Author Topic: Private Moon Landing in the works?  (Read 54902 times)

Offline mrmandias

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Private Moon Landing in the works?
« on: 11/15/2012 07:08 PM »
From Chris' latest article:

http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2012/11/exploration-alternatives-propellant-depots-commercial-lunar-base/



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.

The architecture would then grow into the company’s long-term ambitions to establish a man-tended outpost using inflatable modules. It is also understood that the company has already begun the design process for the Lunar Lander.

More details ahead of the announcement are expected in the coming days and weeks

Offline mrmandias

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Re: Private Moon Landing in the works?
« Reply #1 on: 11/15/2012 07:17 PM »
OK, obviously the money is the biggest question here.  How do they intend to pay for all this?  If its investors, what's the business case?  Even if the development of most of these items is already paid for, mission costs are still going to be at bare minimum a billion dollars or so.

I speculate that you might have a few very rich individuals who would be willing to chip in substantial amounts of money to be in the first group of people to return to the moon.  Especially if the expense can be treated as a charitable write-off or even a business cost.  However, Chris says that the lander is supposed to hold only two men.  So you are only talking a few individuals, who would have to take a considerable amount of time to be trained.

Another option is publicity, free advertising, that sort of thing.  That's not going to be worth a billion, but it might be worth something.

That leads me to what I think the real purpose of this is:  I think its designed to be an SLS-killer.  We'll know more when we see who is actually backing it, of course.  But the folks who dramatically and publicly demonstrate that they have a superior space access architecture to NASA's current scheme could then put on pressure to have NASA use their system and fund their project and would likely succeed.  Who loves publicity more than companies?  Congress and the President.

Offline Chris Bergin

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Re: Private Moon Landing in the works?
« Reply #2 on: 11/15/2012 07:21 PM »
Actually, that's a good idea to have a standalone thread, given the article (and the thread I gave it) was on a few subject areas.

(That thread is here: http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=30357.0)

I'll link up that previous ld thread to here for the specific commercial lunar notes! :)

Offline LegendCJS

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Re: Private Moon Landing in the works?
« Reply #3 on: 11/15/2012 07:25 PM »
OK, obviously the money is the biggest question here.  How do they intend to pay for all this?  If its investors, what's the business case? 

...

Another option is publicity, free advertising, that sort of thing. 

...

Who loves publicity more than companies?  Congress and the President.
Funny conclusion you are drawing there ;)
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Offline Lobo

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Re: Private Moon Landing in the works?
« Reply #4 on: 11/15/2012 07:41 PM »
Since there is a public thread for this now.

Very exciting, and would be a big kick in the britches to NASA and the US Government, which –could- be a very good thing.  If they see a private joint-venture company doing in basically 8 years and a fraction of the budget that NASA has, and is claiming is too little to go back to the moon, that would be a big embarrassment I think.  And I think could prompt some serious discussions between NASA and Congress on just how all that money is being spent and how NASA operates.  NASA has pretty consistently taken the most expensive and difficult path forward since Apollo.  There was money to do it during Apollo, but hasn’t been since.  They have had many chances over the years to create a more affordable and more sustainable HSF system, and seem to have not chosen those chances every time.  Not using any Apollo tech or Titan tech for STS, chosing CxP instead of EELV or EELV-derived, sticking with a growing CxP rather than something like Direct or AJAX, etc.  A lot of it is probably politics and not always their independent choice.  But that’s why I’m thinking something like this could prompt Congress and NASA both to have a chat about doing what’s politically appealing vs. technologically and fiscally logical.  Prior to Apollo, NASA used existing rockets.  Maybe there could be a return to that?  It might take something impossible to ignore like a private company developing and launching an independent lunar program on just a fraction of NASA’s budget.
Assuming that at least two of the principals in this would be SpaceX and Bigelow (existing or soon to be existing LV’s and inflatable modules?  Seems pretty obvious.    )

