Chinese officials quite rightly dismiss LOP-G


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At a science workshop in Europe this week Chinese space officials made it clear that they found the concept of NASA Lunar Orbiting Platform-Gateway (LOP-G) to be unimpressive and uninteresting.

Moreover, they said that while it appears we will be delaying our landings on the Moon for at least a decade because of LOP-G, they will be focused on getting and building a research station on the surface, right off the bat.

Overall, Pei does not appear to be a fan of NASA’s plan to build a deep space gateway, formally known as the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, at a near-rectilinear halo orbit. Whereas NASA will focus its activities on this gateway away from the Moon, Pei said China will focus on a “lunar scientific research station.”

Another slide from Pei offered some thoughts on the gateway concept, which NASA intends to build out during the 2020s, delaying a human landing on the Moon until the end of the decade at the earliest. Pei does not appear to be certain about the scientific objectives of such a station, and the deputy director concludes that, from a cost-benefit standpoint, the gateway would have “lost cost-effectiveness.”

The Chinese are right of course. LOP-G is merely a fake project to justify SLS and Orion, designed not to explore space but to provide Congress a jobs program on Earth. It will hand the Moon to China, while we dither in lunar orbit.

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27 comments

  • Localfluff

    I hope this gets Trade War Trump’s attention. His very first (or second?) weekly Friday address to the American people focused completely on space exploration, celebrating the Hubble space telescope most of all. And he has, maybe symbolically nut anyway, pushed for the Space Force. He was a teenager during the space race. And he talks on most of his rallies about “the engines coming down” referring to Falcon 9 (and rightly focuses on the engines that are the most valuable thing to recover). As a businessman taking a look at the SLS+Orion+LOPG monies and comparing that to SpaceX, is something he must understand.

    Hopefully after the mid-term election he will have enough margin in the Senate to have the negotiating power against the boondoggle profiteers to cancel this misery. Especially now when the Chinese are using it to make a fool out him.

  • Calvin Dodge

    In addition to Zubrin’s “moondoggle”, I suggest renamed it “FLOP-G”.

  • wodun

    It will hand the Moon to China, while we dither in lunar orbit.

    It isn’t a space race, its a space marathon. While I would like to see us beat China back to the moon, it ultimately isn’t as important as a sustainable long term presence. We could land people on the Moon within a month if we really wanted to.

    SLS/Orion and LOP-G are just one track, we can’t forget about the other track that is using a COTS like approach to returning to the Moon. We need more details, but the idea to use many different rover missions to prospect the Moon for the best places to build a base is exactly what we should be doing. This other track isn’t dependent on SLS/Orion or LOP-G although those systems can be used. LOP-G isn’t even dependent on SLS/Orion after initial construction and even then, multiple propulsion units will be produced eliminating the need for SLS/Orion should they be cancelled.

    It should also be noted that LOP-G isn’t just for lunar missions but also Mars missions as NASA is tasked with reaching both destinations. The argument over the Moon or Mars has been solved by choosing both, with NASA enabling commercial and international endeavors to the Moon.

    In any case, no one should expect to know too much about what the future holds. Commercial capabilities are expanding and could expand faster than people can anticipate. We can’t plan for the best way to reach the Moon right now. By the time prospecting work is done, there will be a lot of options that are not available to us today. This is why the dual track is so important, it positions us to take advantage of different outcomes.

    Having a space station supporting lunar activities is a good thing. I’d prefer it being a variable gravity station because it could be that living on the Moon is rather unpleasant and that humans will need to cycle between simulated gravity and lunar gravity to remain healthy. We don’t really know and unfortunately no matter what, we will be spending billions on paths with much uncertainty of outcome.

  • Michael

    “We could land people on the Moon within a month if we really wanted to.”

    ???????

  • @ Michael:

    He didn’t say we’d get them back.

  • wodun

    Yeah, we have the launch capability and options for in-space propulsion and habitats. The tricky part would be the lander but a very solvable problem. Maybe a month is a little ambitious but if it took six months it would be because people weren’t serious about getting the job done.

  • pzatchok

    What do we on the Moon?
    What do we need to mine and manufacture on the Moon to further our space program?

    Nothing.

    We need the Moon for low gravity research
    How to build and operate a high powered nuclear reactor.
    How to mine and refine metals in a low gravity environment.

    Basically just research. Nothing more.

    Unless someone wants to dominate the Earth and then it would make a great military outpost to force the rest of the world to its knees. ‘the Moon is a Harsh mistress.’ style.

  • pzatchok: Yup, these were the exact same arguments that Columbus faced. “What do we need the New World for? It isn’t the Spice Islands, as you promised! It’s just this mass of unsettled wilderness filled with savages! We shouldn’t waste our money going there!”

