Industrialization and Science: Together We Win


“We Have Learned So Much Since Apollo”

During the week of January 8th of 2018 there was a marvelous “Lunar Science for Landed Missions” conference at NASA Ames (link here for the content of that conference).  This was probably the best lunar science conference I have been to in a long time.  Dr. Clive Neal from Notre Dame and Chair of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) was one of the organizers, along with Greg Schmidt, deputy director of the Solar System Exploration Virtual Research Institute (SSERVI).  Clive said in his opening at the conference that “we have learned so much since Apollo”.  This is absolutely true.  There have been some extremely high quality missions to the Moon, starting with the Clementine and Lunar Prospector missions in the 1990’s, but since the year 2000 a new generation of missions have accelerated the momentum, with 11 international missions (10 orbital and 1 landing) to our nearest neighbor in space. The  conference reflected how the data gathered is building a gestalt for a new era of lunar science.

Exceptionally gratifying at the conference is the coming of age of a new generation of lunar scientists and researchers.  There were many excellent presentations and many excellent discussions from the participants.  Also participating was Apollo legend Dr. Harrison (Jack) Schmitt.  One of the things interesting and gratifying was the acknowledgement of the value that Dr. Schmitt’s selenology (lunar geology) work on the Moon in Apollo 17.  Since this was about lunar landed science, the point of the conference is what kind of science needs to be done on the Moon to build on the legacy of the Apollo missions, whether it be done robotically or by humans, either with in situ science or with sample return.

Since my own forte is lunar industrialization as well as lunar science, I found the presentations informative and not at all in conflict with that direction.  Furthermore, the interest and willingness of the participants to  consider that possible industrialization and science to not be inherently in conflict was gratifying.  Indeed, after the conference it seems that a a renewed push to put humans on the moon  will be dramatically beneficial to science and vice versa.

The Science…

Following here I am excerpting some of the talk that Clive gave in opening the event.  Again to praise the SSERVI crew, the videos and the slides and posters from the conference are already up and online and I strongly encourage everyone  who is interested to take the time to peruse the information and watch the videos.  I did not get to see everything I wanted to and thus this is great for review as well.  All of the videos are directly linked from the agenda.

Clive started out with what has become obvious, we need more lunar samples.

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 1.07.09 PM
We Need More Samples!

It turns out, but not intentionally of course, that the Apollo missions did not land in the area that best represents the composition of the near side of the Moon.  The Apollo samples are dominated by ejecta from the Procellarum KREEP Terrane (PKT; Figure 1), which is dominated by a unique selnochemical signature not seen over the rest of the Moon.  The post Apollo remote sensing missions ( Clementine, Lunar ProspectorLunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), Chandrayaan-1, Chang’E, Kaguya) have brought an avalanche of new data.  Especially useful have been the instruments such as the LRO  LROC high resolution imager (0.5 meter resolution visible light), the DIVINER radiometer experiment, LOLA laser altimeter, and the Mini RF radar experiment.  These instruments coupled with the Moon Mineralology Mapper (M cubed) on Chandrayaan-1 have been a boon for lunar science and forms much of the input for the science presentations at the conference.  The excellent analyses of the data by the lunar science community has brought us to the point to where the community has a well crafted set of questions that really need to be answered by the acquisition of new samples and in-situ research.

These snapshots from Clive’s presentation illustrates some of the richness of the data and the quality of the work being done.

These snapshots illustrate some of the areas of scientific inquiry that are important going forward for the sample missions.  These areas are.

  • Recent Volcanic Activity
  • Pyroclastic Deposits
  • Cratering Chronology
  • Farside Highlands
  • Permanently Shadowed Regions

All of these areas are congruent to the development of industrial activity and In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU).  It is the scientific exploration and understanding that allows those who are interested in industrialization to be able to be more specific with the execution of industrial development.  It is from lunar samples and lunar remote sensing, filtered through the intellectual inquiry of the scientific community that enables industrialization to go forward and to be able to convince investors that what is claimed to be resources actually are there.  It is then the industrialization community’s job to figure out how to make it happen.  Here is where the two communities can work together to enhance and to enable the flourishing of science and industry and bring forth the true golden age of space.

The Virtuous Circle

During his presentation summation Clive put this chart up regarding the targets for lunar sample return and or in-situ exploration.Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 1.20.06 PM

Nearside-Sample-Return-Sites
Lunar Near Side Sample Return Sites
Farside-Sample-Return-All
Lunar Far Side Sample Return Sites

There are dozens of targets for sample return, far more than the summary that Clive has on his chart.  These were not meant to be all-inclusive but to demonstrate the diversity of sites on the near and far sides of the Moon, as well as at the lunar poles. The important thing to be integrated into our thinking is that we need many missions to create a gestalt of understanding that allows to understand the formation, history, current state, and resource potential of our Moon.  Additionally, many of these are apt precursors and companions for industrialization as well as subjects for scientific inquiry.

