Saturday, July 25, 2015

Affordable Return To The Moon To Stay

On Monday, July 20, the 46th anniversary of the first landing of humans on the Moon, I attended a press conference in Washington, DC describing the release of a study commissioned by NASA on how humans can return to the Moon more affordably by means of commercial and international partnerships. The study was conducted by NexGen Space LLC, a consulting company, with the support of the Space Frontier Foundation and the National Space Society. The full report is available at this link (PDF).

    Panel listens to Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin commenting (via phone) on the just released study report on how to affordably return to the Moon to stay.

The report's executive summary summarized the conclusions:
Based on these assumptions, NexGen’s analysis concludes that by using an Evolvable Lunar Architecture that leverages innovative commercial and international partnerships:

• America could return humans to the surface of the Moon within 5-7 years of authority to proceed within NASA’s existing human spaceflight budget, at a cost of about $5 Billion (+/- 20%) for each commercial service provider by using commercial partnership methods.

• America could develop a permanent base on the Moon of 4 astronauts about 10-12 years after first setting foot on the Moon, that provides 200 MT of propellant per year in lunar orbit for NASA, again within NASA’s existing deep space human spaceflight budget and for a total cost of about $40 Billion (+/- 20%).

• A commercial lunar base providing propellant in lunar orbit would reduce the cost to NASA of sending humans to Mars by as much as $10 Billion per year. Such a commercial service would substantially reduce the cost and technical risk of using the Space Launch System (SLS) to send humans to Mars, by reducing the number of SLS launches required from as many as 12 to a total of 3.

• A permanent lunar base operated by commercial industry could substantially, if not completely, pay for itself by exporting propellant to lunar orbit for NASA to send humans to Mars.

The report received wide attention inside the space community and in the general media. Lunar geologist Paul Spudis, a longtime advocate for returning to the Moon, critiqued the study in  this article. Professor Johann-Dietrich Woerner, Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA) has already expressed interest in establishing a lunar "village" through international and commercial partnerships. While running for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich proposed establishing a lunar base, which he likely intended to be implemented with a strong commercial partnership approach, similar to what is recommended by this new study report.

This study's approach is not binding on NASA or Congress and may face resistance by some who favor more established ways of implementing large space projects. It does provide a starting point for developing innovative and affordable ways for the United States to maintain a leading role in what is becoming an increasing global enterprise of expanding humanity beyond Earth.

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