    The truth is that we cannot predict what the value of the Moon, or anything in space, will be. We need to grab at it, and see what it brings. Or we can put our heads in the sand and let others do.

    Which others (China, India, Russia, Europe) are surely doing.

  • Edward

    pzatchok,

    There are several ideas. There is a book, by Paul D. Spudis, “The Value of the Moon,” that makes a case for the Moon.

    We are fairly certain that there is water in the permanently dark areas of craters at the poles, and this can be turned into fuel and oxidizer for voyages around the solar system, or just near the Earth. Bringing fuel uphill from Earth is expensive.

    Gerard K. O’Neill believed that we could us lunar material to build solar power plants in Earth orbit, specifically in geostationary orbit. Mining the Moon would be far less expensive than taking all that material uphill from the Earth. He even envisioned colonies in space that would support the construction and operations efforts, again with the colony construction materials coming from the Moon’s surface.

    Others believe that the Moon would be a good research site, especially for radio astronomy on the other side of the Moon, clear of the noisy Earth. At least until the lunar vicinity becomes too noisy.

    United Launch Alliance gives a more general idea of the usefulness of the Moon and near-Earth space:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxftPmpt7aA (7 minutes, “CisLunar-1000”)

    My father is equally mystified as to the value of the Moon and space, but just because you and he haven’t thought up any uses does not mean that the other seven billion of us aren’t coming up with ideas.

    Getting our materials from the Moon is much easier than from Earth, due to the tyranny of the rocket equation. wayne pointed to a good video:
    http://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/points-of-information/new-close-up-images-of-ceres/#comment-1056091

    Getting off Earth requires a huge portion of our rocket to be propellant, but getting off the Moon requires much less. A comparison that I like to use is the difference between a Gemini-Titan II and Apollo’s Lunar Ascent Module of the lander. Gemini and the Ascent Module were similar in mass, but the Ascent Module could get off the Moon and into lunar orbit on its own whereas Gemini needed a large rocket to get off the Earth. This comparison should show how much easier it is to get materials to space from the Moon that from the Earth.

    The Moon might be enormously useful.

  • pzatchok

    The moon is not like the New World.

    First off living in the New world costs nothing but the transport costs. It had everything needed to live. In fact it had more than Europe at the time.
    It was also a place people could escape to. They could leave the old world and live just as they wished free of kings and governments.
    Do you really think the Moon is the new frontier? The governments of the Earth are already setting rules and laws for people to follow if they go there.

    The Moon might have a good amount of water in some places on it.
    Exactly how are we going to get it using today’s technology? “I don’t know just means your hoping and no one has any idea yet” So going today is not worth it for that.

    And water might just be the easy resource to gather and use.
    But don’t you think that water is best used on the moon for people and plants to eat and drink or are we going to send water to the moon to keep the colony going and use Moon water as fuel for some imaginary mission.

    Solar power is not going to do every thing we need on the Moon. What type of power are we going to use? Will the governments of Earth let us use anything else?

    If you look, I agree we can and should use it as a research area. But a true research station is what we need now. A colony to research how to live on the Moon. If it stays around long enough then maybe just maybe it will become a permanent colony.

    Grandiose ideas are fine to think of and imagine but they scare the heck out of investors and governments.
    We need to learn how to build on the moon. How to clean and prep an area to build on. How to start tunneling.

    Everything else comes after/

    And quite frankly as an American I am quite tired of our government paying to pave ways into new areas of tech and places.
    So what if the Chinese build the first temporary habitation on the moon. We can come by later and use it ourselves. We can at least use their cash to do the first research. Let us steal tech from them for a change.

    Now if a private company or group wants to go to the moon then great. Have at it.

    its not that I can not see the advantages of being on the Moon. I just want to see us address the hurdles and make them as small as possible.

  • Edward

    pzatchok,
    You wrote: “Do you really think the Moon is the new frontier? The governments of the Earth are already setting rules and laws for people to follow if they go there.

    As much as the New World was. The Kings of Europe had already set the rules and laws for people to follow once they got here. That is why thirteen colonies revolted against King George.

    Exactly how are we going to get it using today’s technology?

    Mine it from the craters and process the material just like it was water ore. A little heating drives off the water, and a condenser captures it. Sounds a lot like a distillery.

    But don’t you think that water is best used on the moon for people and plants to eat and drink“?

    Yes, but I also think that water is best used on Earth for people and plants to eat and drink, too. That does not mean that none should be used for other purposes, such as industry, swimming or playing in the sprinklers on a hot day, or even for rocket fuel. So if we use them for those purposes here on Earth, why not use water for various other purposes on the Moon?

    or are we going to send water to the moon to keep the colony going and use Moon water as fuel for some imaginary mission“?

