International Lunar Decade

Build infrastructure in cislunar space and on the Moon to open the space frontier…

Call to Action

International Lunar Decade Working Group Statement to the 53d Session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space

For a copy of the presentation to UN COPUOS “Why an ILD Campaign Can Make a Difference”

Click for a copy of the ILD resource for COPUOS delegates

22 February 2016

TO:  Delegates attending the 53d Session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee, UN COPUOS

RE:  The International Lunar Decade:         A framework for international collaboration toward a self-sustaining space economy

FROM:  The International Lunar Decade Working Group

The key challenges facing the world are: jobs and economic growth, climate change and energy, security, and access to critical materials. To engage solutions to all four, we invite you to consider a role for UN COPUOS in opening the space frontier beyond the Earth.  A paradigm shift is underway from space “exploration” towards space “development” driven by technological advances and empowered through a self-sustaining space economy beyond Earth’s orbit.  A self-sustaining space economy would generate more wealth than it consumes through investment and innovation generated growth. Communications satellites, navigation, remote sensing and related applications already constitute large and growing markets, but activities in space beyond Earth orbit have to date absorbed huge in investments with no net economic return.  Cost barriers, in turn, have limited participation to a few spacefaring powers. A self-sustaining space economy, however, has the potential to open the space frontier to even the smallest countries. The infrastructure and technologies required to create a self-sustaining space economy can also provide powerful tools to address climate change, disaster relief, job creation and other global concerns.

While this process will take decades, the next few years will be crucial.   An unprecedented level of international collaboration needs to be forged to achieve this goal.  No single country has the financial resources or R&D capacity to develop the infrastructure required or to create the markets needed to profitably utilize resources derived from the Moon or other bodies in space.  Sustainable, manned operations on the Moon or Mars or beyond require the capacity to use the resources in space.  Frontiers can only be settled if people can “live off the land.”

We identify the critically important period roughly from 2020 to 2030 as the International Lunar Decade (ILD).  The ILD provides a framework for international collaboration across many fields and organizations to enable greatly expanded capabilities for Mankind to both explore the frontiers of space and utilize space-based resources to meet human needs on Earth, expanding both scientific and commercial opportunities for peoples worldwide. Emerging space technologies such as space-based solar power can address climate change, sustainable development, and poverty issues.  Asteroid impacts and cataclysmic solar events are potential existential threats to humankind, and space-based infrastructure can enable credible responses to such threats.  Both the challenges and opportunities of outer space call for effective international collaboration to develop sustainable infrastructure beyond Earth. No space agency or association of space agencies, space-related organizations, businesses or research organizations span all of these issues.  However, the United Nations holds this potential.

NASA has proposed the Journey to Mars, a multi-decade international undertaking to establish permanent manned operations on Mars.  ESA has proposed Moon Village, an initiative where public and private partners collaborate to setup operations on the Moon.  Both involve development of infrastructure and industrial capacity on the Moon and in cislunar space.  These initiatives not only augment each other, they enable a broad range of other activities in space many of which have commercial potential.  Looked at as a totality, the elements of an emerging space economy become visible.  The Journey to Mars and Moon Village help to create markets for lunar and asteroid resources yielding fuel, radiation shielding, soils for space agriculture, spacecraft structural parts and a multitude of other applications in space.  Building fuel depots, and assembly and staging facilities, materials processing operations, communications hubs and energy facilities in space will dramatically increase the frequency of launch driving down unit costs.  Housing the people in space will lead to the first space hotels.  Bus and truck service from LEO to the Moon will further drive down costs, increase reliability of service and lower risks.

Energy systems are key building blocks for space infrastructure.  A lunar power utility could enable operations throughout the lunar night doubling the productivity of operations on the Moon.  Delivering power to the lunar surface will be expensive, but an affordable cost.  Piloted for lunar use, space-based solar power (SBSP) can be adapted to meet critical needs on Earth starting with power for disaster relief.  Ultimately carbon free energy from SBSP may emerge as a prime source for sustainable development on Earth.

Infrastructure in space required to meet other objectives can become a major contributor to space security.  Space situational awareness would be significantly augmented through many sensors in space.  Tracking, control and mitigation of space debris would be aided by space infrastructure.  Planetary defense from threats like asteroid impact becomes conceivable with significant infrastructure in space.

