Congress

Waving the red flag

Congressman Ken Calvert (R-CA), chair of the space subcommittee of the House Science Committee, is unsatisfied with one component of the new NASA lunar exploration plan: he thinks a manned landing on 2018 will be too late. Too late for what? He tells Aerospace Daily that he believes that China will land humans on the Moon before then: “I’ve been talking to a number of people that are much more knowledgeable about that than I am, [about] some things that maybe are still classified, but they believe that the Chinese are probably on the mark to get there sooner,” he told the publication.

Obviously, we’re not privy to the possibly-classified information that Calvert has apparently seen, but what is known suggests that while China may be interested in manned lunar missions, their schedule is not that aggressive. After all, next month’s Shenzhou 6 mission—a five-day, two-man flight—comes two years, almost to the day, after Shenzhou 5: hardly the sign of a program racing to the Moon. At last week’s International Lunar Conference in Toronto, Chinese representatives said their unmanned Chang’e lunar exploration program remained on its relatively slow schedule: a lunar orbiter to launch in 2007, a lander around 2012, and a sample return mission by around the end of the next decade. Calvert’s comments sound something like what former Congressman Robert Walker said a couple years ago, when a Japanese parliamentarian—a European in another version of the story—claimed that China would land men on the Moon in “three to four years”. Ooops. Moreover, as I have argued in the past, a space race between the US and China (or anyone else, for that matter), is hardly a recipe for an affordable, sustainable space exploration effort.

There are a couple of other interesting notes in the Aerospace Daily article. Both Calvert and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) support the NASA lunar exploration plan in general, although Rohrabacher said that “some tough ‘prioritizing’ will have to take place” in the overall NASA budget to pay for the plan. Rohrabacher, who previously led the space subcommittee, said he interested in becoming chairman of the full House Science Committee once the current chairman, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), wraps up his final term as committee chair.

73 comments to Waving the red flag

  • Ray

    One thing is fact here. China’s Shenzhou spacecraft is based on a design (soyuz) that is capable of going to the moon *now* as we speak. All the Chinese need is a TLI upperstage and a more powerfull launch vehicle and they can put shenzhou in lunor orbit, and at less expense than we can probably. Our shuttle is not capable of leaving earth orbit and costs a lot more then their shenzhou. People who dont take China’s abilities seriously might have a rude awakining someday.

  • Let’s assume such a race starts. If NASA were given all they needed how soon could the new exploration archecture return the first crew from the lunar surface?

  • Ray

    I think we could probably do it within 10 years, 10 years or less. We still have some commitments with the shuttle bringing space station segments to orbit. We would need some time to test the new CEV design.

  • Dfens

    We can’t build a 70,000 lb fighter in less than 20 years. The thing is, we need to be able to get to the Moon in 3 to 5 years to stake our claim on some of its resources. The Chinese aren’t going there for national prestige. They are going there for resources. Oh, but what are resources to us? We are a service economy. They can get the resources and build the products to sell us and we can go on servicing each other. That way we can go farther and farther into debt until they own every strategic capability, every strategic resource we could possibly use to keep ourselves free. Won’t that be a wonderful world for our children?

  • Dwayne A. Day

    A couple of weeks ago I participated in a conference with Chen Lan, founder of the “Dragons in Space” website and one of the few Chinese who is actually writing about China’s space program in English.

    Lan pointed out that after launching their first manned mission, China has actually _slowed down_ their manned space program, decreasing from one launch per year during development, to one launch every two years now that they have become operational. His assessment was that now that they have accomplished their initial goal of placing a man in orbit, the political pressure on the program has lessened.

    If China is planning on landing a human on the Moon in approximately a decade, then they will need a much larger rocket than they currently possess. They will also need to start construction on the launch facilities now. But there have been absolutely no indications of that.

    The Chinese human space program has three clear phases:

    1-place a man in orbit
    2-develop a man-tended space station
    3-develop a permanent space station

    They have not publicly indicated any human lunar plans.

  • I find all this hysteria about (or wishful thinking about a race with) the Chinese hilarious, given that their approach to opening up space is just as slow, expensive and dumb as ours.

  • Dfens

    According to the article, these comments were made based on classified, not public information. Their approach certainly is not as expensive, and if Rep. Calvert’s information is correct, is not as slow. It may or may not be as dumb. It’s hard to say without knowing more.

  • It uses expendable launch systems with capsules. One need know no more.

  • > It uses expendable launch systems with capsules. One need know no more.

    Actually i belive one does need to know more. China still uses coal for personal heating and they are among the fastest growing economies in the world, soon to surpass our economy. Capsules and ELVs is the best tech for them at this time, as its a proven technology, sure expensive and unstaianable over the long haul. But at this time cheaper then developing something that costs loads more to develop.

    If China can prove to themselves they can harvest lunar resources, and the value of those reasources are more then the cost of development and operation, then they would be able to afford the development.

    It would make no sense to try to develop the right way of going about it, when the right way is both unproven, and being attempted by others. Takes to much time, they don’t need to be first to market wih cheap acess, but first on the moon to utilize the resources there. Who ever does that may have precedence in the eyes of the world.

    I believe they only slowed down their plans cause they believed we weren’t getting to the moon anytime soon, We’ll see if they speed up their plans as it seems more likely that we will get there. Or if another entity seems likely.

  • Dwayne A. Day

    “According to the article, these comments were made based on classified, not public information.”

    Has classified information ever been false? Has it ever been misinterpreted?

  • If China can prove to themselves they can harvest lunar resources, and the value of those reasources are more then the cost of development and operation, then they would be able to afford the development.

    And so could many other people. If we’re not going to be smart enough to invest in a low-marginal cost infrastructure, I’m happy to have the Chinese waste their billions sending a few people to the moon at a time at a billion dollars per mission to determine whether or not it’s worth doing.