    Since the water is already on the Moon, we don’t need to send it there. The point is (and since you missed it in the last comment, I hope that you catch it this time around) that it is easier to use in space the material that are already in space than to send them into space for use.

    There are plenty of proposed imaginary missions and even more not-yet-proposed imaginary missions that could potentially use hydrogen/oxygen propellants. Most future missions are going to need propellants, even if only for station keeping, as the ISS does. It would be so much better to expend fewer resources using materials that are already in space than to spend the resources to get additional material into space from the Earth’s surface.

    Solar power is not going to do every thing we need on the Moon. What type of power are we going to use? Will the governments of Earth let us use anything else?

    You’re just full of questions, aren’t you?

    You suggested that there was little to do there and asked what we should mine and manufacture there, but when I make a few suggestions you want a complete plan, design, and procedure. You argue that the Moon is not easy to colonize as though that should stop us. You ask whether I think it is the new frontier as though I should think otherwise. You were full of negativity, yesterday.

    Grandiose ideas are fine to think of and imagine but they scare the heck out of investors and governments.

    Someone needs to tell that to the investors and governments that are planning to do those grandiose ideas. Some few examples: SpaceX, China, and the United Arab Emirates.

    its not that I can not see the advantages of being on the Moon. I just want to see us address the hurdles and make them as small as possible.

    Actually, you said that the use of the Moon was “Basically just research. Nothing more.” And as a military base to dominate the Earth. There are plenty of other advantages, too. It is just that you have yet to see them.

  • pzatchok

    Statements don’t make plans and definitely don’t make projects.

    The UAE a space competitor? Seriously? What actual program do they have running right now?

    China? Good for them. Let them finally make the first investment in something.

    As for SpaceX. Well its looking like Elon is having a nervous breakdown. Without him who knows what will happen.

    And with NASA making the rules SpaceX will always be the red headed stepchild of the US space program. At least until they get bought out by Lockhead or Boeing.

    And as for the New World being ruled by the Kings of Europe. What wasn’t until permanent colonies were long established and even then they had little to no power to control the people directly. the English colonies were ordered to not manufacture iron but instead to ship ore back to England and buy finished products from them. the colonies instead just built secret iron forges around the north east as far west as the Ohio valley.
    Can you see something like that happening anytime in the near future on the moon?
    All the Nations of the earth eventually competing for a section of the Moon to reap its riches? The UN has already stopped that. There is no real competition for the moon.
    At least with the new world they thought there was gold and silver in abundance and if not that then at least land to claim, give away and sell. And they at least had lumber to send back for ship building. Which was the actual first export of the English colonies.

    Instead of imagining permanent Lunar Colonies how about someone come up with a Lunar bulldozer and start actually doing the hard work on the moon?
    You know step one, not step 500.
    Some private company can make lunar construction equipment and lease or sell it to the Space agencies of the world. But someone has to build and test one first.
    How about we beat China to that hurdle.

  • Localfluff

    There’s no rocket fuel on the Moon. Ore bodies have not formed there, not as on Earth anyway, and there are less heavy elements there. Because uranium is the new rocket fuel now that the Russians apparently are successfully flying cruise missiles with uranium engines.

    I wonder if the Russians will take advantage of the simpler cheaper and far superior nuclear thermal engines also in their space program next. Naming the follow up of the Proton launcher “Neutron” would be suitable.

  • Edward

    pzatchok,
    You asked: “The UAE a space competitor? Seriously? What actual program do they have running right now?

    You may want to read the Behind the Black blog. It is quite informative, and I like the quality of the comments. Here is the latest article on UAE’s manned spaceflight program:
    http://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/points-of-information/nine-finalists-for-uaes-astronaut-corps-of-four/

    China? Good for them. Let them finally make the first investment in something.

    Once again, that Behind the Black site covered recent firsts by China’s:
    http://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/points-of-information/chinese-cubesat-using-saudi-arabian-camera-sends-back-first-pictures/

    The above link has several pieces of news: 1) China’s lunar cubesat, the first cubesat to reach another heavenly body, 2) The satellite Queqiao, the first communication satellite designed to relay information from the Moon, and 3) “Chang’e-4, which is expected to become the world’s first soft-landing, roving probe on the far side of the Moon.” That is two out of three firsts, and the last seems to still be on schedule.

    As for SpaceX. Well its looking like Elon is having a nervous breakdown. Without him who knows what will happen.
    And with NASA making the rules SpaceX will always be the red headed stepchild of the US space program. At least until they get bought out by Lockhead or Boeing.

    You are still full of negativity. What happened to you?

    I missed the news of Elon Musk’s nervous breakdown, so I don’t have a comment about that. If SpaceX gets bought out, won’t they still be required to follow NASA’s rules, just like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and the others?

