Imagine if every time you went for on a trip, you had to carry all the fuel required to get you to your destination and back - even if that trip was to a place far, far away, like say Mars. In space there are no refueling options available (yet), and given that propellant makes up over 90 percent of the weight of a spacecraft, this issue is fundamental to saving costs and driving future space exploration. Now the Shackleton Energy Company (SEC) is looking to establish the first operational base to mine ice on the Moon that will be used to produce liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants for distribution to spacecraft via the first gas stations in space ... and the plan is to be open for business by 2020.
According to SEC founder Bill Stone, such orbital gas stations are (along with economical Earth-to-orbit transport like that being pursued by Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites, and places to stay in orbit) one of the three things essential for humans to expand further into space. It is this need that SEC aims to meet while becoming the "world's foremost space-based energy company providing rocket propellants, life support, consumables, and services in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and on the Moon to all spacefarers."
Stone believes an industrial expedition to the Moon would cost around US$15 billion, which he says is comparable to the cost of a large North Sea oil production complex. And if he wasn't already being ambitious enough, Stone says the company plans to have industrial astronauts on the Moon and be open for business by 2020. The initial focus will be the Moon's poles with SEC planning to launch two robotic scouting missions - including the South Pole's Shackleton Crater - in the next four years.
If the year-long robotic prospecting mission proves successful, SEC then aims to continue moves towards constructing a manned lunar base and commencing industrial mining and processing operations. The propellant SEC produces from the water sourced from the Moon will be offered to all countries and companies, with the company aiming to make its initial sales within the decade. Stone envisions the first SEC propellant depot would be positioned close to the International Space Station (ISS) with other depots being positioned based on demand.
SEC is looking to raise funds to create working simulations of its space program using crowdfunding site RocketHub. The company has set a goal of US$1.2 million and at the time of publication of this article had raised $3,665 with some 40 days remaining. Rewards for those committing funds range from a digital certificate recognizing your support, up to having a lunar polar base named after you.
Here's a video of Stone giving a TED talk about the project.