Webinar Executive Summary
Using “NASA’s Plan for Sustained Lunar Exploration and Development” as a starting point, the ASCENDxCo-Lab on Economically Viable Lunar Settlement, organized by AIAA and underwritten by Dynetics, featured a panel of experts who discussed a range of considerations that underlie the U.S. government’s goal of establishing a settlement on the moon as a gateway to further exploration of the solar system. The event included a collaborative workshop among the attendees, resulting in the publication of an AIAA proceedings reportfor delivery to NASA.
The panel was moderated by Kathy Laurini, HLS Payload and Commercialization Lead at Dynetics, and included:
- Ahsan Choudhuri– Associate Vice President, Strategic Initiatives, University of Texas at El Paso
- Ariel Ekblaw– Founder and Lead, MIT Media Lab’s Space Exploration Initiative
- Lindy Elkins-Tanton– Managing Director and Co-Chair, ASU Interplanetary Initiative
- George Sowers– Professor, Space Resources, Colorado School of Mines
- The government’s role and interests are a starting point for space exploration and lunar settlement.
The U.S. national interests identified in the NASA plan support an inherent governmental role in advancing lunar development. The government should invest in space infrastructure and support the research and technology development needed to establish a settlement on the moon, but government cannot be the only customer. Establishing a sustainable lunar presence is a symbol of humanity’s limitless potential for exploration and growth. In addition, it keeps Americans at the forefront of exploration and discovery as nations around the world move into operations in space. This approach requires buy-in from taxpayers, who must be informed of tangible benefits that will come from the sizable investments being made, and may be subject to the changing priorities of changing political administrations.
- Successful lunar settlement and operations will also hinge on traditional market-driven principles.
The panel discussed circumstances where government investment will be able to establish some of the infrastructure on the lunar surface, particularly early on, diminishing the costs of doing business on the moon and lowering the barriers to entry to private entities entering the market in space. The promise of profits will drive investment by private sector actors, who will bring innovation and competition. The panelists discussed the “space business case” that will drive potential opportunities (resources, manufactured products, services, utilities) to entice smaller providers when the “anchor tenants” – governmental entities – are no longer driving the development.
- The role of the government should become limited as settlement becomes established.
A lunar settlement raises unprecedented challenges, calling for solutions that are beyond the scope of a single entity, even one as powerful as a government. The United States will best solve these challenges by teaming with industry and academia to solve real and hidden technology gaps. The expertise of chemists, geologists, and researchers, etc., as well as cooperation with international participants, will be necessary elements of the solutions to questions raised by the endeavor. The government’s place in the space economy is most compelling in setting up early infrastructure to decrease the cost of access to space. Similarly, governments, whether through NASA or other space agencies, will be the important early customers for commodities, utilities, and goods manufactured on the lunar surface. But the panel agreed that the government should inhabit the role of customer, not competitor, as private enterprises take off. As the private market moves in, the government role may exist to set the rules of engagement and offer security to the industry.
- Successful lunar settlement will fuel and be driven by innovation.
The challenges of lunar settlement are unlike those faced in any previous missions to the moon, and such significant questions call for solutions based on innovation at every turn. The panelists considered the role of AI and machine learning, the need to use lunar resources to manufacture products for use on the moon, the interoperability of every aspect of the infrastructure built on the lunar surface, and the role of robots as the first true citizens of space. This innovation reinforces the importance for cooperation with industry and academia to devise solutions and best practices.
- Diversity of all kinds will create the best chance for success.
All of the panelists agreed that the kind of innovation necessary to solve the immense challenges of successful lunar settlement must be spurred from diversity and a culture of inclusion. This encompasses bringing in partners who are “not the usual suspects,” for example, those with expertise in off-shore drilling operations, or entities with experience working in Antarctic regions. Similarly, successful settlement is a platform for cooperation between international actors, an opportunity to truly come together as humanity and share our better selves.
You’re Invited to a New Online Series
This event is part of the ASCENDxSeries, a collection of online events powered by AIAA and ASCEND—the new, global platform for innovation that’s accelerating space commerce and new discoveries. In future sessions like this, ASCEND will give you the chance to:
- See the impact of new research across government, civil, and commercial
- Hear how domestic and foreign policies are affecting the space economy
- Build new partnerships that can help you achieve your business goals
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