    The New World was ruled by Europe’s kings from the founding of the first colonies. The colonies were property of the kings. Just because laws were broken or not followed does not mean that they were not under the rule of the kings. That is like saying that because I broke the speed limit yesterday, California is no longer under US rule.

    Can you see something like that happening anytime in the near future on the moon?

    I’m having a little difficulty seeing any lunar colonies in the near future. We don’t even have any outposts there.

    And they at least had lumber to send back for ship building. Which was the actual first export of the English colonies.

    And the Moon at least has water to send around cislunar space for fuel, which may be the actual first export of the Lunar outposts. At least that is what people are thinking, right now (see ULA’s “CisLunar-1000” video that I linked, above, on the 49th anniversary of the first lunar landing).

    Instead of imagining permanent Lunar Colonies how about someone come up with a Lunar bulldozer and start actually doing the hard work on the moon?

    The Google X-Prize was an attempt to move things in that direction. That was an early step. Step one was half a century ago when we put some probes on the Moon, and another step was when we put some men on the Moon for some initial exploration and investigation. The Lunar bulldozer is somewhere around step 357 out of 500.

    You may recall that I only mentioned O’Neill’s envisioned colonies in space, not colonies on the Moon. Neither he nor I suggested that such colonies would be step one. Lunar colonies as step number one is your own suggestion — or red herring.

    Not every endeavor into space succeeds, such as the recent loss of XCOR and the expenditures on missionless government programs such as SLS, Orion, and (F)LOP-G, but there is quite a bit of progress being made by private companies and by governments. Cheer up and find a little positive attitude, where space exploration is concerned. We may not get what we want right away, but over time we are bound to get what we need. (Isn’t that a song?)

    I seriously recommend the Behind the Black website as one source of space news. Much of its space news regards ongoing activities toward exploring and expanding into space. I think that kind of thing is of great interest to the site’s proprietor.

  • Pzatchok wrote, “And they at least had lumber to send back for ship building. Which was the actual first export of the English colonies.”

    Actually, no, this is very incorrect. The first actual real import, that produced a profit, was tobacco, from Virginia. Before then nothing they sent back was desired by anyone in England, because of the cost to buy it.

    Eventually, the British government needed to pay the extra cost for American lumber for its shipbuilding (especially masts), because Britain could no longer provide it. This took time, however, and was certainly not the first product produced by the New World. Not even close.

    Remember, I speak as someone who has a masters in early American colonial history, and will have a book out sometime soon on that subject, and its connection with future colonies in space.

  • Edward wrote: “I seriously recommend the Behind the Black website as one source of space news.” Now that you mention it, it rings a bell. I imagine I would like reading it. :)

  • wayne

    Ref: Colonial Exports to Britain, circa 1763, from Virginia & Maryland =

    valued at roughly 1 million British Pounds, of that Tobacco made up 768,000, or roughly 76% of the total from these 2 Colonies alone.

    “Masts, plank, staves, turpentine, and tar,” accounted for 55,000 of that total.

    http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/colonies1763.htm

  • wayne: 1763 is more than 150 years after the Virginia colony was established, and even then tobacco dominated. It dominated so much in the colony’s first century that they actually used it as a currency.

  • pzatchok

    I never said profit I said export.

    I could be wrong but I believed that the Virginia Company demanded lumber in exchange for the first passengers passage to the new world.

    The first profitable export of a North American colony was salted cod out of a Basque fisherman’s settlement in Newfoundland before 1563.

    As for the moon.
    The very same technological advances that make for cheaper space launches means its even less profitable to establish colonies and mine on the moon.
    Its like building the SLS and Orion just to launch a few people to the space station.

    It will take trillions to establish a viable colony, a mining and refining operation. You will also need mills to shape and work the metals into usable designs. Possibly a thousand worker/colonists at least. Even adding in robots to help.
    The first products produced on the moon will more than likely be simple food. But it will not be profitable to launch from the moon to orbital facilities, just cheaper than from Earth.
    But for every kilogram of food launched from the Moon the same amount in water will have to be found on or sent to the moon.

    It would cost trillions just to launch the first load of finished products off of the moon to be used in space.

    Save the effort and money and just launch it cheaply from the Earth.

    Mining water on the Moon os not like mining it on Earth.
    Its not like just sticking a pipe into the ground and pulling it out.
    You will have to move mega tons of lunar material into a closed and pressurized chamber and then heat it up and extract the water.
    Whats the estimated amount of water per ton of Lunar material even in the high density areas of the shaded craters?

    We need to establish farms on the moon first before we start extracting water from the Moon for fuel.
    Otherwise we will be sending as many tons of food to the moon as we extract for fuel.

    It is my firm belief that by the time we are able to establish permanent colonies on other planets we will have no need to. We will be a fully space based race extracting all we need from bodies that have almost no gravity. Asteroids and micro moons.
    Colonies on other large bodies will just be to ensure that mankind will not die out in any single great event.

