Cislunar Space — Looking into the Future

I recently attended a one-day workshop held at United Launch Alliance on the topic of cislunar space development.  I’ve written up some impressions of the meeting at Air & Space.  Comment here, if desired.

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19 Responses to Cislunar Space — Looking into the Future

  1. Joe says:


    Really envy participation in such a fascinating seminar.

    Have played “Charlie Brown to some politicians Lucy with a Football” to many times to “get ahead of my skies” on this but there are certainly a lot of currently encouraging signs.

    Those signs include (at least according to press accounts) that Congressman Bridenstine and Scott Pace (both of whom have expressed support for Cis-Lunar Space development) are being seriously considered for the NASA Administrator’s position.

    Hope that any discussion does not devolve into the usual “commercial vs. government” dead end debate. Should be noted that both Bridenstine and Pace have also expressed support for SLS/Orion as part of the initial transportation infrastructure to begin the kind of development discussed here.

    We should all hope that such events will proceed.

  2. billgamesh says:

    “In conjunction with such a change in the space business model is the perennial battle over “commercial” vs. “government” space. ULA approaches Cislunar 1000 as a commercial venture. Workshop participants did not gather to press for a massive government program to build this system, but rather, to understand how various commercial entities could work together to create it.”

    It is about the satellite business and in my view that is not space exploration and I consider much of it to be counterproductive and antithetical to Human Space Flight.

    Much of the hype surrounding SpaceX and NewSpace is really about using this confusion between the satellite industry and Human Space Flight to deceive and misstate.

    Space exploration equals Human Space Flight. Those wanting to do away with Human Space Flight and focus on robots may use the term space exploration but I disagree with that and go with an opposite definition.

    Again, HSF=Space Exploration.

    A massive government program is required to expand the human presence Beyond Low Earth Orbit (BLEO). ULA and SpaceX and Blue Origin and these other concerns are in one sense actually “anti-space” and are not effecting progress in Human Space Flight. They are not helping.

    The Super Heavy Lift Vehicle and a lunar return, along with a state-sponsored program to create a cislunar infrastructure are the keys to the kingdom. The profit motive may help later on after a foundation is in place but for now the effect seems more toxic than anything else.

    In my view the satellite industry has created the present junkyard up there and the solution is to go to the Moon with wet workshops, fill them with lunar water shielding provided by robot landers, and transit them back to GEO to be used as human-crewed telecom platforms. This would get rid of the junkyard by replacing the present network with perhaps a few dozen large platforms. Each would become essentially a part of the geographical area they hover above and this would have a stabilizing influence instead of contributing to the present trend of making Earth orbit a military arena.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      Again, HSF=Space Exploration.

      Actually, human spaceflight is needed for a wide variety of activities of which scientific exploration is only one. Building large distributed systems in space is a job beyond simple robotic assembly, but could be accomplished with people and robots working together, as was done with the ISS.

      • Joe says:

        Based on experience developing EVA/Robotic procedures for assembly/maintenance of the ISS, very much agreed.

        Additionally, the capabilities for in-space activities will serve both purposes. The applications of the “large distributed systems in space” have the potential to attract more support from both government and private sources than will be done by scientific exploration for its own sake alone and thus should increase support for both.

        • billgamesh says:

          My point was that saying the satellite business is “space exploration” and that robot probes are “space exploration” both confuse the public in regards to Human Space Flight- which is what I would venture a significant part of the population would associate with true “space exploration.” Though some appreciate robot exploration they majority consider human exploration to the be the significant qualifier.

          SpaceX, for example, is in the satellite business. Nobody can deny that. But since they have yet to launch a human mission, and having blown up twice, will probably not do so for quite awhile, they are not in the Human Space Flight business yet and should not be confused, despite the company name, with “space exploration.”

          Likewise, these corporate concerns such as ULA, when promoting their satellite maintenance plans, are NOT talking about using humans and should thus also not be confused with the Human Space Flight aspect of “space exploration.”

        • Joe says:

          Additionally, if I might; the whole this specific vs. that specific goal approach is counter productive to those interested in having extended human expansion into space happen.

          (1) Human vs. Robotic.
          (2) Commercial vs. Government.
          (3) Exploration vs. Settlement vs. Applications.

          Etc. only serve the purposes of politicians who want to manipulate all of those advocates to the detriment of all their interests.

          An approach (using Lunar Resources/Cis-Lunar Space Development – the most practical starting point) serving all those goals (and probably many others) is a winning approach for all space advocates.

  3. On a 80km/s transit the best rocket fuel (453s Isp) is on paper literally 1,000,000 times worse than the alternative. Water thrusters are well below 453s Isp range. Moon water will be for drinking and the demand will vastly lag supply.

    That said, good luck storming the castle.

    Every space victory is good even if its on the moon. =)

    • Joe says:

      “Water thrusters are well below 453s Isp range. Moon water will be for drinking and the demand will vastly lag supply.”

      It is hard to tell what you mean by that statement.

      The specific impulse of the RS-25 Engines (used for the Space Shuttle) is 453 seconds in a vacuum. The RS-25 uses Hydrogen/Oxygen for fuel/oxidizer.

      The proposed use of lunar water as propellant is to convert the H2O into Hydrogen/Oxygen.

      So the ISP for lunar water fueled engines would be identical to the 453 ISP you quote, because the propellant is the same.

  4. Vladislaw says:

    Dr. Spudis wrote: “we considered issues and requirements in space transportation, resources, manufacturing, energy and human spaceflight. ”

    Any chance you could elaborate a little on types of space transportation systems being considered? Tugs? Ships? etc …Plus human spaceflight in general?

