Below is an excerpt of MilkyWayEconomy's 2020, best selling space economics book, "Blockchain & The Space Economy". We've decieded to release select chapters of the book as blog post because a) after reading it you'll run out and buy the book and b) despite being accidental VCs in Space we're really just nerds who want to share cool facts about Space with anyone willing to listen. Enjoy
Feburary 2023 Update: We get a lot of questions about space colonies and what their governance and economy looks like. These kinds of conversations are really the gateway drugs to philosophilcal questions about "Market vs Governments", who gets to regulate business and commerce "off world" and ultimately what Tri-Planetary Economics (Earth-Moon-Mars) looks like. So we'd like to be clear on three things:
- The Moon isn't a planet
- Space colonies can't exist or even be considered until we figure out the logistics of sustainable Space bases
- If we "colonize" Space, someone will have to kill the masters
Hence why before we get over our skis in orbit, lets take a step back and ask the most basic of questions?
Which country will have the first moon base?
Note: MilkyWayEconomy estimates that it would costs the USA $3.65T dollars to build a 1000 person moon base. Or to put in another way, a 1000 person Moon base will cost 100x that of a Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier and 20x of an air-craft carrier to maintain annually. This though should not be thought of as an expense. Rather, as an investment in ensuring democracy and US dominance into the 5th Industrial Revolution and beyond. As to be a global power this century, one must be a Spacepower.
Chapter 31 - National Moon Base
“Silent and sparkling, bright and baleful, those moon-cursed waters hurried I knew not
whither.” - H.P. Lovecraft, What the Moon Brings
The Moon has been the jumping offpoint to our understanding of the solar systems, and ourselves, for millennia.
Moon worship is recorded throughout ancient history with great prominence, and is second only to the deification of the Sun. Nibosit Gizos or "night walker sun" is part of Penobscot Native American beliefs, and in many other cultures harvest moons and solstice moons are celebrated or have slipped into syncretism with modern holidays. After landing on the Moon in the 1960s, the relationship with Her has changed. Once we were able to take that “One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind” we proceeded to do science experiments, collect rocks (400kg of samples), drive cars, hit golf balls, and consider developing malls and shopping centers on her surface. But after all that we didn’t go back. Everyone has a theory why, and some of them are better than others, but the easiest and correct answer is lack of economic incentives.
We have used the technology we developed back then to push ourselves to send satellites to every planet in our solar system and 40+ orbiters, landers, and rovers to Mars. But the last time humans were on the Moon it was Eugene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17, at 17:55 EST on December 14th, 1972. Now, we have the capability to go to the Moon again and send astronauts to Mars, but this time we don't have the political motivations.
The first Space Race was mostly driven by a political purpose in the Cold War, that being an expression of scientific, military, and economic superiority. Now don’t get us wrong, political purposes can create economic incentives, we call those subsidies. Subsidies come about, often, due to lobbying, and for this reason, previous
economic research has shown an ROI on lobbying to be around 20,000%. Yes, you read that correctly.The next closest example of those types of returns would be buying the pizza for Laszlo Hanyecz in 2010 and him giving you 10,000 bitcoin that you HODL.
That the political will to go back to the Moon is important, but more important this time is the pure economic incentives involved. A lunar base will be established in the nextdecade and of that we are certain. The only question is: will it be theUS, another nation, or a private company who runs it? Unlike the Apollo missions, going to the Moon this time will be to establish a permanent base and eventual permanent human settlement.
The concepts for a Moon base have been around for decades, but this time when it happens it will be for the benefit of the larger Space Economy, and not just pursued as an exercise in national pride. A clear economic reason must be articulated. Some of the science, manufacturing, and tourism activities already discussed for space stations or spaceports are also possible on the Moon. Because of the short time lag to the Moon, much like spaceports, robots/drones could be operated easily from Earth to augment inhabitants' labor who are part of our permanent presence there.