  • Edward

    pzatchok,
    You wrote: “The very same technological advances that make for cheaper space launches means its even less profitable to establish colonies and mine on the moon.

    I, too, did not say “profit.” I used the word “easier.” “it is easier to use in space the material[s] that are already in space than to send them into space for use.

    Fewer resources are needed to use material that is already in space. Just as on Earth it is cheap to ship rock from here to there, people who want rock as a construction material have a tendency to purchase it from near by sources rather than half way around the world.

    It will take trillions to establish a viable colony, a mining and refining operation. You will also need mills to shape and work the metals into usable designs. Possibly a thousand worker/colonists at least. Even adding in robots to help.

    1) Let the investors worry about the cost.

    2) Let the engineers worry about the methods.

    3) Added manufacturing (3-D printing) of metals can take the place of most or all of the mills that shape and work the metals.

    With an attitude like that, we should have never built mines, refineries, or factories on Earth. Those puppies are expensive, but worth building if we are going to use quite a bit of each material processed.

    ULA as well as O’Neill mentioned building solar power plants in geostationary orbit, and each of those will require quite a bit of material.

    It would cost trillions just to launch the first load of finished products off of the moon to be used in space.

    But it would cost tens of trillions to launch the same products off the Earth. This high cost to launch into space is much of the problem that we have now. Launching from the Moon will always be less costly (money, resources, risk, etc.) than launching from Earth.

    Assuming that this operation cannot be done robotically or remotely. Again, let the investors, chemists, and engineers worry about these processes.

    Just because you do not see advantages to mining space does not mean that no one else does or that there are no advantages. I am glad that we live in a free market capitalist society, because if we only had central control planners with attitudes and limited imaginations like yours, we probably wouldn’t have come down out of the trees, a few million years ago.

    Whats the estimated amount of water per ton of Lunar material even in the high density areas of the shaded craters?

    See table 1 of this study:
    https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2007GL029954

    In locations such as Shackleton, where the recovered epithermal count rate is reasonably certain, the inferred average abundance is 0.5 wt% WEH within the permanently shadowed part of the crater.

    This is about 10 lbs. per ton of lunar material at Shackleton.

    It is my firm belief that by the time we are able to establish permanent colonies on other planets we will have no need to.

    This was O’Neill’s belief, as well. He believed that it will be better to build the majority of colonies in space, orbiting the gravity wells that are so costly to access but are such nice sources of material.

  • pzatchok

    10lbs per ton is a little over a gallon per ton. How much will it cost to extract that ton?

    Now compare that to the cost of launching a ton of water from the Earth on Falcon heavy.
    At about 90 million per 50,000 lbs its a bargain compared to a trillion to start extracting water from the moon.

    If you think the government should be financing a Lunar Colony remember that as a citizen of the US I am an investor, one who watches the pennies. And writes his reps.

    As for private investors. I just don’t see them lining up offering cash for a Lunar colony. Not yet at least.

    But the theme of this thread was about the Chinese scoffing at the idea of the LOP-G project. And they are essentially correct. To costly for what it supposed to do. And really just an excuse for the SLS system.

  • wodun

    Consider that it could be impossible to cancel SLS before it uses its stock of engines, what would be the best use of the limited number of flights? Sometimes we have to operate in the limitations of reality as it is, not reality as we wish it was. The good news is that we don’t have to choose one thing or the other, we can choose to do both things or many things all at the same time.

    The only way out of the trap of government programs is the rise of commercial entities capable of doing what they want while making a profit. No matter what, government is going to play a role here. And many people are even arguing for a highly restricted and very specific mission oriented role the government should take like with the early space program in the Apollo era.

    LOP-G has a purpose, just because people dislike the program, doesn’t mean it is without purpose. It doesn’t need SLS beyond initial construction, although its orbit was chosen to cater to SLS, that orbit can be changed. It is a little early to say everything it will do in specificity but it is capable of a lot. It is also part of a dual track approach to the Moon and Mars. Many of the same players that will benefit from the lunar COTS approach will also benefit from servicing LOP-G.

    Commerce can’t survive totally on its own just yet, especially if we want to do things now and not wait. The danger is in becoming entangled with restrictive single purpose programs, NASA, and the government at large, however a key component of the new way of contracting is that companies retain control of their products and are able to market them to customers other than NASA.

    Bezos said to have a vision but be flexible on the details. This is good advice. We need an overarching strategy that provides plenty of opportunity to adapt as things change. This is strange considering that everything in the space industry has such long lead times and travel times but we really can’t plan too far out into the future right now. Five might be OK but ten is pushing it. BO and SpaceX both have really big innovations on the near horizon that will change the math on everything and there are numerous other companies that are staking their claims as well.