On the flip side, there might not need to be a specific commercial “customer” per se.  If Musk and Bigelow want to do it, and can get enough people to invest in it, the business model could very well be to develop a system and operation model that NASA/Congress could find attractive.  Which would make the all US built aspect of it very important.  Such a incredibly high profile demonstration would be impossible for NASA/Congress to ignore.  And Musk and Bigelow can say, “Hey, we can do this for you too for just a fraction of the cost you’ve been looking at.  And there’s no development, as we’ve already developed it.  An efficient use of those limited tax payer dollars.” 
So the project could literally be a way to showcase hardware and capabilities of the members of the consortium.  Including whoever builds the lander, and whoever builds the upper stage.  As Boeing has already worked with Bigelow, perhaps they might be a partner, building a lander similar to the one they proposed to NASA for the Gateway proposal, and using the DCSS, or something derived from that for the EDS?  If NASA were to start buying hardware and services from this consortium, suddenly there’s a customer with a budget that can drop a few billion dollars a year on hardware and services.  Maybe NASA is the ultimate target customer? Just a small amount of their annual budget is a lot of money in the commercial sector.  Commercial tourism is a possibility, but I’d think even with the cheaper prices they might do it for, it still would be expensive enough that the list of people with that much money would be pretty short.  Although, that could just be a supplemental activity, and not necessarily designed to sustain the project alone. 
Be interesting on what that would mean for SLS though, which would be quite far along by the time this consortium would look actually legitimate or not, and might be both hard to justify, and hard to cancel for political and PR reasons.   It could probably still be used, but it could launch the whole mission in one launch rather than the LEO assembly as it sounds like they are planning on doing. 

Offline mrmandias

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Re: Private Moon Landing in the works?
« Reply #5 on: 11/15/2012 07:47 PM »
Oh, I agree.  I think the obvious business case for this (assuming that it really is well-financed and backed by serious players) is to make an unignorable demonstration of capabilities that NASA cannot then credibly ignore (or Congress, as the case may be). 

Offline Rocket Science

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Re: Private Moon Landing in the works?
« Reply #6 on: 11/15/2012 07:48 PM »
There are many nations around the world that although cannot afford their own space program, could afford to pay for one of their own to conduct science on the Moon. This doesn’t have to be just about a few rich tourists on a junket…

Thanks Chris for the article that allows for some hope of moving forward…  :)
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Offline Political Hack Wannabe

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Re: Private Moon Landing in the works?
« Reply #7 on: 11/15/2012 07:49 PM »
There is a third point, that everyone I think is missing. 

And that is you don't necessarily HAVE to have a commercial market for each and every piece of the system.  Case in point - the whole discussion of depots.  While there is a market for depots via NASA exploration, there is also the potential market for satellite refueling.  As another example, there is the idea of using Commercial Crew to jump start the US launch industry (although it would help to get ITAR reform...)

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Offline FinalFrontier

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Re: Private Moon Landing in the works?
« Reply #8 on: 11/15/2012 08:05 PM »
I suppose that now we should start the guessing game of who is involved.


I will start with the obvious candidates: Boeing, SpaceX, and ULA (possibly).
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Offline HMXHMX

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Re: Private Moon Landing in the works?
« Reply #9 on: 11/15/2012 08:05 PM »
From Chris' latest article:

http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2012/11/exploration-alternatives-propellant-depots-commercial-lunar-base/



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.

The architecture would then grow into the company’s long-term ambitions to establish a man-tended outpost using inflatable modules. It is also understood that the company has already begun the design process for the Lunar Lander.

More details ahead of the announcement are expected in the coming days and weeks


Sounds a lot like a project I heard about a few years ago, called "Golden Spike".  Several well known names were rumored to be associated with it.

Offline Chris Bergin

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Re: Private Moon Landing in the works?
« Reply #10 on: 11/15/2012 08:12 PM »
Since there is a public thread for this now.

To be clear, there was a thread the second the story went on, in the Moon section.

