Book Review: “The Value of the Moon” by Dr. Paul Spudis


The Value of the Moon
The Value of the Moon

Introduction

A few weeks ago I received an advance copy of Paul Spudis’s book (Full title) “The Value of the Moon” How to Explore, Live, and Prosper in Space Using the Moon’s Resources”.  Just in case anyone does not already know, I am a strong proponent of this thesis.  Also, as a disclaimer, I provided three graphics for the book.  Paul and I are very long time fellow travelers in the arena of the exploration and development of the Moon, since at least the 1980’s.  So there is much in this book that is very familiar to me, as are the arguments that Paul makes.

I will endeavor to be fair in my assessment and provide my own perspective to his work.

Note:  Paul’s book is available here [link] on Amazon.com.  It is well worth the read.

The Book

The book is written for the general reader of at least moderate intelligence.  There are no equations and the strict technical content is limited.  Paul weaves policy, science, and technology into a tapestry that supports the overall premise that the Moon is our first true off planet destination.  It is well written and avoids the majority of the bitterness that sometimes creeps into the writings of those who have been lived the history that Paul and many of the others that are part of our community have been frustrated by.

As I write this I look over at my library of books about the Moon.  I have almost everything ever printed in this realm.  In the pantheon this book falls mostly into the advocacy for the development of the resources of the Moon to support the human economic development of the solar system.  His science background is impeccable as he is now one of the few very senior lunar scientists in the field who have been at it for at least three decades.  We both can remember when we were the new kids on the block and we know that we follow in the footsteps of great scientists who dreamed the dreams that we still have, but who have retired from the field of battle.

There is both an empathy for those who the sands of time are engulfing and the weight of responsibility to carry on the vision that we have been handed.  Paul accomplishes this well in the book.  You see many of their ideas that are still prevalent in this work and it is both an homage to them, yet these ideas also place limitations on the book.

Policy and Process of the Vision for Space Exploration

A central pivot in the book is the Bush II administration’s Vision for Space Exploration (VSE), that was announced on January 14th 2004.  This speech (linked here), was (no matter what you may think of the Bush administration), a visionary speech, one that broke new ground.  NASA and its space exploration was no longer to just be the province of science or national competition, but a place to live and work.  The Moon was to be our first stepping off point into the solar system, with the use of its resources to fuel spaceships and to perhaps even build them there.  This was followed in 2006 by an equally visionary speech by the head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) [link] at the Goddard Symposium that Paul quotes from on page 78.

Paul was higher up the food chain than I in the development of the VSE but we saw many of the same things happen that derailed the VSE from its lunar goals to a goal for Mars that was unattainable.  NASA went from a vision of using lunar propellants and materials of the Moon, to a touch and go mentality.  Touch and go means to basically give lip service to going to the Moon by a couple of sorties or a temporary outpost.  Amazingly the entire concept of utilizing the resources of the Moon to support a Mars architecture was deemed “too risky” and thus written out of the VSE script.

This mentality was supported at the highest levels of the agency, from both the science mission directorate and the administrator’s office after the departure from the agency of the Bush family friend Sean O’Keefe.  This led to the absolutely inevitable cost overruns, schedule slips, and after a new administration, a new presidential commission.  This commission came to exactly the expected solution, the NASA plan was three billion dollars per year short of the resources that were needed to execute on a Mars centric mission architecture.

Just as inevitably after the new president got into office, not only did NASA not get the extra $3 billion per year, NASA’s budget was cut by $2 billion per year due to the economic crisis of 2008 and changing government priorities.  Paul gives a good overview of the entire process from brilliant beginnings to the agony of defeat and the cancellation of the Constellation architecture.

Reasons the Moon Is Important

Paul goes into great detail beginning in chapter six regarding why the Moon is important.  He has a great and succinct quote on the importance;

Whatever long-term space goal we adopt, the Moon will play a key role in enabling us to achieve those objectives.  The value of the Moon lies in three principal attributes: It’s close, its interesting, and its useful. [page 111]

There is a beautiful, but limited black and white barely readable graphic on page 113 representing Paul’s favored architecture.  Here is a beautiful color version of that graphic.

Spudis Cislunar Space Development Graphic (Credit Jack Frassinito)
Spudis Cislunar Space Development Graphic (Credit Jack Frassinito)

I know it was done for cost savings reasons but this beautiful graphic is unreadable in the book.   While I might quibble with his architecture implementation, these criticisms of the ins space segment are of minor import in context of the overall very solid discussion in this section of the book.  However, it is also here where there begins to be a divergence between the thinking that Paul has and my own recent thoughts and work in this area.

The Future is Here

I like to write in my books.  I write notes, and have a notes page in the front of books that interest me that I acquire for my library.  On page 120 I have such a note that says “too conservative”.  This is the passage:

For initial ISRU [In Situ Resource Utilization] efforts, we would only undertake the simplest processes, such as bulldozing regolith to make blast berms around landing pads and to cover habitats for radiation shielding, along with heating polar regolith to extract water ice.  These are minimal, low-risk activities that provide useful products and pieces of outpost infrastructure.  The techniques needed to begin ISRU are no more complex than everyday eighteenth-century industrial processes.

In my opinion this is both much more difficult than it appears at first blush, and more risky than some of the amazing advances that have come our way even in the last ten years since the serious phase of VSE mission planning.  We both 100% agree that landing at the lunar poles is the best thing to do.  We both agree that site buildup at a single location is the best path forward.  Where we begin to diverge is that is is my opinion that the amazing advances in robotics hardware/software, additive manufacturing, and commercial space systems are making the build up sequence that Paul has here obsolete.  If you read through his presentation, and if you have been around a long time, the ISRU techniques mentioned and the products are not that different from what Mike Duke from NASA JSC wrote about 30 years ago in NASA SP-589, the seminal work on ISRU.  Times have changed.

In order to mine water in hundred ton lots, you need a lot of infrastructure.  You need front end loaders, dump trucks, and a plethora of other surface vehicles, whether robotic or human operated.  You need lots of electrical power to provide the energy to these vehicles, and you need a customer for the water.  At this time this is still the classic chicken and egg problem, as there are no customers at this time for that water.  Paul is still focused on a government centric approach to the problem, even though we have gone through almost 50 years and two engineering generations of frustration regarding that.

With our advances in the robotics, additive manufacturing, and software a different approach and a different set of products are now possible.  I would posit that these plans for massive water harvesting and the longer term ideas of massive solar farms on the surface to beam energy to the earth, or even mining Helium-3 for future fusion reactors are to be set aside and removed from our thought toolbox, at least for a while.

We know that the Moon has been impacted by metallic asteroids.  Paul has been properly skeptical of finding large quantities of these, at least initially.  However, we know from the Apollo 16 samples, that highlands terrain, which the polar regions are, have up to 1% meteoric material in the regolith.  We also know from Paul’s prior work that just about any regolith in the highlands region not in the cold traps has elevated hydrogen levels, up to hundreds of grams per ton.  The first thing we need to land, for which Paul uses one of my graphics, is a power lander, carrying large solar arrays.  A Falcon heavy from SpaceX could easily place a power lander with a 100 kW power system in a single landing.  An additional landing with a communications base, an additive manufacturing system assembled by robots brought along could begin to use the metal that is highly likely to be in the regolith.  The body of large regolith moving equipment, including blades, vehicle body, and other heavy parts would be additively manufactured.  These parts would then be integrated with hardware brought from the Earth.

A follow on lander could bring the the important parts, such as motors, systems controllers, electrical wiring, and the power system for the heavy equipment.  If you look at the mass of the 1970’s NASA Lunar Rover (210 kg), you will see that 70% of that number was structural.  Of course the alloys made from random regolith is going to be of uncertain provenance but that is dealt with by overbuilding by large margins.  You would also design the landers to be disassembled and their parts used by the ground equipment.  Today you can buy from Eos in Germany [link] additive manufacturing systems that could use the metals from meteorites unmodified after sieving for the right size.  Using 0.5% mass as a number, which seems likely at the lunar poles, 5 kg of metals exist for every ton of regolith processed and over half a kg of water.  Initially the water would not be used to instead the focus would be on building up industrial capacity.    For what purpose?

Building an Industry on the Moon

Pauls book is great, and visionary, but it is still the same vision that we have had for 30 years.  Advances in technology are bringing us today to the point where it is absolutely feasible to begin the industrialization of the Moon for the purpose of building the interplanetary spaceships necessary for the plans of Elon Musk (or Jeff Bezos or anyone else) to go to Mars.  The biggest problem that NASA has in going to Mars is to provide sufficient volume for crew health and sufficient radiation shielding to protect their lives.  I contend that today we have the technology, and we are currently working on this, the logistical system to enable the building of interplanetary vehicles whose pieces would be built on the Moon and assembled in lunar orbit.

Things that were impossible 27 years ago with the Space Exploration Initiative, and considered too risky ten years ago with the VSE, are now not only possible, but absolutely doable by adapting technology already in production for terrestrial use.  Note that this will be primarily privately driven, not government, something that Paul is unwilling to consider in his book. Interplanetary vehicles would be a product.  These vehicles would also have utility in cislunar space and could be configured in a variety of ways, as water tankers, transit vehicles for Mars or to service geosynchronous orbital assets.

A New Innovation for a Philosophy of Government Space

If we can pull of the above, something that Paul wrote about toward the end of the book becomes an exceptionally important motivation for government space. On page 182 he writes regarding resource and operational rights on the Moon:

This issue [resource and operational rights] leads us to conclude that a strong federal presence in space is necessary to ensure that our rights are established and that our values are protected and promoted.  In the hypothetical context mentioned of Bigelow and China [earlier in the chapter], mentioned before, a single American company facing a determined nation-state is not likely to prevail in a manner favorable to the interests of free-market capitalism.  Legal recourse on Earth would be limited–more likely nonexistent.  It is also unlikely that the United States would go to war over the infringement of some corporate plot of land on the Moon, at least during the early stages of commercial space.  However, when the federal government establishes a presence, it serves notice to the world that we have national interest there.  Their presence makes any infringement on the property an access rights of American corporations less like to occur in the first place–and more easily resolved if such a situation arose, creating a much more favorable climate for private investment in space activities.

It is an interesting concept, though it does place the federal government in the position of following corporate interests to the Moon rather than leading.  As the government is currently ego committed to going to Mars, that should not be a problem.

Wrap Up

Paul ends with the obvious questions regarding if not us who?  Of course that who is China, and since they have officially announced a human landing in the 2030’s I nor Paul have any doubt that they will achieve it.  We were monumentally stupid as a nation to spend the money on Apollo and then walk away from it.  We were just as monumentally stupid to walk away from the Shuttle program and not have anything in place to replace it.  If we continue to be monumentally stupid, we will abdicate the leadership that we have gained an will continue a slide into second nation status.  Paul feels that this leadership must be provided by the government.  I am not at all sure of this as by far more progress has happened in commercial space in the last ten years.  Yes much of it has been paid for by the government, but at a cost of a small fraction of the existing military industrial complex.

That is our final divergence.   In my opinion the best path forward is a continuation and expansion of the public-private partnerships that is transforming the space industry.  Paul is still hoping that a lower cost government program will work.  Perhaps the two will meet in the middle….

 

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “Book Review: “The Value of the Moon” by Dr. Paul Spudis

  1. “In order to mine water in hundred ton lots, you need a lot of infrastructure. You need front end loaders, dump trucks, and a plethora of other surface vehicles, whether robotic or human operated. You need lots of electrical power to provide the energy to these vehicles, and you need a customer for the water. At this time this is still the classic chicken and egg problem, as there are no customers at this time for that water. Paul is still focused on a government centric approach to the problem, even though we have gone through almost 50 years and two engineering generations of frustration regarding that.”

    Well you first need customers. And NASA can’t have customers.
    I agree about a problem about still focused on a government centric approach.
    The approach should start with premise that NASA can’t mine lunar water.
    There number of reasons NASA can’t mine lunar water.
    The most significant reason NASA can’t mine lunar water is because NASA can’t
    get customers. Another reason is no one wants NASA to mine lunar water.
    NASA is asked to explore space. People want NASA to explore space.
    No one is asking NASA to mine lunar water.
    Some think it is necessary for NASA to mine lunar water and the reason is
    that it’s believed that NASA can lower costs by mining lunar water.
    This is mostly a strange faith, which resembles the Cargo Cult.
    What drives the belief that NASA should mine lunar water is the idea that
    mining water will be too costly to be done by anyone other than NASA or
    some other governmental agency.
    The biggest problem with mining lunar water is the lack of customers- not
    high costs. Though if the cost are too high, then lunar water is not minable.
    There is no good reason that NASA should mine lunar water which is unminable
    and there is no good reason NASA should mine minable lunar water.

    No one can know that lunar water is minable because the moon has not been explored
    enough to determine this. And NASA should explore the Moon to determine if and where
    there is minable lunar water.
    Exploring the Moon to determine whether or not there is minable lunar water, does
    not require a lunar base.
    So I sort of agree with “NASA went from a vision of using lunar propellants and materials of the Moon, to a touch and go mentality. Touch and go means to basically give lip service to going to the Moon by a couple of sorties or a temporary outpost. ”
    Though I don’t see a need of a temporary outpost.
    I think making or finding a landing area could be an optional part of Lunar exploration- one call it
    an outpost, though it’s not really temporary- as it could last longer than the pyramids.
    So NASA doesn’t need to mine lunar water and so doesn’t need a lot of infrastructure.

    I think the most important infrastructure that NASA needs is depot in LEO.
    The purpose of the depot is not to lower cost, but rather it could lead to lower
    cost. The primary purpose of a depot in LEO is to begin a market of earth shipped
    rocket fuel in the space environment. One could say a purpose is to allow NASA to
    be a easier customer to serve. And NASA gets formulate how it gets rocket fuel delivered
    to the agency so it can use the rocket fuel for explorational purposes. I certain there will
    be the right way that NASA wants rocket fuel delivered to it, and NASA should discover
    the way to wants it done. So, NASA builds a depot at 28 inclination in LEO and uses the depot,
    and gets to point where rocket fuel refueling is as routine as docking with ISS.
    This depot might be expensive- that is not the point. But as part of keeping the cost down,
    I believe NASA should focus on a LOX only depot, and focus on getting rocket fuel transfered
    rather getting lots of rocket fuel transfer per year [a way to lower costs of a depot operation- and
    involves getting as much customers as possible [per year] which as said is not something NASA
    is designed or meant to do- that what private sector does, to remain in business [NASA is not a business].
    So I think one needs depots all over the place in space, and don’t think NASA should have depots
    all over the place in space, instead NASA should make depot for LEO and get that depot operational status. And private sector can build depots if this is what they want to do. Instead NASA should be willing to buy rocket anywhere it needs rocket fuel in space- and this might involve the use of depots, but NASA is focused on buying quantities of rocket fuel rather than however they are delivered.
    But by developing depot in LEO, NASA will have developed a technology which could be used to deliver the rocket fuel [or maybe this specific technology will not be used].
    What is probably needed to mine lunar water is the ability to export rocket fuel from the Moon-
    which probably needs the technology related operating a depot.
    The use to depots is also something which should probably lower the cost of NASA Mars exploration.
    But NASA depot at LEO will first be used for Lunar exploration and using this depot for Lunar exploration doesn’t need to lower the cost of NASA Lunar exploration.

    If NASA explore the Moon and finds minable deposits of lunar water, this will not directly lower the subsequent Mars exploration. Or if NASA buy lunar rocket fuel it will be around the same price as rocket fuel delivered from Earth. Or lunar rocket fuel for Mars exploration will be another competitive supplier of rocket fuel.
    Or a commerial lunar water and rocket fuel business might in first couple years focus on selling on to lunar surface, after this it might ship it to low orbit, then few year later ship to high earth orbits [where NASA might buy it but no reason it would be significantly cheaper than rocket fuel
    delivered from Earth. But even if lunar rocket fuel was 1/2 the price- that will not save much costs in terms of Mars explorations.
    Now commerical company would like to sell at lower price and capture the entire market- but
    depends whether they can actually do this- given enough time, they probably attempt it.
    But it cost money to ship it from the Moon, so cost of rocket fuel at lunar surface has to lower enough to allow this- and large part of being able to do this is selling enough volume- having enough customers. Or to sell lunar rocket fuel for Mars exploration at very cheap price will require thousands of tons of rocket fuel sold per year to get to this point. And one starts with 100 tons [or less]. Or could start with 50 tons and double the amount each year for next decade- as get more customers and as you lower the price per ton.