    Worrying about SLS/Orion and LOP-G isn’t worth it. It is more important to focus on what the companies that are working on those projects intend to do with their products and how that fits in with lunar COTS and private development of cis-lunar space. We could even throw in asteroid mining as the numbers there will soon be changing dramatically as well.

  • Edward

    pzatchok,
    You asked: “10lbs per ton is a little over a gallon per ton. How much will it cost to extract that ton?

    No one has worked out that project, yet. The plans and designs are still in the future. The cost of getting the initial equipment to the Moon is still falling, so that is hard to factor. If the Big Falcon really can put 150,000 kg into LEO for $5 million, then that will be a significant factor.

    At about 90 million per 50,000 lbs its a bargain compared to a trillion to start extracting water from the moon.

    Once again, you are making assumptions about how much it will cost to create a distillery on the Moon. Your assumptions seem not to take into account the lowered costs of the Falcon Heavy, so the setup cost will be much less than you think. Plus, as I already mentioned, with in-situ resource utilization (using the Moon’s own materials) and 3-D printing (additive manufacturing) it is easy and inexpensive to build the second processing facility and to build farms, colonies, rockets, satellites, research facilities, solar power, and windmills (although that last would not be much use on the Moon).

    I wish you had read the paper that I linked to, because it has an estimate of the amount of ice that could be found in Shackleton alone:

    Thus it is plausible that 20 km2 of high‐grade, ice‐bearing regolith could be found in Shackleton alone, with 12.8 × 10^6 metric tons of ice in the top 200 cm.

    How many trillions of dollars would it cost to lift that much water off the surface of the Earth?

    Somewhere around 10^6 hundred million dollars ($100,000,000,000,000). Less if launch costs keep falling.

    Even though we can’t just get it from a pipe in the Earth (but to get it from the Earth to space would require rocket after rocket after rocket), we can just get it by scraping off the first eight inches at Shackleton. And there is more at other craters, too.

    That trillion dollar investment is starting to look pretty good, right now. Especially since it comes with so much more than just a water mine and fuel processing facility.

    If you think the government should be financing a Lunar Colony remember that as a citizen of the US I am an investor, one who watches the pennies. And writes his reps.

    I don’t know what I said to give you the impression that I thought government should finance a Lunar Colony. I keep talking about investors and mentioning O’Neill’s dream of colonies in space as an example of what can be done.

    As for private investors. I just don’t see them lining up offering cash for a Lunar colony. Not yet at least.

    Few, if any, think that we are ready for a lunar colony. Not yet at least.

    But the theme of this thread …

    Since you were the one to move the discussion away from that theme, it is appropriate for you to lead the discussion back to that theme.

    wodun asked: “what would be the best use of the limited number of [SLS] flights?

    Considering that Congress asked for SLS just to have a heavy lift capability as well as a way to get men into deep space, we should think of uses that return productivity from heavy payloads and from men in deep space. So far, President Bush’s goal of returning man to the Moon is a good immediate goal. There is still much to explore there.

    President Obama’s goal of capturing an asteroid did not even get the asteroid scientists much excited.

    However, if we are to go after a goal with long term value, then a better launch rocket than the SLS would be preferred.

    The Orion capsule may be adequate for several uses, but NASA management mucked up the Service Module (SM), buying only one SM and half of another from ESA. As far as I know, there is not another SM being designed for use after the second Exploration Mission.

    NASA has yet to make a case that (F)LOP-G is worth the resources (money, time, manpower, lost opportunities). Even the Chinese realize that it lacks useful focus. From the article Robert linked:

    Whereas NASA will focus its activities on this gateway away from the Moon, Pei said China will focus on a “lunar scientific research station.”

    LOP-G has a purpose, just because people dislike the program, doesn’t mean it is without purpose.

    (F)LOP-G may have a purpose, but it is not a useful purpose at any price, at this stage in our expansion into space.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunar_Orbital_Platform-Gateway

    The station would be used as a staging point for lunar exploration and as a staging station for the proposed Deep Space Transport … Originally, NASA had intended to build the Gateway as part of the now cancelled Asteroid Redirect Mission.

    We do not yet need a staging point for Mars missions, and a staging point for lunar exploration most likely gets in the way for the first several lunar missions. A staging point does not make much sense unless we use it for maintenance or for using space materials (e.g. lunar soil, lunar fuel, or salvaged dead satellites, as ULA imagines in the CisLunar 1000 video that I linked on July 20). Using (F)LOP-G — or better, an Earth-Moon L1 outpost — as a staging point only makes sense once we can use it as a refueling station to and from the Moon, making our transit spacecraft smaller and therefore somewhat more fuel effective.

    The Chinese are right, in that Moon-Direct missions are better for now. Until we know more about our future needs, (F)LOP-G does not provide much information to help us solve the problems associated with those needs.