  • What lunar resources? The only _known_ (and that’s a very important qualifier) resource that I can think of on Earth’s moon that is useful today or the immediately near future is oxygen (and possibly hydrogen tied up in water). These are only useful if we have a rapidly expanding space-based economy that needs lots of water and oxygen, in which case they would becom very useful and might justify lunar mining for export. Helium-3 is a fantasy right now.

    On the other hand, getting to Earth’s moon may be cheaper for the Chinese than we think. Go back and re-read the history of the Soyuz in “Challenge to Apollo.” There were creditable plans to get to Earth’s moon using rockets comparable to what China has now. They may someday be less safety concious than we are and more willing to risk complex docking operations.

    Or, maybe not. Time will tell.

    In the wider picture, one of the great things about China being part of this is that they are an alien culture — far more so than Russia ever was — and they won’t necessarily do it ways that we have thought of or approve of. Physics only sets limits, it does not tell you what to do, and China may decide to do something completely different. Or not!

    – Donald

  • Bill White

    Platinum.

    Just ask Dennis Wingo.

    He3? Someday. Not today.

  • Paul Dietz

    Bill: I’d like to see measurements of 3He in lunar polar regolith before I completely dismiss it. Cold regolith might be able to hold on to considerably more helium because of the slower diffusion out of the implanted surface layer.

  • Dfens

    Analysis of the samples returned by Apollo indicated that the Moon is composed of similar stuff as the Earth, which seems entirely reasonable. What would you find on Earth if you were the first person here? You’d find gold, copper, platinum, tungsten, and some of the other more inert metals in relatively pure state and in very accessible locations. You’d easily find some good ores for other strategic metals. I suppose we’ll just go ahead and let the Chinese stake their claim to these resources.

    We’ll sit here and do our servicing while we wait 20 years for NASA to mount the first return mission on their new “Retro-rocket”. After all, isn’t this the approach that made our country the economic power it is today? Personally I’m excited by the prospect of having more foreign made goods to buy. Let the trade deficit, like the national debt be passed along to my kids. I’ll be dead before the bill comes due. What I really want is some more cheap junk to buy at the dollar store.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Well, if there is classified information that the Chinese are contemplating a man to the Moon program sooner rather than latter, don’t say I didn’t warn you. There is a silver lining, of course. Unlike some folks, I think that healthy competition with the Chinese would be a good focus for the publicly funded space program.

  • “Analysis of the samples returned by Apollo indicated that the Moon is composed of similar stuff as the Earth”

    Unfortunately, Dfens, this is entirely incorrect. One of the principle reasons for the impact theory of lunar formation is the fact that the moon is _severely_ depleted in heavy elements. Heavy metals like gold or platinum are rare on Earth — which is why they are valuable — they far far more rare on Luna. The situation is still worse since Earth’s moon is too small to have many of the geological processes that concentrate rare elements on Earth into ores.

    On the other hand, many terrestrial sources of slightly less heavy metals like iron are the sites of ancient impacts and are derived from asteroids that were once part of the core of some large differentiated body in the early Solar System, and that may well be the case on Luna.

    The upshot is, rare metals will be far more rare on Earth’s moon than they are on Earth, and for the most part far more dispersed. You have to go to Mars (which had or has lots of active geology) or asteroids to find ores. Fortunately, in terms of energy, it is as easy to get to many asteroids as it is the surface of Earth’s moon. If we want to start an interplanetary trade in valuable minerals, this is where we have to go. (So far as we know today, and, again, that is a major qualifier.)

    Lighter metals like titanium and aluminum are available in quantity on Earth’s moon, but these probably are not sufficiently valuable to export, at least in the near term. Experts in lunar geology (which I am not) can probably add more. Again, the only thing I can think of that is readily available on the moon and is needed in quantity now or in the near future is oxygen. O2 is needed at the Space Station, as propulsion for upper stages and satellites and lunar transfer stages, for lunar explorers to breathe and drink, and ultimately as oxidizer for the asteroidal trading ships going after valuable minerals.

    Oxygen is heavy and you need a lot of it. It makes no sense to lift it from Earth if you can find it somewhere else.

    3He may be valuable in the future, but I suspect we’re a lot farther from 3He reactors than we are from oxidizing spacecraft trading minerals from asteroids!

    – Donald

  • AJ Mackenzie

    The idea that China wants to send people to the moon for its resources is ludicrous. First of all, any resources the Chinese want that might be available in space are readily available on Earth, for a far lower cost. Second, if somehow the idea of importing raw resources from space made economic sense, it seems far more likely that you’d go to a near Earth asteroid (lower delta-v, more likely to find heavy elements) than the moon.

    If China really is thinking about sending people to the moon – not likely, it seems, but play along – they’re doing it for one reason: bragging rights. Apollo redux. Sigh…

  • Al, I’m afraid that I agree with you. There is no economic reason for China to go to Earth’s moon for resources until and unless they have enough infrastructure (like a space station or repeated scientific lunar flights) to make mining oxygen worthwhile. However, China is in the midst of formulating a comprehensive military and economic challenge to the United States, which they see as a declining power, and to assert their status as a rising superpower. They also want to impress their immediate rivals of India and Japan. In that geopolitical light, a moon landing makes an unfortunate kind of sense for them (though I agree that they would be smarter to try for an asteroid).

    If they go, once they are there, who knows what they will choose to do?

    – Donald

  • If they go, once they are there, who knows what they will choose to do?

    They can only choose to do what they’re able to do. The notion that they’ll be able to somehow dominate the economy of the moon, with individual missions that cost hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars apiece, is ludicrous (which is, in fact, why we ended Apollo, but don’t seem to have learned the lesson). And if they choose at that point to do something smarter, others can do so as well (and in fact will have started to do so already, though it won’t be at our friendly neighborhood space agency, which is determined to redo Apollo, on steroids).

