WASHINGTON — A Federal Aviation Administration advisory committee has recommended that the FAA start discussions with the European Space Agency about commercial participation in an international lunar base concept promoted by the agency’s leader.
The FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) unanimously approved a recommendation that the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation begin discussions with ESA on ways American companies could participate in what’s known as “Moon Village.” The vote was conducted by email after COMSTAC held a meeting via teleconference on the topic Dec. 10, committee chairman Mike Gold said Dec. 15.
The recommendation states that the FAA, “after consulting with the appropriate U.S. agencies, engage directly with ESA in support of the ‘Moon Village’ concept, with the goal of fostering the participation of U.S.-based commercial entities in the planning and creation of the ‘Moon Village.’”
The Moon Village concept is a proposal by ESA Director-General Johann-Dietrich Woerner, and is something he has discussed prior to become the head of the agency in July. It would involve the development of an international lunar base, with countries providing different elements or services to support it.
Woerner, who participated in the COMSTAC teleconference, said he was open to participation by companies as well as countries. “We are putting together different users, different competencies, be it private or public,” he said. Companies in both the U.S. and Europe have already contacted him about ways they can take part, including using the base for tourism and mining.
FAA officials have already expressed an interest in supporting a commercial role in the concept. “Private industry has the potential to play an important role, and it need not be exclusively as a government contractor,” said George Nield, FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation at an October COMSTAC meeting here.
COMSTAC members expressed support for a private-sector role in such a concept, even if some were skeptical that it could be commercially viable. “It might be hard in the near term to think of a profit-making venture that can work on the moon such that it would be in the time horizon of a rational investor,” said Mike Griffin, the chairman and chief executive of Schafer Corporation and a former NASA administrator. However, he said, commercial ventures could support a government-led facility there by transporting cargo.
The Moon Village concept is, for now, just that: a concept without a specific technical design, budget or schedule. “It’s an open situation,” Woerner said at a Space Transportation Association luncheon here Dec. 10. “It depends totally on what the different entities would like to provide and at what time.”
Woerner reiterated that at the later COMSTAC teleconference. “There are people trying to convince me already about the architecture” of the facility, he said. “For me, the more important thing is that we together decide on a global, international scheme.”