INTERVIEW: The Emerging Lunar Economy
There is a massive amount of potential profit in the moon. Many space geeks like us here at Earthrise will talk your ear off about it. Unfortunately for us, those profits are years- if not decades- away. Lunar development is a long and expensive process, but one that must be done if our species is to reach its stellar potential. I decided to sit down and get an earful from the one man that understands the intricacies of the emerging lunar market better than anyone else I know: my boss, Ruben Nunez.
Ruben has dedicated years of his life starting, running and growing Omega Envoy into the foundation it is today. If there was anyone who could explain exactly how the lunar market is going to be unlocked, it would be him. So, I dropped by his office to hear what he has to say.
DANIEL: Thanks for your time. My first question is simple. Who wants to send stuff to the moon?
RUBEN: Well, the first payload customer for Earthrise Space was Team Angelicvm from Chile. Their goal is becoming the leader in the Chilean Aerospace Industry by reviving its space program with a series of lunar missions in collaboration with other companies and entities. Other customers that we've been negotiating with have similar goals and objectives. I think people see what potential there is out there, and want to become a key player in the NewSpace Industry.
And you're right about the scientists, too. Government agencies and research institutions are both looking to return to the lunar surface to make use of its resources and to help with unmanned and manned space exploration. NASA is interested in learning how the all of the heritage hardware left on the moon from the Apollo missions has survived the lunar environment. There's a lot to be learned from that. NASA is also interested to learn about the way lunar dust is dispersed when landing on the moon.
DANIEL: That's awesome. So, how big of an emerging market are we looking at?
RUBEN: The lunar market is still just beginning. A study made by Futron establishes the potential markets from the 2011 to 2019 period to be valued at about $1.56 billion. The XPRIZE Foundation has engaged London Economics to revisit the lunar market analysis to determine what the estimated market value is right now. Of course, as we get closer to launching the first commercial lunar mission, different perspectives and interests will be gathered to better understand who would be recurring customers.
It's really hard to tell what the long run will look like. Colonies and outposts have more than scientific purposes. Future Mars missions and other missions deeper into the solar system can use the moon to help them get where they need to go. There are a lot of factors that go into it.
DANIEL: On the subject of colonies… NASA and private companies are developing 3-D printing technologies for the purpose of refining raw lunar regolith into usable building materials. Do you see Earthrise Space working with these companies to provide not only initial delivery services, but constant resupply missions?
RUBEN: Oh, of course! Commercial companies are looking at bringing platinum and other precious metals for terrestrial sale, as well as making use of local resources to support lunar tourism and pursue other activities on the moon. That kind of venture will take a lot of resupplying and a lot of initial missions.
I think it's important to note that people want to continue the exploration of the Moon, whose surface is roughly that of North and South America combined. I mean, six “landings” in North America would have given us only a superficial knowledge of the continent, and essentially none about its natural resources such as minerals, oil, water, and soil. The moon is huge place, whose value is only beginning to be appreciated. To do all of that, you need to get there first. Currently, scientists and researchers have no ride to the moon. A lot of people, not just miners and scientists, want to go to the moon.
DANIEL: Sounds like a lot of work needs to be done. But did I hear you mention lunar tourism? Can you elaborate on that?
RUBEN: *laughs* Yes, actually that has a lot of potential in the future. That kind of thing may seem strange now, but there are other industries beyond space/aerospace that is looking into the future of space exploration. The entertainment industry is constantly in need of new, compelling content. As Earthrise Space evolves, spacecraft is developed, and lunar missions take place, an exciting and unique story will develop that can be translated into all sorts of different entertainment mediums. These could include video games, books, movies, television shows, and museum/amusement park interactive exhibits. All of these would benefit from the unique data and high-def imagery collected by Earthrise Space spacecraft residing on the lunar surface. People can send memorabilia to the moon on Earthrise Space missions, and in the future we can bring sample returns from the surface. We've considered the possibility of allowing the public to drive a real lunar rover. That would be really cool.
DANIEL: It certainly would. There is a lot more that goes into this market than just the moon, of course. What other opportunities await for startup companies?
RUBEN: Sales and licensing of technology and of components can be offered to government organizations, aerospace companies, and other spinoffs. There is always risk when it comes to utilizing new technology in a space mission, but once these subsystems/components have been flight proven to have a high tech readiness level, the reliability is increased, and potential buyers have more confidence.
Keep in mind also that government agencies like NASA and JAXA can purchase spacecraft like rovers coupled with support services. This will create new intellectual property and tech that can be applied to non-lunar missions. And that's great for all parties involved; we've seen a lot of great technologies emerge from space missions before that we use in our everyday life.
There's also the data side to that. Researchers can purchase data gathered by the initial mission and future missions. Currently, we've got an ILDD contract with NASA through which Earthrise Space can sell up to $10M in data to NASA. Visual data from heritage lunar hardware, like I mentioned before, can specifically help them to characterize how different materials survive over long durations on the lunar surface. They've (NASA) expressed interest in flying instrumentation on our spacecraft to characterize the landing plume generated during descent to the lunar surface.
DANIEL: Alright, awesome! That's all the questions I've got for now. I'll let you get back to your work.
RUBEN: Sure, anytime.