    Also the manufacturing, what was the talk on the future of 3D printing in space?


  5. billgamesh says:

    At 1.1 million pounds of thrust per Vulcan 1st stage, even lashing three of them together like the falcon is not an impressive lift capability for going to the Moon. Not at all.

    The reality is even Saturn V was under-powered for lunar missions and used only because LOR (Lunar Orbit Rendezvous) made it mission capable. At 130 metric tons the evolved SLS is the lower range for an appropriate launcher while using inappropriate solid fuel boosters. What is needed is yet another iteration with pressure-fed ocean recovered boosters and possibly some form of recoverable core engine package. And of course a wet workshop to send to the Moon. I give ULA credit for the IFV concept but it is certainly not a “game changer” and their proposal to transfer liquid hydrogen is…not believable. That stuff really is a problem in space and in my view it is more likely methane is going to be the propellant derived from lunar ice and trapped volatiles.

    ULA is not proposing any kind of SHLV “architecture” so I am not taking them seriously and I don’t think space advocates should expect any progress in Human Space Flight as a result of their efforts- though their stuff certainly looks good for launching satellites.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      Apparently, you did not bother to read my post at Air & Space:

      launch was specifically excluded from consideration (it was assumed that multiple paths to LEO will be available for differing needs)

      So the lack of consideration of “heavy lift” was deliberate.

      Now you’ve had your say and all know what you think. Enough.

  6. Grand Lunar says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Dr Spudis!

    This is what I like about ULA. They present visions based on practical needs.

    I think the idea ought to become NASA’s official plan, as well. Far better than the non-starter of Journey to Mars.

    I am skeptical about the time frame. To be conservative, I’d say it may be closer to 60 years for 1000 people to work in space.
    I’d like to be proven wrong on that one.

    • Joe says:

      Not sure to whom to attribute the sentiment, but a high level aerospace engineering manager was asked what they had learned in their career.

      They replied something like – “That I always overestimated what I could accomplish in 5 years and underestimated what would be accomplished, even if in spite of me, in 30 years.”

      That has not been the case in Aerospace development recently (to put it mildly), hopefully we are overdue.

      • billgamesh says:

        “Aerospace development” is a very difficult subject to discuss because there is no fundamental guiding ideology. In the past it was quite simple to follow the trend and pursue making ships bigger and faster and more economical and then following up with aircraft. Till today we have what are essentially the ultimate examples of these lines of development-

        Like the container ship
        and the jumbo jet

        Space is of course quite different. Though space analogies using nautical and aviation precedents are common, they are almost without fail very bad analogies. Space is not an ocean and spacecraft are not airliners. It does help matters that what actually worked for lunar travel is now considered “old space” and no longer relevant. That is the big lie.

        Actually “NewSpace” is fast becoming irrelevant.

        What is needed is something lifting in the neighborhood of 400 tons into LEO. Before the scorn and mocking begin, it should be understood such vehicles were considered no big technical challenge a half a century ago.

        Launching 8 to 10 such vehicles per year for the next 30 years is not so great a leap from launching the shuttle for the last 30. This is what it takes to enable a state-sponsored lunar return program constructing true spaceships on the Moon propelled by nuclear energy and shielded with thousands of tons of water.

        We have the money- a new 100 billion dollar stealth bomber program, 350 billion dollar missile submarine program, and most amazingly of all, 1.5 trillion over the next half a century to support a fleet of single engine fighter planes (the F-35). Norm Augustine could explain exactly why these cold war toys are being built but space exploration is virtually verboten.

        I will give you the short explanation: spaceships have to work.

  7. A lunar outpost could have another significant commercial advantage if ample quantities of nitrogen could also be mined at the lunar poles. The nitrogen could be used to manufacture hydrazine which could be used to refuel old satellites– extending their operational lifetimes.

    But I think its time to stop foolin’ around a start deploying LOX/LH2 propellant depots derived from rocket upper stages (Centaur, SLS-EUS, and the future ACES 68) using the ULA’s emerging IVF technology. I’d retain the rocket engines and thrusters to allow such depots the ability to maneuver and to deploy themselves into a variety of orbits. Congress should make this one of NASA’s top priorities, IMO!

    I’d also like to see water stored at such depots and even manufactured into propellant. Large Orbital ATK type of solar arrays exceeding 500 KWe could easily be deployed almost anywhere within cis-lunar space with current commercial vehicles. Even in Earth orbit, that would be enough power to produce more than 500 tonnes of LOX/LH2 propellant annually. Orbiting water depots could dock at the space solar power plants when converting water into propellant and then move behind orbiting sunshades to reduce boiloff.

    A propellant manufacturing water depot derived from the SLS EUS could store up to 125 tonnes of LOX/LH2 propellant plus perhaps 200 tonnes of water. Water could be supplied to depots at LEO and EML1 by commercial launch vehicles until lunar water becomes available.

    Cryogenic propellant production depot for low Earth orbit

  8. James says:

    I would love to attend such a workshop. Maybe someday.

    “multiple paths to LEO will be available for differing needs”


    And It could be useful to have various versions of the Stick which might encourage more first stage builders around the world to have the performance enhancing options of various solid rocket boosters.


    Orbital ATK, CRS-2, and the return of “The Stick”
    by Jeffrey Smith November 7, 2016

    Not sure what the full mining and other implications are, but found this interesting:

    “A team of researchers affiliated with several institutions in Japan, examining data from that country’s moon-orbiting Kaguya spacecraft, has found evidence of oxygen from Earth’s atmosphere making its way to the surface of the moon for a few days every month.

    From: ‘Moon found to be periodically showered with oxygen ions from Earth’
    By Bob Yirka January 31, 2017

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