As most people know, the current administration has chosen to return to the Moon, and not simply the return to the Moon but to use it as a springboard for the economic development of the Solar System.  During our last efforts in this area during the Bush era Vision for Space Exploration the community got bogged down in an argument regarding whether we needed a series of sortie missions or an outpost.  The problem is that sortie missions, whether human missions, or robotic, are expensive.  Sample return missions drive up the costs even more. Fortuitously,  one of the foci of the return to the moon from the commercial world is lunar water production. Many in our community wax poetic about the value of this water for fuel depots and for delivering the water for Mars missions, for refueling satellites and for other off Moon applications.  However, a more near term application of in-situ water is for the implementation of a global campaign to visit these dozens of scientifically interesting sites.

There are a multiplicity of reasons for doing it this way but here are a couple.  The first is cost.  The cost of a single sample return mission robotically will cost in excess of half a billion dollars and the sample size will be necessarily small, also due to cost.  A community problem that this brings is that if we were to do it the way that we have in the past, there will be a request for proposals for a mission, lots of competition, and only one winner.  Assuming that costs reduce over time a bit, there might be two teams that would win and a couple of sites would be sampled.  Not only does this severely limit the science, it limits the development of the professional scientific community in this area.

Another reason is attached to something Clive noted in his presentation regarding theories related to cratering history in the entire inner Solar System.  Our theories regarding inner solar system cratering rates over time, including Mercury and Mars are based upon and bounded by what we know about lunar cratering established by Apollo (and the Soviet Luna) samples and estimates of erosion rates on the Moon.  Thus our knowledge is very loosely bounded in time and based on the very limited ground truth from Apollo and Luna. In order to effectively answer the question regarding lunar cratering age we need a much wider diversity of samples from craters of different presumed ages (based upon Apollo ground truth from returned samples).  We simply are not going to be able to do this using the status quo way of doing things at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD).

Another reason is the effective use of assets.  NASA’s Mars Opportunity and Spirit rovers landed on Mars in 2004.  Opportunity is still operating there 13 years later.  While the science is still interesting, what if that rover had been able to be refurbished and sent to another location on Mars (as an analog for this discussion regarding the Moon) of more scientific value.  The next figure shows some of the locations and distances from the lunar north and south poles.

Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 6.01.08 PM
Suborbital Distances to Select Sites of Scientific and Industrial Interest from the Polar Regions

Conceive in your mind for a moment a rover with a suite of scientific instruments carried by a suborbital hopper that could take off from a lunar outpost, fly to a site of interest, carry out initial studies, and then return via its lander to the outpost before the end of the lunar day.  Many of these missions could be carried out in parallel at low incremental expense with local water and a science platform with a wide variety of sensors.  This would be a major force multiplier for pure science plus could be available for industry for selenological sampling by industrial interest for resource prospecting.  Additionally, if there were communications satellites dedicated for lunar orbit these missions would come at almost no cost in terrestrial infrastructure.  A relay satellite could use optical or high bandwidth RF communications back to the Earth, considerably relieving the NASA Deep Space Network’s operating burden and could provide an additional revenue source for a commercial relay communications satellite. Establishment of a lunar communications and navigation network was concluded by the workshop participates to be one of the early commercial “on-ramps” that would enable a robust lunar science and exploration program.

What Clive’s presentation and other ones at the conference illustrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that in emplacing a lunar outpost that has as an industrial goal of obtaining sufficient water for propellant, that this propellant would be exceptionally valuable to enable suborbital hops from the outpost to the various sites noted above for sample return and in situ study.  The science benefits will be outstanding as well.  Since there would be a logistical system in place for two way transit between the Moon and Earth samples could be sent back, examined, and new missions planned at a far more rapid pace than today.  You simply can’t do this kind of science at Mars yet due to the long distances and cost of climbing out of the much deeper gravity well.

All of these things create a virtuous circle that is beneficial to science as well as to industry.  Cost sharing, rapid mission tempo, commercial operations bringing the costs down, all act to dramatically enhance the science, which supports industry, which in turn provides a lot more opportunities for science.  Today the Apollo samples are treated as the crown jewels of NASA, which in a sense they are, but the supplies are necessarily limited.  Extending this through a robust scientific and industrial exploration and development program will be absolutely transformational for all concerned.  This becomes an amazing test bed opportunity as well for operations that some in NASA have planned for the surface of Mars from Martian orbit.

