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Dr. Ian Crawford, Friday, 5-29-15 May 30, 2015

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Dr. Ian Crawford, Friday, 5-29-15

Dr. Haym Benaroya, Co-host

Download his paper here:  http://www.homepages.ucl.ac.uk/~ucfbiac/Lunar_resources_review_preprint_accepted_manuscript.pdf


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Guests:  Dr. Ian Crawford, Dr. Haym Benaroya.  Topics:  Lunar resource and policy.  Please direct all comments and questions regarding Space Show programs/guest(s) to the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com.  Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See www.onegiantleapfoundation.org/amazon.htm.  For those listening to archives using live365.com and rating the programs, please email me as to why you assign a specific rating to the show. This will help me bring better programming to the audience.

We welcomed Dr. Ian Crawford to the program to discuss his work and paper “Lunar Resources: A Review.”  This paper can be found on The Space Show blog for this date and show, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com.  In addition, Dr. Haym Benaroya co-hosted the program with me.  During the first segment of our 1 hour 20 minute discussion, Dr. Crawford explained the motivation behind his research plus I asked him about any surprises he came upon during his research.  Two areas that surprised him included Platinum Group Metals (PGM) and helium three (HE3).  He referred to HE3 several times but he discussed it in more detail in the second segment so I will defer until then.  We talked at length as to why the Moon was of interest. He talked about the scientific value of the Moon as well as learning how to do things in space that we will need later on gong to Mars or other destinations.  He said the Moon was resource rich but that we were only beginning to learn what we can do on the Moon and how to benefit from its resources.  Both our guests were asked if we were nearing the maximum point of benefit for remote sensing lunar operations.  The answer was yes but we were not there yet as more improvements in HD resolution and other areas are yet to be realized.  That said, robotic lunar exploration is now available as is human exploration.  Both Haym and Ian said the format for lunar exploration would likely need to be public private partnerships, even with international missions.  They also said we need to start doing it now. Haym said it was a bootstrap type of process and Ian said it was a learn as you do process.  On the job lunar training!  Haym also mentioned that 3D printing and robotic systems would lead the way before humans.  He also suggested they might evolve to the point that they can do construction so astronauts going to the Moon do not have to be “construction workers.”  As the segment was ending, Ian was asked about the needed legal infrastructure to commercialize lunar resources.  He had much to say about this before the segment ended.  As the segment was ended, an 11th hour question was asked about making rocket fuel from water ice & could we do it today.

In the second segment, Doug from S. California called & wanted to know if there was any resource needed for settlement on the Moon that was completely lacking or unavailable on the Moon.  Ian said it was a complicated answer given that a resource might be there but the needed energy to use it might make it impractical. He said for a long time to come we would be making things on Earth and importing Earth products to the Moon but as Haym said earlier, it would be a bootstrapping and learn as you go and do process.  Ian then talked about the solar wind and its deposits of material in the lunar soil such as nitrogen, HE3 and more.  He talked some about polar ice, then told us why he did not think there was an economic case for HE3 and that its claims were vastly overstated.  Doug got in a question about inflatable lunar structures and Haym said they would need to be made rigid but otherwise a good way to start.  Doug did not like the Caterpillar analogy for lunar mining equipment given such equipment would not look like Earth equipment, especially since here on Earth equipment works in 1G.  We talked about the likelihood that companies like Caterpillar would still have their orange paint and logo on the Moon because if there was an equipment business case to be made, existing companies would likely want to compete in that market & Caterpillar is an industry leader.  Near the end of the discussion, Frank sent in a question asking him about his comments in his paper about cis-lunar being the first market available for exploitation.  Ian responded to Frank’s question so don’t miss the answer.  Jane emailed in asking if there was a resource case to be made for HSF to Mars.  Another Frank emailed in from Dallas asking about U.S. space leadership and could the international community carry on a robust lunar development program with the U.S. sitting on the sidelines.  Dr. Crawford talked for some time addressing this issue.  He also pointed to additional resources by checking out the Global Exploration Strategy and The International Space Exploration Coordination Group.  The latter has a document on its website outlining the major benefits of space exploration, www.globalspaceexploration.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Benefits-Stemming-from-Space-Exploration-2013.pdf.  Before the program ended, he was asked about using asteroid resources so don’t miss his response on this timely topic.  In closing comments, Haym made the case for the Moon being the logical next step on our space development timeline.  Ian supported those comments adding even more rational to what Dr. Benaroya said.

Please post your comments/questions on The Space Show blog above.  You can reach Dr. Crawford or Dr. Benaroya through their university websites or me.


1. J Fincannon - June 9, 2015

The link to the referred to paper was not included. “Lunar Resources: A Review Ian A. Crawford

I include it here.


