- establishing an initial infrastructure on the Moon -


The International Space Station has been continuously occupied since 2000 -- nearly 20 years. It has resulted in many good developments including the improvement of life logistics, support systems, and clarification and partial mitigation of a number of health issues involving microgravity. But the International Space Station is very expensive and hasn't lived up to the initial goal of serving as a way station back to the Moon and on to Mars. It consumes about $3 billion per year. That's $3 billion which is therefore not available to go back to the Moon or on to Mars. At this point in time, the financial burden of the Space Station is hindering our expansion beyond low Earth orbit (LEO).

There is quite a bit of interest on the part of many of the decision-makers to "commercialize" LEO. This means either the commercialization of the ISS and/or the establishment of a new, specifically commercial station. Bigelow Aerospace among others believe that other countries and perhaps some companies would be interested in sending their astronauts to such a commercial station. However, there is quite a bit of evidence that commercializing LEO with a crewed station is going to be very difficult if not impossible. Attempts to commercialize the ISS have fallen well short of fully achieving that goal. There is a real danger that any commercial LEO station, built with significant NASA subsidies could lead to a situation where NASA budget is perpetually burdened with subsidizing a so-called "commercial" station. It is the position of the Space Development Network that we need to transition away from the ISS, let companies and other countried develop a new LEO station if they wish, and to focus our space policy on where the material resources are such as the Moon and Mars.

There is however the potential for LEO hotels. Already, there have been eight tourists flights to the International Space Station. With the much lower cost flights to LEO using the Starship and perhaps the use of inflatable modules, a roomy LEO hotel is possible. If said hotel were orbiting in an inclined orbit, it would pass over much of the inhabited portion of Earth giving tourists amazing views while experienceing zero gees. It would be about the most expensive vacation possible but likely a number of people would be willing to go.

As settlements become stablished on the Moon and Mars, travelers to these destinations would most certainly want to stop in LEO, and hang out there for a few weeks getting that experience before leaving Earth for good. Undoubtedly they would like to stay in a roomy hotel with unbeatable views. Such a space hotel would need to be in a highly inclined orbit with special measures taken to limit the crew's exposure to radiation so as to extend their stay. If passengers remain in the hotel for just a few weeks then each hotel could serve quite a few guests thereby limiting the cost to the passengers.

Al Globus among others identify Equatorial LEO (ELEO) as a place of much lower radiation compared to other, more inclined orbits in LEO. For the purpose of settlements, this would be extremely helpful since the amount of mass needed to shield a spinning habitat in ELEO would be far less than a spinning habitat in any other free space location. One could imagine a path through a governmental station, to a hotel in an inclined orbit for tourists, to a settlement in ELEO for settlers. The systems developed for one type of facility would apply to the other facilities.

The major argument for free space settlements is that, if they have a large enough diameter, they could provide full artificial gravity with the nausea-inducing problems of the Corilus effect. In particular, for gestating and growing children they may (or may not) need full gees. The Space Development Network recognizes this possibility and so advocates for artificial gravity experiments on animals on the Moon. If successful in providing sufficient health for children then all locations can be settled. If not then free space settlements starting with ELEO is the way to go.

However, just because spinning habitats in ELEO can provide optimal health for space settlers, the Space Development Network does not anticipate that the first settlements will be located there. The main problem is that, because free space have no immediate resources, all of the material to build these settlements would need to be imported. However, on the Moon, Mars, and the asteroids, the necessary materials are immediately present there. Whereas it is true that launching material to the lunar surface from Earth costs about four times as much as launching that material to LEO, if spare parts shipped to the Moon keep much larger equipment operating thereby producing even larger quantities of materials such as metal for more parts then the cost of equipment on the Moon could be something like 1/25th the cost of that in LEO. Therefore the focus of these pages is on lunar development.

Settlement in Equatorial LEO has potential in the distant future if the artificial gravity challenge on the Moon and Mars proves intractable.

Next: Asteroid Mining