Just the Beginning…..

Scenarios like the above are just the beginning of a golden age of planetary science.  When I first started as a researcher in lunar science all we had was Lunar Orbiter, then Clementine and Lunar Prospector.  It is the new generation of missions from Chandrayaan, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, Chang’E that are just starting to open the door to science, bringing with it a new generation of researchers.  The human return to the Moon to an outpost at the poles will have a dramatic potential to advance science in ways that have scarcely been imagined before because we have not considered what the melding of scientific and industrial interest can do to support each other.

Here on the Earth we have economic geologists as well as pure science geologists.  It is inevitably going to go in this direction in planetary science as well, and this is a good thing as it will increase the cadre of trained scientists, bringing different perspectives and insights, which will support both science and the industrial sector.  As we continue to move outward in the Solar System what we do on the Moon will serve as a template for the future.  Our first tentative exploration steps over the last few decades is about to give way to an explosive era of activity that will bring benefits to all mankind………

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12 thoughts on “Industrialization and Science: Together We Win

  1. “The problem is that sortie missions, whether human missions, or robotic, are expensive. Sample return missions drive up the costs even more. Fortuitously, one of the foci of the return to the moon from the commercial world is lunar water production. Many in our community wax poetic about the value of this water for fuel depots and for delivering the water for Mars missions, for refueling satellites and for other off Moon applications.”

    I favor Lunar sortie missions. And main reason is it takes less time.
    I don’t think lunar water mining will lower the cost of Mars exploration program by providing
    lunar rocket fuel to use for Mars exploration program. But lunar water mining will lower cost
    of Mars settlements by providing lunar rocket fuel and lunar water.

    There ways lunar exploration and lunar water mining does lower the cost of Mars exploration program. And I would say the biggest cost saving is enabling the Mars exploration program to actually happen.
    Or I think “trying to have a Mars exploration program” costs money- or we have already spent lot’s of money trying to have a mars exploration program for last few decades. And trying to have
    a mars exploration for next couple decades and not getting one, is also a huge waste of money.

    So I look at Lunar exploration program as way to start a mars exploration program and way to sustain the Mars exploration program until get the objectives of program finished.
    And most important objective in my opinion is determine if and where there could Mars settlements on Mars. Or the gold one is looking for is where can there be human settlements ion
    Space. And Mars seems likely, so explore Mars to determine whether Mars is a like location for
    first settlement towns in Space. It’s possible it’s not and if not, where else? And then Explore that.

    One could also say NASA should explore Mars, before someone, like Musk, kills a lot of people.
    Not saying we should outlaw Musk or someone from attempting to settle Mars. But in the past, attempts have taken to settle somewhere on Earth and people have died, trying. So not wild idea that people might die trying to settle Mars and it might good to reduce the chance of deaths or amount of hardships.
    And lunar exploration could hasten attempts by private sector trying to settle Mars. So idea shouldn’t be: just let them do it, but get ahead of them: and lead.
    So I think NASA should finish exploring the Moon in regards to finding lunar water deposits.
    There is of course lots of thing to explore on the Moon, NASA should stop exploring Moon in terms of the lunar program, so it begin the Mars exploration program.
    Now if Congress wants to add money to the budget so NASA is doing Lunar exploration and Mars
    exploration- I wouldn’t refuse the extra funding, but think NASA should plan to explore the Moon and then explore Mars.
    An advantage I see in exploring Moon with sorties is, one do it while running the ISS program.
    You start lunar program with robot only missions, and after 7 or 8 years, you add the crew part of lunar exploration.
    I would say robotic exploration require a more time than crewed missions, and one continues robotic aspect of program as crewed part starts. And then robotic and crew exploration transfers to Mars exploration. And there no lag time between, lunar and Mars, and basically beginning wit Crew Mars but you have pretty big part of Mars program being robotic.
    Mars robotic is having human base ready for crew and robotic is having/making abort options for
    the manned Mars. And while crew on mars surface, one has robotic mars surface exploration.
    So lots of robotic mission and the lots of robotic missions starts with lunar exploration.
    Also early in Lunar exploration, NASA establish operational ability with depots- and depots are part of robotic lunar program. And depots will be part of Mars exploration program and be part of Mars robotic program.
    Robotic would do things like find landing zones and making landing zones and assisting crew nav of landing on Moon and Mars surfaces.

    1. You can favor all you want, but the idea that sortie missions, of the type and extent that is favored by the scientific community, much less industrial interests, take far longer unless you have a large campaign and with a production line. That still leaves a lot of throw away hardware, which is just too expensive as the last 50 years of such things on Mars and the Moon has shown.