Offline neilh

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Re: Private Moon Landing in the works?
« Reply #11 on: 11/15/2012 08:22 PM »
I suppose that now we should start the guessing game of who is involved.


I will start with the obvious candidates: Boeing, SpaceX, and ULA (possibly).

Since it doesn't contain or rely on any sensitive information, I'll copy what I previously posted to L2:

Quote from: neilh
My personal guesses for partners for the newly-formed company (I have no insider information on this whatsoever):
* ULA: They're at the forefront when it comes to depot development, and of course also have their launchers. If SpaceX is involved I suspect it won't be in a development role (I really don't see development of a lunar architecture on Musk's shortlist of priorities), but simply as a commercial launch provider.
* ILC Dover: This might just be me being contrarian, but I actually believe they're a more likely pick for inflatables than Bigelow. This is going to need to be a team effort, and Bigelow isn't exactly known as a team player. While ILC Dover isn't as well-publicised as Bigelow, I was actually pretty surprised to see how much work ILC Dover's done so far on lunar habitats: http://www.ilcdover.com/Habitats-and-Shelters/
* Masten as a subcontractor to ULA, based on their ongoing collaboration on the Xeus dual-thrust axis prototype, and Masten's experience with landers in general
* XCOR as a subcontractor to ULA, based on their ongoing collaboration on piston-pump generators/engines
* Altius as a subcontractor to ULA, based on this collaboration: http://blog.altius-space.com/2010/11/more-about-that-second-contract/
« Last Edit: 11/16/2012 02:26 AM by neilh »
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Offline mrmandias

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Re: Private Moon Landing in the works?
« Reply #12 on: 11/15/2012 08:58 PM »
Many of the design elements point to Boeing/ULA.  Depots, for instance.

But those folks would have no particular interest in killing the SLS.  SpaceX would, but this doesn't sounds *at all* like a SpaceX project.

Some of the speculation that this is designed to make NASA an offer it can't refuse on infrastructure that could theoretically be used in conjunction with the SLS may be right.  If so, good for whoever it is.

Offline jongoff

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Re: Private Moon Landing in the works?
« Reply #13 on: 11/15/2012 09:40 PM »
* Altius as a subcontractor to ULA, based on this collaboration: http://blog.altius-space.com/2010/11/more-about-that-second-contract/

As I mentioned on L2, while we'd love to be involved in a serious privately-funded lunar project, we have no connection with this project at the moment. Very curious to see who all is involved and if Altius could find a role in it once it's more public, but as of right now we're pretty heads-down on our DARPA Phoenix work, and a few small business development efforts related to our space robotics stuff we're working with NASA LaRC, so I only heard about this announcement when I read Chris' article this morning.

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Offline Warren Platts

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Re: Private Moon Landing in the works?
« Reply #14 on: 11/15/2012 09:44 PM »
Pretty expensive way to kill SLS when if it's such the dinosaur that many seem to imply, it will collapse under its own weight sooner or later.

I think the motivation was nailed by Diamandis himself. People are impatient and fracked off, and if they want to see anyone on the Moon--and a lot of these millionaires and billionaires have dreamed of landing on the Moon themselves personally since childhood--they've realized they've got to do it themselves.

As for whose behind it, I don't see this as coming from old space companies like ULA or Boeing. It's coming from distinct, individuals with powerful personalities. The idea that depots "could" be used was a bit of commentary/analysis on the part of Chris Bergin--and there's nothing wrong with that.

It just seems IMHO that if it's going to get done at all, it's going to have to be a more or less shoe-string, no-frills touch 'n' go sortie mission, where they'll plant some flags and grab some samples. So you're looking at two FH launches and be done with it. SpaceX will likely have a high energy upper stage at that point. No need for refueling for such a lightweight mission.

My guess it'll be a consortium of a few new space companies: I'll bet Diamandis has fingers in the pie somehow. Could be joining forces with MoonEx. Astrobotics is looking good; Caterpillar might be expected to be a sponsor.
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