    A (F)LOP-G outpost built too early is like building the large ISS too early. ISS was made to be a large structure to teach us how to build and operate large structures, but because we do not need that knowledge yet, all it ended up doing was squandering resources that could have been better spent elsewhere. Most or all of the science performed on ISS could have been performed on a smaller, cheaper space station that could have been put into orbit two decades before ISS became operational. Additional small space stations could have also been made and even more science performed. ISS also had a purpose, but it turned out to lose us plenty of opportunities for exploring space, and I would hate for (F)LOP-G to do the same to us.

    Two decades after the first unit for ISS was launched to space, we still have no need for knowing how to build or operate large structures in space. I fear that (F)LOP-G will also squander valuable resources, be placed in an orbit that is never useful, and will never have useful facilities on board.

    It looks for all the world like NASA came up with the idea of a cislunar outpost for asteroid research and now can’t let it go in order to favor a mission that has real potential for useful advancement of our knowledge of how to operate in space.

    Worrying about SLS/Orion and LOP-G isn’t worth it. It is more important to focus on what the companies that are working on those projects intend to do with their products and how that fits in with lunar COTS and private development of cis-lunar space.

    I would rather let the private companies work on their own projects without interference. Worrying about government projects is worth the effort, because those are the projects that can assist private industry, as a whole, to perform their plans for profitable expansion into space. Apollo didn’t do that, because its mission was cancelled and squandered before it could get private industry involved. The Space Shuttle didn’t do that, because it didn’t fly often enough and inexpensively enough to be helpful — and it nearly destroyed America’s launch capability (Robert Truax had wanted to start a commercial rocket company but could not find investors willing to compete with the Space Shuttle). The ISS didn’t do that, because its ability to perform science was continually scaled down from its first design to its final (6th or 7th) design. SLS/Orion won’t do that, because it is even more expensive than the Space Shuttle and it flies even more rarely. (F)LOP-G won’t do that, because that is not its purpose.

    So far, government has hindered rather than helped private space industry. Let’s not squander yet another opportunity by paying for yet another project that government does for selfish reasons.

  • wodun

    and a staging point for lunar exploration most likely gets in the way for the first several lunar missions.

    The first lunar missions will likely be direct to the lunar surface and wont use LOP-G. They will be robotic prospecting missions.

    Using (F)LOP-G — or better, an Earth-Moon L1 outpost — as a staging point only makes sense once we can use it as a refueling station to and from the Moon, making our transit spacecraft smaller and therefore somewhat more fuel effective.

    That is what it is supposed to be used for and the orbit can be changed in the future.

    A (F)LOP-G outpost built too early is like building the large ISS too early.

    By all accounts, it is going to be awhile before it is constructed. It could be that BFR/BFS is flying by then. But who knows? The timing is really tricky, which is why it is good to have more than one course of action.

    all it ended up doing was squandering resources that could have been better spent elsewhere.

    It is impossible to tell how alternate realities would have played out but since they rely on purely imagination, we know that they would have been truly magnificent and much better than actual reality.

    Apollo didn’t do that… The Space Shuttle didn’t do that… The ISS didn’t do that…

    Of the three, the ISS comes the closest to enabling private enterprise but only marginally at first and only after applying a lot of pressure on government and the research community. None of those three things were designed to engage in commerce or enable it to take place. You also have to remember how significant the COTS and CCDEV programs were and how they have changed how NASA will do business in the future. These two programs were started to supply the ISS and without the ISS we would not have SpaceX or any commercial crew options. So in the end, ISS has been the single thing that has allowed to to even argue about existing options other than SLS.

    Parts of LOP-G will be built by companies who will also be building private space stations. LOP-G wont be their only business. This is a big change from how the ISS was constructed. The same is true for the propulsion unit and whoever competes will be able to sell their product/service to other customers. LOP-G provides the opportunity for NASA to help fund development for these companies and also purchase operational services. What the competitors provide wont be restricted to use on the LOP-G. What they create can be used in LEO, cis-lunar space, and even help get things to the lunar surface.

    Even ignoring LOP-G, the proposed lunar prospecting missions use the same approach. It is totally different than how NASA has operated in the past, although LOP-G is closest to the legacy way of doing things.

    My personal preference isn’t for SLS/Orion and/or LOP-G, or even for non-existent direct to the Moon plans. I’m just pointing out that LOP-G is a little different than its detractors claim and that if we can’t change what our government does, we should look at the beneficial things we can get from the program.

    Things are moving rather fast and any direct to the Moon program is likely to be outpaced by commercial developments over the next decade. The same is true for LOP-G. The good news is that there is a dual track with different approaches being used and both tracks are fully funded. One of those tracks is focusing on nitty gritty things like prospecting, which most people tend to ignore in the rush to just do something. How many sites will China prospect? Who knows but they are doing prospecting too.

