Make money on the moon, or asteroids, or somewhere…

"Moon Express recently unveiled the MX-1 spacecraft design at the Autodesk University in Las Vegas. The Mountain View, California-based company is in the commercial space race, competing for the $40-million-Google Lunar X prize. The coffee-table sized spacecraft will be powered by solar panels and hydrogen peroxide and can move about the lunar surface. Water on the lunar surface could be a "potential source of rocket fuel on the lunar surface," the company said."  Nature World


I would think that it is clear that without commercial profits or at least a  "break even" point with big salaries and bonuses the long term prospects for the whole space thing are dim.

I say that with great sorrow because "space" like Bigfoot is high on my personal agenda.  There are lots of ore laden rocks out there and Heinlein long ago and he devised a great way to transport ;the loot" back to earth.  His sociological musing about things like "line" marriages were also entertaining.  pl

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17 Responses to Make money on the moon, or asteroids, or somewhere…

  1. CK says:

    “Throw rocks at them.”
    Which is why space commerce was aborted by governments.
    It is hard to defeat the guy with the high ground.

  2. optimax says:

    I’m counting on Helium 3 powering the world someday. The Chinese may get a jump on that.

  3. Valissa says:

    Unfortunately, space travel is VERY expensive, and we still haven’t had a proper DD Harriman type to figure out how to make it profitable
    Elon Musk is probably the closest, but he’s too much of a tech diva (as are the other so-called tech titans) to pull it off.

  4. Charles says:

    Dear Colonel Lang,
    Thank you for reminding me of why I read do much Robert Heinlein as a younger man. “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” was one of the first works of his that I read.
    I too regret that we have given up the high ground. You sir are an interesting man.

  5. João Carlos says:

    I think the chinese will jump on that if there is really any possibility to make fusion energy operational. It is time for learn mandarim…

  6. Babak Makkinejad says:

    fusion energy is a White Elephant of physics.

  7. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Why go to space when thee is so much mineral wealth in Afghanistan?

  8. Fred says:

    I’m glad someone remembered that one! Though if Google is actually going to shell out $40 million for a one way trip to the moon to get some video I can imagine a few start ups that would could arrange a way to get there, especially since they don’t have to get back. I should write one up (Bplan) over the holiday break – just to see if Silicon Valley has an extra $500K laying around.

  9. SAC Brat says:

    The old Soviet joke seems relevant here.
    This is Armenian Radio; our listeners asked us: “Why is our government not in a hurry to land our men on the moon?”
    We’re answering: “What if they refuse to return?”
    Trying to get number 2 son to read Have Spacesuit – Will Travel.

  10. Charles I says:

    Not to mention inner space.

  11. Pat,
    I know some of the MoonEx guys (and some of the ex-MoonEx guys as well). They’ve got a decent team, particularly their main propulsion guy, Tim Pickens. That said, I think the whole GLXP concept was premature. There’s just too many steps that need to happen between where we’re at today and a point where you could make profits from the moon, and none of these companies seem to be adequately addressing them. Launch is part of the problem, but orbital propellant transfer (particularly of cryogenic propellants) is another big issue. Unfortunately, Congress has killed almost all funding for cryo propellant transfer development because they feel it threatens funding for big rockets built in Huntsville, operated out of Houston, and launched out of Canaveral. If you think about it, over 90% of the mass of the Apollo lunar stack in orbit was liquid propellants. If we had had the ability to transfer propellants you wouldn’t need as big of rockets, just more frequent deliveries from smaller ones. Congress knows this, so they’ve been perpetually gutting funding for technology development like that. It’s not like it’s something we couldn’t have done in the 60s or 70s, but since nobody has done it yet in space, NASA can pretend like it’s really really hard to do. Unfortunately the one company that is most interested in that technology (United Launch Alliance), which builds and launches the Atlas V and Delta IV launch vehicles, is owned 50/50 by Boeing and LM, both of which have a strong vested interest in the status quo (in the form of multi-billion dollar cost-plus contracts to build the “monster rocket” and the capsule to go on it).
    Once you have the ability to transfer propellants on orbit, the idea of harvesting water from the moon or asteroids for propellant becomes a lot more realistic. But so far nobody really wants to address that or other near-term technologies. They all want to build rockets or landers, and none of the boring stuff in-between (who wants to be an orbital gas station attendant?)

  12. Mark Logan says:

    I think the creators of the movie “Avatar” felt a need to include “unobtainium” in the plot. I wish our nation builders were as rational.

  13. jerseycityjoan says:

    Don’t you think much if not most of that will “disappear” unaccounted for (except for sudden great increases in certain overseas accounts)?

  14. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Reminds me of a cartoon I once saw:
    It depicted a NASA official briefing Nixon, with a picture of Apollo lunar module in the background.
    Mr. President, we did not discover oil this time either.

  15. Grimgrin says:

    For commercial exploitation of space to be viable, the cost to get there has to be best measured in dollars per cubic metre or ton, rather than dollars per kilogram. With that assumption, there are three things that might make commercial space travel work: von Neumann machines, Project Orion, and the Space Elevator.
    The first you can just fire a single robot up with a chemical rocket and let geometric progression work it’s magic; at the slight risk of the scenario Stanislaw Lem outlined in “Peace On Earth” where you wind up creating a hostile robot ecosystem on the moon.
    Project Orion is and was a wonderfully romantic idea in the way that only truly single-minded engineering can achieve. “Let’s take a scaled up coke machine that dispenses nuclear bombs and use it to blast an eight million ton rocket to the moon”. It neatly sidesteps the limitations of chemical rockets, while ignoring the problems inherent setting of a few dozen nuclear bombs in the atmosphere for every launch.
    The space elevator is an elegant idea. I hope it will happen. I rather suspect it’ll be like fusion power, zero carbon emission energy, strong AI, and the peace dividend. It should happen, it’s possible that it could happen, but it probably won’t.

  16. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Orion as a launch vehicle was not the right approach. However, as an inter-planetary vehicle that operates outside of Earth’s atmosphere it makes eminent sense.

  17. Grimgin,
    While I agree that cost to get to destinations in space have to come down significantly to make extra-terrestrial resource extraction financially interesting, it’s important to note that the cost of shipping stuff home may in some cases be lower than the cost of sending stuff there. From the moon at least, there are several options such as mass drivers that can get material back to earth much cheaper than they can be sent to the Moon from earth.
    I still agree that costs have to come down quite a bit, but I think gas-and-go reusable launch vehicles, on-orbit propellant transfer, and reusable in-space vehicles can go a long way to lowering those costs to a level where such things aren’t pure fantasy any more.

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