  • Rand, note that I did not argue that China will dominate Earth’s moon or anything else. However, I doubt that you can get lunar missions much under a few hundred million dollars with any foreseeable technology.

    Wendell Mendell once argued that lunar transportation does not necessarily need to be particularly inexpensive if you can partially live off the land and come up with something valuable to trade. I wish Dr. Griffin had gone with EELVs to reduce up-front costs. However, in the big picture of moving out into the Solar System, reducing Apollo costs by fifty percent in half-a-century, while the terrestrial economy has expanded many times, is not such a bad performance — if he can do it.

    The cruel fact remains that nobody is going to develop revolutionary transportation to the moon until there is a pre-existing reason to do so — a market, in the broadest sense. If we want cheap access to the moon, we need a high-cost base there to be that market. Developing transportation to a mythical base that may or may not someday happen is not something that even this profligate President and Congress is going to do, let alone a commercial entity.

    We can quibble about the details, but Dr. Griffin’s general plan is the right way forward.

    – Donald

  • Edward Wright

    > China’s Shenzhou spacecraft is based on a design (soyuz) that is capable
    > of going to the moon *now* as we speak… Our shuttle is not capable of
    > leaving earth orbit and costs a lot more then their shenzhou.

    That is not true. Some NASA engineers did designs for ways of sending an orbiter to the Moon. Homer Hickam even wrote a book based on the idea.

    It would be hideously expensive, perhaps as expensive as Shuttle Derived and Constellation, but it could be done.

    > People who dont take China’s abilities seriously might have a rude awakining someday.

    What ability? To waste national treasure on historical reenactments?

  • billg

    Calvert said his info “maybe” is classified. I’d hope a member of Congress would be smart enough to know for sure.

    Meanwhile, if we’re going to be paranoid about people who might get to the Moon if only they made the decision, perhaps the paranoid ought to worry about the Russians and the Europeans. Working together, they have a lot more money, experience and potential than the Chinese.

  • Billg: Good point re. the Europeans. I don’t lie awake at night expecting anything from the Europeans — who can’t even copy GPS without it degenerating into endless nine-year-old style squabbling. But, combine their technology and money with Russian knowhow, experience, and the take-no-prisoners guts that kept Mir going, and maybe you’ve got a winning combination. Let’s keep our eye on this French Soyuz pad, maybe we’ll see a surprise or two come off of it.

    – Donald

  • billg

    >>Our shuttle is not capable of leaving earth orbit and costs a lot more then their shenzhou…. That is not true.

    Anything is capable of leaving Earth orbit if you kick it hard enough.

    The real question isn’t if the Orbiter could follow a circumlunar trajectory. Obviously, it could, given something that accelerated it out of orbit. The real question is what would slow it down enough to land when it came back, I might be wrong, but I’ve always understood that the shielding on the Orbiter’s wings can’t provide protection at the near-escape velocity speeds of a return from the Moon, and that the shielding on the leading edges is incapable of being upgraded to handle such speeds.

  • Edward Wright

    > We can’t build a 70,000 lb fighter in less than 20 years.

    There are no 70,000-lb fighters. Even the F-22 was a dry weight of only around 40,000 pounds.

    “We” certainly can build a fighter in less than 20 years — unless your definition of “we” is limited to Boeing and Lockheed. It didn’t Burt Rutan very long to build Ares.

    If the Chinese system is superior, why are most Chinese fighters are still copies of old Soviet designs?

    > The thing is, we need to be able to get to the Moon in 3 to 5 years to
    > stake our claim on some of its resources.

    Moon rocks are not resources as long as the cost of obtaining, processing, and transporting them outweighs their possible value. China won’t get rich spending billions of dollars on Shenzhou capsules to obtain a few hundred pounds of rocks.

    Whatever resources the Moon has will still be there when we go there affordably — not with Shenzhou or Constellation capsules. There is no possibility that the Chinese could use them all up, with any number of Shenzhou capsules. Furthermore, the Outer Space Treaty does not permit China to claim territory on the Moon.

    > Oh, but what are resources to us? We are a service economy. They can get
    > the resources and build the products to sell us and we can go on servicing
    > each other. That way we can go farther and farther into debt until they
    > own every strategic capability, every strategic resource we could
    > possibly use to keep ourselves free.

    For all your complaints about America, thousands of Chinese choose to come here every year. I don’t see many Americans moving to China — not even those who say China is surpassing the United States and we need to emulate China. That says a lot. Keep ourselves “free” by emulating Communist China? Right. :-)

  • Dfens

    For all the intellectual elitism being bandied about here, you think someone might know how to properly use statistics. If in fact your theory is correct, and given the lack of evidentiary support I consider that to be something of a stretch, it does not mean there are no heavy metals on the Moon, nor does it preclude them from being concentrated in certain locations. That’s like saying, the Chinese are statistically shorter than Caucasians, therefore Wang Zhizhi is not 7 feet tall.

    We are talking about a body 1/5 the size of the Earth that has never, as in never ever, been exploited for any reason. Yet, you expect me to believe there are no exploitable resources there except possibly for some rare helium isotope? Even a person with the least of imaginations could do better than that. In fact, if one believes this theory regarding the scarcity of certain elements, it would lead a thinking person to want to be the first to exploit what the Moon might have and not the second.

  • Paul Dietz

    One of the principle reasons for the impact theory of lunar formation is the fact that the moon is _severely_ depleted in heavy elements. Heavy metals like gold or platinum are rare on Earth — which is why they are valuable — they far far more rare on Luna.

    Um, no. The impact depleted the moon in volatile elements. This includes lead, but it also includes things like sodium.

