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Enough Space For Making A Profit

The front cover of Dennis Wingo's Moon Rush
by Staff Writers
Gerroa, Australia (SPX) Oct 04, 2004
Moon Rush is about viewing space and its planetary bodies from a commercial viewpoint, rather than just for scientific exploration. Its author attempts to show that mining the Moon, Mars, Neptune, Uranus and asteroids for their vast oxygen and precious metal supplies would not only provide an indefinite source of energy for all of humanity, but would be the panacea to the problems of poverty, overpopulation, environmental degradation, climate change, international war and terrorism.

Its author, Dennis Wingo, gives a historical outline of all the previous lunar missions-their architectures, aims, and visions- to shows their shortcomings, in so far as they didn't have the private sector and resource exploitation as their central purpose.

Wingo pinpoints the small cross-section of the American electorate that past space advocates reached, in explaining the low support and political action for space commercialization in the US, and other countries. 'There is no broad agreement that space exploration is a national priority, like national defense or education, he says. Moon Rush seeks to vastly broaden public support for the rationale of government -led commercial investment in space.

The author uses historical examples of government financial initiatives to promote commerce- canals, railroads, steamships, high way systems- to show that new initiatives in space are the next natural, logical steps in America's (and other countries) continual economic expansion.

The author constructs a chain of logic to make the connection between the Moon and America's energy future, 'to bring us through the coming transition in a way that leads to a prosperous future'.

In the last chapters of his book he constructs an architecture, an overall design of the hardware and method of going to the Moon, for landing and building a lunar economic infrastructure.

The author begins his argument by rebuking what he considers to be some of the most dangerous, yet widely-held positions on climate change and overpopulation, asserting the targets established in the Kyoto Accords are based on an underlying paradigm of finding a solution to the problem of growth, and finding equilibrium, in a finite system.

'This idea is based on what proponents of "The Limits of Growth" doctrine believed were the physical limitations of the earth', he says.

'They treated Earth as a closed system and determined that there simply were not the resources to support a greatly increased global population.' This is Wingo's main contention throughout the book- that humans have considered Earth to be their only exploitable environment, and not other planets or bodies in space.

The author states that platinum, and other Platinum Group Metals like iridium, osmium, ruthenium and palladium, are the prime and sole catalysts for the Hydrogen Economy, and uses these essential ingredients as the link to his vision and argument for solar system mining.

The author gives ranging figures from various national governments on how much oil and platinum is estimated to remain on Earth. Whether the most conservative figure or the more speculative ones represent the true amount, the author makes his point clear: oil will be gone in 50 years and there will not be enough platinum (the key element in a hydrogen fuel cell) to power a global Hydrogen Economy for very long after oil.

In addition to massively inadequate reserves of platinum on Earth, there would be massive environmental costs associated with extracting minute amounts of platinum and other PGM's from tons of ore.

Wingo launches his grand solution by linking the rich platinum content found at South African and Canadian mines to asteroid impact bodies. Studying meteorites, spectrographic studies of Near Earth Asteroids, and resources derived from impact sites on the Earth have proved this link, he says.

Wingo details the value of 3554 Amun, a Near Earth Asteroid, which he claims amounts to $20 trillion dollars worth of metal, that would easily enable a complete switch to the Hydrogen Economy.

'Four out of every one hundred craters on the Moon were made by asteroids of the same material as Amun' he adds.

The author says that of the estimated 28,000 big meteors on the Moon, that made a crater of at least 1 kilometer in diameter, between 15% - 63% would have their mass still preserved- due to their low impact velocity, and because no oxidization has occurred due to the lack of oxygen on the Moon.

The Moons environment is highly useful for industrial processes that require a vacuum, for making higher quality purity alloys, and for improving the operation of nano-fabricated components, he continues.

Apart from the abundance of oxygen, iron, magnesium, silicon, aluminum, and a host of PGM's, new alloys can be investigated, and made into lightweight powerful aircraft.

These would be much easier to launch into lunar orbit (as there is less gravity) and into the solar system.

All this would be made possible by inexpensive energy and lightweight solar powered systems for transportation and power.

'There is obviously no shortage of solar energy, just a shortage in current technology of how to capture it,' Wingo qualifies. 'There is no physics that we have to learn, just implementing what we already know how to do'.

A fission nuclear thermal rocket, for example, he says, has sufficient energy today to get a "floater" helium-3 processing facility out of the atmosphere of Neptune or Uranus.

Wingo laments that 'none of the recent lunar missions, like Lunar Prospector and Clementine, have really focused on the discovery of economically viable mining targets'.

He stresses the need to send spacecraft with better instruments back to the Moon to improve the quality of data for our search for resources- specifically the exact distribution of certain metals, minerals, hydrogen and hydrocarbons.

The author points out that the logistical architecture for a space science based exploration program is very different from the logistics of a commercial space development program- and that at present is completely inadequate for what he envisages.

