Human lunar colonization has been studied at length, with the broad conclusion that it is technically feasible, but costs far too much. Even assuming a factor of 50 launch cost reduction, traditional models suggest that a lunar colony supporting 1,000 people would cost ~$4 trillion to develop, $100 billion to deliver, and >$6 billion/year to staff and supply. We estimate that an alternative architecture can create this 1,000 person lunar colony for a development cost of ~$2 billion, transportation cost of ~$5 billion, and annual support cost of $1 billion.
The approach proposed here builds on, but greatly extends the philosophical and technical approach (but not the technology) successfully adopted by the SmallSat community. The principal elements of this new architecture are: (1) work primarily indoors, rather than outdoors, (2) use existing, low-cost hardware, (3) use existing lunar resources (in a cost efficient fashion), and (4) engage multiple stakeholders in lunar development as participants, sponsors, and entrepreneurs. Individually, these elements have been identified in prior work. However, the proposed system architecture combines them for maximum impact on both cost and risk of development, transportation, and operations and creates an environment radically different than that previously envisioned.
The concepts of “smaller, faster, better” are, of course, relative terms. The fundamental question being addressed here is whether the low-cost methods that have been successfully applied to SmallSats can also be applied to inherently large and traditionally dramatically expensive missions. It is our conclusion that, with appropriate modifications, they can be. If it can be accomplished, there is far more to be gained by taking fundamentally large programs and making them “smaller, faster, better.” Finally, the proposed approach is inherently international in its implementation and would involve participation by a large number of countries and organizations.
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Wertz, J.R. IAF Specialists Symposium on Novel Concepts for Smaller, Faster, Better Space Missions, Redondo Beach, CA. April 19–21, 1999.