J Fincannon - June 9, 2015

I note that any concerns of microbial lunar life below the surface are not addressed in the paper although the other paper on the benefits of space exploration showed the search for life to be high on the list. Lunar life, if it exists, could be considered a resource. It would be nice if future experiments, hopefully robotic, could check this to confirm or not, conclusively, extant or fossilized lunar life.

2. Andy Hill - June 2, 2015

There’s the extra cost and complexity of operating on the moon though. The delta-V starts to become less of an issue if cost to LEO falls, Lunar extraction, transport, maintenance and manpower will generate a higher per kg cost than launching from the Earth.

Lunar resources will be best used on the moon to build capability there.

3. ericmachmer - June 1, 2015

To be taken seriously lunar resource advocates must incorporate reusable rockets, telerobotics, and water-recycling in their analysis.

Reusable rockets were not discussed in this episode and only tangentially in the linked article through passing mention of “a UK space-plane” (presumably the Skylon, which is as ridiculous, nonexistent, and economically illiterate as lunar resource harvesting).

John Strickland has written an informative article on the impact of reusability upon lunar resource economics:

Such analysis must also entertain extreme possibilities Musk mentions here…(specifically a rocket amortized over a thousand launches at $50,000 per launch, with fuel at $200,000):

Musk has said elsewhere a fuel depot in LEO would reduce the cost of boosting satellites to GEO by about 40%. He seemed enthusiastic about this market. But, if reusable Falcon 9s only cost about a million dollars (or less) per launch for 13 tons of fuel to LEO, we are NEVER going to invest billions into lunar water-ice harvesting. For a minuscule fraction of the cost of lunar mining we can launch tons of exotic propellants trucked from Houston’s refineries to Falcon 9Rs in Brownsville.

Although it may be energetically more efficient to send propellants from the moon to Lagrange points or GEO, it is important to realize how limited this market is…there are only about 420 GEO satellites, all of which are planned for obsolescence in 10 to 15 years.

As for harvesting water for use by humans at a lunar base, it is important to keep in mind how advanced our recycling efficiencies are…at 95% foodstuffs from Earth replenish water lost at ISS…85% is standard now aboard ISS. The amount of water actually consumed is minimal…I think I’ve heard about a bathtub’s worth per person per year, if that (aboard ISS). NASA has become extraordinarily efficient recycling water. The point is, there won’t be a gigantic market on the moon or anywhere else in space for potable water.

Of course, since the moon is within Earth’s telespace, and since robots don’t need water, there really is ZERO need for water in lunar exploration. Or any other lunar resources for that matter.

To the extent fuels and water shielding may be used for human exploration of the solar system beyond Earth’s telespace, it is important to keep in mind basically the primary destination, Mars, already has massive amounts of regolith and water-clays in low Mars orbit awaiting telerobotic harvesting with a modest 4 to 24 minute time delay from Earth. It makes much more sense to collect regolith and water for cycler shielding from Phobos and Deimos than it does to lift such materials from the moon. Basic bulk collection of shielding material can be easily directed via telerobotics using low tech bins and bags operated from SpaceX in Los Angeles.

Furthermore, if there is a market for electrolyzed water in near-Earth space, materials from Phobos and Deimos can be processed aboard cyclers en route back to Earth…then sold in at EML2. At even less cost energetically than lifting them from the moon.

Now…consider the economics of reusability:

An olympic pool contains about 2,500 tons of water. That amount of water should be more than sufficient for shielding astronauts from cosmic rays in an advanced safe Mars cycler (frozen as water-ice in compartments surrounding passenger sections). To lift 2,500 tons of water from Brownsville to EML2 would require 500 Falcon 9 launches at 50 million apiece for a total of 25 billion dollars. That makes off-Earth resources look desirable. However, even modest reusability amortized at 5 million per launch reduces costs below the break even of any low budget off-Earth infrastructure project, such a lunar ice harvesting. And of course at the $500,000 per launch price point Musk suggests in his speech to the National Press Club, linked to above, for-profit resort cruises on Mars cyclers become conceivable. Launching “an olympic swimming pool from Brownsville to Mars” would only cost about 250 million dollars. That’s doable. That is why Musk says “reusability is key”. That is also why reusability ought to be incorporated in any serious analysis of off-Earth resources.

With modest improvements in telerobotics, reusability, and recycling in the near-term no one will build multibillion dollar moondoggles to harvest lunar resources for fuel, consumption, or shielding. Not when they can launch massive quantities of tap water from Brownsville.