    1. G, I agree with most of your premise, but in my mind you are arguing a 30 year old argument that is just as outdated as NASA’s plans. Now for those who don’t know, gbalkie and I have interacted on the internet in these forums for about that long.

      I am now beyond the water thing. Water is “A” product, not “the” product from the Moon.

      It is my considered opinion, that I am working to develop the thesis that industrial products, up to and including interplanetary spacecraft. The true economic development of the solar system will come from the interplanetary manned and robotic vehicles (large ones), constructed from lunar materials.

      1. “I am now beyond the water thing. Water is “A” product, not “the” product from the Moon.”

        Not sure what that means.
        I would say water is cheap way to make rocket fuel. Or water requires least amount of electrical power to make O2 [plus the H2].
        Or if there is minable lunar water, this allows to Moon to be destination in the near term.
        Lunar water would be more valuable substance on the lunar surface, and it can become
        rather inexpensive.
        If you can buy water at $1000 to $500 per kg at the Moon, you can export stuff from the Moon.
        One thing to export is LOX to low lunar orbit. Lunar rocket fuel at lunar surface also also
        transportation to other points on the Moon- so one explore entire polar region from a site
        mining lunar water and making rocket fuel .
        The Moon is a place in space where one can start mining water.
        It requires the least amount of customers, and could have the most amount of customers.

        In terms of NASA exploration costs, it requires the least amount money spent to create mining market in space. Exploring the Moon to determine where there is minable water is
        something NASA should do.

        “It is my considered opinion, that I am working to develop the thesis that industrial products, up to and including interplanetary spacecraft. The true economic development of the solar system will come from the interplanetary manned and robotic vehicles (large ones), constructed from lunar materials.”

        Well, what is NASA part in this? And how much money would government have to spend
        to get it going?
        Congress has approved exploring the Moon and then exploring Mars.
        I think NASA should explore the Moon to determine if there is commercial minable water,
        and do this lunar exploration program for total cost of 40 billion dollars and be completed
        in 10 years, and then have program to explore Mars. The Mars exploration program would
        be about 50 billion per decade, and could take more than 2 decades.
        The lunar program includes creating market for rocket fuel in space. A key part involves
        making a depot in LEO- built and owned and operated by NASA. Which NASA uses by first
        re-fueling robotic lunar missions. The robotic missions are largely about finding small regions where there could be minable lunar water, and are followed the crew landing which
        confirms and further analysis of site, and having lunar sample returned which can be further
        tested on Earth. Or simply, crew mission are getting lunar sample returns and robotic mission don’t do lunar sample return.
        After lunar samples are returned, NASA Mars program becomes the entire human spaceflight
        budget. So NASA ISS is finished and it’s Lunar exploration is finished- in terms of major program. ISS and lunar program can done at same time, and by 2025, NASA is no longer spending 3 billion per year on ISS or 4 billion per year on lunar program. Or money NASA spends on launch is spend on launches related to Mars program.
        The plan should have ISS still existing after 2025- ISS is not de-orbited, But rather NASA
        gets ISS program to point where NASA does not need to be only nation which is actually supporting it’s operation. Or NASA could involved in same extent Japan is involved in ISS.
        So after 2025 both ISS and Moon might have some budget spent- but it might similar to NASA current budget commitment to the Moon- or say fly by of Pluto. And I suppose one could still
        plan to be using SLS [not fan of ISS- and it is primary reason Lunar and Mars program need
        as much money as I indicate they do. But basically SLS may not even be actually used by time
        lunar program is finished- if ready, perhaps used as part of crewed lunar missions, which begins after 2020. Or the huge cost of operating SLS will be born by Mars program.

