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Beyond the X-PRIZE — a $1.5B Commercial Lunar Market

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the blasting-off-from-the-ground-floor dept.

Space 33

coondoggie writes "Optimism certainly abounds in some corners of the manned space community. Today the aerospace consultancy Futron said that as much as $1.5 billion may be up for grabs for commercial space operation in the next ten years. The consultancy singled out the $30 million Google Lunar X-PRIZE contestants as a highly likely group to take advantage of such a cash pot, but there are many others who'd like a slice of that pie as well. But it's not all wine and roses; finances loom large over any space projects, and technology development is also proving to be a bugaboo. For example, even as NASA's commercial partners, such as SpaceX and Orbital, have made steady progress in developing space cargo transportation technology, they have also recently fallen behind their development schedules."

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33 comments

1.5 Billion - That's like one day of war spending (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28738205)

Kind of sad how the priorities are for the US. Healthcare: no, but "socialized" police, fire, etc services are ok. Silly foriegn adventures, ok. But something that could result in useful technology (like weather prediction, GPS, etc.), not really a priority. Imagine if they US spent 250 Billion a year on basic and applied research grants/subsidies/prizes/etc. for US companies, they'd be an exporting nation in a few years no problem.

1 to 1.5 Billion : very disappointing (1)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 4 years ago | (#28740743)

The figure is $1 - $1.56 billion in the next 10 years.

That's a revenue stream of 100 million to 150 million per year. That's a very disappointing number, probably an order of magnitude to low to make a profitable business out of lunar transportation. Even if a company could manage to tap the revenue stream with a single flight per year, it's hard to believe that this would cover more than the fixed costs and overhead.

We need another revenue stream--

1.5 Billion That's like an afternoon with Obama (1)

Geotopia (692701) | more than 4 years ago | (#28751015)

The Fed in March declared $1T of Treasury bills (debt instruments used to fund Federal Spending) to be purchased. That's $30B a day over the next year. By early July, somehow the number was increased to $1.8T, probably because the CBO saw all the additional spending wasn't covered. That's only $50B a day.

GLXP is unwinnable (3, Interesting)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 4 years ago | (#28738225)

My last rant on the subject:

> Nice YouTube video on the Google Lunar X Prize competition:
>
> Moon 2.0: Join the Revolution.
> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9K4zosGUMBw [youtube.com]

Heh, I remember this video. It's about as realistic as the prize.

1. Interest in launch watching goes up 100,000%
2. The rocket is so damn fast that it can get the lander to the Moon in seconds.
3. Doesn't even need a stage to enter lunar orbit.
4. The lander doesn't even have a main engine.. apparently RCS is all
you need to land on the Moon now.
5. Uplink antennas only need to be the size of your typical hand held
umbrella.
6. The rover doesn't need to fit in the lander.
7. It doesn't even need an antenna.
8. Rutan is great, all hail SpaceShipOne. The reusable, reliable,
less expensive revolution is here! It's so reusable it never flew
again.
9. "The competition ignited a revolution that will launch thousands of
civilian passengers into space." Any day now.
10. "The Moon.. only days away" .. way to point out your own
spin-doctoring, see point 2.
11. re Apollo "These early missions learned much about the Moon .. but
they were much too expensive .. and lacked any long term plan, so in
1972 Moon 1.0 was abandoned." Ohhhh.. that's why it was abandoned..
cause there was no long term plan! I thought it was because the
public lost interest .. see point 1.
12. Cut to terribly interested people, thanks to the Internet!
13. Queue weasel words about how resources on the Moon "could" provide
Earth with clean affordable limitless energy.
14. "Much of the lunar soil is silicon, a key ingredient in solar
cells" .. *facepalm*.
15. Solar Power Satellites using lunar resources.. and there's that
weasel word again.
16. Bonus prizes for doing impossible things.. I mean, more impossible
than just winning the major prize at a profit.. which is the only
reason why you'd care about the bonuses. The one mentioned is lunar
ice.. because landing at the poles is so obviously easy with today's
super rockets, see point 2.
17. Apparently shining a torch at the ground is sufficient to do
spectral analysis to determine the presence of lunar ice. Someone
call the LCROSS folks!
18. Bonus for surviving the lunar night, complete with kitschy "wake
up now little rover" scene.
19. Oh, and the most stupid Bonus prize of them all. A prize for the
team that can find artifacts of previous lunar exploration. Yes,
that's right, because if it wasn't hard enough that we suggest you
land at the pole, we're now suggesting that you drive to the equator..
or maybe you only do this bonus, in which case you "only" have to do a
precision landing, should be no trouble with the advanced lander
propulsion system, see point 4.
20. More shots on the lander approaching the Moon at warp factor 5,
with no orbital insertion engine and no descent engine.
21. "... and this time we're planning to stay." queue music.