Whoever goes to the Moon first, this time, will have more of a voice in the Moon’s future than people who haven’t been for fifty years. Yes, that might have just made you a bit uncomfortable, and it should. Let’s look at each of these possible scenarios in a bit more detail.
It is well within the technological and economic abilities of the United States to return to the Moon and set up a base. The difference is this time we are not in a Cold War. Sure, we are in a cyber battle every day, but we don’t classify it as a New Cold War. We need the political will to do the hard things, and open competition to be the first to establish a permanent Moon base is just that.
Moon Mission the Sequel - This Time It's Personal
What’s different this time is that the field of potential other powers on Earth with the capabilities to also get to the Moon and establish a permanent base has gotten much bigger and wider. The short list of other countries (or political unions) that have ever been to or orbited the Moon would include: Russia, Japan, China, EU-European
Space Agency, India, Israel, and Luxembourg. Now to be fair, not all of these were successful, and some “hopped”rides with other nations but it is a good list to start with.
Russia Zvezda Two
The Soviets originally had plans in the 1960s and 1970s to build a manned moonbase constructed of modules, uniform in size, that could be connected together on the surface to hold a crew of around 10 cosmonauts. Fast forward to the late 1980s, and Soviet engineers had completed the Energia rocket, which, at almost 200 feet (60 meters), was widely regarded as the most advanced and powerful rocket of its time, and when combined with the reusable Buran was built as a rival to the Shuttle. However, when the USSR fell in 1991, the Energia was left to rot, with its advanced hydrogen engines, in a hangar in the Baikonur Cosmodrome in present day Kazakhstan. The design for the moon base, like the capabilities of the Energia and Buran, were lost.
In October of 2005, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin reversed this trend by placing major investments back into the Roskosmos (Russian Space Agency) program. Also, during this period, the US signaled it was no longer interested in international cooperation for the ISS, and that it planned to withdraw, focusing instead on domestic built capabilities for future American lunar missions. Cooperation on future missions, to include a mission to the Moon, looked promising until the War in Georgia in 2008, and the escalation of tensions between Europe and Russia.
According to the long-term planning of the Russian Space program— and public announcements— manned missions to the Moon could take place between 2025 and 2030, followed by an expedition to Mars by the 2035-2040 time period. In this way, Russia has a clear advantage over efforts from other nations that might change every few years with political shifts.
The ability to think long-term in Space is always an advantage over anyoneplaying a short game, because it is not ballistics, but inertia that moves things in Space.
Russia also has the advantage of being part of the partnership, renewed since the icy relationships in the early
2000s, around the ISS now focusing efforts on the Deep Space Gateway (DSG). The project's goal is to lead human exploration into deep space, including a return to the Moon, visits to asteroids, and a mission to Mars. Ruskosmos has also been reported to be in the midst of planning for its own space station before the ISS reaches its next continued operations evaluation and potential retirement.
Russian ambitions for a Moon baseseem likely for a number of reasons. First, they have a long and proud history
of success in Space, and the stomach for the inevitable setbacks that come with big, high-risk high-reward missions. The economics also makes sense because it provides an industry for the nation to support that will diversify earnings, activity, and research away from dependency on the oil markets. The political policy benefits, implications and leverage also makes sense in securing Russia's position as a global power in the next century, with permanent operations on the lunar surface.
The EU option is a proposal to not go it alone, but is instead more akin to an international option, similar to the concept behind the ISS but on the Moon. This might come in many different flavors, but it is what the ESA (European Space Agency) has previously proposed with their “Moon Village.” The idea is to create something
like a community of cooperative entities on the Moon, all located around a village-like center. The advantage ofthis project is that groups can join forces, barter for resources among each other, and support each other with individual capabilities. The term “village” also refers to the idea of people coming together with shared interest without necessarily having all the details worked out.
