Monday, July 20, marked the 46th anniversary of the first lunar landing, by the crew aboard the Apollo 11. In the decades, since Neil Armstrong’s historic walk on the Moon, human spaceflight has undergone significant development and, has achieved some truly amazing feats. According to a recent NASA-funded study, by NexGen Space LLC, we could return to the Earth’s natural satellite in the next 10 years, and set up a permanent habitation base in the decade following that.
The study, titled “Economic Assessment and Systems Analysis of an Evolvable Lunar Architecture that Leverages Commercial Space Capabilities and Public-Private Partnerships”, was conducted by a team of former NASA employees and astronauts. As the title suggests, it provides detailed guidelines of how to reduce the expense of future exploration activities, by a factor of 10. Human space missions, which usually require up to $100 billion, could be undertaken at nearly 90-percent less cost, thanks to partnerships between NASA and commercial space companies, like Orbital ATK, Virgin Galactic and Space X.
According to the study, humans could land on the lunar surface within the next five to seven years, a decade after which, we could actually construct a permanent base on the Moon. With an annual budget of $4 billion set for spaceflight activities, NASA was, until now, less than well equipped to single-handedly fund such space missions. The new study, however, requires the agency to spend no more than $10 billion, with each of the selected private service providers receiving $5 billion to develop a crewed lander spacecraft.
The study charts a detailed roadmap of the entire mission, with the initial robotic landing taking place as early as 2017. The plan envisions a future when rovers would mine usable hydrogen from the lunar ice caps and process it into cryogenic spacecraft propellant that would be then stored in an orbital propellant depot revolving around the Moon. The collected fuel could be used for future space exploration, including NASA’s upcoming trips to Mars. Charles Miller, the head of NexGen Space LLC and the study’s lead author, said:
You basically expand free enterprise to the Moon.
That’s not all, though. The plan proposes the robotic construction of an “Evolvable Lunar Architecture”, i.e. a permanent habitation base, by 2021, for humans landing on the Moon. While it does seem ambitious, to say the very least, the study prophesies an entirely new, and incredibly exciting, age of space travel.
Via: The Verge