      I am not that hip on exploring Mars for the sake of exploring Mars. If we are not going there to develop a second branch of human civilization I would rather spend the money developing fusion.

    2. “You can favor all you want, but the idea that sortie missions, of the type and extent that is favored by the scientific community, much less industrial interests, take far longer unless you have a large campaign and with a production line. That still leaves a lot of throw away hardware, which is just too expensive as the last 50 years of such things on Mars and the Moon has shown.”

      I not sure [and probably not] favor what scientific community favor, I think it’s more likely if it’s the engineering community. But I am talking about large campaign and with production lines.
      And I agree that manned can be fast and robotic requires more time. But generally speaking the robotic is enabling manned mission [though manned mission also enable robotic- but what important is manned missions].

      “I am not that hip on exploring Mars for the sake of exploring Mars. If we are not going there to develop a second branch of human civilization I would rather spend the money developing fusion. ”
      There will be many branches of human civilization, a question which is first to be second branch of human civilization. I tend to favor Mercury, but the political support tends to favor doing Mars first. I do favor Mars if Mars can be a good place to grow cheap crops.
      I tend to think a L-5 type settlement might good for urban uses, but have doubts about them, in term, for farming.

        1. I second that as you have said about people hoping for another Apollo size program and budget, “It will never happen again!”

          Thanks for your summary of the January conference at Ames. Insightful comments about single sortie missions are very expensive. We are 18% into the 21st century and have technologies not available in 1960s, maybe these can scale up to industrial size.

          1. I am talking about 4 billion for 10 years, so 40 billion total budget or about 1/3 of ISS total program budget- to present time. Or about 4 times James Telescope.
            In terms of lunar exploration program and which includes a limited amount of SLS future cost- because I don’t think NASA will cancel it [soon enough- or say less than 1/2 dozen SLS rocket launches. Or not counting on more the 1/2 dozen launches-but if so than a higher total budget cost for lunar program.
            In terms of Mars exploration- about 100 billion or less per decade and assumes NASA is no longer funding ISS at about 3 billion per year. Or at that point in time NASA paying less than 1/2 billion per year to be involved with ISS. And by that time, SLS has been canceled [and freeing up a few billion per year which would otherwise would be wasted on SLS].

            1. Correction: Total mars would cost about 100 billion and be about 50 billion per 10 years and would take 2 decades or more. Or be about same cost as ISS and take about same amount of time period- if count from time of first launch ISS modules- 1998 to 2018 and continuing. If include the development time of ISS before launching the first module, it’s possible Mars exploration could take less total time.
              So less time and less total money as compared to ISS. And if consider the combination Shuttle and ISS program, it could be far less money and time as compared to Lunar and Mars exploration programs.
              Though this assumes SLS will not have in the future a lot money spend on it- or
              less than 1/2 dozen flights to prove it’s a bad idea.
              Considers SpaceX continues to exist and SpaceX successfully flies Falcon Heavy.
              Though doesn’t include SpaceX big plans or Blue Orgin big plans of their future huge rockets. Which if worked as planned could make it cheaper [though I don’t think by much].

              1. Roughly architect of Mars is stage in High Earth, use low earth for LOX re- fueling.
                And stage in Mars high orbit and re-fuel LOX in Low Mars orbit.

    3. In terms of what we attempting to do in regards to space exploration, it’s completed when
      there is commercial lunar mining. And competed if there are Mars settlements.
      Or current efforts of NASA should to enable these types of activities and exploration would lower costs of doing them by gaining understanding and thereby lower risks of starting such things.

      Later NASA exploration can retated to starting other things- such as things related to getting to point of having SPS for Earth surface. Once Earth has space power satellites, NASA might focus on things like traveling to different star systems. Which would include having large telescopes.

      But big picture of lunar and Mars exploration leads to markets in space which leads to Earth having unlimited amounts of energy for Earth. And then you can have bigger goals.

      1. We have to go with the budgets that we have today, not our dream budgets of tomorrow. An outpost that supports industry and science on the Moon is cheaper than just about any other alternative.

        1. “We have to go with the budgets that we have today, not our dream budgets of tomorrow. An outpost that supports industry and science on the Moon is cheaper than just about any other alternative.”

          We don’t know if the moon has minable water. If moon has minable water we don’t know when capital will be spend in order to mine lunar water.

          Unless you lower energy cost, one needs minable lunar water to make lunar rocket fuel and if don’t have cheap rocket fuel in earth orbit, and don’t have lunar rocket fuel- the Moon not a good location- any lunar activity will be expensive and lacks a clear future.

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