As off-Earth resources become more desirable in the distant future, even as high-mass reusable launches of Falcon Heavies and Mars Colonial Transports become the norm, we will still ask why we should we build expensive lunar mines only to leave such facilities as ghost towns once Phobos, Deimos, and NEOs come on line (at dramatically superior profitability, with higher concentrations of materials already in zero g).

Fortunately Musk expects to land humans to stay on Mars in the 2020s, which may, we hope, immediately render confusion over an “obvious first step” moot. At least by then analysis of lunar resources will include reusable rockets and Martian moons.

B John - June 2, 2015

Since SpaceX won’t reuse the upper stage of F9R, $20 million per launch is the lowest cost one can hope for.

I don’t see how lowered launch costs favors Mars more than the Moon as a destination. I think it is the other way around because launch costs is a larger part of a lunar mission budget, than of a Mars mission budget which has several greater challenges to deal with. First mission to Mars will have to compete with a by then established lunar base and infrastructure capable of supporting many interesting lunar activities at ever lower costs.

ericmachmer - June 2, 2015

Hi John, Shotwell speaks of 5 million for 13 tons to LEO…less ambitious than Musk but…

Lowered launch costs (as Strickland’s article points out) make resources from the moon even less viable, especially when incorporated in a Martian settlement strategy, since such resources can just be processed and launched directly from the Earth at radically reduced cost.

“missions to Mars will have to compete with a by then established lunar base”
Yes…this is an alarming concern. We could end up with useless humans bouncing around a $100 billion dollar telerobitc base. Whatever science there may be on the moon, telerobots can do it better. But, in comparison to the wonderful alternative scientific missions our solar system offers, lunar exploration is trivial. The concern is we simply recreate ISS on the moon…useless humans doing nothing but useless station keeping, watching telerobots controlled from Earth – while sucking billions of dollars from NASA’s annual budget for another multi-generational voyage to nowhere.

As everyday life becomes increasingly automated – from self-driving cars to robotic mining – NASA will simply not receive congressional votes to send humans anywhere in Earth’s telespace. Taxpayers won’t pay for astronauts to drive lunar rovers when they no longer drive cars. Everything that can be done on the moon by humans can be better done by telerobots controlled from Earth. The faster we populate near Earth telespace with robots, and only telerobots, the more quickly we send humans to destinations it actually makes sense to send humans: Mars, Mercury, the asteroid belt, the outer solar system….that’s exciting!

Matt - June 5, 2015

Hello Eric,

thank you for detailed comments in respect to lunar and Martian space activities. I think that usage of telerobots is an important step for Moon utilization, but I assume man is further needed to support robots on Moon in a larger usage approach, because a larger number of robots have to be repaired and to be enabled to do its work after failures or other problematic situations, in which it can fall. Furthermore, man cannot replace fully by robots in situ in respect to exploration, if you think for example on Earth-like examples as archaeology and geology.

Mars will be not subject of settlement for a very long time. At the moment, it is important to verify (or falsify) the existence of life. What we need is a serious scientific approach to the field of terra-forming to judge about its real potential. I feel that terraforming will no topic in next 100-200 years as a real option.

ericmachmer - June 7, 2015

The key here is that it will always be less expensive to send replacement models, repair robots, and in fact just entire new robots than to send humans wih their infrastructure, supplies, limited EVAs, health concerns, etc.

In deep sea exploration telerobotic subs are used to replace scientists on site…scientists at VR consoles on Earth will have the ability to travel further, do more, use more tools, for longer periods of time and our greater lunar distances than any human crew.

Returning humans to the moon for science is ridiculous, actually so expensive it is counter to science – it will actually result in much less science.

Martian settlement does not require terraforming…

Matt - June 10, 2015

Martian settlement, which is not based on real terraforming, differs not much lunar settlement, if you consider the both most important issue, the lack of a atmosphere, which serves this name. How would like to live his whole life in space suits or in closed rooms, whithout the chance ever to open the window?

The better avaibility of some resources at Mars is more as over compensated by the fact that this planet is reachable only every 26 months after 7-9 month journey.

To the robots: I talked about larger in size robots, which are used for Moon’s resources utilization, which are very expensive.

4. Andy Hill - May 31, 2015

One of the things I not to sure about is when people talk about using the moon as a place to launch missions from. The costs and complexity required to launch from the moon’s surface far outweighs launching anything from Earth. So while I can see the value of volatiles for use on the moon I’m not convinced of their use for in space refueling.

Using the regolith as a source for volatiles could furnish material to be compressed into building blocks to make structures or create roads/launch pads. It could also be easily stacked around inflatable habitats for radiation protection.

DougSpace - June 1, 2015

> using the moon as a place to launch missions from.

