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December 06, 2012

Golden Spike announce Phase A for commercial lunar landing missions

NASASpaceflight.com - Golden Spike formed in 2010, has an impressive board of directors, led by Board Chair Gerry Griffin – a former Director of Johnson Space Center and Apollo Flight Director – and President/CEO Alan Stern, the well-known Planetary scientist, and former head of all NASA science missions.

The board includes former NASA engineers, astronauts and managers – including the highly respected former Space Shuttle Program (SSP) manager Wayne Hale, along with commercial space notables, such as former SpaceX program manager for the Dragon spacecraft, Max Vozoff.

For the last two years, the company has been building a business model and conducting technical studies into the lunar architecture they are currently pursuing.

Realizing their goal – to the point they successfully carry out their first crewed lunar surface mission – will cost between $7 and $8 billion. While no specific details into current funding are likely to be revealed during this initial period, the company has said it will be mainly relying on funding via sales revenue, generated via contracts they expect to be signed by customers for actual lunar flights.


Funding levels and speculations on sources

Although the cost to get a crewed lunar surface mission is $7-8 billion. They are not developing the launch vehicles. Lunar lander technology has been developed by Armadillo Aerospace. The actual level of funding might be kept below $500 million. They would need to have the government customers (NASA, US military, India, Brazil, China, Canada etc... ) If they have the connections and are able to get some customers with some early unmanned missions, then they could bootstrap to the crewed landings.

There are several billionaires who have been willing to spend money on space ventures. Google’s CEO Larry Page and executive chairman Eric Schmidt, former Microsoft chief architect Charles Simonyi, K. Ram Shriram, and Ross Perot Jr.

Newt Gingrich is also friends with Sheldon Aldelson (billionaire owner of Las Vegas Sands - which owns the Venetion hotels, net worth about $21 billion).

Space Agency Budgets

Civiliaan Space agency budgets at wikipedia.


Country        Agency  Budget   (USD)
USA            NASA     $17,700 million 
Europe         ESA       $5,430 million (2011)
Russia         ROSCOSMOS $3,800 million (2011)
France         CNES      $2,822 million (2010)
Japan          JAXA      $2,460 million
Germany        DLR       $2,000 million
India          ISRO      $1,320 million
China          CNSA      $1,300 million
Italy          ASI       $1,000 million
Iran           ISA         $500 million
United Kingdom UKSA        $414 million
Brazil         AEB         $343 million
Canada         CSA         $300 million
South Korea    KARI        $300 million
Ukraine        NSAU        $250 million
Belgium        BELSPO      $170 million
Argentina      CONAE       $148 million
Spain          INTA        $135 million
Sweden         SNSB        $100 million

The unclassified US military space budget was about $40 billion per year but for 2013 will decline to about 32 billion.

The US also has a spy agency space budgets.




The company has confirmed they will be taking a very different approach to that created by NASA’s defunct Constellation Program, which relied on “clean sheet” hardware. Golden Spike will be championing what they call a “maximally pragmatic” strategy.

“By adopting (this) strategy, Golden Spike has found a suite of lunar exploration architectures that can enable our company’s first human lunar expedition for a cost of only about $7-8B dollars, including all required systems development and integration, a careful multi-mission flight test series, and a healthy level of project reserves,” noted Mr Stern in the company’s briefing materials.

“What makes this lower cost possible is the direct result of our plan to use existing launch vehicles and crew capsules already in development. We only plan to develop new systems – such as an expedition lander and surface suits – where no existing system exists or is in development.

“Such a system architecture, which we call a ‘head start architecture,’ may not be as elegant as a ‘clean sheet of paper’ approach that develops all new flight systems, but it offers enormous cost, schedule, and reliability advantages.”

By using this approach, the company believes they will reduce the schedule and cost concerns that usually blight a new vehicle’s development, while also reducing associated risks. Also, the actual development costs to build the hardware will already be paid for by the hardware’s parent company.

Other options include adapting existing hardware to enable their lunar aspirations, leaving any new build requirements to be specific to hardware that simply does not yet exist.

They reveal contracts to begin work on the design of the lunar lander, via studies by multiple companies, along with lunar space suit designs and lunar surface experiment package design.

Unlike the launcher options, these three hardware elements are currently not available.

A list of partners on the Lunar Lander Systems (LLS) hardware elements – notionally depicted in Golden Spike’s own materials as small surface lander – have been revealed by the company, namely: Armadillo Aerospace, International Lunar Observatory Association, Masten Space Systems, Moon Express, Paragon Space Development Corp, Southwest Research Institute, Space Florida, United Launch Alliance, and Zero Point Frontiers Corp.

These companies are likely to be involved in a wider set of hardware, such as habitats and surface support systems.

Golden Spike is currently in “Phase A”, which they note allows them to still make substantial refinements to their plans.

However, Golden Spike revealed they are targeting their fourth lunar mission to land a crew on the surface of the Moon, allowing for three test flights – the first of which is believed to be tentatively scheduled for 2017.

With the target of a 2020 flight to debut their lunar landing capability, the company cited a two-launch architecture for each mission, allowing for a hybrid combination of the EOR and LOR architectures studied for project Apollo.

“Golden Spike’s basic lunar mission architecture requires two launches of two sets existing launch vehicles for each surface expedition. The first pair of launches allows us to pre-position a lander in low lunar orbit. The second pair of launches then sends a crew vehicle with two people in it – the expedition crew – to meet the lander in lunar orbit,” Mr Stern added in the company’s materials.

“For each of these two vehicles that we need to get to lunar orbit, the existing launchers will require help from a propulsion module attached to the payload. Once in lunar orbit, the crew travels to the surface to explore with capabilities like early Apollo landed expeditions, then ascends back to lunar orbit and returns home to Earth in the crew capsule they launched in.”

As to where the first lunar mission will land, no decisions have been taken at this time. Regardless, the company noted they will have access to large areas of the near side of the Moon via their initial capability, with specific destinations to be customer-driven.

The company believes they have an addressable market of 15 to 25 customers for lunar surface missions between 2020 and 2030.



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