Commentary | Golden Spike and the Coming Space Boom
Planetary scientists often call the Moon the fifth terrestrial planet. And indeed, today we know the Moon is a far more complex world than was appreciated in the 1960s and ’70s when the six Apollo landings were accomplished. Planetary scientists recognize that the Moon has much to teach us about the origin of our Earth, the evolution of our solar system, the workings of small planets and perhaps even the origin of life on Earth.
Today we also know that the Moon’s surface contains valuable stores of resources, ranging from water that can fuel lunar bases to platinum and other elements of economic value.
These facts provide convincing evidence that the Moon is of high interest to both the worldwide scientific community and to entrepreneurs interested in the commercial development of space.
Attesting to a growing interest in the Moon by the scientific community alone, no less than nine robotic lunar missions have been launched by a total of six space agencies around the world over the past five years. And this year alone, three more robotic lunar missions will be launched. Together these efforts represent billions of dollars in recent expenditures for lunar exploration.
A few weeks ago the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 17 — the last human expedition to explore the Moon — was celebrated.
Our company, Golden Spike, took that occasion to announce our intention to create and market the capability for commercial human lunar expeditions. That announcement resulted in an outpouring of good wishes from the public and a large amount of worldwide press coverage. It even generated some interesting customer inquiries.
Now, we want to take the opportunity here to say a little more about Golden Spike, and to place our business in the larger context of the diverse array of 2020s U.S. human spaceflight capabilities we foresee.
In its simplest form, Golden Spike’s business model is to create and then sell turnkey human lunar exploration expeditions for countries, companies and individuals. By exploiting existing and in-development space systems to the maximum extent practical and then amortizing our development costs over many expeditions by many customers, we expect to offer seat prices that are like those of some robotic lunar missions and full mission prices like those of small robotic planetary flagship missions. Putting human expeditions on a cost par with any class of robotic planetary mission already flown would be a breakthrough.
We believe these affordable human lunar expeditions will be popular because they will enable our customers to achieve lunar exploration capability — with all its scientific, commercial, inspirational and prestige value — without having to bear the expense, effort and aerospace tech base requirements of developing and operating a human lunar transportation system entirely on their own.
Thus, our business model can be seen in analogy to nations and corporations buying airliners from overseas manufacturers without having to develop indigenous aircraft design, fabrication, testing/certification and operations capabilities.
We further believe that the prestige and science value of our expeditions will be so high that these factors will overcome concerns some U.S. commentators have expressed about foreign nationals riding in vehicles they did not produce themselves. As evidence supporting this value proposition, we cite the flights of dozens of guest astronauts and cosmonauts aboard Soyuz, space shuttle and Mir in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.
Currently, Golden Spike is involved with 10 U.S. aerospace companies and entities to further define our flight systems, a key step toward flight system procurement. They are Armadillo Aerospace, the International Lunar Observatories Association, Masten Space Systems, Moon Express, Northrop Grumman, Paragon Space Development, Space Florida, the Southwest Research Institute, and Zero Point Frontiers.
As we noted above, our vision is to create a reliable and affordable U.S.-based commercial human lunar transportation system that enables virtually any nation, corporation or individual wishing to accomplish objectives on the Moon — including activities based around science, around business, around national prestige and around personal accomplishment. We further plan to create and monetize wide-scale participatory involvement in Golden Spike lunar expeditions, and to share the returns from that revenue stream with our customers.
We are also engaging the lunar and planetary science community to incorporate landing site and surface capabilities that will considerably enhance the scientific exploration value of Golden Spike based on what was learned from Apollo and subsequent robotic lunar exploration.
We believe that in the 2020s our business will provide a shining example of American space exploration capabilities and a key illustration of the success of U.S. space.
And what a decade the 2020s promises to be for U.S. commercial spaceflight. We expect our lunar expedition business to be operating alongside commercial suborbital space lines, commercial orbital transports and launchers, commercial land remote sensing companies, commercial communications satellite fleets and, very possibly, commercial space stations and even lunar outposts.
At the same time, U.S. civil space efforts led by NASA are expected to continue to be carrying out human space operations at the international space station. But by the 2020s, commercial low Earth orbit transports, the heavy-lift Space Launch System and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle are also expected to have come on line, and NASA is planning to undertake the exploration of nearby asteroids, beginning the development of flight systems for the human exploration of Mars, and fielding Lagrange point human habitats.
The 2020s are shaping up to be the most active decade in history for human space activities, and the Golden Spike Co. expects to be a significant player in this bright and promising, multipronged, private and public human space future.
Alan Stern is a planetary scientist and the chief executive of Golden Spike. He is a former associate administrator in charge of all of NASA’s science efforts, and he serves as the chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation’s Suborbital Applications Researchers Group. Gerry Griffin is an aerospace engineer, an Apollo flight director and a former director of the Johnson Space Center. He is the chairman of Golden Spike’s board of directors. He also served as the associate administrator for external relations and assistant administrator for legislative affairs at NASA headquarters.