    The problem with the ‘the moon is made of the same stuff as earth, therefore it should have ore bodies just like the earth’s’ is that most ore-forming processes on earth involve volatiles to mobilize and redeposit the minerals. Gold, for example, is deposited from solution, and (for placer deposits) the grains are then concentrated by flowing water. This obviously can’t happen on the moon.

    The moon will need to have different ore-forming processes, such as solar wind implantation or impact-related processes. But, even if the moon does have localized rich ore bodies, finding them could be challenging. It’s certainly challenging on Earth, where huge numbers of geologists have scoured the planet. Geologists are far cheaper here that on the moon.

  • Dfens, I did not say there were _no_ exploitable resources on Earth’s moon (in fact I listed one and a potential source of another), I just said they would be much harder to find than they are on Earth. The “depletion” of heavy elements on the moon is a well-established fact; the data came from direct measurements from the Apollo project, and from the overall density of the moon. (I recently interviewed one of the scientists modeling the moon’s formation based on this data for an article that will appear in Astronomy Now in early 2006.) But, if you are looking for heavy metals, and the cost of getting to asteroids is not greatly different from Earth’s moon, you definitely want to do the former.

    If we are talking about the resources to survive on Earth’s moon, that’s a different story.

    In any case, if the goal is to establish trade, you don’t want every world to have the same resources!

    Edward: While I agree with your basic statement, here, “Moon rocks are not resources as long as the cost of obtaining, processing, and transporting them outweighs their possible value,” you’re missing a key component of the equation, location of end use.

    The value of oxygen in LEO is far, far more than it’s value on Earth. Once a certain quantitative threashold is reached, the cost of extracting oxygen on Earth’s moon and transporting it to LEO might well be less than transporting it from Earth to LEO, and under your definition oxygen would then become an exploitable lunar resource.

    – Donald

  • Edward Wright

    > Capsules and ELVs is the best tech for them at this time, as its a proven technology,

    “Proven” how? Capsules and ELVs have proven as dangerous the Space Shuttle. Over 1% of all flights have involved a fatal accident. They’ve killed fewer people than the Shuttle not because they are safer but because they’ve carried fewer people.

    > sure expensive and unstaianable over the long haul. But at this time
    > cheaper then developing something that costs loads more to develop.

    Why do you assume reusable vehicles “cost loads more to develop”?

    In the 1960′s, General Dynamics did a study of the X-15 and the Atlas A, vehicles with similar performance. They found that the reusable vehicle was 40% cheaper to develop. An Air Force study came to a similar conclusion.

    That is logical, because flight test is a big part of development, and vehicles that are cheaper to fly are cheaper to flight test. As the late Dr. Max Hunter said, “To develop a rocket, you have to launch a rocket.”

    Burt Rutan spent $30 million to develop White Knight and SpaceShip One. The program required 66 flights of White Knight and 17 flights of SpaceShip One. If he were building expendable rockets, he would have needed to build 66 first stages and 17 upper stages to accomplish the same test program. If the expendable stages cost $1 million apiece, he would have spent $83 million. Even so, he would not have gotten equivalent test results, because it would be impossible to examine an intact vehicle after each flight.

    Even NASA estimated that it could build 2nd Generation RLV, overdesigned and overengineering as it was, for $5-6 billion. The combination of a Constellation capsule and Shuttle-derived vehicle is now estimated to cost over $20 billion.

    > If China can prove to themselves they can harvest lunar resources, and
    > the value of those reasources are more then the cost of development and
    > operation, then they would be able to afford the development.

    “If” the value is more than the cost — what reason do you have to believe it will be? Have you seen any profit-and-loss calculations? (The people who claim they can mine the Moon with ELVs are very shy about showing dollar figures.)

    > It would make no sense to try to develop the right way of going about it,
    > when the right way is both unproven, and being attempted by others.

    Were people foolish to build airplanes, when airplanes were unproven and the Wright Brothers were already doing airplanes? Should everyone else have stuck with balloons and Zeppelins because they were proven (if dangerous and impractical)?

    Reusable vehicles are not entirely unproven. No one has yet built a reusable orbital vehicle, but there have been suborbital RLVs, the quasi-reusable Space Shuttle, and other programs that demonstrate all of the required technology needed to build an orbital RLV.

    > Takes to much time, they don’t need to be first to market wih cheap
    > acess, but first on the moon to utilize the resources there. Who ever
    > does that may have precedence in the eyes of the world.

    Are you familar with the story of the tortoise and the hare? The hare might gain “precedence in the eyes of the world” with an unsustainable dash to the Moon, but that doesn’t mean he’ll win in the long run.

    Rather like Cray, which made the cover of all the business magazines when it introduced the world’s fastest computer. The first microcomputer was introduced the same month, but no respectable business magazine paid attention. Business Week called the Cray “the machine that will change the world.” Several years later, Cray was bankrupt — and guess who was changing the world?

  • Paul, I just interviewed one of the principle scientists involved in this field, and the moon is depleted in _both_ volatiles and heavy elements. When the impact that probably created the moon happened, most of the crustal material of the impacting body, and a good part of Earth’s crust, were ejected. They later reformed to become Earth’s moon. The heavy elements from the cores of both worlds ended up in Earth’s core. The fact that the moon is depleted in both heavy elements and volatiles — both facts are very difficult to explain — are the key piece of evidence that has convinced most previously skeptical scientists that the impact theory is most likely correct.

    Dfens is right that this would not have been a uniform process, but finding heavy metals near the surface of the moon (except for those derived from asteroid impacts) will be very difficult. If there is an “ore forming” method on Luna, impacts is probably it.

    “But, even if the moon does have localized rich ore bodies, finding them could be challenging. It’s certainly challenging on Earth, where huge numbers of geologists have scoured the planet. Geologists are far cheaper here that on the moon.”

