Human Settlements on Moon Possible Next Decade, at Reduced Cost: Study

If NASA has its way, humans can start living on the moon in the 2020s as the 2017 robot visit followed by prospecting hydrogen by 2019 could pave the way, said a study.

On the occasion of the 46th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, a study by NexGen Space LLC said human settlements on the moon will be possible provided NASA has its way and determination to carry out the plan. As of now, NASA is planning a robotic return to the moon in 2017, followed by scouting for lunar poles for hydrogen in a year and prospecting it soon.

The plan envisages a robotic construction of a permanent base by 2021 with landing humans the next year as per the NASA plan, without additional stress on its budget plans, said Nextgen.

Similar to the current plan for re-supplying the International Space Station (ISS) in partnership with Russian and Japanese space agencies, private companies like SpaceX, Orbital ATK or the United Launch Alliance, NASA can emulate the example to set up the moon settlement by mid-2020s, said the report.

SpaceX currently charges NASA less than $5,000 per kilogram supply compared to the Apollo-era Saturn V when it had cost NASA $46,000 per kilogram or even the space shuttle supply cost of $60,000 per kilogram. SpaceX claims that its Falcon Heavy will be far cheaper per kilogram than the Falcon 9.

The lunar farside as never seen before! LROC WAC orthographic projection centered at 180° longitude, 0° latitude. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

The lunar farside as never seen before! LROC WAC orthographic projection centered at 180° longitude, 0° latitude. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

While the study did not include other space agencies, Indian and Chinese missions may even come even much cheaper at $500 by mid-2020s.

NASA’s next generation rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) is likely to be used for moon missions but the argument is that NASA could save cost by roping in more private and thrid-party launchers, said the study which was reviewed and vetted by a 21-person review team made up of former members of NASA’s administration, members of the commercial spaceflight community and four former NASA astronauts.

Announcing support for the NASA plan to make human settlements on the moon possible by next decade, the National Space Society (NSS) and Space Frontier Foundation (SFF).

The NexGen Space study further illustrated how to cut the cost of human space exploration by a factor of 10. Titled, “Economic Assessment and Systems Analysis of an Evolvable Lunar Architecture that Leverages Commercial Space Capabilities and Public-Private-Partnerships,” the study said it would cost $10 billion compared to the original estimate of $100 for the moon settlement mission, even if it is entirely by the US.

“The Space Frontier Foundation supports and recommends public-private partnerships in all proposed human spaceflight programs in order to reduce costs and enable these missions that were previously unaffordable,” said the Space Frontier Foundation’s Chairman of the Board, Jeff Feige. “This is the way that America will settle the final frontier, save taxpayers money and usher in a new era of economic growth and STEM innovation.”

The highlights of the NextGen Space Study:

• With a public-private partnership model, NASA’s current human spaceflight budget is enough to send humans to the Moon with a permanent lunar base.

• Mining fuel from lunar poles and transporting it to lunar orbit for use by other spacecraft reduces the cost of sending humans to even Mars and other planets. These commercial fuel depots in lunar orbit have the potential to cut the cost of sending humans to Mars by more than $10 billion per year.


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