ASI W9800177r1.0

Moon Miners' Manifesto

#88 September 1995

Section the Artemis Data Book

The Burning of the Old Swamp

The Burning of the Old Swamp

David Dunlop

A Fire Down the Block

A block from my home is a wetlands area. Wetlands areas, you see, are vital places teeming with animal and plant life, and purifying the waters which run into the rivers and fill the lakes. Swamps, on the other hand, are places where swarms of mosquitos drive away even those foolish enough to venture out into the muck and cattails. Same place! Just a matter of perception and understanding.

Earlier this Spring the old swamp caught on fire. What a blaze those cattails and long buffalo grass made, with flames shooting into the air 50 or 60 feet high! What had been a cathedral of dead grasses was reduced to a charred plain of some 10 acres, where nary a red-winged black bird could perch, and the muskrat mounds were exposed for the benefit of any hawk that cared to circle.

Now it's different! A lush carpet of new grasses has hidden the muskrats again, the mosquitoes are out in force, and the cattails and buffalo grass are strutting their stuff. I don't weep for the old growth because I've left that behind. I've got a better view of what's in that wetlands than I had before.

The NASA Swamp and the Wetlands of Commercial Space Development

For those of us '60s kids the glory days of Apollo are the cathedral of grass. We miss the excitement, the international spotlight, and the push of heroes into the unknown. That was when space was teeming with life. Come to think of it, that's when we were teaming with life. Those who get trapped in nostalgia are impatient for the excitement and rapid pace of progress of those days. For many the Shuttle Missions don't fire the imagination much more than a visit to the local airport (even though their launches are a matter of grand spectacle). Those watching NASA are filled with pessimism because outlying annual budgets are projected to fall from around the present day $15 billion to $11 billion. Twenty thousand may be laid off.

Some may think that Dan Goldin has been out trying to smoke, and has in fact set fire to, the swamp that many feel NASA has become. In panic, some of us red-winged space buffs are sure there will be nowhere for our dreams of space settlement to perch.

This time of waiting for the new generation of technology that will at last provide cheap access to space is frustrating and difficult. The infrastructure of the old and inefficient must be burned away so that the new can flourish.

The seeds are all planted and beginning to sprout in the ashes of the old swamp. We have learned much and developed better tools for the demands of space settlement in the next millennium over the last 25 years. But we are on the brink out a new outbreak of growth and development.

The new driver for cheap routine access to space will be commercial telecommunications demands. The new global satellite telecommunications networks will change again the shape and feel of the world. Arthur C. Clarke in "How the World Was One" predicted the end of the distinction between the local and long distance telephone call around the turn of the millennium. He will be correct. When I was young we thought it was terrific to get live television pictures from Europe. Personally affordable telecommunications will permit people-to-people connections on a scale familiar to Americans in their national market since World War II, but still uncommon most everywhere on the globe outside the G-7 nations. Only the most politically repressive nations will resist this sweeping change but they will fail too against the unstoppable onslaught of teenagers demanding to tie up the phone lines!

Small telecommunication satellites launched for a million dollars are demanded by the proposal. Ten years ago such demands would have been so laughable as to seem part of a Dick Tracy cartoon. Today such demands seem merely optimistic. Why, by 2005 it may really take $2 to $3 million to launch a small telecommunications satellite and it may cost $0.10 a minute to talk to Australia, Japan, or Russia from the average U.S. home.

Changing the Way We Think About the Business of Exploration and Research

This means changing our way of thinking and planning about space. This means the community of interest in space development and settlement can no longer watch NASA critically from afar, or passively from within, even as it is being slashed to insignificance. This community must understand the new conditions and opportunities, plan, and act.

Let me give you one small example. The Discovery Mission series is NASA's shining example of "smarter, cheaper, faster." Having participated in a Discovery Mission proposal team recently, I was initially excited to think for just $150 million (not including launch costs) we might land on the Moon with our proposal. Well, our Interlune I proposal didn't make the cut along with 26 others, and the winning 28th entry, Lunar Prospector, did make the cut with a $ 59 million budget including the launch cost! Its fate in Congress, however, is still unclear. Many of these proposals cost a half million to a million dollars to prepare. Their design teams would produce a unique platform of instrumentation and get a one-shot opportunity to explore something in the solar system.

I think the Discovery program, even though it is billed as smarter, cheaper, and faster, is still part of the old buffalo grass that needs to be consumed in the budgetary fire.

If a ton can be sent out of near earth space in 2005 for a launch cost of $15 to $20 million, then many more opportunities to do so will be possible. The number of potential players in the solar system exploration game will markedly increase. Large corporations and many nations like Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, and Mexico could, by teaming their universities, commercial interests, and governments, afford such launch costs. Such prestige missions would broaden the base of people directly involved in the community of exploration!

Potential members of the lunar exploration club, for example, would be greatly expanded beyond the Russian, U.S., and Japanese. There is a lot of Moon to explore and a lot of lunar missions needed which are focused on in situ [on-site] resource utilization, astronomy, and in situ demonstration of telerobotic and autonomous robotic activity. What no longer makes sense is to spend so much design effort on unique packages. What no longer makes sense is the fierce competition for the once-in-a-career opportunity to get $200 million.