    Which is exactly why we need Dr. Griffin’s six-month missions to the moon. If there is _any_ chance to find such resources, this is it.

    – Donald

  • Edward Wright

    > you’re missing a key component of the equation, location of end use.

    No, that was implied when I said “transporting” those resources.

    > The value of oxygen in LEO is far, far more than it’s value on Earth.

    Not unless you can use that oxygen to produce something of value to people, either in LEO or on Earth. Right now, the cost of space transportation is so high there’s very little activity in LEO to create a demand for oxygen.

    In fact, there’s nothing, except ISS — and ISS doesn’t justify spending over $104 billion going to the Moon just to get oxygen.

    > Once a certain quantitative threashold is reached, the cost of extracting
    > oxygen on Earth’s moon and transporting it to LEO might well be less than
    > transporting it from Earth to LEO, and under your definition oxygen would
    > then become an exploitable lunar resource.

    What quantitative threshold is that? Numbers please. The Commercial Space Transportation Study looked at lunar oxygen (among other markets) and found that significant reductions in launch costs were required before it would be viable.

    Keeping launch costs high so that that lunar oxygen will be more competitive is self-defeating because you have to launch a lot of stuff in order to produce lunar oxygen.

  • Edward Wright

    >> Geologists are far cheaper here that on the moon.”

    > Which is exactly why we need Dr. Griffin’s six-month missions to the
    > moon. If there is _any_ chance to find such resources, this is it.

    Donald, Griffin is talking about six-day missions, not six-month missions.

    Again, you’ve missed the economic factor. Paul said geologists are *cheaper* on Earth. Even if Griffin were proposing six-month missions, it would still cost somewhere on the order of a billion dollars to send one geologist. That will not make it cheap.

    Doing any significant amount of geological exploration requries a significant number of geologists. That isn’t going to happen without radical reductions in transportation costs.

  • Bill White

    Donald Robertson, have you read Dennis Wingo’s theory about nickel-iron asteroids and the PGMs contained therein? Terran PGMs are (arguably) concentrated at the sites of known asteroid impacts within relatively recent geologic time (i.e. after the Earth cooled).

    We can either mine asteroids in open space (some of which do contain PGMs) or we can mine those asteroids which have come to rest on the lunar surface. At 1/6th gravity impact would cause less shattering and without air or water erosion would not transport precise metals away from the impact site.

  • Bill White

    Lunar oxygen (as opposed to lunar water ice) can be retrieved with relatively modest capital investment.

    Vapor phase pyrolysis can use passive solar mirrors (HomeDepot grade mylar on an inflatable parabolic structure will cost in the thousands of dollars and be relatively light, meaning low launch costs)

    Additional heating can come from microwave or vacuum induction with the electricity coming from Sterling cycle engines powered by the heated slag from earlier regolith heating efforts. Run the cold end of your Sterling cycle into the lunar shade (behind a crater wall) and the temperature differential will be 2000 F plus versus near absolute zero.

    Nuclear surface power would be VERY useful but may not be absolutely necessary.

    Ship methane as your primary fuel, combust with lunar LOX and there you go – - > all the water, CO2 and carbon monoxide (carbonyl process) that that you can use.

  • Why is everyone focussed on mining at the lunar surface?

    The Lagrange points around the Moon are the key choke points for _all_ the lowest energy trajectories between Earth and the rest of the Solar System. An analogous place on Earth would be the Panama Canal.

    Lo and behold, the Panama Canal has been leased to a Chinese corporation (for 25-50 years) since the US pulled out in 1999: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panama_canal

    At least according to http://www.conservativeusa.org/panama-washtimes.htm the Panamanian government enacted a law that allows this Chinese company to block passage and require the use of Chinese personnel to navigate vessels – including US naval vessels – through the canal.

    Returning to the space side of the issue, why is everyone expecting a civilan jobs program to address a military problem?

  • Bored Whacko

    The Chinese will shock the world by doing an Apollo 8 with their next manned mission.

  • Bill White

    Why is everyone focused on mining at the lunar surface?

    Gravity makes it easier and lunar LOX + Terran methane / LH2 will make getting to & from the NEOs easier.

    Earth-Moon L1 is the obvious strategic choke point. After all a lunar space elevator could probably be built using Kevlar / Spectra line we can mail order today from my West Marine catalog. (Well, maybe not quite but the point stands, we don’t need no stinkin’ carbon nanotubes for a lunar space elevator and building one would be good practice for a Terran space elevator)

  • Dfens: The operative phrase in this discussion is “for the forseeable future”. It may be true that one day it is economical to mine something on the moon for some purpose, but it is far into the unforseeable future. Within the realm of the forseeable, trips to and from the moon are so incredibly expensive that it’s not worth mining anything on the moon. Or even close. Even if the moon were made of pure gold, it wouldn’t be worth it.

    Someone like Rand Simberg might now chime in to claim that the experts have proven me wrong. But they haven’t. The Brad Blairs of the world write some highly speculative papers about how mining the moon could be profitable, with enough assumptions, not that it actually is. This could be a fine academic sport, but it is not the forseeable future.

  • Bill, I do in fact prefer near-Earth asteroids to the moon as our next destination. They’re cheaper to get to, the longer trip times teach us useful skills, they’re more useful and more interesting, Unfortunately, no one in power seems to agree so the moon is what we get.

    – Donald

  • The Lagrange points around the Moon are the key choke points for _all_ the lowest energy trajectories between Earth and the rest of the Solar System.

    The earth-moon Lagrange points are not “points” at all, let alone “choke points.”

  • billg

    Griffin’s plan targets extended 6-month missions on the Moon; the decision to go beyond the initial week-long missions will, as usual, be a political decision.

