Study eyes settlement on Moon in little more than a decade

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A permanent settlement on Moon is neither more than a decade away nor too expensive a proposition for NASA, a new study funded by the space agency itself has revealed.

The study by NexGen Space LLC claims that humans may be able to live on Earth’s natural satellite in just over a decade’s time with a robotic return trip possible by 2017 if NASA starts working on a plan right away.

NexGen Space LLC has also put forward a detailed roadmap for when and how to take the next step for a landing and according to the plan, NASA is in a position to send out lunar rovers to scout for hydrogen as early as 2018 with prospecting lined up before the end of the current decade.

According to the proposed timeline, NASA could begin construction of a permanent base in 2021 and sent out its first crew of astronauts in 2022.

Based on the experience of recent NASA program innovations, such as the COTS program, a human return to the Moon may not be as expensive as previously thought, the company notes in its report.

The study says that NASA wouldn’t have to look for additional funding for the Moon mission and can fit it within the existing budget for human spaceflights.

NASA would have to enter a public-private partnership for this project with companies such as SpaceX, Orbital ATK or the United Launch Alliance. With SpaceX charging as low as $4,750 for every kilogram of supplies sent to orbit aboard its Falcon 9 rocket, the study says that the per kilogram costs wouldn’t be any higher for the company’s Falcon Heavy rocket.

With NASA already planning to go back to the Moon using its Space Launch System (SLS), it doesn’t need to go beyond its existing plans to make room for landing humans on Moon.

Instead of going for 12 planned SLS launches, it can do just 3 thereby saving money and use the remaining funding to distribute the costing between private players. NASA will have the technology for the mission and will have saved money in the long run.

America could lead a return of humans to the surface of the Moon within a period of 5-7 years from authority to proceed at an estimated total cost of about $10 Billion (+/- 30%) for two independent and competing commercial service providers, or about $5 Billion for each provider, using partnership methods, the report notes.

The study also recommends setting up of an International Lunar Authority, similar to CERN and traditional public infrastructure authorities, so as to leverage utmost advantage while managing the combined business and technical risks associated with affordable and sustainable lunar development and operations.

The study also states that such a permanent commercial lunar base might eventually pay for its operations by exporting propellant to lunar orbit for sale to NASA and others to send humans to Mars, thus enabling the economic development of the Moon at a small marginal cost.

The study was vetted by a 21-person independent review team made up of former members of NASA’s administration, members of the commercial spaceflight community and four former NASA astronauts.