On March 10, 2007, at the Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) Conference in Monterey, California, Dr. Bill Stone presented a briefing entitled “Pushing the Limits of Exploration on Earth and in Space” to over 900 attendees. In the briefing, Stone announced his intent to be the first explorer to lead an industrial team to the moon to explore for water and other fuels, and, if found in sufficient quantity, process the fuels on the moon, then transfer them to a low Earth orbit (LEO) refueling station. The commercial enterprise will provide a variety of fuels and life support compounds, such as water, liquid oxygen, liquid hydrogen, gaseous oxygen and hydrogen, and potentially nitrogen and methane at market prices to space farers on a first come, first serve basis.

The expeditionary crew will focus its mining and processing activities at the moon’s South Pole at the Shackleton Crater. Shackleton Crater is judged my many scientists as the most likely place to find ice and other useable compounds. The crater floor never sees sunlight and is thus an extreme cold trap, while certain peaks not far from the rim see nearly continuous sunlight and are the likely location for the industrial base camp. Ice is believed to have been deposited in the crater from comets and asteroids that have impacted the region over billions of years. It is estimated that trillions of tons of water lie frozen in the regolith (lunar dust) beneath Shackleton Crater. Expedition members will most likely live in inflatable structures underground to avoid radiation and to trap heat.

To accomplish the task, Stone has formed a company, called Shackleton Energy Company (SEC), which will lead the business development effort. Stone said “once initial funding is received to initiate the detailed planning effort, we expect to be open for business in LEO in the 2015 timeframe. With a novel new and aggressive international program, we estimate the cost to be about $15 billion and offer fuels for about 1/10th the price that must be charged when launched from earth. SEC and its partners will most likely use a variety of commercial launch vehicles and power systems to place equipment and work crews on the moon and in LEO. Our philosophy is to incrementally assemble inflatable structures in LEO then deploy them to the moon as a means to open the highway for continuous bi-directional logistic support operations.”

Stone also indicated “this endeavor will require a paradigm shift in thinking and execution where risk is managed at a much different level than any government could tolerate. Only by operating commercially will this enterprise be successful. If successful, SEC will open the doors to untold new applications in commerce, science and security for those who want to explore the solar system and beyond. These are exciting times matched by the convergence of wealth, vision and demand for access to space on an unprecedented scale. The business opportunity for this new capability is wide open and we (and our partners) intend to be the first to market to provide orbital refueling services to mankind.”

A Washington official said, “Stone’s business model is to eventually establish long term futures contracts (much like the airlines do with jet fuels) with governments and space tourism companies who will need these fuels to more efficiently and cost effectively conduct their businesses. In fact, affordable fuels on orbit will completely change traditional ways of building satellites as well as launch and upper stage vehicles. This program will become a major “enabler” of our times.”
Much to his surprise, Stone finished his TED presentation to a full-house standing ovation.



Dale Tietz (contact@stoneaerospace.com)