    About lunar resources: It isn’t so much what heavy metals or other resources are on the Moon. What counts is this: Is the cost of extraction and transport to market less than the market price?

    Precious metals found on the Moon will stay on the Moon if there’s no profit in mining them and getting them to Earth. Lunar helium isotopes will stay lunar if people on Earth choose to pay a cheaper price for coal or some other local resource.

    On the other hand, something no one has imagined may turn up. European conquest of the America’s was not launched by people expecting to grow rich dealing in tobacco, indigo, rice, tar, slaves and plundered gold, but that’s how their wealth was made. Their original dreams and fantasies came for naught.

  • Bill White

    Precious metals found on the Moon will stay on the Moon if there’s no profit in mining them and getting them to Earth. Lunar helium isotopes will stay lunar if people on Earth choose to pay a cheaper price for coal or some other local resource.

    Absolutely true.

    The potential for platinum, however, is that there is a credible argument that Terran platinum resources are not sufficient to supply what is needed for a genuine hydrogen economy. Today, at least, low temperature fuel cells need PGMs. High temperature fuel cells (~900C) do not need PGM but 900C is “too hot” for consumer or individual automotive application.

    Dennis Wingo’s hypothesis is that Ni-Fe asteroid fragments (containing PGMs) can be found reasonably intact lying on the lunar surface. True? We don’t know yet, but it is an eminently testable hypothesis.

    Just go looking, i.e. prospecting and we can learn the answer to that question.

    Another testable hypothesis is that Earth lacks sufficient PGMs to allow billions of humans access to fuel cell technology. If both hypotheses are true, the demand for platinum will far exceed Terran supply and there you go, a potentially viable market for lunar platinum.

    In the short term, advocates of fuel cell technologies (who might otherwise be agnostic about space exploration) should be vigorously recruited by space enthusiasts. This can include environmentalists who might otherwise be adverse to spending money on space exploration.

  • Rand: “The earth-moon Lagrange points are not “points” at all, let alone “choke points.”"

    Yes, the Lagrange points are actual points – hence the name – but the low energy manifold trajectories that quasi-orbit them are not. See The Lunar L1 Gateway.

    Turning to page 34, the narrow regions in the viscinity of the Earth-Moon L1 and L2 points are arguably choke points. Now whether or not these regions are narrow for the purposes of projecting a military presence depends on the capabilities of that military presence and on the particular trajectories that pass through that volume of territory.

    Let’s say that an American alt.space company has serious plans to haul a multi-trillion dollar nickel iron asteroid through the L1 region. As the Republic of Kevistan I could put a space-based laser with a range of 1000 km and a few parasitic microsats nearly on top of L1 in order to protect my country from the threat of orbital bombardment by the US.

    I would exercise power of veto over all traffic through the region and insist on all maneuvers being conducted using my tugs in order to ensure peaceful trajectories. I would charge a commensurate fee, say 10% of the asteroid value, for the service.

    My country would be hailed by peace-loving people worldwide for hedging the abuse potential of a deeply distrusted US, and for my own part I would reduce the options and pressures the US has to intervene in the internal and external affairs of my state.

  • Bill White

    All hail our new Kevinstani overlords?

    = = =

    EML-1′s value would be enhanced by a lunar space elevator and by deploying passive solar thermal propulsion.

    Deploy mirrors at L1 and use sunlight to heat propellant via straightforward solar thermal techniques. When the propellant is hot enough, deliver cargo to pretty much anywhere by opening some valves and following a Lo Road (low energy manifold trajectory).

    The mirrors stay at L1 for re-use.

    = = =

    Cross-roads might be a complementary term to choke point.

    But both locations are classic battlefields and Kevin is entirely correct about significance of LaGrange points.

  • Ignoring the physics of your laser, why would an asteroid need to pass through L1? And why couldn’t the Kevistani laser be lased from someone else who wanted to do so?

  • Bill White: But “the hydrogen economy” is just a slogan. Common hydrogen, on earth, is neither an energy source nor the basis for an economy. It is only a method to store energy. It is also a grossly uncompetitive energy storage method for cars, although it works great for the space shuttle.

    (Note that controlled fusion, which is also unlikely to ever be practical for cars, requires deuterium, tritium, or lithium, not common hydrogen.)

    So “the hydrogen economy” is just as empty a slogan as “the flywheel economy” or the “wall socket economy”. The main advocates of the hydrogen economy are spouting hot nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor, and carbon dioxide. They are also wasting taxpayer money.

  • Bill White

    Greg: On one hand I agree, fuel cells produce nothing. But. . .

    They are efficient storage media for various purposes and allow the efficient storage of off-grid power production. See one example. This example is a high temperature fuel cell that does not need PGMs but runs too hot for consumer applications.

    Low temperature fuel cells will offer more efficient storage and transport of power than is possible with the electric grid and some PGM based fuel cells can extract a hydrogen molecule (thus energy) directly from methanol with more efficency than simple combustion.

    Dennis Wingo writes about fuel cells that use exotic “cocktails” of PGM other than platinum that can extract energy from gasoline more efficiently than internal combustion and with fewer combustion by-products (pollution).

  • Billg: “European conquest of the America’s was not launched by people expecting to grow rich dealing in tobacco, indigo, rice, tar, slaves and plundered gold, but that’s how their wealth was made.”

    While I agree with your point, this is not quite true. The Spanish, at any rate, were after gold and invented cities whole cloth to convince themselves it was there. There are two lessons for us in that: first, you are right that we don’t necessarily end up finding or utilizing the same thing we were looking for; second, the reason we open a new frontier does not need to make a whole lot of sense. It only needs to convince the queen’s modern counterpart.