        So don’t see how such direction could include what you talking about- unless you need
        a huge monetary involvement from NASA. Or if commercial lunar water begins- say +2020
        if would make it cheaper to do.

        1. …Well, what is NASA part in this? And how much money would government have to spend to get it going?….
          _____________________________________________________

          Hopefully zero. Its not the government’s role to do this.
          +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

          So don’t see how such direction could include what you talking about- unless you need
          a huge monetary involvement from NASA.

          +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
          Nope. This is not 1968 anymore. Nor is it 1993 or even 2008. The world is changing g, time to catch up. This to me is why your argument is the argument of the past, not the future.

          1. -So don’t see how such direction could include what you talking about- unless you need a huge monetary involvement from NASA.-
            Should be: “So, I don’t see how such direction could not include what you talking about-…”
            Anyhow, I have not read Paul Spudis’s book, and I probably should get around to doing this.

            1. Actually, if this is done incrementally I actually think that NASA money is a detriment, at least in terms of the front end. It is instructive to pretend that NASA does not exist and how would this be done completely privately. That is what we did at the DFJ confab in 2014.

              1. “Actually, if this is done incrementally I actually think that NASA money is a detriment, at least in terms of the front end. ”

                I agree, and NASA money is detriment in front end and later.
                And would say NASA lack of any important exploration has been
                detriment.
                NASA often makes argument that any exploration should be related
                to some kind of infusing of money- has strange concept the more money
                spent the better a situation it is. Or because the space shuttle is expensive, NASA should do it, because private sector can not afford it- or other various forms of nonsense .
                But a purpose of space agency is to do stuff in which would difficult for
                for a non-government space agency to do. Mainly in the sense of being able to do it sooner, rather than later- but there fair amount perversion related to this general concept. Or throw money at a problem to solve it, which is problematic when a limiting factor of NASA is it lacks money. NASA lack of money is converted into solution that if something is delayed one can get more money for it next year.
                Now the private sector can do exploration, but NASA purpose of it’s existance
                is to do exploration- and NASA isn’t doing it, and gives the false excuse it lacks the money to do it. Or a 20 billion budget should more than enough money to do important space exploration- yet NASA exploration is non-focused and does expensive and useless things with it’s budget. Like
                SLS. Like ISS. Like Shuttle. like large Telescopes, Etc.
                But the solution is not to cancel SLS [particularly at this point in time]. Nor de-orbit ISS. These are mistakes made- which have left the barn.
                And NASA is not a part of government I would choose to cut first- and probably never become such a priority. Things like energy Dept or State Dept which will never be cut, should be cut first.
                So the default position is we will have NASA for the near term future and I would I happy to have NASA forever [a century or more from now, exploring the nearest star systems]. So I would be ok with increasing NASA budget, but
                if NASA could explore the Moon without increase in budget- though it would
                require better management than is probably realistic to expect. So only expect perhaps better management than we presently have.

                “It is instructive to pretend that NASA does not exist and how would this be done completely privately.”
                It seems were this the case we already have settlements on Mars and be mining the Moon. We would ahead of where we are, because we would lack
                a space agency that is deceiving The Public that NASA is doing space exploration. Without this ruse, the public might organize in some fashion to get space explored and rather than public spending in total 20 billion it might only spend 1o billion per year, and have less bureaucratic nonsense distracting
                from important matters.
                But you probably meant not having any kind of public of organizational type
                thing.
                One problem or opportunity is the potential lack of launch sites. Having private launch sites would interesting, but the temptation of various sorts, may involve using military launch sites- which is mostly what we do now. An aspect of private sites, we have is they are specifically for a particular rocket launch company rather than being like airports.

                Though opportunity in that maybe there is possibility we get something like Sea Dragon- rockets build in dry docks and towed out and launched from the Ocean. Or launch sites in the ocean- like Sea Launch.
                My particular idea regarding ocean launch is to use what call a pipelauncher.
                A big long pipe, which uses buoyancy to provide modest amount velocity to
                the rocket. Or vaguely like Sea launch, except the floating part is separate
                from the rocket. Or many different types of rockets could launched from
                it [including suborbital rockets]. And it would be built in a dry dock- though the idea is the rockets, wouldn’t be built in dry docks.

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