  • Edward

    wodun,
    You wrote: “The first lunar missions will likely be direct to the lunar surface and wont use LOP-G. They will be robotic prospecting missions.

    I meant the first several manned missions. The advantages of a way point or staging point do not apply until there is enough traffic using it; until then going directly to the Moon is better.

    That is what it is supposed to be used for and the orbit can be changed in the future.

    Except that there is no advantage for refueling there until fuel can come from somewhere other than the Earth.

    By all accounts, it is going to be awhile before it is constructed.

    And this presents all kinds of other problems, specifically the lost opportunity costs of spending too much money on something that is not useful until the far distant future, assuming it is the right thing to have in the far distant future. Rather than spend resources on something that may not be useful later, we should be spending them on things that we already know will be useful sooner. Doing (F)LOP-Gnow is bad timing.

    It is impossible to tell how alternate realities would have played out

    I gave an example of multiple smaller space stations that were utilized sooner with more research accomplished at least a decade earlier than it is being done now, and for a fraction of the cost. It is clear that this scenario would have played out, if we had tried it.

    Of the three, the ISS comes the closest to enabling private enterprise

    It almost came close to nearly helping to enable private enterprise. What did enable private enterprise was the cancellation of the Space Shuttle. What an irony.

    Because of this cancellation, NASA was compelled to find an alternate means of transportation, and now we are getting the kinds of private commercial enterprises that Robert Truax believed he could instigate, almost forty years ago. It is only due to the demise of the Space Shuttle, not the construction of ISS, that we have the COTS and CCDev programs. That is what forced NASA to change how they will do business in the future.

    None of those three things were designed to engage in commerce or enable it to take place.

    The idea behind the Space Shuttle was to provide such easy, inexpensive, and common access to space that it would open up space for commerce. The success of ISS for commerce is limited largely to the creation of NanoRacks and a couple of other companies.

    LOP-G is closest to the legacy way of doing things.

    The legacy way of doing things has looked like it helped, but it has hindered. We the People relied upon NASA to do the things that we wanted, but all we got was what government wanted. As I already mentioned, the Space Shuttle almost killed the U.S. launch industry.

    In the 1990s, several entrepreneurs got tired of waiting for NASA and tried their hands at commercial space. This was difficult to do, because everyone was competing with government (and foreign government) launchers and satellites. Governments were the major users of space, and they were not feeling like helping the competition.

    It was only after the cancellation of the Space Shuttle that the U.S. government got the idea that private companies might be able to do what Truax had wanted to do.

    That was when things really started to move away from the legacy way of doing things. The Space Shuttle was supposed to help bring about commercialization in space, but it was its demise that did the job best.

    Other areas of commercialization have been tried. Ikonos was an early successful commercial Earth observation satellite, in about the year 2000. Others followed. More traditionally government functions have been commercialized since, and now there is an effort to commercialize quite a bit of weather data gathering.

    Now we have more than just COTS and CCDev, we have smallsats and cubesats and a large number of companies that want to take those lightweight satellites to orbit. We have companies that want to send exploration probes to the Moon and that are looking into mining the Moon’s resources.

    Once lunar resources are made available, then we will know more about what assets we will need in cislunar space for the utilization and transportation of those resources. It will probably be less expensive for commercial companies to build, in a short time, what is actually needed (the new way of doing things) rather than to spend a fortune on a guess for (F)LOP-G.

    Things are moving rather fast and any direct to the Moon program is likely to be outpaced by commercial developments over the next decade.

    I agree. NASA should be supporting commercial developments. That was the mandate of the NACA, the predecessor of NASA. NASA failed to be supportive and Congress turned it into the 800 pound gorilla that told everyone what was what. (F)LOP-G is yet another “what” from the gorilla.

  • Localfluff

    Paul Spudis, a (if not The) leading Lunar scientist who has been active on multiple Lunar orbiting missions of NASA and India’s ISRO, made up a plan for robotic exploration of the Moon (especially its poles) about ten years ago, that I cannot find again. Realistic within NASA’s current budget and intensive and purposeful. Just do it his way! He does want to use SLS for human missions, but that’s because he assumes that it will be available. He does say of the FLOP-G what needs to be said bout it, Obama’s ARM-mission repurposed without asteroids and rendezvous. And about the insane idea of going to the Moon in order to go to Mars.
    http://www.spudislunarresources.com/blog/have-we-lost-the-moon/

  • Fluff,

    Two papers outline the concept:

    http://www.spudislunarresources.com/Bibliography/p/102.pdf

    http://www.spudislunarresources.com/Bibliography/p/118.pdf

    We actually use teleoperated robots and people to build the lunar outpost.

    Thanks.

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