    Both Greg and Bill are correct about fuel cells, but I do think they will be used in cars (or at first large engines like trucks and trains). Fuel cells are clean, efficient, and you don’t actually need to generate the electricity they store as electricity. As long as you end up with hydrogen and oxygen, you can create them any way you want, e.g., with membranes. Fuel cells are probably the most flexible batteries imaginable.

    – Donald

  • Bill White

    Donald is right about Greg & I both being right.

    I like agreement. :-)

    = = =

    Direct methanol fuel cells need platinum but are an outstanding substitute for conventional batteries for laptops, etc. . .

    Clever engineering is reducing the amount of platinum needed for a functional DMFC fuel cell.

    Conversely, more abundant platinum would allow increased performance for these tiny fuel cells.

    This creates a potential market for lunar platinum “if” the hypothesis about an insufficient finite supply of Terran platinum proves correct and “if” Dennis Wingo is correct about Ni-Fe asteroids fragments on the lunar surface.

  • If this is for real, it’s fantastic. Thanks for comming up with a tradable commodity.

    However, if the platinum comes from asteroids, why would you go to Earth’s moon to get it? Wouldn’t being on top of the gravity well be important to keep costs down? Once you’ve got the return train going, the longer travel time wouldn’t matter would it? Certainly not compared to the fuel costs of getting down to the lunar surface and carrying heavy platinum back up.

    – Donald

  • larry

    Space will be colonized by someone! Those cold equations have no political boundaries – working for all.

    HA – Classified – what does that mean today?

    Any good analysts with a net connection can figure things out –
    I think we safely say that the abilities of Informaiton gathering of those US agencies are way over rated for the money they get. Although I’m sure they feel good when they get stamp classified on their reports for their insights.

    How many people are being trained as Taikonauts? I remember seeing an article a couple weeks ago about 20+ women being selected. Hmm what about all those new nuclear reactors?

    I would take a bet that China is developing nuclear engines. Hec, it’s not like they couldn’t get enough information to build them.

    If the only reason the US can come up to go into space is to be first. Big deal, look who ended up colonizing and ruling North America it sure wasn’t the first people to arrive.

  • Bill White

    Donald:

    Near Earth Objects first? I am not dead set against that. But the Moon has emotional cachet that will resonate with the public better.

    Some believe mining Fe-Ni fragments from the luanr surface will be easier that going to an asteroid because of gravity. Plus, being only 3 days from Earth may make the miners “feel” safer. Frankly, I joined space advocacy as a Mars-guy and have given thought to the Moon more out of political necessity. ;-)

    Now, if Dennis Wingo is wrong, we are off to the asteroids for that platinum. Fair enough?

  • Larry: “look who ended up colonizing and ruling North America it sure wasn’t the first people to arrive”.

    Hmmm. The first known colonies on the New World date from around 12,000 BCE, before the end of the last glaciation. They survived and prospered, in some extremely harsh climates, for a period of time almost inconceivable to us — until a better armed people used disease to ruthlessly destroy them.

    There is weak circumstantial evidence that people were here long before that, even before the last glaciation.

    We’ve been here, what, six hundred years or a bit more?

    I think we’ve got a ways to go before we can claim to be the most successful.

    – Donald

  • David Davenport

    One thing is fact here. China’s Shenzhou spacecraft is based on a design (soyuz) that is capable of going to the moon *now* as we speak.

    Can you cite any evidence for that assertion?

    At least according to http://www.conservativeusa.org/panama-washtimes.htm the Panamanian government enacted a law that allows this Chinese company to block passage and require the use of Chinese personnel to navigate vessels – including US naval vessels – through the canal.

    Kevin, don’t be such a sucker for those chicken hawk right wing Web sites that have no real military knowledge or experience. The US Navy isn’t worried about the Pananama Cana, because for decades now the USN hasn’t had an aircraft carrier small enough to fit through the Panama C.. Where the CVN’s go, the rest of a USN task force goes. Can your extra large Cal Tech brain wrap around this concept?

    /////////

    To send a Shuttle to lunar orbit and back, an additional propulsion system would be needed to accelerate a Shuttle in LEO from approximately 17,500 m.p.h. to escape velocity. To return the Shuttle with confidence, the propulsion system would need to slow the returning Shuttle down to Earth orbit velocity again. A Soyuz capsule would require the same.

  • One thing is fact here. China’s Shenzhou spacecraft is based on a design (soyuz) that is capable of going to the moon *now* as we speak.

    Can you cite any evidence for that assertion?

    I can do that. An early variant of the Soyuz was the Zond, which did in fact go to Earth’s moon. It also successfully did a direct entry into Earth’s atmosphere. They did not manage to execute the minimum number of successful test flights that Korolev required to launch a Cosmonaut before the success of Apollo made it politically moot.

    Also, as I recall, the Soyuz vehicle was a part of most plans to land on the moon.

    (Though one of the surprises in my reading of Asif A. Siddiqi’s “Challenge to Apollo” is that the lunar effort did not end with Apollo: it was several additional years and launch failures before the Soviets gave up completely on the N1 Landing effort. If the N1 had succeeded, chances are the Soviets would have tried a landing even after Apollo.)

    A Soyuz capsule would require the same [breaking into Earth orbit].

    Nope. The Soviets demonstrated reentry shields for a direct entry from Luna.

    – Donald

  • On, yes, I believe the Soyuz was designed first for lunar use, and only secondly was it adapted for Earth orbit.

    – Donald

  • Davenport: “Kevin, don’t be such a sucker for those chicken hawk right wing Web sites that have no real military knowledge or experience. The US Navy isn’t worried about the Pananama Cana, because for decades now the USN hasn’t had an aircraft carrier small enough to fit through the Panama C.. Where the CVN’s go, the rest of a USN task force goes. Can your extra large Cal Tech brain wrap around this concept?”

