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Plan to establish first lunar base and gas stations in space

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November 21, 2011

The Shackleton Energy Company (SEC) is looking to establish the first operational lunar ba...

The Shackleton Energy Company (SEC) is looking to establish the first operational lunar base

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.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
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15 Comments

Something I've suggested for decades. It would make sense to manufacture fuel on the Moon for earth-orbit use, because the Moon's gravity is considerably less; launching from the Moon would require far less energy than supplying low-Earth-orbit missions from Earth. It would also make sense to both manufacture deep space probes and to launch them from the Moon, for the same reason.

William H Lanteigne
21st November, 2011 @ 07:14 am PST

It could be a commercial version of Heinlein's, "The Moon is a harsh Mistress."

I'd go work on the Moon even if I could never come back.

flink
21st November, 2011 @ 08:50 am PST

Extracting water from the Lunar ice caps and producing cryogenic oxygen and hydrogen using solar power seems a logical first step toward more ambitious future projects:

For example, solar powered industrial mining and manufacturing facilities located near a solar-powered Lunar equatorial high-speed maglev rail system that doubles as a launching system for Earth or more distant destinations.

From these facilities, interplanetary vehicles could be constructed and launched. Eventually, a number of industrial and consumer products could be manufactured from Lunar materials and exported to Earth. Eventually, the only "cargo" that would need to be lifted against Earth's gravity would be people, as everything else could be provided by Lunar or orbital facilities.

William H Lanteigne
21st November, 2011 @ 12:19 pm PST

What is really awesome is the development of commerical space industry that will open space to everyone. To me that is the real excitement.

Michael Erickson
21st November, 2011 @ 01:36 pm PST

You could in theory catch cargoes with the same bunch of electromagnets as you use to launch them. Greatly reducing the need for chemical propellants.

Slowburn
21st November, 2011 @ 01:41 pm PST

I'm both glad and looking forward to more advancement in this field. With economies collapsing and lack of jobs left and right it's truly laughable. The truth is, so few want

to get off their duff and realize that right above our heads are millions of jobs in the

waiting. Space is more than exploration. I believe if we want to pass on something

of value to our children, then we HAVE to open up this frontier and move on to more

than a couple continents and a few valuable resources that a couple super powers

are having a killing feast over.

saharaborn
21st November, 2011 @ 05:24 pm PST

"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."

Well, that should just about do it.

Russ Pinney
22nd November, 2011 @ 03:15 am PST

"Imagine if every time you went for on a trip, you had to" bilk the taxpayers out of billions of dollars and all you got for your trouble was... was... er.... the thrill of it? ...some TV time? ... unhappy comparison to what robots could have done for one-tenth of the cost?

There will come a "right time" for manned exploration of the solar system. You will know it is that time when venture capitalists put up the money for it.

piperTom
22nd November, 2011 @ 09:42 am PST

I'm in! I will invest. Why? I'm convinced of the viability on the evidence. Also, we (humanity) must do two things to survive: 1. Escape government. 2. Get off earth. The second objective can achieve the first.

I used to believe a space elevator was the first priority. I now see a better plan.

voluntaryist
22nd November, 2011 @ 03:45 pm PST

I like the idea but there is a serious question that has to be answered - Where would the fuel come from to:

1. Operate the factory that produces the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants,

2. Heat the factory and worker's residences,

3. Provide electric power for all sorts of needs?

robo
22nd November, 2011 @ 04:41 pm PST

The answer to "Where would the fuel come from... " questions 1., 2., and 3., is: Solar. This would be direct solar energy, not the wimpy kind we get filtered through tens of miles of atmosphere and, at the lunar poles, available 24/7/365.

For the equatorial transit/launch (and, as Slowburn pointed out, recovery) system, I suspect a power grid would continually provide power from the light side to the dark side.

William H Lanteigne
23rd November, 2011 @ 12:40 am PST

Photovoltaic cells are significantly more efficient in space because they don't have the Earth's atmosphere filtering out a lot of the light.

The Sun is actually a white star. It appears yellow from the Earth's surface due to the scattering and filtering that makes the sky appear blue.

Gregg Eshelman
23rd November, 2011 @ 01:38 am PST

Correct me if I'm wrong but aren't there Trillions of dollars in precious metals in space? seems to me like expanding towards the metals verusus towards more stations would be the wisest course.... i mean it makes since with them focusing on gas since with it they could basically control space exploration but once the Gas aspect is under control why not go straight to mining the gold and platinum?

Dayhawk
24th November, 2011 @ 09:33 am PST

I never understood the need for an in space "gas station".... at least not of this type. For humans to truly go beyond mars (and ideally, even to mars) chemical rockets will not cut it. If we are going to advance our space travel capabilities we need to move beyond chemical rockets, and therefore this space gas station would be rendered useless.

There are several methods for both getting to LEO and in space travel that could be MUCH faster, safer, and cheaper (once developed) than chemical rockets and some of them we are close to achieving. If a company like this one or any other would commit to putting this kind of money behind one of these ideas for R&D we could make them a reality sooner rather than later.

KushSmoka420
29th November, 2011 @ 08:37 pm PST

@Dayhawk

Because no matter how you look at it, it will always be cheaper to mine these same materials on earth. And until we run out, or come close to running out, it will never be economically viable to mine them from space.

Also to anyone who thinks that we need to start mining He-3 from the moon. THINK AGAIN. First of all we don't even have the technological capability of true fusion yet (only fission), although we are close. There are also different methods to achieve fusion being studied, and not all utilize He-3. Third we CAN get He-3 from earth. So until we have actually achieved a version of fusion power production that utilizes He-3 and its actively being used world wide (or at least in large enough numbers to be economical) then there is no need to mine it.

KushSmoka420
29th November, 2011 @ 08:51 pm PST
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