International Lunar Decade

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

Repurpose surplus ICBMs to jumpstart lunar development

There is a raging controversy between Orbital ATK that proposes removing the ban on use of retired ICBMs for commercial launch and Virgin Galactic and other commercial launch providers that claim this would destroy the emerging commercial launch industry.  Various positions on the matter are covered in the reference list below.

The best course would be to put the surplus launchers to good use that serves U.S. national interests and is good for the entire American space industry.  The best use of the surplus ICBMs would be to jump-start lunar development.  This would remove them from competition in the emerging commercial satellite launch market yet advance lunar development potentially by several years.

About 40 surplus Peacekeeper missiles are available.  They can be launched on trajectories to reach the Moon or lunar orbit with significant payloads.  Preliminary calculations show that soft landing can be possible.  But, even crashing at a location on the Moon may have research value and deliver materials to the lunar surface critical for startup of ISRU operations.

Jan Woerner Director General of ESA has proposed Moon Village as a successor to ISS on the Moon.  The U.S. coordinated ISS and bore the largest share of ISS costs. If ESA coordinates Moon Village the EU will bear the largest share of costs allowing NASA to direct more of its available budget to Mars and other priorities.

Benefits for investing the surplus ICBMs to jumpstart lunar development:

̶            Beating swords into plowshares Gesture of peace, international cooperation, help our allies, particularly the EU. 

̶            Address unknowns early.  How much water is present on the Moon?  Can it be extracted?  These are the kinds of questions that could be addressed through payloads included in the jumpstart program.

̶            Speed up ISRU initiatives. 

̶            Help solidify Moon Village as real undertaking.  Thus far Moon Village is a proposal without substantive backing.  By the US declaring its support Moon Village would get a solid start.  Contribution of 40 surplus ICBMs would have very modest budget implications but produce large benefits. 

̶            Removes the surplus ICBMs from the commercial satellite launch market and from government inventories saving storage and maintenance costs.

̶            Boosts NASA’s Journey to Mars by advancing capacity on the Moon for using lunar water and other resources useful for getting to Mars.  Right now there is no clear knowledge of the available water resource or whether it can even be extracted economically.

Needs a short fuse.  – This is something that President Obama could authorize yet this year.  Actual launches could start in 2017 and be completed by 2020 to give the Moon Village project a strong early boost.  This would draw the attention of the entire world to the project.

Triple approach –  shovel ready projects,  competitive selection, Lunar-X prize 2.

“Shovel ready” projects.  Could be some of the Lunar-X prize projects where the payload would fit the capacity of the Peacekeeper.  Or, could be simply to crash payloads with materials useful to Moon Village development downstream.  One suggestions – gold that could be 3D printed to produce ultra-thin gold foil for solar concentrations for ISRU experiments and energy storage systems for the lunar night.

Competitive selection.  ESA organize a competitive program for projects that could be launched to the Moon using the surplus ICBMs.  ESA with NASA and other partners specify potential needs that could be met through launch of surplus ICBMs to the Moon.  Companies and university research centers from countries participating in Moon Village propose projects to be launched to the Moon to meet needs specified by a panel of experts.  Experts judging project proposals would include people from NASA and other space agencies, industry and academic research.  Project funding from ESA, NASA and or other government organizations could fund development of winning project proposals. Development of projects could also be privately funded. Extraordinary, innovative project proposals could win a launch to the Moon based on sheer excellence even if they do not address a specific need identified by the experts.

Lunar-X Prize 2.  Orbital ATK, Virgin Galactic, ULA, Blue Origin, other launch provides could be the sponsors of this prize competition.  Innovative teams propose projects to process lunar regolith to produce oxygen and other critical materials from regolith. Teams with good technical solutions and demonstrated capacity to execute win free launch to the Moon.  The first team that produce a specified volume of oxygen by 2021 (?) wins the grand prize -$50 million?  All teams must raise the funds to produce the working prototypes to be shot to the Moon.





END BAN – Historical context for the debate by Jeff Foust – Of India and ICBMs: two current concerns for American small-satellite launch


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