Part of the discussion around the Moon Village is also related to the vision and plans for continued activities
for Mars, the asteroid belt, and Deep Space. Many believe that the Moon is the best place to first test out new technologies, systems, and approaches to push us out into the rest of the Solar System. Equally important, however, is the benefits felt on Earth from all of this activity. The ESA, like NASA, has an active technology transfer program that promotes commercialization of things like advanced drones, extreme temperature devices, high grade antennas, and many more inventions first designed, created and used by ESA.
The Moon Village also seeks to provide fascination and inspiration to young people, and spark an interest in
STEM subjects. This integration of Space with education initiatives is very important and also part of several other plans. The ability to bring parties together to coordinate and create synergies is something the EU prides itself
on, and is something that will be necessary for a successful Moon Village.
Not wanting to step on international toes, it seems appropriate to also highlight that France, Germany, and the UK have the capabilities separately for a Moon mission and base. Also, on the subject of separate, Caldonia merits a mention on this list. Caldonia, or Scotland if you prefer, has both native private Space companies like Orbex, which seeks to use carbon-fiber to 3D-print rockets, and government economic and community development agencies like Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) for multiple Spaceports under various stages and steps in consideration. In light of Brexit and of other political tensions it is important to simply mention these as other potential names on the list to also separately add to the nations on the Moon.
China - Will definitely have a Moonbase and maybe it will be the first.
India has ambitious plans for Space and the Moon. They have spent decades planning and developing their Space
industry and are also well positioned for a Moon base not long after the Chinese. The ISRO is famous for its ability to do things in Space at less than a tenth (or in some cases even less) the cost of what other Space programs are
spending to do similar things. This also earns them sharp criticism and quick attention when they have failures, like what happened with their last moon rover. The more important point is that with a fraction of the budget they are doing similar Space engineering, research, and development as the USA, Russia, China, the Europeans and Japan. Sometimes the economics of how a system works comes out of necessity.
Human space-flight missions are currently slated for 2021 and we will watch closely the progress of the program
and the astronauts’ voyage. The Indians have already sent missions to Mars back in 2014, doing so for under $75Million, and considering the pace at which they are moving, Elon might have some competition; or more likely a valuable trading partner for his own base. Also, ISRO has recently announced the process for the creation and construction of a second spaceport in the southern port city of Thoothukudi.
Many have quietly projected for the past decade that it is India and not China that the world should be paying
attention to as the growing power in Asia. India is predicted to take top spot as the most populous country in the world by the mid-2020s, and it has the fifth largest GDP (third if you look at purchasing power parity). Much like the
US, India has both large farm and factory output, both sectors that take advantage of significant technologies transferable to building successful Space economy firms. India is a country to watch and a space station and Moon base in the near term both seem very likely achievements.
Japan has a long history in Space technology development, and particularly rocketry, stretching back over fifty
years. The development of torpedo bombers that could be used in the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, and the use of the Baka (Kamikaze rocket planes) in World War II— while both deadly— were clear demonstrations of early advanced engineering prowess. After the war, and most interesting in the early years of the non-military and pure scientific development, was the Pencil Rocket in 1955. Created by Prof Itokawa of the University of Tokyo, the Pencil Rocket is a famously small rocket that at only 23cm (9inches) was the world's smallest rocket; engineered at a time when most other scientists were focused on larger and larger systems. This development led to the Japanese Kappa family of rockets, which in the late 1950s and early 1960s, eventually reached heights of 200km, breaking past the Kármán line and into Space, becoming among the first to do so. This provided advantages and a head start for the early development and deployment of satellites.
Since then, Japan has made steady progress in launch technology. They established the National Space Development Agency (the predecessor of JAXA), and opened the Tanegashima Space Center in 1969, also among the first to establish an agency and launch center for future Space development. Following their defeat in World War II, the Japanese were not permitted a military, and the focus they put on Space in the absence of applications for warfare is unique and interesting, as it provides a very pure example of the economic pursuits alone behind the early growth in the industry. In this same vein, the first Japanese astronaut was a journalist who took part
in a space flight in 1990 aboard a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft to the Mir space station. When looking at the Space Economy and economic systems of development, cooperation, and trade the Japanese have been at it for a long time.
