Can commercial enterprise return man to the surface of the Moon and open up a $30 billion business? The Golden Spike Company thinks so and has ambitious plans of using existing space hardware to do so. But it's hard not to be skeptical of a business model currently running on PR and PowerPoint slides.
Officially announcing Golden Spike at the National Press Club yesterday, December 6, 2012 were former Apollo Flight Director and NASA Johnson Space Center Director Gerry Griffin and planetary scientist and former NASA science chief Dr. Alan Stern.
"A key element that makes our business achievable and compelling is Golden Spike's team of nationally and internationally known experts in human and robotic spaceflight, planetary and lunar science, exploration, venture capital formation, and public outreach," said Dr. Stern, president and CEO of Golden Spike.
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Griffin will serve as chairman of Golden Spike's board of directors. The company's board of advisors will raise some eyebrows with members Newt Gingrich -- who famously proposed a lunar colony during a 2012 Presidential debate -- and former U.N. Ambassador and Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson (News - Alert).
Golden Spike plans to use an existing rocket and other technology to build a turnkey service for putting people and payloads on the surface of the Moon, offering it to nations, corporations and individuals. The company believes it can run the first two person lunar surface mission for the "low" price of $1.4 billion, with follow-up missions at $1.6 billion. It's not cheap, but Stern pointed out that the cost is similar to what some national space programs are already spending for robotic science on the Moon. Golden Spike would not name names, but said it has had discussions with several sovereign clients including one seeking a multi-mission portfolio. There's also at least one high-wealth individual that has expressed detailed interest in going on a mission.
Revenue streams are also expected to come from media licensing rights, merchandising, third party "ride share" payloads to lunar orbit and the lunar surface, naming rights for flight vehicles (Are we really ready for "Pepsi One, go for landing?"), sales of mission goods returned to earth, advertising rights, and the use of images, display of logos and "related services."
The company has been in stealth mode for approximately two years, with its plans vetted by teams of experts, including former astronauts, NASA executives and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. Its "head start" architecture plan is to be published in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ (AIAA) Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets, a leading aerospace technical journal.
Stern also announced Golden Spike has started a series of studies with aerospace companies to begin designs for the lunar lander, lunar spacesuits and lunar surface experiment packages to be used on Golden Spike missions. The company also will sponsor an international conference for the scientific community in 2013 on the science that can be done on Golden Spike lunar expeditions.
To build Golden Spike will require booking flights -- lots of them. Stern pointed to the nine robotic flights launched to the moon over the past five years with three more scheduled next year as evidence of a market available for delivering people and services to the Moon for scientific exploration. He also cited the Soviet Union and Russian "host cosmonaut" programs of the 1980s and 1990s as evidence that nations would sign up for single and repeat missions.
Golden Spike forecasts a "robust demand" for 20 to 30 landed lunar expeditions by a variety of nations, corporations and individuals by 2030. At a cost of $1.5 billion per mission for 20 missions, that's $30 billion in projected revenue. Against that, Golden Spike estimates $5 billion to $7 billion in up front R&D and to put everything together before the first flight.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman