for NASA.
      The more rocket fuel one can sell over say 10 year period, the cheaper one should able to sell the rocket fuel for. And we have the element future market for rocket fuel.
      So say you selling 1000 tons of lunar water per year for 10 year. So 10,000 tons at 1 million per ton is 10 billion dollars gross. it is very very unlikely to start lunar operations and sell such high volumes, but perhaps after 10 years of operation you build up to such a high amount [1000 tonnes per year]- so the future growth of demand a major aspect of it.
      A typical operation may be tens of tons per year which increase over the years to hundreds or thousands of tonnes. What could critical is after one has work out some problems one could encounter in first year, is having enough demand so one increase production.

      What is needed for commercial lunar mining is a existing market for rocket fuel. This can be cheaply done by using fuel depots which shipping rocket from Earth.

      So what NASA should do is use fuel depots, and explore the Moon to determine if there is minable lunar water. And if there is minable water, then the private sector can provide the capital to invest the infrastructure to do this.

      Compared to NASA deciding it’s going to mine lunar water before, it’s even explored the moon to determine whether it’s minable. So endless viewgraphs of how going to mine something which there is little information about. Adding billions in costs before NASA has explored the Moon. Being committed to project, therefore bias on question of whether there is actually minable lunar. So NASA has all mining stuff ready, explore the Moon and finds good location to mine and starts mining lunar water. How much does it want to mine. The more they want to mine the higher the costs. They probably will mine as much as they need which probably fairly low volume and therefore high unit costs.
      And NASA is sort of stuck on the Moon. With probably embarrassing details like a private sector can deliver rocket fuel from Earth to the lunar surface for less cost than NASA’s spending to make it on the Moon. So not being lunar water mining as number one priority.

  4. DougSpace says:

    Reasonably, how much would it cost each year to develop a cis-lunar infrastructure? And, what would have to be set aside in order to make room for that development? If it has peak funding of $6.65 billion, then it is incompatible with the Flexible Path, especially with the development, maintenance, and use of the SLS. So, as long as the Flexible Path is active, your $87 billion plan cannot be pursued even on an incremental basis. It is not entirely correct to say that such a plan would use heavy lift if it existed. So long as the SLS heavy lift is pursued, we cannot proceed to have the cis-lunar development in the manner you describe.

    Rather than hope that the Obama administration will change from its committed direction, a much less expensive cis-lunar development path needs to be imagined – one that is compatible with the existence of the Flexible Path for as long as that exists.

    That new path would be via a “Lunar COTS” approach. Each incremental step in the current commercial programs is costing about $400 million. The total annual budget for commercial programs is $550 million and the Obama administration wishes that were $850 million. And that level of development funding is compatible with the current Flexible Path as evidenced by the fact that both are ongoing. Also, the fact that the commercial path is proving itself so cost-effective keeps the finding for it on track because of its fiscal merit and needed capabilities. If the Flexible Path runs into cost overruns, it would be nice to have a program developing reusable, cis-lunar hardware which promises to provide propellant at LEO for BEO activities. For example, the existence of the COTS program made it possible for the Ares I to be cut thereby reducing the cost of Constellation/the Flexible Path. And this made COTS secure because it became essential.

    When Falcon Heavy (based upon the Falcon 9) launches, it will have the ability to send all of the pieces needed for a single set of a cis-lunar transportation infrastructure and at a launch price likely to be feasible even with the Flexible Path within the budget. In this way, America can have a two-track path: 1) The inspirational Flexible Path being constructed in certain districts, and 2) the commercially-supported cis-lunar infrastructure. These two paths can be seen as supportive of each other thereby negating the politically difficult need to overturn the current Path. IMO.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      Doug,

      how much would it cost each year to develop a cis-lunar infrastructure? And, what would have to be set aside in order to make room for that development? If it has peak funding of $6.65 billion, then it is incompatible with the Flexible Path, especially with the development, maintenance, and use of the SLS. So, as long as the Flexible Path is active, your $87 billion plan cannot be pursued even on an incremental basis. It is not entirely correct to say that such a plan would use heavy lift if it existed. So long as the SLS heavy lift is pursued, we cannot proceed to have the cis-lunar development in the manner you describe.

      If you read our paper, you will see that we include the development of a “medium-class” HLV (and all other required components, including two block versions of the CEV) in our architecture. “Flexible Path” does not exist, except in the pages of the Augustine committee report. The President proposed an asteroid mission in 2010, but offered no target or envisioned activities there and it remains a nebulous, long-term goal, not a real mission objective. The current legal umbrella under which NASA operates is the 2010 Authorization Act, which is written broadly enough so that virtually any direction (or change in such) is possible. By the way, it is likely that NASA will get a new authorization sometime in the next couple of years anyway.

      It is certainly true that our assumed budgetary envelope will probably be lower than we envisioned two years ago when we wrote the paper. But the big advantage of using small, incremental and cumulative steps as does our architecture is that it can be scaled to the resources available — we simply go more slowly, but we still establish a lunar resource processing outpost.

      I am skeptical about a purely commercial approach, simply because I think that the levels of investment required are too high and the time frame for return on investment is too long for a purely commercial approach. I would be happy to be proven wrong.

      • DougSpace says:

        By Flexible Path, I mean any exciting, but essentially flags-and-footprints exercises that wouldn’t result in any substantial capability that would lower the costs of further exploration. I was there at the AIAA conference when Garver said that we are going to the Moon meaning the vicinity of the Moon. I see the rumored manned L2 telerobotic exploration of the far side as doubling down on the Flexible Path-like direction. So, I see the Obama Administration continuing this direction and I see no substantial lunar resource development. At least not yet.

        If the next authorization act continues to be vague, then, in practice, wouldn’t the specific direction and missions be set by the Administration? If so, then cis-lunar development needs to be added in such a way that the Obama Administration doesnt loose face by appearing to change directions. So, his been-there-done-that comment needs to be interpreted by them as saying that he meant unsustainable flags-footprints-collecting-rocks exercises but that his comment didn’t exclude a Lunar COTS approach where private companies partner with NASA to develop lunar resources to benefit NASA and commercial cis-lunar activities.

        What is medium-class heavy lift? Is that 70-tonne SLS and/or Falcon Heavy? SpaceX is spending money on a launch pad at Vandenberg and getting more F9 experience. So I think it likely that we’ll have the FH capability in due time. I see FH as being more than sufficient for launching the largest single piece of equipment (i.e. an orbital transfer and landing vehicle) in my cis-lunar architecture. Indeed, it’s payload’s volume and mass could accommodate all of the elements in my cis-lunar architecture.

        I would agree with you in being skeptical about a purely commercial approach. But, based upon current progress, I think that private companies would rise to the occasion if NASA were to put up the money in a Lunar COTS fashion. However, if strictly commercial development were necessary, Development costs for the first mission could be around $1.5 billion. If a reusable OTV-Lander could return about 17 tonnes each trip to LEO for NASA, then one could make the case that it could pay for itself with the first launch. But it would take special high-risk investor(s) to make it work.