At present, there is no coordinating mechanism linking the above activities, but major potential benefits of shared infrastructure (impacting transportation, logistics, communications, navigation, and other key areas) are apparent. This infrastructure, empowered through technological innovations, can drive significant reductions in both cost and risk of activities in space. Lower costs will enable expansion of opportunities for participation by industry, as well as by nations previously unable to afford space enterprise beyond LEO.

Expansion of opportunities not only means wealth creation from space industries. There is also the potential for large-scale job creation in engineering and scientific fields that would have high multiplier impacts across other economic sectors.  Large operations in space represent an entirely new environment demanding major investments in R&D that will create new industries and fields of inquiry.  If payback for such investment is clear in the foreseeable future this could address the emerging global deflationary crisis.  Economies are accumulating too much savings without productive investment opportunities increasing the risks of a global economic crisis.  Space infrastructure and space industrial development are productive investments with high multiplier impact. Overcoming the technical challenges to space development will deliver innovations that will be tomorrow’s new commercialized products and growth sectors in the economy.

The ILD is envisioned as a unifying and dynamic framework to enable strategically directed, collaborative activities among nation states to achieve the shared goal of a self-sustaining space economy.  ISECG and its member space agencies, as well as research organizations, global scientific unions (including COSPAR), policy research institutes, businesses, investment banks and other financing institutions can all be engaged through the ILD framework to work toward this goal.  Mechanisms such as the EU Horizon 2020 research funding program, which has the capacity to coordinate research activities among partners from multiple states, could potentially be adapted to drive development of enabling technologies for ISRU, energy systems, communications, and long-term sustainability of life beyond Earth. There is now the possibility to create a framework for collaboration that can provide all participants equitable shares of resulting benefits.   New mechanisms for international financing of shared space infrastructure need to be created, possibly through the G20 with its focus on effective global financial systems to meet global needs.  New financing schemes also need to be devised that address the particular challenges of space development, including long timeframes to positive cash flows as well as the need for partnerships between government programs and the private sector.


The UN is the only global body that can provide a deliberative process to engage member states with their expertise and publics around the world to address global challenges such as climate change.  The opening of the space frontier and the creation of a self-sustaining space economy is a global challenge that calls for a global response.  The key to realization of this global opportunity is the development of infrastructure in cislunar space and on the Moon.  This infrastructure can enable industrial operations to extract lunar and asteroid resources to create products and capacities to meet needs in space as well as on the Earth.  Space initiatives such as The Journey to Mars (NASA), Moon Village (ESA), space-based solar power, and space security and planetary defense all would benefit from space infrastructure. Opportunities for myriads of organizations and businesses can emerge and drive the creation of numerous well paid jobs in countries around the world.  International collaboration is key to success and the UN can play a key role.  Defining the architecture for international collaboration to build the space economy is the challenge that must be addressed.  A series of UN sponsored conferences including UNISPACE+50 can give substance to the international collaboration through discussion of concrete projects and initiatives.  The time has come to return to the Moon with all Mankind!

The International Lunar Decade Working Group

Greg Anderson, free-lance writer, USA

Al Anzaldua, National Space Society

Aigars Atvars, Fotonika-LV Research Centre, University of Latvia

Gary Barnhard XISP Inc., Space Development Foundation

Vidvuds Beldavs, Fotonika-LV Research Centre, University of Latvia

Brad Blair, Planet Miner LLC

Dan Bland, JAMSS

Pamela Clark, Jet Propulsion Lab & Catholic University

Russell Cox, The Lunar Initiatives and Flexure Engineering

Jim Crisafulli, Hawaii Office of Aerospace Development, Dept. Of Business, Economic Development & Tourism

Dave Dunlop, National Space Society & Space Development Foundation

Bernard Foing European Space Agency, Director International Lunar Working Group

David Iron, Moon Mission One

Chip Proser, Celestial Mechanics

Jeffrey Sommers, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Visiting Faculty, Stockholm School of Economics in Riga

Arnolds Ubelis, Scientific Secretary, Fotonika-LV Research Centre, University of Latvia

Jonathan Weltman, Foundation for Space Development, South Africa




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