I agree. No point in launching Martian hardware to the lunar surface and then relaunching from there. It would be even more expensive to build hardware on the Moon. Rather, it would be far better to launch hardware from Earth to LEO and then get refueled at LEO from propellant derived from the Moon. The mass fractions for doing this are way better than for launching the propellant from the Earth and the in-space craft would be naturally reusable from the start unlike Earth launchers.

> So while I can see the value of volatiles for use on the moon I’m not convinced of their use for in space refueling.

Well, do the math. Use an on-line delta-v calculator. The delta-v from the Moon to LEO using aerobraking is about 3.2 km/sec. The delta-v from Earth to LEO is 9.5 to 10 km/sec. Start there. Certainly, there’s more to the story, but at least start by calculating the mass fractions. Hint: A reasonable dry mass for in-space craft is about 10%.

> Using the regolith as a source for volatiles could furnish material to be compressed into building blocks to make structures or create roads/launch pads.

Initially, inflatables with uncompacted regolith will be the easiest form of “construction”. Also, initially, a fireproof tarp might be the easiest way of preventing sandblasting while landing / taking off.

ericmachmer - June 2, 2015

A cislunar space tug must launch with additional fuel from the moon to climb back out of Earth’s gravity…to then return to the moon and land on its surface. (Or at least some portion of such infrastructure must travel through these stages.) So “dry” mass is considerably more than “ten percent” (…whatever that means).

Do you remember a conversation with a guest David had a couple of weeks ago who worked laboriously through delta V economics for a cislunar economy…you called him Doug and specifically asked about a fuel depot in LEO, which he dismissed as unprofitable…at the time you seemed to accept this.

We risk pouring hundreds of billions onto the lunar surface to create another ISS…a stagnate diversionary worthless multi-generational voyage to nowhere.

B John - June 2, 2015

If a launch to LEO from Earth requires 3 times higher delta-v than a launch to LEO from the Moon, then the ratio of fuel mass to mass of payload increases 20 times according to the rocket equation (e^3=20). Water ISRU on a NEA would improve very little relative to the Moon, and the Moon has much more convenient launch windows, trip time and communication. The Moon will happen first anyway, so why not make use of its water for the much later first trip to Mars?

ericmachmer - June 2, 2015

Hi John, the problem is a lunar resources tug servicing LEO must carry enough fuel from the moon to climb back out of LEO and then land propulsively on the moon. As David’s guest said the net savings does not justify overhead, opportunity loss, and maintenance of multi-billion dollar lunar investments.

“Water ISRU on a NEA would improve very little relative to the Moon”
Except water from NEOs is already in zero g, not incurring tanker launch/landing costs. One path would be to retrieve an asteroid/piece, learn how to harvest material from it in zero g at EML2, then move such infrastructure to other zero g objects such as Deimos and eccentric NEOs.

The moon will most likely be visited by tourists after Musk lands Mars to Stay pioneers on the Martian surface. That’s fine. We live in a free society people can spend their money as they wish. Taxpayers, however, should never send humans to the moon – or anywhere else in Earth’s telespace, as soon as ISS is retired/junked in a Mars cycle orbit. Taxpayers will not pay for astronauts to watch telerobots on the moon. There is no scientific reason to send humans to the moon. As an engineering testbed for a Mars research station the basic environmental differences between the two destinations make chilled vacuum chambers on Earth preferable for testing Martian equipment.

If lunar enthusiasts insist upon building a telerobotic facilities on the Moon, for tens of billions of dollars, and, insist upon developing a tanker able to shuttle water to EML2, for yet more billions of dollars, taxpayers must ask: what is the market? There are only ~420 GEO satellites. They are planned for obsolescence because of Moore’s Law, not fuel loss. Mars settlement does not require massive amounts of water/fuel from EML2. Telerobots accomplishing whatever lunar scientists insist they accomplish, also do not require lunar resources. So what are lunar resources for? Who is going to pay for their development?? I just don’t get it. Sorry. Someone wants pay to sit in Bigelow tens beneath lunar regolith go ahead. I don’t care, I just don’t want to pay a cent for it. Tourists visit Antartica to stare at penguins and beautiful sunsets. Who cares?? So a couple billionaires and their servants every few years may waste billions to look at lunar robots. So what?? This is space exploration? This is a National Space Program? This is America’s destiny? Something for the leader of the First World to be proud of – lunar tents???

The only point of human spaceflight is settlement of Mars and exploration and eventual settlement beyond Earth’s telespace. Wealthy goofballs floating around tents on the moon is not heroic. It’s not something taxpayers should pay for. It’s not NASA’s calling. It’s not a challenge the leader of the free world should strive to achieve. Fortunately it is also not the inevitable first step.

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