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posted by Fnord666 on Thursday July 13 2017, @07:11PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the a-rocky-endeavor dept.

Arthur T Knackerbracket has found the following story:

After several years of secrecy, a company called Moon Express revealed the scope of its ambitions on Wednesday. And they are considerable. The privately held company released plans for a single, modular spacecraft that can be combined to form successively larger and more capable vehicles. Ultimately the company plans to establish a lunar outpost in 2020 and set up commercial operations on the Moon.

Perhaps most intriguingly, Moon Express says it is self-funded to begin bringing kilograms of lunar rocks back to Earth within about three years. "We absolutely intend to make these samples available globally for scientific research, and make them available to collectors as well," said Bob Richards, one of the company's founders, in an interview with Ars.

Moon Express was founded in 2010 to win the Google Lunar XPRIZE, which offered $20 million to the first privately funded team that lands a vehicle on the Moon, has it travel at least 500 meters, and transmits back high-definition images and video. The deadline for that prize is the end of 2017. While Moon Express says it has an outside chance to still claim the prize, its commercial ambitions now far exceed a simple, one-off lander.

At the center of the company's architecture is the the single stage MX-1 spacecraft that can deliver up to 30kg to the lunar surface. This vehicle is similar in size and shape to the R2-D2 droid from Star Wars, but a little bigger, Richards said. Launched inside a conventional rocket payload fairing, the MX-1 is powered by a single PECO rocket engine.

[...] The proposed hardware opens up a suite of missions on the lunar surface, three of which Moon Express said it has funding to support. The company's initial mission is "Lunar Scout," which seeks to become the first commercial voyage to the Moon. This will carry several payloads, including the International Lunar Observatory, "MoonLight" by the INFN National Laboratories of Frascati and the University of Maryland, and a Celestis memorial flight. This mission will also attempt to win the lunar XPRIZE.

The company's second proposed flight, the "Lunar Outpost" expedition, will seek to establish a lunar research outpost at the South Pole of the Moon. NASA and others are highly interested in the potential to turn water ice in shadowed lunar craters into rocket propellant. This lander will prospect for water and useful minerals, Richards said.

The third flight, "Harvest Moon", would take place by 2020 and will attempt to return a few kilograms of material from the surface of the Moon. In this scenario, a single MX spacecraft would serve as an ascent vehicle from the lunar surface, and re-enter Earth's atmosphere to land in the ocean or on land. "The sample return mission is justifiable for commercial purposes, we are expecting to self fund that," Richards said.

How much are lunar rocks worth? Quite a lot. NASA has never sold any of the 842 pounds of lunar material its six Apollo missions returned from the Moon. However, in 1970, the Soviet Union launched the robotic Luna 16 mission, which succeeded in returning 101 grams of material from the surface of the Moon. A fraction of this material made it to the open market.

In 1993, Sotheby's auctioned off 0.2 grams of these Soviet rocks in three holders (each with a magnifying glass to see the specks of lunar dust). This auction raised $442,500 in total, and is the only data point we have for the value of material returned directly to Earth from the Moon, said Robert Pearlman editor of the space history site CollectSpace.com.

-- submitted from IRC


Original Submission

Related Stories

2020s to Become the Decade of Lunar Re-Exploration 56 comments

NASA is going back to the Moon, perhaps permanently, as seen in a new road map (image):

Four months after President Trump directed NASA to return to the Moon, the agency has presented a road map to meet the goals outlined in Space Policy Directive-1. The updated plan shifts focus from the previous "Journey to Mars" campaign back to the Moon, and—eventually—to the Red Planet.

"The Moon will play an important role in expanding human presence deeper into the solar system," said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA, in a release issued by the agency.

While the revamped plan may share the same destination as the Apollo program, NASA said it will approach the return in a more measured and sustainable manner. Unlike humanity's first trip to the Moon, the journey back will incorporate both commercial and international partners.