This video, most graphically, demonstrated to me that the GLXP is a
gimmick, backed by morons with no serious understanding of the amazing
achievement that Apollo really was. Apparently the prize will be won
by bored teenagers who will subsequently shrug off the whole "space is
hard" myth and go build a lunar base to make constellations of solar
power satellites to stick it in the face of their baby boomer
grandparents who didn't have the vision to do it the first time around
and subsequently destroyed the planet. /rant

Re:GLXP is unwinnable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28738419)

I agree to the fact that the whole thing seems gimmicky at best, but rest assured if my generation (I'm 18) goes to the moon it will most likely be the result of a pissing contest with no value at all.

I would like to see a return for a good scientific merit, but there really hasn't been any real use for the moon with mars being more likely to have something we really may need.

Re:GLXP is unwinnable (1)

bertoelcon (1557907) | more than 4 years ago | (#28738431)

Oh that's lame, Firefox froze and I inadvertently hit AC on accident.

Re:GLXP is unwinnable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28745077)

That's ok, I usually don't give AC posts any ratings...but now I can rate you as Troll...Sucka!

Re:GLXP is unwinnable (1)

auLucifer (1371577) | more than 4 years ago | (#28738457)

> I agree to the fact that the whole thing seems gimmicky at best, but rest assured if my generation (I'm 18) goes to the moon it will most likely be the result of a pissing contest with no value at all.

Much like how the Space Race vs Russia can be seen as?

Re:GLXP is unwinnable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28738643)

I agree to the fact that the whole thing seems gimmicky at best, but rest assured if my generation (I'm 18) goes to the moon it will most likely be the result of a pissing contest with no value at all.

Or commercial space flights are abandoned completely as the gimmicky contest was really a ponzi-scheme and all the prize money disappeared once the pool got large enough.

Re:GLXP is unwinnable (2, Insightful)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 4 years ago | (#28738955)

You know, you are probably right, the GLXP is pretty much a gimmick probably. But let me tell you about something you forgot to take into account in your analysis of the situation. Across the country, and even in other countries, there are scores of Aerospace, Mechanical, Electrical, Software, Computer, Civil, Structural, Nuclear, and Materials Engineering Students frothing at the mouth and chomping at the bit to get to work on decent projects. Inspired teenagers and young adults at universities have more gumption in one damn finger than 75% of slashdot ranters combined. I know this because last year I spent my whole senior year working on two satellite design projects with 25 other kids. Twenty six of us, and only twenty six of us, did an entire first-iteration design cycle on a complex remote-sensing constellation that provided damn near 100% coverage of the Earth's surface every twelve hours. Was that as complicated as a moon mission? Obviously not. So this year, a design class of 40 students performed the same feat for meeting the mission requirement to land radio telescopes on the dark side of the moon for astronomy missions.

One class, forty aerospace students, 7 months, and they presented a respectable and plausible first iteration mission design to land on the moon...for free.

So why the anecdotes? It's simple, if Company X offers YYYY-illion dollars to something that entrenched scientists and engineers who have been in the business swear is impossible or just plain unreasonable, there will be an overwhelming number of universities that pick up on the news, assign full or partial mission designs to their students as senior projects, individually or in groups. All of that work will be publicized and posted to educational websites (those of the universities). Now Company X has just stimulated the biggest damn brainstorming session in the engineering world in decades. Now engineers in the industry can review and check out ideas that they can either adopt, adapt, or reinvent to do something that was originally thought unreasonable. Now hundreds of 'Cranky Old Men' engineers are inundated with new ideas for systems and subsystems alike. Lunar dust causing a problem for human health? Don't ever let it get into the habitat, mount the moonwalk suits to the outside so that only the internal portion of the suit is exposed to the habitat atmosphere. Students thought of that one, they can and will think of a lot more...