'What is the most inexpensive way of establishing a successful commercial cislunar economy that could have the quickest return on the dollar for potential investors?' he asks.

'Maximizing modularity, reusability, and commonality across missions, enterprises and organizations provides a superior alternative architecture', is his answer.

Central to the success of his envisaged architecture is the existence of the L1 "Gateway" outpost, at the Earth/Moon L1 Libration point, built from existing ISS Nodule modules to minimize development costs.

This outpost would lessen the logistics burden on the cislunar transportation system. No longer would a lunar lander have to piggyback a ride with an orbiter like in Apollo. A Crew Transfer Vehicle would only have to go between the Earth and the Gateway outpost.

A lunar habitation module, likewise, would be derived from what was already used for the core of the L1 Gateway station, which would save costs from having to develop a new habitation module.

A Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) Module would be designed as a low thrust space tug to travel between LEO and the new L1 Gateway outpost, or beyond.

In this architecture, all the components of the system would be fully reusable. All that would have to be provided to repeat the process would be more fuel.

The ISS, the author continues, while lacking the dual keel design that is considered necessary for constructing and servicing interplanetary vehicles, does have many useful features, like two separate docking systems.

On-orbit assembly at the ISS (to construct lunar vehicles, lunar base and resource extraction equipment) does away with the size and design limitations that come with being confined with a launch vehicle fairing.

The ISS has a good robotics capability to support the assembly of space vehicles bound for cislunar space. A second CETA (Crew Equipment Translations Aide) Cart (being delivered in the next two years), the existing Remote Manipulator System and a new space crane (designed to move or hold very large and heavy payloads) may be all that is required, Wingo says, for his architecture to unfold.

The author identifies the lack of demand for a high flight rate as a key barrier to the advent of low cost transportation to orbit. Some solutions, he says, would be to use 'as much existing hardware as possible to minimize development costs; opt for medium-lift rockets instead of having to develop heavy- lift ones; block-buying launches to get discounts; and purchasing Progess, Soyuz, European ATV and Japanese HTV systems to ferry people, fuel and machinery to the ISS and to the Moon.

Large payloads could be captured and delivered to the ISS via a commercial space tug.

And when the (yet to be built) SEP is at the ISS, either its arrays or the ISS solar arrays could produce power, which could be sold to NASA or other customers'.

The author calculates the total lunar architecture costs to first ISRU production at $16.2 billion (consisting of the Hab, a Crane for assembling at the ISS and for unloading the Hab from the LLV, George robots, ISRU, HPM, CTM, CTV, SEP, L1 Outpost, Soyuz, Cargo, LLV and extra fuel). Though this figure does not include development costs for the SEP.

Many of the author's figures come directly from NASA studies. They only represent three missions - after that, the author claims, ISRU would begin to pay for itself as the extra oxygen in the LLV transits back to the L1 Gateway outpost.

NASA, Wingo says, should continue to make scientific endeavor its principal role, with its other major role as a developer of new technologies and capabilities, that would then be licensed to entrepreneurs, miners and developers of the lunar settlements, asteroid mining bases, and a Mars city.

'These funds would be ploughed into new developments in a virtuous cycle, which would help break the negative cycles of NASA canceling programs and deferred dreams.'

The author concedes, "that to say we have definitive ways of making In Situ Resource Utilization work on an industrial scale today would be a stretch of the imagination". But he says that by using Vapor Phase Pyrolysis (a technique pioneered by Wolfgang Steurer), at temperatures of about 2500 degrees Celsius, 19.6% of the oxygen by weight from the regolith can be extracted, with no further processing needed, using solar energy or electrical heating. Metal extraction (achieved with Silicon) using temperature-controlled plates is also possible, Wingo claims.

Wingo also asserts that areas of the Moon receiving least sunlight are where water or other hydrogen bearing molecules are located in concentrations of interest to a lunar base.

Furthermore, he maintains, the areas where the sun shines the least are located very close to the areas where the sun shines most of the time (according to recent darkness illumination maps from the Lunar and Planetary Institute).

Moon Rush is grandiose in its scheme, seeming in parts to verge on idealism, particularly when proposing to solve some of humanities biggest problems.

The author's optimistic vision is tempered with admissions about the various obstacles that still need to be overcome- namely radiation damage to spacecraft; the inability at present to compare the cost effectiveness and development costs of different systems, lack of funding and public support, and the as yet unconfirmed quantity and distribution of precious metals on the Moon and elsewhere.

The books strength comes from its unapologetic, unambiguous and systematic, commercial- rather than scientific- approach to future space activities. By turning convention on its head - by proposing a commercially driven raison detre to being in space, and by rejecting the idea that our 'world' consists just of Earth and its resources- Wingo offers an entirely new framework for addressing our most local problems.

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