        > simply because I think that the levels of investment required are too high and the time frame for return on investment is too long

        No, I understand your caution. But we are seeing development costs considerably lower than traditional FAR costs of years past. If FH becomes a reality, then I think that we’ll have a very interesting capability there that could lower both the launch costs and the time frame for RoI.

        > I would be happy to be proven wrong.

        I’m trying to make you happy :) but, not being an aerospace engineer nor an economist, I’m struggling to work with others to come up with a plausible architecture.

        • Paul Spudis says:

          Doug,

          What is medium-class heavy lift? Is that 70-tonne SLS and/or Falcon Heavy?

          Either. Both the baseline SLS and the former Shuttle side-mount are 70 metric tonnes to LEO, more than enough to support a substantial lunar presence.

      • DougSpace says:

        From the latest Space Review:
        “It is clear, though, that NASA is giving serious consideration to not just human missions beyond Earth orbit in the next decade, but the development of infrastructure to support a series of such missions to the vicinity of the Moon and beyond”.

        By infrastructure, the article means an in-space, L2 base. The goal of a NEA mission may have been nebulous but it is appearing to me increasingly likely that specific plans are quietly being made which will commit the Administration to ongoing expenditure which will appear to be getting us closer to an asteroid mission. If those plans will include lunar resource development, it is not apparent to me.

        • Paul Spudis says:

          Doug,

          By infrastructure, the article means an in-space, L2 base. The goal of a NEA mission may have been nebulous but it is appearing to me increasingly likely that specific plans are quietly being made which will commit the Administration to ongoing expenditure which will appear to be getting us closer to an asteroid mission. If those plans will include lunar resource development, it is not apparent to me.

          Anyone who’s been in the spaceflight business knows that there is a big difference between NASA saying that they are going to do something and actually doing it. The latest trial balloon will soon drift away. Believe me now or believe me later — it doesn’t matter.

      • Robert Clark says:

        By “medium” HLV do you mean something in the size range of the Falcon Heavy?

        Bob Clark

        • Paul Spudis says:

          By “medium” HLV do you mean something in the size range of the Falcon Heavy?

          I mean something like Shuttle side-mount or SLS core, about 70 metric tons to LEO.

    • gbaikie says:

      DougSpace says:
      -Rather than hope that the Obama administration will change from its committed direction, a much less expensive cis-lunar development path needs to be imagined – one that is compatible with the existence of the Flexible Path for as long as that exists.

      That new path would be via a “Lunar COTS” approach. Each incremental step in the current commercial programs is costing about $400 million. The total annual budget for commercial programs is $550 million and the Obama administration wishes that were $850 million. And that level of development funding is compatible with the current Flexible Path as evidenced by the fact that both are ongoing. Also, the fact that the commercial path is proving itself so cost-effective keeps the finding for it on track because of its fiscal merit and needed capabilities.-

      I agree that the cost for NASA mining. Should low. I think less than 1 billion per year.
      Assuming NASA does any mining.

      But buying rocket fuel would be different- NASA should buy as much rocket fuel in space as it needs, and even search for ways to use as much rocket fuel sold in space as it can.

      Though it seems at most this would be 2 billion per year.
      Say at cost of $10,000 per kg at L-1 [which seems to an excessively high price]
      Or 10 million per ton. So that is 200 tons of rocket is 2 billion dollars of it.
      Way too much for lunar program. And as say it’s high price, particularly if buying + 100 tons of it per year. But for Manned Mars I can see a way NASA could more than 200 tons at L-1 per year. So If NASA needs it- it should buy as much as it needs

      What you seem to saying by the term, “Lunar COTS” suggests NASA is partner or buyer of development costs. I am not sure this is necessary, but as I said if done, it have hard limit of 1 billion per year. And I think it would easy to over spend on this.

      So I think what NASA should spend most of it money is exploration- rather rockets or rocket fuel. So 5 billion per year to explore the Moon. Do this for about 5 years.
      Then go to Mars.
      So the 5 billion would not include cost of launch or rocket fuel- but everything else.
      With Mars I spend bit more rocket fuel- because I think it makes exploring Mars cheaper.
      So I expect yearly costs of Mars exploration to cost more than Lunar exploration- about 1 billion more and that added cost mostly buying lots of rocket fuel and getting crew to Mars very quickly- less than 4 months, perhaps 2-3 month should be target.

      If NASA goes to Mars fast, it needs lots of rocket fuel, this makes everything else easier,
      And NASA is being a significant part of potential market for lunar rocket fuel makers.
      But I would say that NASA should not depend upon lunar rocket producers, instead only buy it if/when it’s available.

      • DougSpace says:

        Not sure I followed everything you said but I am seeing NASA as playing the role of the initial guarantor of development funds and initial purchaser of product so as to greatly reduce development costs to the companies and to limit financial risks in developing lunar resources. It would be justified because NASA needs those resources and off-Earth experience any way and the initial hurdle to develop lunar resources is too high for even large companies to take. So all of the historic analogies (e .g. transcontinental highway, Pabama canal, etc) apply.

        • gbaikie says:

          “Not sure I followed everything you said but I am seeing NASA as playing the role of the initial guarantor of development funds and initial purchaser of product so as to greatly reduce development costs to the companies and to limit financial risks in developing lunar resources. ”

          Yes. I get what saying. It should noted that SpaceX was started by a billionaire.
          And that there is actually no reason why the Moon is any different than Earth- that a government could:
          “initial guarantor of development funds and initial purchaser of product so as to greatly reduce development costs to the companies and to limit financial risks .” With all businesses on earth- some people think this a great idea.

          I am not against COTS, I see it as way to sell launches to government.

          But I see rocket fuel more as commodity- other things like whatever the process of docking [with NASA spacecraft] to refuel, there really not any reason NASA should telling people what to do. Like SpaceX, NASA should be available to people like Musk, who wanted to build rockets- NASA’s didn’t manage Musk into existence.

          Say it this way, NASA can explore the Moon and explore Mars without mining rocket fuel in space. For NASA to mine rocket fuel in space, it adds costs to exploring Moon and Mars.

          Is it in NASA’s interests and American’s tax payer is to have lunar water mined? Yes.
          And a purpose of exploring the Moon should be to explore moon for minable rocket. But don’t one should include in this purpose for NASA to mine the Moon, rather NASA should focus on task of exploration.

          As I see, it what NASA should have as primary purpose is establishment of markets in space.
          Markets in space is the entire satellite Market currently existing- NASA played small role in getting that started, NASA should start other markets- and that is why NASA should explore the Moon.
          So at some point, the Moon will be commercial mined, assuming there is actually minable lunar water.

        • gbaikie says:

          I think COTS approach may work as starting point in terms employing fuel depots. With COTS NASA defined need- cargo and crew transport to ISS. Similarly NASA needs to find a need for fuel depots. Obviously, with Manned lunar program this could a need for fuel depots.
          But I think NASA should begin fuel depots before a lunar manned program and continue to use fuel depots for manned Lunar and Mars.
          So for robotic lunar and misc robotic or orbital missions.
          Fuel depots could wherever NASA needs rocket fuel [or other similar supplies including “cargo”].

          I think NASA could manned exploration of the Moon and Mars without NASA doing any mining or depending upon others to do mining. But NASA should desire that mining is done in space. And a key part of NASA’s exploration, should include exploration for anything minable in space.

          By starting a COTS like program for rocket fuel in space, NASA would be starting a new market in space. And this market once established can be expand to other kinds of customers, other than NASA. By having it rocket fuel become a market instead merely COTS type program, NASA would move away from having a COTS program and becoming one of the customers for this new market. Or one gets an increasingly competitive and free market.

          By exploring the Moon to find minable deposit of water, NASA is encouraging commercial lunar mining.
          And by beginning rocket market in space [shipping stuff from Earth] NASA is also encouraging lunar water mining. Because there already be some kind of existing market to sell lunar rocket fuel.
          Also by NASA exploring the Moon for minable lunar water, NASA is helping future lunar missions. A location near minable water, may be a good place for lunar base of some kind- or many other types of lunar uses.
          Or explore first and exploit later.
          Instead attempting lunar mining operation before exploring.
          So NASA should focus on exploration- with Moon first, and then explore Mars.

          The exploration of Mars could supported with lunar water mining and making rocket fuel, which can shipped to Earth/Moon L-point and sold to NASA. But NASA does not need to wait for this rocket fuel made on the Moon, it can get it shipped from Earth. And the lunar rocket fuel should able to be competitive with rocket fuel shipped from Earth- that should part of what defines whether lunar water is minable.
          A important part of the whether lunar water is minable is the size of market- how tons per year can be sold.

          The more which can sold per year should have dramatic affect on the price it can sold it. It seems almost a necessity that lunar mining will have to sell to more customers than just NASA.

          But it seems NASA would most useful in starting lunar mining if it had large need of rocket fuel per year. It seems to me that NASA could use more rocket fuel with Mars manned mission than anything else NASA could do.

          So more rocket fuel NASA uses, more likely lunar mining will start and the ever decreasing price it get rocket fuel for.
          This dynamic is almost inverse to typical NASA programs- bigger program always balloon out control in terms of cost.

          And of course addition to NASA being able to get rocket fuel in space, other parties can also buy rocket fuel. Again more money spent, and cheaper the rocket fuel gets. Or this simply how all free and competitive markets work.

          Using more rocket fuel for Manned Mars.
          Us a lot delta-v to get to Mars.
          If we had some fancy nuclear propulsion rockets we could get to Mars quickier. Chemical rockets can out perform these fancy nuclear rockets- if they use a lot rocket fuel.
          And the cheaper the rocket fuel the better the cost difference is. So chemical rockets can become cheaper over time than compared to Nuclear rocket if rocket fuel prices is lowering over time.

          Another aspect. When rocket fuel is expensive, NASA could compromise it’s trip time to say 4 months, but with cheaper rocket fuel it could afford faster trip times 2-3 months.
          Now just shipping rocket from Earth should lower cost per kg of rocket fuel with volume shipped. But such cost reduction should more dramatic in regards to lunar water mining.

          So in terms of NASA planning it plan 4 month trip time, unless it buy lunar rocket, plan to shorten time, Reducing trip time by a month should increase crew safety an increase flexibly of launch window [again increasing safety to crew and safety to entire in terms slipping mission program schedule.]

    • President Obama inherited an $8.4 billion a year manned spaceflight budget from George Bush. $8.4 billion a year may not be as much as I’d like for NASA’s manned space program but its still a lot of money.

      The SLS/MPCV program is currently a $3 billion a year program. The ISS and Commercial Crew LEO programs will be more than $3.8 billion next year. So its the LEO programs that are eating up the budget– not the beyond LEO program!

      If the SLS/MPCV program is utilized as frequently as the Space Shuttle, then cost shouldn’t be much more than the shuttle program. NASA estimates that SLS/MPCV cost will be around $500 million per launch. Recurring cost for placing an Earth Departure Stage plus an Altair lunar lander into orbit for the Ares V was estimated by the CSIS to cost about $1 billion per launch. If you assume similar cost for the SLS, then a manned mission to the lunar surface should cost around $1.5 billion and a unmanned cargo mission should cost around $1 billion. Two manned missions plus two cargo missions should cost around $5 billion annually.

      How expensive or cheap the habitat modules will be will depend on how many modules are sent to the Moon and how many bells and whistles NASA wants to put in them. But I think the other $3.4 billion a year would easily cover such expenses.

      The CSIS estimated that the cost of developing the two stage Altair vehicle would be around $12 billion. That would be about $1.5 billion a year in development cost over an 8 year period in order for it to be ready by 2021, when the SLS should have the disposable RS-25E engines in production in order to fly as frequently as required.

      But a single stage lunar vehicle, such as proposed by Dr. Spudis, should cost significantly less to develop than the two stage disposable Altair. And if it is reusable and utilizes lunar fuel resources, then the recurring cost should also be reduced. Dr. Spudis has even proposed periodically replacing the engines for a reusable lunar lander which could dramatically reduce recurring cost for such vehicles.

      Once the habitats are deployed and lunar water, air and fuel production are underway, then the recurring cost for maintaining a lunar base should drop dramatically!

      Marcel F. Williams

      • Vladislaw says:

        “The SLS/MPCV program is currently a $3 billion a year program. The ISS and Commercial Crew LEO programs will be more than $3.8 billion next year. So its the LEO programs that are eating up the budget– not the beyond LEO program! ”

        VERY flawed thinking. What is the return on investment .. today .. not some pie in the sky future, but today of the SLS and MPCV? they are burning through billions and basically we are keeping the army employed.

        If we are trying to learn to live and work in space, then the ISS is givings us REAL returns on investment, we are learning, incrementally. New samples were recently returned. Results of drug testing, some parts to get analyzed and rebuilt. So you are totally wrong in how you are trying to falsely paint a narrative. One group of funding is putting and keeping Americans working in living in space. The other group of funding is keeping people busy until maybe ,, in ten more years and 30 billion dollars we can go around in circles, as you always claim the ISS does.

        • The SLS will give America back its heavy lift capability which will make it much easier and cheaper to set up water factories and outpost on the Moon, lunar water tankers, Moon to LEO shuttles, large space stations at the Lagrange points, and to deploy the large rockets and transhabs needed for interplanetary travel from the Lagrange points to Mars.

          Heavy lift vehicles just make things simpler and cheaper to do. That’s why the Chinese, Russians, and even Space X are also developing heavy lift rockets.

          There’s no logical reason for a huge microgravity space station that’s difficult to maintain and can only accommodate 6 people. Smaller private microgravity space stations make a lot more economic sense. And even Charlie Bolden has come to realize this!

          Marcel F. Williams

          • Vladislaw says:

            Again .. wrong… America has had heavy lift capability since 1981 with the Space Transportation System (STS) or the shuttle stack. Congressional porkonauts refused to fund the Shuttle C or any other sidemount or direct version.

            SLS can not be utilized as frequently as the space shuttle. They would already have to be funding and building payloads for it to be utilized 6-8 times per year. No one in congress is offering amendments for SLS payloads.

            Heavy lift does not make thing simplier or easier to do. If that was the case why not bigger is simplier or easier to do on earth? Do you think trying to get an 33 foot diameter payload to the cape is cheaper and easier to do ? Shutting down roads and interstates is easier to do?

            Tell that to LA .. that moving the 100 ton payload .. the old shuttle, was easier to do….

            No .. what you seem to have a mental block block admititng is, America found out about a century ago .. doing 20 tons at a time is actually the cheapest and simpilest to do .. not trying to work with 200 ton payloads through america’s heartland isn’t the answer.

            treating space as a place and not always attaching the word program to the word would be a great start.

  5. Paul

    On the money!

    The biggest issue that I see is that the incumbent aerospace contractors have absolutely no incentive whatsoever to lower costs in order to make this happen.

    A couple of nits are that we don’t need ANY new heavy lift capability with the Ariane 6 and Falcon Heavy vehicles, and probably not even then.

    What we need are wheels and boots on the Moon and it is our task as system architects to make that happen. There are a LOT of new technologies that did not exist even when the VSE was announced, that if factored into the mix, will greatly reduce the cost of developing a lunar industrial base. Thus it would be my suggestion to integrate these advances into our planning and see where the cost savings are and how those most fully leverage the development of a lunar industrial base.

  6. Warren Platts says:

    Paul, excellent history of the VSE! And I like the new look of the blog. I agree that cis-Lunar space should be the new strategic goal. To do it right, though, we’ve go to go big–really big! My own calculations suggest that a fully constructed Lunar station producing its own propellant with 2 crewed and one heavy (20+ mT) cargo flight per year for support could easily go through 1600 mT/year, assuming no aerobraking of propellant to a LEO depot. Dallas Bienhoff came up with about 1000 mT production, assuming aerobraking to a LEO depot.

    Link to pdf:

    http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?action=dlattach;topic=30039.0;attach=477041

    So really, in order to be truly game-changing, we need to think about an order of magnitude, ballpark estimate of required production to be on the order of 10,000 mT at Lunar surface. The other reason for producing this much is to get the cost of propellant way down; the overhead for a base that’s producing 10,000 mT isn’t going to be much more one producing 1000 mT if we do it right with heavy equipment. If we could get production up to 10,000 mT per year, we could reasonably expect the cost of propellant at Lunar surface to be from $100 to $300 per kilogram.

    To get that much propellant is going to take some serious excavation, probably several acres per year unless we get lucky and there really are close to 100% pure water ice deposits in some of those craters. I’ve talked to some heavy equipment operators and asked them how they would do it if it was up to them. To a man, they wanted their 40 ton front end loaders and excavators. So that’s pretty much what we’re going to need IMHO. Also, the US Army experimented with multifunction earth moving equipment (that combined bulldozing, excavating and hauling); some of these vehicles actually saw action during the Gulf War IIRC, and they were discontinued because they weren’t very good at any of the required functions.

    Also, Congress and everybody else wants to see boots on the ground ASAP, so we might as well take advantage of human skills at the earliest possible opportunity. That will require taking Lunar propellant off the critical path, however.

    @ Marcel: the Altair lander was a really poor design for about 20 reasons. Better to do a DTAL ACES-style lander. If done right, we can use the same tankage “chassis” for the lander, depot, and EDS’s. ULA said they could develop ACES for $3B, an ACES-based depot for another $3.5B, and the ACES-based lander for $5B. So you get all three elements for $11.5B–and we could probably get DoD to help with the development costs for the ACES stage and the depots.

  7. Crash Davis says:

    If you read our paper, you will see that we include the development of a “medium-class” HLV (and all other required components, including two block versions of the CEV) in our architecture.

    You indicate in your paper technology is currently available to conduct this program/mission. However, you also mention all new technology is needed for propellant depots. Which is it?

    Also, a significant leap in technology is required to land all hardware to find, extract, and store water on the moon. This sounds like Harrison Schmitt’s proposal for He3 extraction which went nowhere fast.

    How about attempting a simulation in a desert to simulate what this will take as far as robotics? You will be surprised on how Man in the loop is needed, even immediately.

    And what if your evidence of water is wrong or does not exist?

    $87 Billion? You further may want to double your estimate for this program as NASA did for the original moon landing in discussions with Congress.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      Crash,

      You indicate in your paper technology is currently available to conduct this program/mission. However, you also mention all new technology is needed for propellant depots. Which is it?

      “Technology” as I use it means the parts needed to build a system to do a job. The pieces of both ISRU and depots exist now; what hasn’t happened yet is for someone to do an end-to-end systems test.

      Also, a significant leap in technology is required to land all hardware to find, extract, and store water on the moon.

      Not really. Landers and rovers can be extensions of existing designs used for Mars exploration. Water extraction is nothing like 3He mining — 3He is present on the Moon in parts per billion levels; water at the poles is present at the tens of weight per cent level.

      How about attempting a simulation in a desert to simulate what this will take as far as robotics? You will be surprised on how Man in the loop is needed, even immediately.

      It’s been done and validated. If you had read my paper, you would have seen that “man-in-the-loop” is present via robotic teleoperations from the beginning.

      And what if your evidence of water is wrong or does not exist?

      We’ve already demonstrated that the water is present, from multiple data sources (LCROSS, M3 spectra, Cassini, Chandrayaan MIP). The only questions are its variability and physical state, which we address with the first missions.

      $87 Billion? You further may want to double your estimate for this program as NASA did for the original moon landing in discussions with Congress.

      Double it, triple it — I don’t care. The point is not the aggregate cost — it’s how can we make progress toward a long-range goal no matter what the funding level might be. A program with small, incremental steps can do such a thing; a big Apollo-style mega-project cannot.

  8. Ron says:

    I don’t think the American people understand the value prop of developing cislunar space. Paul does and all the regular commentators do and I do, but we’re quite unrepresentative of the populace at large. The VSE was approved by Congress twice but then Obama was able to say that Buzz had been to the Moon already, so let’s just do something else, something that involves “firsts”. How much public outcry was there over the dumping of VSE? I’d say not a lot. [Congressional pressure to build a 130-ton capability SLS seems to me to be more oriented around porkbarreling for the affected congressional districts and aerospace firms than it is around popular uprising over the dumping of VSE.] Few give a damn.

    We here can understand from the physics of it that travel from Earth to orbit could easily be orders of magnitudes cheaper and more frequent than it is. But at this point, going to space has been expensive and lame for multiple generations, and few now can envision how that really can be different from what it has always been.

    We here can understand that reality could be much different, that there could be thousands of people off-planet, that there could be multi-GW solar power satellites (99% constructed from lunar materiel) beaming power down to Earth, that platinum could cost $100/ounce instead of $1500/ounce, that there could be hotels and convention centers in orbit, and so forth. We understand that achieving that reality is not dependent upon inventing unobtainium nor on scramjets nor on any other particular technological gimmick: at this point, technology is not really the barrier.

    How do we get that grand vision across? How do we make it so real and compelling that it is not a cause for giggles in polite company?

    • Paul Spudis says:

      Ron,

      How do we get that grand vision across?

      A good question and one to which I have given much thought.

      I suggest that the key is to get incremental capabilities such that we gradually develop a permanent infrastructure for space transportation. We do it piece by piece, with as small a series of increments as can be made to work. I believe that if we can keep spending low enough such that it doesn’t exceed the current NASA budget, it will be largely “invisible.” Most people don’t think about space at all — they’re not against it, they just don’t think about it every day. That public indifference is actually an advantage – it means that you can spend money to do the right things. If you design a program such that you get more and more capability with time, the aggregate amount spent is not as important as the rate of expenditure.

      • Ron says:

        I hope that you are right but I fear that you are wrong. If the public is largely indifferent, then that means they might be largely indifferent if the entire space flight project is hijacked by rent-seeking Senators and aerospace firms to maintain the status quo. If the public doesn’t really care one way or another, then they might not care one way or another if we spend a decade or more building an unnecessary rocket to go to destinations undetermined for reasons fuzzy or unmentioned. If the public doesn’t understand the value prop of cis-lunar development, then maybe the only thing Joe Sixpack will remember is that Neil Armstrong stepped on the Moon and it was glorious and that maybe we should do something like that again before the Chinese do… but on Mars this time because Buzz went to the Moon already (ugh !!).

        How do we change the course of the ship? From where will the motivation to change the course of the ship come? How do we wrest control away from the rent-seekers and apply those moneys toward better ends like incremental cis-lunar development? Who will be the leader to wrest control from the rent-seekers in the face of an indifferent public?

        I don’t really expect an answer because there are no easy answers.

        One thing I suggest — and from your past writings I think you might disagree — is to replace the word “exploration” with “cis-lunar development” or “space infrastructure development” or something like that. You have a nuanced understanding of the word “exploration”, but to Joe Sixpack, “exploration” might mean “firsts, like flags and footprints on Mars”. Certainly more pure exploration of the Moon is necessary and desirable. But the primary focus of your writings is more properly called cis-lunar infrastructure development. Maybe changing the language might help.

        I love your posts and your excellence and all that you have done, and I want cis-lunar development to come to fruition.

        • gbaikie says:

          “I hope that you are right but I fear that you are wrong. If the public is largely indifferent, then that means they might be largely indifferent if the entire space flight project is hijacked by rent-seeking Senators and aerospace firms to maintain the status quo.”

          This isn’t a possible future prediction, rather it’s description of past and present situation.

          “If the public doesn’t really care one way or another, then they might not care one way or another if we spend a decade or more building an unnecessary rocket to go to destinations undetermined for reasons fuzzy or unmentioned. If the public doesn’t understand the value prop of cis-lunar development, then maybe the only thing Joe Sixpack will remember is that Neil Armstrong stepped on the Moon and it was glorious and that maybe we should do something like that again before the Chinese do… but on Mars this time because Buzz went to the Moon already (ugh !!).”

          Well we can hope the NASA agency will do the right thing. One rationale offered of why we even have a national space agency is it provides an “objective group of people”. I don’t think this theory has worked as well some would have imagined it would, but I think it could possibly work to some extent.
          We could people in the agency, that want to actually explore space, and this silent [perhaps majority] may exert some influence.

          And I like competition.
          China is slow and pretty stupid but it’s plodding along. And then we have the private sector- many ex-NASA and who do want to go into space.
          So such countries as China and the private sector may help NASA go in right direction. One would think “the plan” was it was suppose to be mostly other way, NASA encouraging others.

          So, as general approach I tend to agree with:
          “I suggest that the key is to get incremental capabilities such that we gradually develop a permanent infrastructure for space transportation. ”

          Or focus on small and near term and build towards a direction.

          So fuel depots should be focus. They should have been the focus decades ago. But, I guess eventually once we done every possible thing wrong, it should slightly increases chances doing something right.

    • Vladislaw says:

      by creating the environment for American firms to make insane profits in space. That is what drives capital, extra normal profits. If investors can get 12% returns on terra firma, why risk it for anything less?

      When an aerospace company has a netscape moment and delivers a repeatable innovation and suddenly is getting ROI’s three, four, ten times the industry average that is what drives capital. It is not enough that NASA shows that something can be done. It has to show that insane profits are to be had by the early entrants.

  9. Crash Davis says:

    It’s been done and validated. If you had read my paper, you would have seen that “man-in-the-loop” is present via robotic teleoperations from the beginning.

    Where in your references was this desert simulation demonstrated?

    And I was referring to Man on the surface (in the loop) required immediately vs telerobotics. Its a huge stretch to go from MSL on Mars via telerobotics to a telerobotic survey, extraction, storage and full-scale production on the Moon.

    Double it, triple it — I don’t care.
    Well all the taxpayers care, and Congress, and Internationals etc care.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      Its a huge stretch to go from MSL on Mars via telerobotics to a telerobotic survey, extraction, storage and full-scale production on the Moon.

      I guess it depends on your definition of “huge”. It’s a stretch, but why have a space program where all we do is the same things that we’ve always done?

      Well all the taxpayers care, and Congress, and Internationals etc care.

      The fact that we’ve added over $ 5 trillion to the national debt during the last 4 years suggests otherwise.

  10. Warren Platts says:

    I am skeptical about a purely commercial approach, simply because I think that the levels of investment required are too high and the time frame for return on investment is too long for a purely commercial approach. I would be happy to be proven wrong.

    Hey Paul,

    What do you know about “Golden Spike”? Supposedly it’s an all-commercial effort to make a complete end run around NASA and get a human crew on the Moon by 2020. The company was incorporated by S. Alan Stern with the help of space lawyer Doug Griffith. Peter Diamandis is involved. Clearly, “Golden Spike” is a reference to a sort of cislunar, transcontinental railroad (unless it’s a reference to all that gold dust that LCROSS found! ;-) ). Have you heard of “Golden Spike”, and can you confirm or deny any involvement on your part with the consortium?

  11. Andrew W says:

    If if the US wants to get back to the Moon NASA should be buying transport from private industry, there’s no more a need for state space transport than there’s a need for state pen production – despite the widespread use of pens in the public service.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      If if the US wants to get back to the Moon NASA should be buying transport from private industry

      There is no “private industry transport” to the Moon.

      • Andrew W says:

        Well there’s no public transport either, so it’s an even field and the question is: which option is likely to provide the best value service in the future. My money is definitely not on SLS.

        • Paul Spudis says:

          the question is: which option is likely to provide the best value service in the future

          No. The question is, which is likely to exist and which is likely to be a press release, paper rocket. I’d say it’s even money.

          • Andrew W says:

            Let me paraphrase something I read recently: It seems too “far out” (more science fiction than science). Believing that a technology is too immature for use can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, a “Catch-22” for spaceflight: a technology [company] is too immature for flight because it’s never flown and it’s never flown because it’s too immature. This prejudice is widespread among many “old hands” in the space business, who wield TRL quite effectively in order to keep new and innovative ideas[companies] stuffed in the closet and off flight manifests.

          • Paul Spudis says:

            Good to know that the other blog is still being read. Thanks!

        • DougSpace says:

          And I’d say it’s not an either-or. Let’s have a public-private partnership.

    • gbaikie says:

      I think the most significant thing that could happen in 21 Century, is CATS.

      And I define CATS as seat price to LEO for 1 million dollars or less.
      Or about 5 times the cost of the rocket fuel needed.

      Also a seat ticket price of 5 million to the lunar surface, and/or 50 million to Mars
      surface. Or about twice the cost of rocket fuel it take to go to lunar surface or Mars
      surface.

      Or cost of rocket fuel for falcon-9 is somewhere around $700,000 and it carries 7 crew
      with Dragon. So rocket fuel cost per seat around $100,000.
      If the fuel costs were 10 times the price- it would not make much difference.

      In space you going to pay for for rocket fuel- over 1000 times the cost, but you general have less delta-v than compared to what needed to leave Earth- 9-10 Km/sec.

      To make simple, one gets 1/3 to 1/2 of payload of LEO if going towards the Moon, so 1/2 of the 5 million cost get to moon and with 2.5 million to land it on Moon. If 1/2 this cost is rocket fuel it’s about 1.25 million of rocket fuel per seat.
      Or paying $4000 per lb for rocket fuel: 312 lbs of rocket fuel per seat. Pretty tight.
      If $3000 per lb it’s 416 lb. With 7 crew it’s 2916 lb of fuel.

      Now back it up. Assume rocket fuel is $2000 in LEO, and $3000 to $4000 per lb at L-1 or lunar orbit. Buy 3500 lbs at LEO and 3000 lbs at lunar orbit- so 7 million and 9 million.
      7 crew to LEO- 7 million plus 16 million in fuel cost gets to surface. So 7 plus 32 million- divide 7. So 5.5 million per seat to lunar surface. So instead 5 million, make it less than 6 million per seat.

      If we have rocket fuel available at LEO for $2000 per lb and $4000 per lb at L-1, we would send slow freight to Mars using Hohmann transfer taking around 8 months- needing just over Earth escape velocity. So launch to LEO, refuel, and then on to Mars.

      For crew you would want to get to Mars as quickly as possible- which isn’t a Hohmann transfer. And to get most delta-v, crew would start from L-points with spacecraft fully fueled and capable of around 9 Km/sec of delta-v. Or near the practical limit of a chemical rocket. And starting from L-points gives about another 3 Km/sec as compared to starting form LEO. And you going fire the rocket engine at LEO distance. So coming from near the earth velocity and at perigee, accelerating so leave earth orbit at fairly high angle [around 45 degree] cross to Mars orbit distance. Or this “old fashion” way we once thought we had to go to other planet [and was considered impossible because it require too much rocket fuel]. There is no doubt this is wasteful way to get to Mars- but it’s shorter distance to travel and you arrive at Mars will a lower velocity difference relative to Mars. You wasting a huge amount of delta-v changing vector of Earth’s orbit.
      But you also doing a power gravity assist. And what you doing, I don’t think, is even possible from LEO.
      As far as I know, unless you changing Earth’s orbital vector, there is no other way to get to Mars, quickly. And because you accelerating quickly near Earth’s gravity well, you changing Earth’s vector in a efficient manner [what I mean by power gravity assist] it’s a lower delta-v cost then is using nuclear propulsion.

      But we using a lot rocket fuel- hence the almost 10 times the cost per seat as compared to getting lunar surface. One could do 100 ton per seat. At $4000 per lb, that is 800 million in fuel, this would probably mean the rocket fuel cost are more than the cost the rest of Spacecraft.
      For beginning NASA mission, one probably use crew of 4 and 50 tons per seat.

      And this is no where near 50 million per seat.
      But what talking about is task getting people somewhere, which different than exploration. I can’t see sending 10 or more crew on a NASA mission- in one trip.
      So 50 million per seat applies to after NASA exploration, and maybe one doesn’t have to get there as quickly. NASA should pay a premium to get it’s crew there as quickly as possible and crew to be as healthy as possible. If for no other reason, they hundreds of people at mission control monitoring the entire mission- a rather unusual situation.
      So 50 million per seat, say 12 passengers, trip time 4 months. 600,000 lbs of rocket fuel at $2000 per lb. Hmm still 100 million of fuel per seat. So, scratch 50 million per seat to Mars, in regards to going there fast, as part of CATS definition. It could happen before the 21 century. Because rocket fuel could sell at a 1/10th of this amount- eventually, but not in near term.

      So a revised metric for CATS is about 1 million per seat to LEO and less than 10 million for the Moon. And this is just getting there, not “hotel” stays, or even the return ticket. Getting to this point would be greatest achievement of 21 century. And is doable within a couple decades.
      We need fuel depots, and Lunar exploration [and NASA Mars manned, would provide a potential market for lunar rocket fuel]. This be beginning of future further Lunar exploration by other countries and private sector and ever increasing use of lunar and other elements of space environment [such as NEOs].

  12. Robert Clark says:

    Just saw this:

    Exploration Alternatives: From Propellant Depots to Commercial Lunar Base.
    November 15th, 2012 by Chris Bergin
    [QUOTE]NASA managers have since created an option for a return, listed as a Lunar Surface Sortie (LSS) mission via the Exploration Systems Development Division (ESD) Concept Of Operations (Con Ops) document (L2), allowing it to become a Design Reference Mission (DRM) alternative, potentially at the expense of a NEA mission in the early to mid 2020s.
    While this option remains on the cards, source information acquired by L2 this week revealed plans for a “game-changing” announcement as early as December that a new commercial space company intends to send commercial astronauts to the moon by 2020.
    According to the information, the effort is led by a group of high profile individuals from the aerospace industry and backed by some big money and foreign investors. The company intends to use “existing or soon to be existing launch vehicles, spacecraft, upper stages, and technologies” to start their commercial manned lunar campaign.
    The details point to the specific use of US vehicles, with a basic architecture to utilize multiple launches to assemble spacecraft in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The details make direct reference to the potential use of propellant depots and fuel transfer technology.
    Additional notes include a plan to park elements in lunar orbit, staging a small lunar lander that would transport two commercial astronauts to the surface for short stays. http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2012/11/exploration-alternatives-propellant-depots-commercial-lunar-base//QUOTE

    I first thought the commercial plan was going to follow the Early Lunar Access (ELA) proposal because it mentioned landing two commercial passengers on the Moon. ELA was a lightweight architecture that used a small two-man capsule:

    Encyclopedia Astronautica.
    Early Lunar Access. http://www.astronautix.com/craft/earccess.htm

    But it is unlikely in the commercial plan they mean the passengers are to fly alone without one or more professional pilots. And also the article mentions the commercial plan is to use on orbit assembly. But by using the Falcon Heavy or the SLS you could launch the ELA architecture with a single launch.

    Still, using two launches of the Delta IV Heavy both at its maximum payload to orbit of 25 mT we could launch the ELA architecture. Even if the Delta IV Heavy is not man rated, we could use separate launchers to take the astronauts to orbit and transfer them to the Moon vehicle after it is assembled.

    For the NASA proposal, the article mentions the Lunar Surface Sortie (LSS) proposal. But this was still to use a 4 man capsule, which likely means the large, heavy Orion. It also would involve a separate lunar crew module, also at variance with the lightweight ELA architecture.

    This lunar lander of the LSS proposal would then likely be akin to the large, expensive Altair lunar lander. So this proposal would be similar to the Constellation program whose high expense caused it to be cancelled. Better would be if NASA went [I]small[/I] following the ELA architecture to use a single, small capsule that would carry the astronauts all the way from LEO to the lunar surface and back again. This would allow a NASA return to the Moon with a proportionally small additional cost above that of the SLS itself, and in less than a decade.

    Bob Clark
    Report

  13. joe says:

    Warren Platts says: November 17, 2012 at 1:03 am
    Paul Spudis says: November 17, 2012 at 3:14 am
    “Have you heard of “Golden Spike”
    No.”

    I do not want to get too far into this (sorry but I am really tired of debating “new space” straw men) but this appears to be yet another plan to use “existing rockets” like the non-existent Falcon Heavy in conjunction with a non-existent orbital propellant depot system and showing how superior it is to a system using an HLV (which of course is a priori deemed to be unsustainable).

    As far as I know the only people who have made a good faith attempt to cost the development and fielding of an orbital propellant depot system are Dr. Spudis and Tony Lavoie. While I may have some disagreements with their costing at least they have made a good faith attempt.

    When you have a real plan and have managed to actually amass the capital to make the attempt, get back to me and I promise to get all excited.

    Until then you sound an awful lot like the Google X prize lunar competition that (after many years) seems about to lose to the Communist Chinese in the “race” to put an unmanned lander on the moon.

  14. DougSpace says:

    “by taking small incremental steps (affordable given yearly budgets) that build on and work together, thereby creating a large capability over time”.

    I would like to point out that the incremental approach is assuming that the mass and costs for the total system are greater than what an available launcher and a few years’ budgets can handle.

    In an incremental approach, there is progress, this is true, but there is also a lengthening of the time from the start of the program and when product is being produced.  This delay gives more opportunity for the architecture to be downgraded as was done to the ISS.  For any public-private partnership, a long time between investment and return-on- investment could put the kibosh on their participation.

    If the Falcon Heavy becomes available, then we’ll have the option of putting down about 8 tonnes on the lunar surface within as much as 100 cubic meters of volume.  For comparison, that would be the equivalent of about 9 MSLs.  So, much of the lunar surface equipment set could be landed in a single launch. 

    If a Lunar COTS approach were to be used, then the equipment could have been developed largely simultaneously at a fraction of the cost if the old FAR approach were used.

    My point is that we may be able to reduce the number of incremental steps and hence speed the program even with flat budgets and increase the likelihood of attracting private capital to help add to the budget.

  15. Warren Platts says:

    Huh? Diamandis is no fool. According to his own Peter’s Laws #2: When given a choice… Take both!!

    He’s not a sectarian. He will do what is advantageous.

  16. Robert Clark says:

    Just saw this article by legendary Apollo manager Chris Kraft mentioned on the NasaSpaceFlight.com forum:

    Space Launch System is a threat to JSC, Texas jobs.
    By Chris Kraft and Tom Moser | April 20, 2012 | Updated: April 20, 2012 8:20pm
    [quote]We are wasting billions of dollars per year on SLS. There are cheaper and nearer term approaches for human space exploration that use existing launch vehicles. [i]A multicenter NASA team has completed a study on how we can return humans to the surface of the moon in the next decade with existing launch vehicles and within the existing budget. This NASA plan, which NASA leadership is trying to hide, would save JSC and create thousands of jobs in Texas.[/i] [/quote]
    http://www.chron.com/opinion/outlook/article/Space-Launch-System-is-a-threat-to-JSC-Texas-jobs-3498836.php

    Since Kraft is opposed to the SLS and he says this plan uses existing launch vehicles, it can’t use the SLS or the Falcon Heavy. It must then use something similar to the Early Lunar Access plan that uses orbital assembly, perhaps using two launches of the Delta IV Heavy.
    Like the suppressed report that suggested orbiting propellant depots could accomplish the goals of the SLS at lower cost, this report will eventually also come out. So whose got the inside scoop?

    Bob Clark

    • Joe says:

      Robert Clark says: November 20, 2012 at 2:19 pm
      “Just saw this article by legendary Apollo manager Chris Kraft mentioned on the NasaSpaceFlight.com forum:”

      While I sympathize with (and actually share) director Kraft’s angst at the dismantling of the HSF operational capabilities he was so instrumental in developing, I think the direction of his ire is misplaced. It is not the SLS that is causing the sad situation, it is the fact that no reasonable term mission has been defined. A trip to an undefined asteroid sometime after 2025 (and that is how it is actually defined) just does not place a need to maintain the operational capabilities so budgets get cut. Additionally (if you like conspiracy theories) the JSC vs. MSFC tone of the editorial only plays into a “divide and conquer” strategy that will do neither center any good.

      “This NASA plan, which NASA leadership is trying to hide, would save JSC and create thousands of jobs in Texas.”

      I have the greatest of respect for Director Kraft, but a question needs to be asked. The “NASA leadership” referred to would have to be Bolden/Garver who work for the White House. The current President wanted no part of the SLS (it was in fact pushed off on him by the Congress). What would be Bolden/Garver’s motive for suppressing such a study? If they have such a study (in which they had any confidence) they would not be suppressing it they would be advertising it.

      “It must then use something similar to the Early Lunar Access plan that uses orbital assembly, perhaps using two launches of the Delta IV Heavy.”

      You are making a big assumption. More likely (by past experience) it would use Orbital Propellant Depots, emphasize the cost of developing new launchers while implicitly assuming that the Orbital Propellant Depot System can be developed, fielded, and maintained for free. In any case absent having the “suppressed” plan to review; it is not possible to tell.

      Note to Paul Spudis: We have conversed in the past about my believing that your lunar plan would need direct human intervention sooner than currently allowed. I have never believed I gave you a good enough idea of the level of early support I was trying to describe. The Early Lunar Access study is interesting in that regard. Ignoring the Architecture that allows you to get there, its description of surface capabilities is very close to what I have tried to describe.

  17. Robert Clark says:

    This article by Amy Shira Teitel about the Chris Kraft piece discusses and links to a NASA report showing propellant depots can allow BEO missions without the SLS, saving billions:

    EX-FLIGHT DIRECTOR URGES NASA TO KILL NEXT ROCKET SYSTEM.
    Analysis by Amy Shira Teitel
    Wed Apr 25, 2012 01:00 PM ET
    http://news.discovery.com/space/mercury-flight-director-urges-nasa-to-kill-sls-120425.html

    So it’s probably the report referred to by Chris Kraft:

    “Propellant Depot Requirements Study Status Report”
    http://images.spaceref.com/news/2011/21.jul2011.vxs.pdf

    The report discusses several scenarios for lunar, asteroidal, or Mars missions without using heavy lift vehicles by using propellant depots. It does discuss use of the Falcon Heavy in some scenarios, but others use the Delta IV Heavy. About this last, it’s interesting they give the max payload of the Delta IV Heavy as 28 mT. But the highest I ever read it having was 25 mT. Anyone know what modifications to the Delta IV Heavy would allow it to have this high a payload capability?
    A disadvantage of the approaches discussed however is the large number of launches required even for the lunar missions, 6 for the Falcon Heavy and 10 for the Delta IV Heavy. This is because the scenarios use the large, heavy Orion capsule, the service module, and a separate, large lunar lander, likely akin to the Altair lunar lander.
    On the other hand if instead the Early Lunar Access (ELA) architecture were used it could be done with a single launch of the Falcon Heavy or two with the Delta IV Heavy:

    Encyclopedia Astronautica.
    Early Lunar Access.
    http://www.astronautix.com/craft/earccess.htm

    Bob Clark

    • Joe says:

      A couple of procedural points on the paper to which you linked:
      – How did a “suppressed” study end up linked in a news article. If it is there, it certainly is not “suppressed” any longer.
      – There are no authors or organizations listed (other than HAT – which I believe stands for Human Architecture Team, though they provide no acronyms list).
      – They provide no bibliography for supporting data even though the very top level charts they use make it hard (actually impossible) to tell what the dollar figures being implied actually.
      – The presentation is very repetitive. They go through about six scenarios, but repeat charts with (at most) minor modifications. The exact phrase “Costs $10’ of billions of dollars less through 2030 over alternate over HLLV/SEP-based architecture approaches” appears six times in six different scenarios. It is unlikely the same exact phrase would apply to all scenarios.

      A couple of more technical points:
      – While the bar charts are so top level they cannot be read for detail, the DDT&E charts appear to have the total for an orbital propellant depot system as only $2 to 3 Billion. That is very low.
      – They use a 100 Metric Ton HLLV as there comparison point, but the two iterations of the SLS are 70/130 Metric Tons, thus there is no way to know where any actual cost estimates for this “straw man” booster may have originated.
      – On slide 50 (Lunar Reference Mission 33C). It not only lists cost for an orbital propellant depot system for the HLLV configuration, but its costs appear to be some 50% than for the other configurations. A hypothetical 100 Metric Ton Launcher would not need an orbital propellant depot system at all and even if you insist on it having one why would it be significantly more expensive?

      OK, that is just a top level review of questions about the study’s methodology. I think supports my basic premise that it would: “emphasize the cost of developing new launchers while implicitly assuming that the Orbital Propellant Depot System can be developed, fielded, and maintained for free.” This one added a new level of “sophistication” by adding the cost of an unneeded depot system to the HLLV column (and saying it costs more than for the other systems – thus even further cooking the books)/

      But we have really gotten off topic here. The Subject of these articles was the fact that a specific objective based plan (the VSE) was ended and replaced first with basically nothing, then with an ill thought out plan to visit a series of asteroids (starting some 10 to 15 years in the future and at a rate of no more than one mission every several years), then at some ‘undefined point in the 2030’s transition to an equally low flight rate of missions to Mars orbit that might (or might not) someday lead to a Mars landing. The real point is that you cannot execute a bad objective well no matter what launch architecture you use. SLS, Orbital Propellant Depots, or even “break through Nuclear Fusion Rockets”, it will not matter the objective will still be bad and so will the execution.

      • Robert Clark says:

        Thanks for the informative response. Keep in mind I am not an opponent of the SLS. Though I am a supporter of commercial space, I don’t oppose SLS because I believe commercial space will continue whether or not the SLS is funded.
        Kraft is opposed to the SLS because he believes it is sucking jobs and funding from Johnson. But the point of the matter is that you can have crewed BEO flights, so presumable managed by Johnson, at lower cost and at shorter time frame by NASA doing smaller missions first even if using the SLS. As the saying goes the “best is the enemy of the good.”
        What I am a strong proponent of is the small Early Lunar Access proposal:

        Encyclopedia Astronautica.
        Early Lunar Access.
        http://www.astronautix.com/craft/earccess.htm

        Whichever launch system is used, current vehicles and propellant depots or the SLS, this would allow us to return to the Moon at comparatively low cost and by the 2020 time frame originally envisioned by the VSE.

        Bob Clark

        • Joe says:

          So I don’t end up sounding like I am trying to “rain on your parade” we are in basic agreement about what the objective of the initial Human Lunar Return should be. As I stated in an aside to Dr. Spudis in a post above (dated: November 21, 2012 at 11:31 am ) “….. I have never believed I gave you a good enough idea of the level of early support I was trying to describe. The Early Lunar Access study is interesting in that regard. Ignoring the Architecture that allows you to get there, its description of surface capabilities is very close to what I have tried to describe.”

          So “all” we have to do is get Lunar ISRU re-established as the goal/objective of the HSF program.

  18. Robert Clark says:

    The “Golden Spike” commercial return to the Moon plan will have its unveiling at a news conference at the National Press Club on Dec. 6th

    Golden Spike to Unveil Plans Next Thursday.
    Posted by Doug Messier on December 1, 2012, at 5:27 am in News
    http://www.parabolicarc.com/2012/12/01/golden-spike-to-unveil-plans-next-thursday/

    Bob Clark

  19. Robert Clark says:

    Proposes using the unmanned test flights of the Falcon Heavy to test low cost BEO missions to the lunar surface, near Earth asteroids, and the Lagrange points:

    SpaceX Dragon spacecraft for low cost trips to the Moon, page 3: Falcon Heavy for BEO test flights.
    http://exoscientist.blogspot.com/2012/12/spacex-dragon-spacecraft-for-low-cost.html

    Bob Clark

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