On top of that, now all those engineering students younger siblings hear that their older brother and/or sister helped design something that "astronauts reviewed!" Oh Wow! Now they have some inspiration from the scientific fields that is personal. Now when this 'gimmick' gets publicized, dozens of new engineers with good ideas will be advertised to the job market for up and coming companies like Space X and Bigelow. Now NASA and Company X can go to Congress and say, "See what a little cash can inspire in this industry you douchebags? We offered 1.5 Billion and there are scores of students chomping at the bit to design this mission and go! Give us money!"

Now every school that participated in the project can ask for more money with the excuse of, "Look, our students are talking with industry already! Look how good we are doing!" Now more money gets donated to schools from Company X and any other companies that want recruiting rights at that particular school. Now the world has to sit there and say, "Holy shit, students did that?"

And maybe, just maybe, amongst all of these satellite gains for both schools and industries (pun fully intended) some genius level sonofabitch, or perhaps a whole class of genius level sonsofbitches will pull an idea out of their ass so insane that it just might make the "impossible gimmick mission" possible.

So you are right, there is a lot in this gimmick that is laughable. But frankly, our species needs to inspire technological growth in the space industry. If that takes a piece of bait that will get a few fishes hooked but doesn't taste good, I say its a damn good idea.

Re:GLXP is unwinnable (1)

Phoghat (1288088) | more than 4 years ago | (#28746607)

Back in the summer of 69, I watched the moon landing and wanted to be the first pharmacist on the moon. All my hopes shot to crap in 72. Now, I'm too old but realize that we need to get off this planet sometime, if for nothing else than to preserve the human race in case of calamity. You can say what you want about how stupid the idea is, but the fact remains that we need a plan and the government agencies with all their $500 hammers and $1000 toilet seats aren't the best.

Re:GLXP is unwinnable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28738983)

geez man it's just a marketing video don't be such a nerd about it

Re:GLXP is unwinnable (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744333)

Thank you. Now I'm nauseousest. That was by farest the cheesiest, marketing-lies-filledest and unrealisticest video *everestestest*. What a jokest!

Did they let the marketingest internest do that?

___
P.S.: Offering bag of "est" syllables for sate. Buy now!

Is it worth it? (2, Interesting)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | more than 4 years ago | (#28738261)

$1.5 billion? Wikipedia says the Apollo Program cost $135 billion [wikipedia.org], adjusted for inflation. I doubt many parties participating in these competitions are in it for the prize money.

Re:Is it worth it? (2, Interesting)

burning-toast (925667) | more than 4 years ago | (#28738349)

I'm of the opinion that setting foot on the moon the very first time was the most expensive time considering it took the entirety of human knowledge up until that time to make it happen (plus a bit of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants engineering). Each trip after that would only require a fraction of the original research as it's a matter of tuning or tweaking a somewhat known quantity (albeit still expensive).
.
What do we value all of the knowledge and research which we gained from those missions at?
.
I too doubt that only the prize money is attracting them. But having 1.5B of your investment back isn't too shabby. Also being able to lay claim that you (and your corporate sponsors) were "the first to do X" for a given industry is quite important (especially to the investors).
.
Overall, I like the X-prize financing scheme (as someone NOT directly involved in any way).
.
For some reason I can't get paragraph breaks in my text. Pardon the periods.

Not sure that's prize money.... (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#28738465)

Granted I had a hard time parsing the article, but it keeps talking about markets and the value of commercial space operation. I think the article is saying that's the projected value of the whole market, which X-PRIZE contenders will be positioned to exploit. "Um, yay," I think is the appropriate turn of phrase if that's true.

Even as this, but that. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28738277)

For example, even as NASA's commercial partners, such as SpaceX and Orbital, have made steady progress in developing space cargo transportation technology, but they have recently fallen behind their development schedules.

Even as I was able to understand the meaning behind this sentence, but I stumbled when the English started to fall apart.

"Even as ..., but ..." doesn't make sense. At a minimum, remove the "but". Better still, rework the entire sentence. Sometimes I worry that language skills are being flushed down the internet tubes.

