Op-ed | Next stop: the moon
The International Space Station has been a tremendous political and technical success. However, the ISS program is coming to an end in the next few years, although government players such as the NASA, ESA, Roscosmos, China and others will continue their activities. Major new business ventures are planned in low Earth orbit (LEO) assuring a constant utilization of the opportunities offered there to provide a range of new services. We have now to look to our next stop beyond LEO.
In many countries, both governments and companies have plans to go to the moon to expand scientific knowledge and to assess the extent to which the moon’s natural resources may generate new wealth for humanity. Much has been written about the advantages of the moon as a technical and programmatic proving ground for humanity to expand toward Mars and beyond.
The only real question left to answer is this: how we shall go to the moon in a coordinated manner?
This is a hurdle as challenging as any engineering or technological problem to be solved. We need to somehow federate already existing program and business plans. We need to define architectures that are open to all stakeholders, ones that encompass government, corporate, scientific and public interests. The answer could be the Moon Village, a common conception of the moon as a destination for multiple users and missions, for science, utilization and human presence and more. The Moon Village is not an “ISS on the moon” but rather the ensemble of all efforts — private, governmental and other — aiming to explore and use the moon in a sustainable manner.
However, we need now to be more specific on how to go about accomplishing this attractive vision. It is clear that the Deep Space Gateway or other orbiting stations in the lunar vicinity is one important element in this, but we need also surface access and operations.
What is the way forward? On the programmatic side, the Second International Space Exploration Forum (ISEF2) planned in March 2018 in Tokyo is a major event at political level to discuss common exploration programs. At this meeting there is the need to agree that the moon is our next common goal and initiate political and technical discussions on how to forge cooperation with common standards and innovative mechanisms. Also, on the technical side, the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISEGC), composed of representatives of many space agencies, will play an important role in defining roadmaps and technological niches.
To complement the above, the Moon Village Association (MVA), has been recently created as non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Vienna. Its goal is the creation of a global informal forum for governments, industry, academia and the public interested in the development of the Moon Village, fostering permanent links between all these stakeholders. The MVA will foster cooperation for existing or planned global moon exploration programs, be they public or private initiatives.
The utilization of the moon is a mid- to long-term goal for humanity and it will require the involvement of as many countries as possible. This is the reason why the MVA is involving individuals and organizations in society at large as well as traditional aerospace players: to bridge the gap between space programs and citizens, and between developing and developed countries. The association will offer the possibility to those non-traditional players to provide valuable inputs to the Moon Village implementation.
Private citizens, as well as industries, space agencies, universities, research centers and others, need a platform to exchange ideas and forge new connections on a global scale. MVA is providing this platform with a global presence of regional networks. Networks have been already created in China, Japan, Africa, India, Cyprus and Latin America; more will follow. These local networks will organize outreach events to engage local stakeholders, win their support and give them the opportunity to participate in the Moon Village.
MVA participants will play an important role of accomplishing the unique goal of expanding human presence in a permanent manner beyond Earth.
The implementation of the Moon Village started on November 19–21, when the MVA held its first workshop, co-organized with the International Space University in Strasbourg, France, to discuss concrete aspects of implementing the Moon Village. Representatives of space agencies, industry, universities (both faculty and students), scientists and artists took part in the meeting.
The following are among the principal findings. There is tremendous interest in and support for future lunar exploration, development and human presence. The Moon Village concept is a powerful tool with which to organize coordination, cooperation and future planning vis-à-vis a broad range of potential lunar missions and markets. There is the need to answer with certainty several key questions to inform and validate the plans being developed by both major commercial firms and new space business for the utilization of the moon’s resources. Public private partnerships even in this first phase could play a key role in support missions aimed at answering these key questions. To facilitate innovation and a wide range of possible projects there is also a need for an international framework comprising standards and agreements to cooperate on specific issues projects and so on.
A detailed report will be issued by early next year, and the MVA will participate in a range of international events, beginning in March in Tokyo with ISEF2, to foster the start of specific discussions and global cooperation related to lunar exploration.
The time has finally come to focus on humanity’s next stop in space: the moon. It has never been more important to move forward in a coordinated manner to engage all available human and technical resources for the benefit of humanity. The emerging global focus on a Moon Village is an ideal way to realize this crucial vision.
Giuseppe Reibaldi is president of the Moon Village Association and Executive Secretary of the The Hague Space Resources Governance Working Group. John C. Mankins is President of Artemis Innovation Management Solutions LLC and one of the organizers of the First International Moon Village Workshop. Chris Welch is Professor of Space Engineering at the International Space University and member of the Moon Village Association Inaugural Advisory Council.