The Japanese are world leaders in the field of asteroid exploration through the Hayabusa first mission in 2003
and second in 2014. Hayabusa 2 is scheduled to return in late 2020 from the asteroid Ryūgū. The samples and information Hayabusa 2 has collected from this asteroid have the potential to further escalate the interest in commercial asteroid mining.
Japan has also sent scientific probes to both Mars and Venus. Recently they also successfully launched a cargo
transporter to the ISS, their seventh, as part of a program that stretches back to 2009. For the cargo missions, JAXA has used commercial firm Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, whose H-IIB rocket is unmanned and able to deliver 4tons of supply to the ISS, as the prime contractor. Another large commercial firm, Sony, has been testing laser-communications terminals for future communications between satellites, ground stations, and eventually Earth, the Moon, and Mars. The ultra-fast laser communication technology is significant because today most
transmissions rely on radio waves, which have a far more limited bandwidth for sending information. More information transmission capabilities means more value from satellites already in orbit, and the thousands scheduled for future launches, allowing them to send more data back to Earth.
Specific to its Moon missions, JAXA has plans to create a moon base with the use of autonomous robots. The
idea is, with the two second radio delay for communications between the Earth and the Moon, the robots can work largely on their own in constructing component pieces and will require little human supervision. This is similar to
projects launched by NASA to develop and launch an autonomous space robot that can manufacture and assemble itself and other materials in orbit. In comparison to the development and research into potential applications from several private firms in the US, the role of humans back on Earth to pilot for JAXA is
minimal, with a much larger focus on pure autonomous operations, even though the development and research are similar. These systems are generally referred to as Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS), and have a long history made famous by the Freeman Dyson Astrochicken’s thought experiment in his book “Disturbing the Universe” and the self-replicating malevolent depictions in Sci-Fi like the Replicators insect robot race in Stargate.
JAXA has been researching Space RAS applications for over three years now in collaboration with Kajima Corp, a
Japanese construction firm, and several national universities. The task of building a Moon base for humans using autonomous robots is focused on many of the early stage tasks that would be most difficult for astronauts. The RAS project is focused on handling remotely from Earth things like site preparation, excavation, and installation of habs and radiation shielding, to make the role of humans on the Moon less hazardous when they arrive to finish or augment construction tasks. Having a partially constructed base already in place will make the jobs of astronauts easier and safer at the same time.
The large multinational Japanese based vehicle manufacturer Toyota is also involved with the Space economy. They are currently focused on work to create a new moon rover to transport humans around the lunar surface. JAXA hopes to have its astronauts on the Moon in the 2030s, and as briefly summarized includes cooperation with a large number of domestic firms and universities with a strong focus on commercialization and
Israel has local launch capabilities, so it is on the aforementioned list. They have built a Space agency whose mission includes building partnerships, promoting ties for scientific exploration, and support of their satellite industry, so although they are a likely member of a multinational effort, they seem unlikely to go to the Moon alone at this time. The Israel Space Agency (ISA) was founded in 1983 and is responsible for coordinating the scientific and technological activities of the civilian space program. At that time, ISA was only the eighth nation on Earth to put a satellite into Space. The agency is particularly interested in Space related activities that contribute to the Israeli economy, and within this mission they promote academic sector research and invest in start-ups.
Israel also has focused programs in satellites and miniaturization. This has given them a sizable competitive
advantage in the booming industry of remote sensing, imagery and communication. Israel also focuses educational efforts on the engineering of these technologies and has developed partnerships with schools and universities domestically to continue to promote these disciplines in the next generation of scientists. A
number of firms are currently working on smallsat, microsatellites and nano-satellites in the country, with emphasis on high resolution photographic capabilities from LEO and communication satellites in GEO.