What is needed now is not a design effort that will result in the sale of one Rolls Royce or Mercedes, but rather a design and market effort that produces many Chevies or Toyotas. Orbital platforms and robotic rovers that can house diversified instrumentation will be common and therefore should be designed for volume production. With lowered unit costs for platforms and instrumentation costing no more than the launch, a robotic mission to the surface of the Moon should be possible for $30 to $40 million. With a similar strategy, orbiters to Venus or Mercury or Mars should also be possible for a similar range of cost.

The economic potential for many such missions is there when reusable rocket technology arrives. Since that day will come around the millennium this calls for new collaborative strategies for teams that would otherwise be in deadly competition for the "one big score." The political support that can be mustered by five teams in five different nations for $30 million is more probable than one team getting $150 million anywhere.

JPL's New Millennium program is dead on target with its focus on microelectronics, micro-devices, and new composite materials. The Microdevices Laboratory at JPL's Center for Space Microelectronics hopes for the development of probes and sensor packages that break through the 200 kilogram barrier as the measure of maturity of the first generation of their efforts. With proper support they think this first generation could be ready in five years but look at 2010 as the target. They hope to break the 20 pound barrier as the measure of maturity of second generation spacecraft by 2020. I'm hoping for the five-years estimate. By that time, my teenager may well be gone and I'll definitely be in the commercial market for a "smart" lawnmower.

These odds really favor the builder of the "Chevrolet" or "Toyota" platform. A "Chevy" lunar robotic rover package would provide a larger international market opportunity for a space engineering firm than just the hope of one big U.S., Russian, or Japanese mission. Each national or corporate team will want its own stamp on such missions, of course with specialized instrumentation. The planning windows for such platforms is now in anticipation of the arrival of the reusable rockets in 2002-2005. Research communities focusing on Venus, Mercury, the Moon, Mars, and the asteroids should each generate tens of such explorations missions! The drop in prices for launch cost and platform and the drop in price in global telecommunications should mean that tens of nations can afford to be players instead of just four or five.

The New Political Economy of Space

If the U.S. brings its economic house in order it will again be prepared to expand its investments in space at about the same time the rest of the world can afford to go. In the U.S. we have wasted a generation that could have resulted in a manned lunar base. We will have to be content to watch the burning of the old NASA swamp and enjoy the growth of the new wetlands of commercial space telecommunications and the beginning space resource utilization. We will see the dependence on U.S. government funds much reduced and an international marketplace arise with diverse sources of financing. Cheap global communication will mean a potential for international collaboration on new space ventures that transcend the more nationally financed and focused projects that are typical today. A A McDonnell Douglas U.S. reusable rocket, Japanese financing, an Indian University team, and a Brazilian communications conglomerate may be characteristic of the teams that venture onto the Moon in the next decade.

These new initiatives will refine the technology needed for a permanent return to the Moon and the opening of Mars to human habitation. Orbiters and mobile platforms will still perform the bulk of lunar and Martian exploration activities even after permanent human presence has long been achieved for the simple reason that exposure to surface radiation will be a carefully rationed component of human existence on the Moon and Mars.

Telerobotic exploration via polar orbiter communications links will be the mainstay of physical survey work. Humans may repair, rebuild, and rescue this equipment but reserve their surface exploration time to the really unusual and spectacular places.

These robotic explorations will also broaden the opportunities for mass appreciation and involvement in these activities. The education and entertainment value of these missions will be the vehicles to reach millions of students and their taxpaying parents and arm chair explorers. This public base of understanding and involvement will provide the political support for the eventual commitment to human presence on the Moon and Mars and expanded commercial ventures such as the Lunar Power System, space tourism to LEO, and 0-G and low-G sports in LEO and on the Moon, respectively.

The tremendous growth of satellite telecommunications using cheap reusable rockets and a boomlet in applied science and exploration activities on the Moon will bring us to the point of commitment to both a manned return to the Moon and also to the construction of the Lunar Power System.

It is the commercial opportunity for expanded clean energy supplies that will drive the lunar enterprise, not finances dependent solely on government sources. The payback potential of gaining the new energy will finally make the two-planet economy accepted by many willing to partner in this grand and practical venture. The accelerating energy demands of the rapidly expanding Chinese and Indian economies will require vast new energy infrastructure investments whose ecological consequences would not be acceptable if met from fossil fuel sources. These forces will be the new drivers of the political economy of space.


I am impatient for a manned return to the Moon in my lifetime. But I think that this commercial and technological evolution will require another 15 years to occur. It is the commercial drive for space resources and global telecommunications that will give us a vibrant human presence not only on the Moon but make feasible and affordable the opening of Mars as well. Those who wish to be part of this next push have enough time to understand the new market of opportunities and to plan and act accordingly.

Collaboration in our attempts to understand and explore the Moon and its resources will go much farther than undercutting and competitive grabs for the declining revenues available the next few years as exemplified by the current Discovery Mission process. Only by designing ahead for multiple opportunities which are an order of magnitude more cost- efficient than prior missions will success be attained. If cost-efficient designs are available to a wider international community of lunar and solar system explorers we can be sure "if you build it they will come."

Let the swamp burn.


[David A. Dunlop is a core member of the Lunar Reclamation Society and Executive Director of Lunar National Agricultural Experiment Corp. - LUNAX, P.O. Box 275, Green Bay, WI. He is also vice-president of ISDC '98 - Milwaukee, of whose bold plan he is a principal architect. Over the years, Dave has been a frequent contributer of thought-provoking essays to both Moon Miners' Manifesto and Moon Miners' Review.]

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