To achieve this, NASA has outlined four strategic goals:

  • Transition low-Earth orbit (LEO) human spaceflight activities to commercial operators.
  • Expand long-duration spaceflight activities to include lunar orbit.
  • Facilitate long-term robotic lunar exploration.
  • Use human exploration of the Moon as groundwork for eventual human missions to Mars and beyond.

This may be the best outcome for the space program. Let NASA focus on the Moon with an eye towards permanently stationing robots and humans there, and let SpaceX or someone else take the credit for a 2020s/early-2030s manned Mars landing. Then work on a permanent presence on Mars using cheaper rocket launches, faster propulsion technologies, better radiation shielding, hardier space potatoes, etc.

Previously: President Trump Signs Space Policy Directive 1

Related:


Original Submission

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  • (Score: 2, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 13 2017, @07:18PM (3 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 13 2017, @07:18PM (#538818)

    You know why all those "moon rocks" show that the moon was once a part of Earth? Cause we never went there! They grabbed some rocks, chucked em' into a rocket, and made a big show of bringing them "back". When will you sheeple learn? The gastropods of CG-119 have sealed us in a force shield. Now they have private businesses in on it? I guess that's the only way to sell the story to the libertarian base.

    WAKE UP EVERYONE! I mean really, they probably want us to believe the moon isn't made of cheese.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 13 2017, @07:53PM (2 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 13 2017, @07:53PM (#538835)

      The Moon may not be made of cheese, but your comment sure is.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 13 2017, @08:30PM (1 child)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 13 2017, @08:30PM (#538850)

        My future trolling efforts would like to know, what exactly tipped you off that my post was not constructed from a more solid building material?

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 14 2017, @12:24AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 14 2017, @12:24AM (#538915)

          The gastropods of CG-119 told me.

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by kaszz on Thursday July 13 2017, @07:39PM (15 children)

    by kaszz (4211) on Thursday July 13 2017, @07:39PM (#538825) Journal

    What's the point of getting further rock samples? It's more or less known what substances there are and how this material behaves. And to test large scale equipment ie 3D printing and mineral extraction much larger quantities than is feasible to take home is needed.

    If they would instead send a 3D printer that used heat or lasers to fuse moon dust. That would be more interesting. And mineral extraction equipment performance. It can be built small. There's a lot of time and energy to keep it going and build something big.

    • (Score: 2) by YeaWhatevs on Thursday July 13 2017, @07:43PM (1 child)

      by YeaWhatevs (5623) on Thursday July 13 2017, @07:43PM (#538829)

      So I can sells 'em on ebay. Take a look, guaranteed real.

      • (Score: 3, Informative) by kaszz on Friday July 14 2017, @12:08AM

        by kaszz (4211) on Friday July 14 2017, @12:08AM (#538905) Journal

        The price for moon dust seems to be 75 951 US$/kg. So with a mission cost of 122M US$ they need to grab 1606 kg to break even. Might work out.
        ebait quote [ebay.com]

    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by tfried on Thursday July 13 2017, @07:47PM (3 children)

      by tfried (5534) on Thursday July 13 2017, @07:47PM (#538832)

      "The sample return mission is justifiable for commercial purposes, we are expecting to self fund that," Richards said.

      It's not about the science, it's about finding stupid rich customers wanting to own some moon dust. (And the idea might just fly, although the collector's value of moon dust is obviously going to plummet the moment a significant amount of it becomes available; I strongly recommend basing the extortionbusiness plan on preorders.)

      • (Score: 4, Insightful) by bob_super on Thursday July 13 2017, @10:12PM (2 children)

        by bob_super (1357) on Thursday July 13 2017, @10:12PM (#538880)

        "Did you know that moon dust gives the most amazing high ever? I can get you a few pieces, you grind them, then inject like Heroin. Takes a decent amount though, and the supply chain is tight, so i can't give you a discount."
        As was pointed out in Asterix decades ago, if you're selling people a useless I'm-richer-than-you trinket which is indestructible, they may only buy one. You need to find reasons for them to use it, to keep the demand up.
        Did I mention my moon-dust Out Of This World beauty facial, guaranteed by the Hatch gods to help* prevent skin cancer, make you radiant, and bring good luck to all your Chinese relatives?
        *: "help" not legally required to be proven.

        • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Friday July 14 2017, @12:57AM (1 child)

          by bob_super (1357) on Friday July 14 2017, @12:57AM (#538924)

          If any admin is buzzing around ... I'm pretty sure my delusions do not qualify as spam until I have a semblance of realistic product.

          • (Score: 2) by martyb on Friday July 14 2017, @03:42AM

            by martyb (76) Subscriber Badge on Friday July 14 2017, @03:42AM (#538958) Journal
            Hi. Spam mod removed & one month mod ban applied as there was no followup comment stating moderation was applied in error.
            --
            Wit is intellect, dancing.
    • (Score: 2) by RamiK on Thursday July 13 2017, @08:10PM (3 children)

      by RamiK (1813) on Thursday July 13 2017, @08:10PM (#538842)

      NASA put a 500m fly-by as a required milestone for a $20million XPRIZE by the end of 2017. However, in case they miss the deadline, their backup business plan is to collect some Helium-3 later on. And if they fail finding some, they'll comeback with some dust to sell to whomever bids the most.

      --
      compiling...
      • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Thursday July 13 2017, @11:56PM (2 children)

        by kaszz (4211) on Thursday July 13 2017, @11:56PM (#538901) Journal

        Helium-3 at a lower than Earth price for research purposes like the PolyWell would make sense. The question is if they can get the price lower than the 2017 commercial price at 12.3 million US$/kg* [open.ac.uk].
        (taking into account the extra neutron vs ordinary Helium on density)

        Helium-3 is currently sourced from nuclear weapons Tritium and from DoE nuclear reactors using Lithium-6 (via Tritium). The price seems to deter some fusion research so there's benefits to be had if the price can be lowered.

        So transport to moon 62M US$ + vehicle 50M US$ + return pod and launch 10M US$ ..? = 122M US$
        * [spacex.com]
        Ie the trip needs to extract 9.9 kg He-3 to break even.

        At a rate of 1e-8 to 2e-8 parts [livescience.com] rock that means digging through approximately one million tons of rock. It may take some time..

        The regolith [wikipedia.org] has a density at approximately 1350 kg/m³ so a rock cube of 90 x 90 x 90 meters has to be dug through before the investors gets tired, ie interest on investment. And the buyers on the market is medical lung imaging, cryogenics and fusion research..

        Another source [livescience.com] specify the extraction price to 800 000 US$/kg. So there is a 15 times price reduction to be had. The killer end usage is of course power generation which can't be proven until there is plenty of He-3 to experiment with and without proven reactors there isn't enough will to invest in getting it to Earth and so on.

        That any extraction mission needs to dig through 1e8 times more mass of regolith than the mass of He-3 is likely what makes or breaks it. One strategy to handle this is to extract Titanium and Aluminum at the same time. Titanium is hard to get on Earth (asfaik) and Aluminum is expensive to purify. But Moon has high vacuum naturally and sunlight to melt metals. So extraction can be comparable cheaper and of higher quality with almost no environmental side effects.

        • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Friday July 14 2017, @12:11AM (1 child)

          by bob_super (1357) on Friday July 14 2017, @12:11AM (#538908)

          Did I miss the part of the math which takes into account designing/shipping/maintaining the tools used to extract and refine a million tons of rock?
          It might weigh a lot less than on Earth, but so are the usual gravity-anchored extraction machines.

          Also, for our little US comrades, could you redo that math in acre-feet, barrels and football-fields-per-fortnight?

          • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Friday July 14 2017, @12:27AM

            by kaszz (4211) on Friday July 14 2017, @12:27AM (#538916) Journal

            "vehicle 50M US$" is your answer. Very rough estimate.

            I think the limitations is that a larger and more expensive machine can extract faster and at a lower per mass price. But that increase the investment requirement. A smaller machine will need more time etc but cost less upfront. Break even and optimization is likely the keywords here. And of course how much money you got.