    From the late Adm. Thomas Moorer, Ex-Chairman of The Joint Chiefs in congressional testimony:

    “Any one who has been involved in logistic planning where the time of transit from sources of supply to the deployed forces is so critical, knows the danger faced when choke points are controlled by unfriendly forces. In the case of the Panama Canal any entity that controls the anchorages has the capacity to control and disrupt the flow of shipping.”

    “In the event of a military confrontation in the Pacific, (e.g. Taiwan Straits or Korea) the large number of logistic ships required to support our deployed forces in the western Pacific must have available to them unfettered transit of the canal from a matter of hours to a maximum of ten days to sustain combat effectiveness. The forward deployed forces in the Eastern Mediterranean (NATO) or the Persian Gulf require the same assurances for logistic resupply from the Pacific to the Atlantic through the Canal. Control by a hostile power of the approaches to the Canal and the anchorages that would interdict the timely transit of those ships could require taking the facilities by force at a high cost in American lives. It is not “managing traffic” under normal circumstances with which I am concerned, it is the ability of a potential enemy to disrupt traffic so as to block military supply, which in times of conflict is 80 to 90 percent dependent upon sea lift capability for there to be any sustained forward effort.”

  • David Davenport

    Destined to become the nation’s highest-ranking military officer, Thomas Moorer’s life was marked by success. At age 15 he was valedictorian of his high school class, and 2 years later entered Annapolis. Graduating in 1933, …

    President Johnson appointed him CNO in 1967, and after serving almost 3 years, President Nixon selected him to be Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff–the first naval officer to hold this position in 13 years. Admiral Moorer retired in 1974, and he and his wife, Carrie, now reside in McLean, Virginia.

    Ummhmmm, all good little space cadets who think the right Left thoughts trust what a Nixon appointee said.

    Times have changed. The CV USS Oriskany was decommissioned in 1976. I think that the Oriskany was the last American aircraft carrier small enough to transit the Panama Canal.

    Lessee, a quick Google search yields this:

    … According to General Barry McCaffrey, former head of the U.S. Southern Command when it was based in Panama and now the U.S. anti-drug czar, “We don’t have vital national security interests in Panama.” …

    http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1067

    Do there, my quote offsets yours. Na na na.

    And furthermore, if you’re worried about the Yellow Peril getting their paws on Panama, I assume you agree that Pres. Bush Sr. did the right thing by invading said location back in 1989. Snatched that little so-called Presidente Noriega and his machetes and red satin underpants. Busted him for dope dealing. Bush Sr. did a good thing, don’t you say?

  • David Davenport

    The first known colonies on the New World date from around 12,000 BCE, before the end of the last glaciation. They survived and prospered, in some extremely harsh climates, for a period of time almost inconceivable to us — until a better armed people used disease to ruthlessly destroy them.

    Yep, that’s Darwinian evolution in action, both the disease part and the better arms as well as the ruthlessness.

    You liberals are all big believers in the truth of evolution, n’est ce pas?

  • David Davenport

    We can’t build a 70,000 lb fighter in less than 20 years.

    Maximum gross take-off weight of the F-15E is 81,000 pounds.

  • “Do there, my quote offsets yours. Na na na.”

    David, I thought you were a bored high school student for months until you mentioned you worked in the car industry.

  • Edward Wright

    >> We can’t build a 70,000 lb fighter in less than 20 years.

    > Maximum gross take-off weight of the F-15E is 81,000 pounds.

    Most of that is fuel, pilot, and weapons that are loaded onto the airplane. The plane that’s built at the factory weighs less than half of that.

  • Edward Wright

    > Times have changed. The CV USS Oriskany was decommissioned in 1976. I think that the Oriskany
    > was the last American aircraft carrier small enough to transit the Panama Canal.

    You assume that sea lanes exist only for the benefit of aircraft carriers. That’s like thinking banks exist to employ police. You have it backwards. The Navy doesn’t exist just to sail carriers around. It exists, in large part, to protect the sea lanes of communication. They don’t protect them just because they are used by the Navy, any more than police officers protect banks only if they have deposits in them.

    Furthermore, while carriers may not be able to travel through the Panama Canal, they depend on many supplies that can and do travel through it.

    As for your “chickenhawk” comments, John Kerry is not the only person ever to serve in the military, no matter what the surrender lobby thinks. Remember how Kerry tried to stop “chickenhawks” on US Navy ships from having their votes counted? I have “chickenhawk” friends who are overseas right now protecting your right to throw around insults like that. Something for you to think about.

  • Edward Wright

    > Remember how Kerry tried to stop “chickenhawks” on US Navy ships from having their votes counted?

    Oops. I meant Al Gore.

  • Jeff Foust

    Gentlemen: discussion of Chinese space policy, or the effect of China on US space policy, is cetainly welcome. However, this is not the proper venue for dicussion of Chinese naval policy, not the weight of US fighter aircraft. Thanks.

  • Okay, Jeff, returning to the issue at hand, everyone should know that there is a detailed description of the Shenzhou spacecraft in the April 2005 Spaceflight.

    The British Interplanetary Society’s technical journal JBIS has had a number of more detailed (and technically challenging) articles on the Shenzhou in the past couple of years.

    These may be ordered from:

    The British Interplanetary Society
    27/29 South Lambeth Road
    London SW8 1SZ

    mail@bis-spaceflight.com

    – Donald

  • I meant to add that this is a _detailed_ description, down to the placement of electronic boxes!

    – Donald

  • David Davenport

    David, I thought you were a bored high school student for months until you mentioned you worked in the car industry.
    Posted by Kevin Parkin at September 29, 2005 12:19 AM

    Me, I have never had any vocational connection to the car industry. I think you have confused me with Cecil Trotter, O Giant Brain of Pasadena.