Israel also operates a fleet of satellites for itself to include: the Amos communication array composed of five
satellites, two Eros photography satellites, and several research satellites. As recently as last year, news reports of anomalies and disruptions to GPS for Israeli pilots have raised the question of whether Israel might also deploy its
own global navigation satellite system. Given the nation's safety concerns, and its expertise with satellites, it seems that this would be something they could easily deploy as a redundancy or augmentation to existing capabilities. Also, given the strength of the Israeli presence in the satellite industry, it is likely that Moon-based systems for navigation will potentially be engineered and supplied by firms in the country, giving them a foothold in dialogues and conversations around cooperation for any Moon base.
United Arab Emirates (UAE)
The UAE Space Agency is very active and has a uniquely comprehensive and fast-growing presence in the space
sector. It certainly should be considered a center of local launch capabilities for the Middle East, but also deserves recognition for its partnership with multiple nations and participation and planning around ambitious projects like
its Mars 2117 Project. They have built a truly formidable space agency in a relatively short amount of time that has focused not only on infrastructure but also on policy development for legal frameworks for firms looking to operate in the Space Economy.
It is also important to note that the UAE has directed resources at knowledge transfer and education programs
that are building a pipeline of engineers, scientists, and researchers for the sector. This directive to focus and build a strong pipeline of talent includes specific programming, attention, and teaching at the Sharjah University and the
National Space Science and Technology Center (NSSTC) at UAE University. In partnership with Boeing, the UAE education initiatives in Space also got a boost with a recent mini satellite STEM program that brought in participants from around the Middle East. These strategies demonstrate a willingness to play a very long game and that is what is needed for success in Space.
The UAE has also positioned itself as a leader for satellites and communication in the Middle East, but also has entered markets to provide services in parts of Africa and Asia. The UAE satellite and communication networks operate within the company's Yahsat for internet and broadcast TV, and Thuraya for cellular telephone services. In
2018, the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC), think of it as the Rocket City Huntsville Alabama of the Emirates, had the successful launch of its first satellite built and engineered entirely in the UAE. Also, of note, the
astronaut program sent its first Emirati to the ISS last year. Given all these factors, a base by the UAE on the Moon seems inevitable.
Luxembourg is unlikely to set up the first Moon base. This prediction is based on the objectives of their space
agency to act as a collaborating force for private enterprise and allocate the nation’s space fund of $100 million Euros towards public-private partnerships for new technology in the space economy. This is an important role for a nation to play in Space Race 3.0, but it is not likely a formula to be the first nation with a flag on the door of a Moon hab. But as previously mentioned in our conversation about how the current Space Economy is predominantly focused on satellites in LEO, it is worth noting that Luxembourg has over thirty satellites in orbit: putting it in the top ten of all nations.
Nigeria has not been part of a mission to orbit the Moon, but Lagos, the capital of Nigeria, is estimated to
be the largest city on Earth by 2100. It stands to reason that the nation will also have a role in the Space Economy and potentially the Moon. Already, it is the largest city in Africa, and the center of a considerable amount of trade
and business for the region. Unlike some nearby nations it is located on the Atlantic coast, and has a diversified, non-oil dependent economy with prosperous manufacturing, transportation, construction, service, and retail
sectors. Many of the businesses in these sectors are leaders and gateways to the rest of the markets in Africa. In many industries and sectors, Africa has shown an ability to apply technologies, like mobile phones and laptops, to
leapfrog and foster rapid economic growth.
Ukraine, Hungary, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, and Australia are all likely to also get to Moon
landing technology in our lifetimes and position themselves for cooperation on
international Moon bases.
About the Authors
George S. Pullen and Samson Williams are founders of Milky Way Economy, a Washington, DC based think tank who specialize in understanding the economic foundations of the Fifth Industrial Revolution and the Space Economy. In addition to writing, researching and being investors in 5th Industrial Revolution companies, Samson and George are adjunct professors at the University of New Hampshire School of Law and instructors at Columbia University in NYC. Additionally, George is a Marine (former) and guest lecturer at the National Defense University.