            If you got some sand nearby, you can probably get a feel for the difficulty by making a machine extract silicon for a year without any human service. Of course on the moon there will be no weather and instead high vacuum. Relentless sun heat and ice cold weeks etc. So conditions differ but it provide some ballpark difficulty analog.

    • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Thursday July 13 2017, @09:11PM (1 child)

      by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Thursday July 13 2017, @09:11PM (#538863) Journal

      What's the point of getting further rock samples?

      Unless the entire landing vehicle can ascend again, the point will be to leave behind hardware on the moon. Likely useless, and possibly containing toxic substances like hydrazine. Yum!

      --
      Out of control 3 yr old grabs steering wheel of limosuine and throws food against wall in temper tantrum.
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 13 2017, @10:48PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 13 2017, @10:48PM (#538890)

        the point will be to leave behind hardware on the moon. Likely useless, and possibly containing toxic substances like hydrazine.

        So... the whole thing is a scheme to bypass toxic waste disposal regulations?

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by Snow on Thursday July 13 2017, @09:31PM (1 child)

      by Snow (1601) on Thursday July 13 2017, @09:31PM (#538871) Journal

      So if I walked out to my alley and grabbed a handful of rocks, would that be enough to paint a picture of the geology of the Earth?

      More samples provide more data points.

      Also, they are worth a lot of money. It looks like they plan on selling them to fund their missions.

      • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Friday July 14 2017, @12:19AM

        by kaszz (4211) on Friday July 14 2017, @12:19AM (#538914) Journal

        More data points on this is unlikely to make a difference that matters. Unless they start drilling to find out what's really deep down in the regolith. Seems no moon mission so far didn't dig deeper than ~30 cm. Lava tube caves and impact craters may also have something interesting. But plain dig where you happened to land is unlikely to provide additional value.

    • (Score: -1, Spam) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 13 2017, @09:49PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 13 2017, @09:49PM (#538874)

      What's the point of getting further rock samples?

      it turns out they're a great portal [thinkwithportals.com] conductor. And also deadly poison. [wikiquote.org] Whatever, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

  • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Thursday July 13 2017, @08:31PM (1 child)

    by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Thursday July 13 2017, @08:31PM (#538851) Journal

    Does Moon Express do home delivery?

    --
    Out of control 3 yr old grabs steering wheel of limosuine and throws food against wall in temper tantrum.
    • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Friday July 14 2017, @12:01AM

      by kaszz (4211) on Friday July 14 2017, @12:01AM (#538902) Journal

      Maybe, but only your neighbors will know if it arrived by noticing the crater where your house stood :P

  • (Score: 5, Informative) by jmorris on Thursday July 13 2017, @10:17PM (2 children)

    by jmorris (4844) on Thursday July 13 2017, @10:17PM (#538881)

    Folks, somebody is getting scammed hard here. They still speak of an "outside chance" of landing on the moon this year? They haven't even test fired their engine yet. So it is a safe assumption they haven't purchased a launch slot, remember they are using other people to launch. Now look at the three launch vendors they seem to be designing around, Rocket Lab might go live this year... might. Virgin ain't. So are they listed on SpaceX's launch schedule? They ain't launching this year. And if they still haven't even tossed anything into orbit or even lit a motor on a test stand at this late date a sample return from the moon in three years isn't something to bet on either.

    Aerospace is hard. A lot of good people are trying real hard, but most will fail. These guys better step up their game quick unless they have a sugar daddy willing to fund them for the long haul.

    • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Friday July 14 2017, @12:32AM

      by kaszz (4211) on Friday July 14 2017, @12:32AM (#538917) Journal

      What is the likelihood of a good engine test firing?

    • (Score: 2) by DeathMonkey on Friday July 14 2017, @06:02PM

      by DeathMonkey (1380) on Friday July 14 2017, @06:02PM (#539242) Journal

      Folks, somebody is getting scammed hard here.

      Good!

      We get to part a fool from his money and might actually get some space exploration out of it. Two birds with one....moon rock!

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