A company called Golden Spike may confirm swirling rumors that it intends to land humans on the surface of the moon by the year 2020. It may sound like pie-in-the-sky, but this is no fly-by-night outfit. Reports are the company is staffed by some of the most accomplished engineers and mission planners to ever turn dreams into reality. Word is that includes Dr. Alan Stern of the New Horizon’s mission to Pluto and Beyond (Interviewed here), and former Apollo launch director Gerry Griffin.
Update: NASA Spaceflight — 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. The company’s board of advisors also includes Newt Gingrich, former US Speaker of the House of Representatives, who cited his interest in a lunar base during his campaign as a US presidential candidate.
Golden Spike, named after the symbolic tie that joined the east and west coasts of America over a century ago, joins a growing number of privately held concerns hoping to kick-start the US space exploration effort, like SpaceX, XCOR, and Planetary Resources. The nascent industry, known collectively as NewSpace, hopes to greatly expand access to low earth orbit and beyond in large part by dramatically lowering the cost of ground to orbit rockets, spacecraft, and related systems.
Right now about 80 cents of every NASA dollar is spent on vehicles and other systems developed by commercial concerns. That’s not likely to change. But if NASA can pay a fixed fee for things like ground to orbit boosters or orbiting vehicles that can also be used for commericial spacelflights, it is likely to end up costing a lot less per unit spaceflight.
Remember Apollo? Who could forget! But that’s a great illustration: as long as billions of tax dollars are spent to develop a design built and used only three or four times to send a handful of astronauts to the moon, the cost to those taxpayers per man-moon-hour has to be astronomical, that’s simple math. If taxpayers pay a commercial manufacturer for a seat on a rocket or buy the whole rocket, it costs whatever the company says it does, taxpayers are off the hook for development costs, and flat fees might drop quickly with economies of mass production and mass consumption brought to bear.
That’s one way to explain it. If you try to explain it to someone who is not that into science or space exploration (Egad, such people exist?) try this: as long as a seat to orbit costs $50 million, only a handful of people from wealthyc ountries or a handful of billionaires will be able to go. But if the cost could be reduced to $5 million, now thousands of people can go. That includes NASA astronauts and regular old millionaires, pharma companies, TV show producers, even universities pooling their resources might be able to send a researcher. A space travel industry can’t be built on dozens of passengers, but it can probably start to develop if there are thousands.
Golden Spike also plans to pad costs by utilizing existing designs and hardware for everything from orbiting fuel depots to lunar landers. The company has not said, but this only makes sense if they have analyzed costs and believe they can get NASA specialists to the moon faster and cheaper than Apollo.