- establishing an initial infrastructure on the Moon -


There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about how space development would be funded to the point of economic sustainability. There are many ideas including manufacturing in low Earth orbit (LEO), space solar power, helium-3 on the Moon, etc.

It is pretty clear how uncrewed satellites could turn a profit. Indeed, communications satellites in GEO orbit make up the large bulk of profit made by the space industry. "Internet in the sky" and the selling of world-wide imagery can also make a profit. But what about human spaceflight? Given the great expense of that, how could it pay for itself. The answer is not so obvious.

Lunar development could occur in six phases:
   - Phase 1 - Prospecting Missions
   - Phase 2 - Cargo Missions
   - Phase 3 - Initial Crew Missions
   - Phase 4 - International Lunar Exploration Phase
   - Phase 5 - Initial Private Settlement
   - Phase 6 - Latter Private Settlement

Let's see how each of these phases would be funded.

Phase 1 - Prospecting Missions
Prospecting missions would utilize small "commercial" landers and small robotic rovers. Their purpose would be to locate the water ice in the permanently-shadowed craters at the poles of the Moon and determine how far down large ice-harvesting equipment would need to dig to reach that valuable resource. They would also conduct science missions in different parts of the Moon, and potentially prospecting missions for minerals in other locations. These missions would largely funded by NASA through their Commercial Payload Landed Services (CLPS) at just a few percentage of NASA's budget per year.

Phase 2 - Cargo Missions
Prior to crew arrival, human-scale landers need to be developed and flown in order to human rate them. Those uncrewed missions will be very important and would deliver full-scale solar power systems, ice-harvest telerobots, spare parts, inflatable habitats, equipment, and supplies. The missions and the equipment development could be a set of public-private programs very much like how NASA has largely funded its Commercial Resupply Missions to the International Space Station using commercial launchers. This would take about 5% of NASA's budget each year. There are some other, smaller sources of revenue which could be helpful

Phase 3 - Initial Crew Missions
These pages advocate that the Initial Crew should not be a repeat of the Apollo program (i.e. flags and footprints to collect rocks for science) but that the Initial Crew should be private individuals working for companies whose purpose is to set up and maintain the infrastructure later used by astronauts from the US and other countries. Since they would be providing transportation an habitation services starting with NASA it would be appropriate that most of the funding for this infrastructure and the participating companies would come from NASA as part of a set of public-private programs very much like NASA Commercial Crew Program. This would take about 7% of NASA budget each year. In addition to this funding, there are a number of creative side streams of income that are possible.

Phase 4 - International Lunar Exploration Phase
If the per-seat price can get down low enough, a very large International Lunar Exploration Phase (ILEP) becomes likely. Most countries love having their own national astronauts. This is evidenced by the large number of countries that have had their own astronauts in orbit already. Assuming an $80 M per-seat price, this spreadsheet shows how many of the countries in the world could afford to purchase (at commercial prices) at least one seat on a mission of lunar exploration. About two-thirds of them could then afford to go to the Moon. If the price was bumped to $87 M and the excess used to subsidize for what the remaining countries couldn't afford then all of the countries of the world could afford at least one seat. In this way, America, with its public-private programs would be opening the Moon and the rest of the solar system to exploration and settlement by the world's countries. This ILEP phase would be the transition point from where NASA was funding lunar development to where the national budgets was funding lunar development so that NASA's budget could be largely freed up to focus on repeating the exploration, development, and settlement of Mars.

Phases 5 & 6 - Initial & Latter Private Settlement Phases
In his 2016 Guadalajara speech, Elon Musk described how the people who would go to Mars would be the intersection of those who could afford to go and those who wanted to go. So, who could afford to go? Obviously, they will be people who have saved up enough money such that they could afford to go. In most cases, they would have to have lived long enough to have saved up enough money. Likewise, people who go can't be too tied up with raising children or working their career on Earth. Retirees fit these criteria and younger people tend not to. So, it should be obvious that retirees will be over-represented among initial and latter private settlement phases. Early private settlers will likely be motivated by the opportunity to play a very historically significant role in helping to establish the first, off-Earth settlement. But we may really need to focus on how the settlement could be made attractive for the latter private settlers (and especially their spouses) who might need spacious habitats, entertainment, and a leisurely lifestyle. So, income for early settlement will undoubtedly come not from resource extraction but from the private savings made in Earth markets at other times and places.

There are clear funding approaches for each phase of lunar development.

Next: The Starship