Re:GLXP is winnable! (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 4 years ago | (#28738695)

To date, no-one has published details on how they intend to solve the communications problem. The prize has set the bar a tad too high on that one. About the only way to do it is to put a very big antenna on the lander. Even if you use inflatables you're looking at a massive bit of hardware there. It really is the mass variable for the mission. Unfortunately, most all the competitors are rovers people, not rocket people.

We Need A Hook (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | more than 4 years ago | (#28738793)

OK, I'm standing on the Moon, in my suit, plenty of Air, Water, and Food. Ok, I've got to MacGyver [wikipedia.org] my way out of this problem. What can I send back, or "make" and send back so that I can keep getting more Air, Water, and Food till I'm self sufficient? NASA used deep penetrating radar [nasa.gov] about 10 years ago, why can't NASA use it on the Moon? Why can't we use ISS as a platform to build stuff to go to the Moon?

Development schedules (3, Informative)

BuR4N (512430) | more than 4 years ago | (#28739013)

Sure, SpaceX is behind the schedule with the Falcon 9 and recently lost a customer ( http://spacefellowship.com/2009/07/13/spacex-lost-falcon-9-customer/ [spacefellowship.com] ). But if we look on the bright side, what SpaceX have accomplished so far, took two superpowers and a brewing cold war last time, for example the Merlin engine is the first new engine designed in the US since the 60's , they have launched Falcon 1 successfully recently ( http://www.spacex.com/press.php?page=20090715 [spacex.com] ) and pushes forward with the Dragon spacecraft ( http://www.spacex.com/dragon.php [spacex.com] ). I think all this speaks volume about private space flight and the very important role that X-Prize and such plays.

Re:Development schedules (2, Informative)

cheesybagel (670288) | more than 4 years ago | (#28739827)

for example the Merlin engine is the first new engine designed in the US since the 60's

Nope. The SSME [wikipedia.org], RS-68 [wikipedia.org] were developed after the 60's.

Re:Development schedules (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#28743673)

Nope. The SSME [wikipedia.org], RS-68 [wikipedia.org] were developed after the 60's

You're correct. According to SpaceX's own publicity material [spacex.com]: "The Merlin 1C next generation liquid fueled rocket booster engine is among the highest performing gas generator cycle kerosene engines ever built, exceeding the Boeing Delta II main engine, the Lockheed Atlas II main engine, and on par with the Saturn V F-1 engine. It is the first new American booster engine in a decade and only the second American booster engine since the Space Shuttle Main Engine was developed thirty years ago."

Re:Development schedules (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28744855)

Actually it is not anywhere near the performance of the F-1 engine. At sea level the Merlin 1C produces less than 1/10th the thrust of the F-1, ~1/2 the thrust of the J-2, and less than half the thrust of the Vulcain 2. It has a nice thrust/weight. But that's like saying a Renault Clio is comparable to a Dodge Challenger.

Re:Development schedules (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28740167)

SpaceX doesn't exist because of the X-Prize. SpaceX exists because there is a market for low-cost commercial satellite launches, and that has nothing to do with X-Prizes.

SpaceX is getting its start with lightweight launches to LEO--a niche that the "big boys" like Arianespace, Boeing, and Lockheed don't serve. That's not going to make them a lot of money, or allow them to grow their business quickly, though. What will?

Government contracts.

That's right--NASA's paying SpaceX billions to launch a dozen or so cargo flights to the International Space Station over the next few years (assuming they can get their Falcon 9 flying and their Dragon spacecraft works). That'll give them legitimacy and cash flow. To borrow a phrase, I think all this speaks volumes about the very important role that government funding plays in the realm of space flight, even by small companies.

The X-Prize is a nice gimmick. But it's not a substitute for a legitimate business plan, and shouldn't be mistaken for one.

Re:Development schedules (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#28740625)

I think all this speaks volume about private space flight and the very important role that X-Prize and such plays.

Given that the X prize contributed not at all to SpaceX (and the US Government did)....

Re:Development schedules (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28741269)

"Look what what SpaceX has accomplished far, the same thing that two superpowers were doing 50 years ago."

And a host a of other countries have also done in the interceding time period.

Fixed that for ya.

Re:Development schedules (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744689)

To be fair, it says a lot more about Elon Musk than it does about private companies in general.

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