Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk want to set up operations on the moon. “An exclusive look at Jeff Bezos’s plan to set up Amazon-like delivery for ‘future human settlement’ of the moon” (Washington Post, March 2, 2017) reports Bezo’s Blue Origin plans to to set up moon habitats by mid-2020. From separate story: “Jeff Bezos says NASA should return to the Moon, and he’s ready to help,” (Ars Technica, March 3, 2017):
Bezos explained the philosophy behind this idea. “We are hoping to partner with NASA on a program called Blue Moon where we would provide a cargo-delivery service to the surface of the Moon, with the intent over time of building a permanently inhabited human settlement on the Moon,”
The Washington Post also reported on Elon Musk’s plans for SpaceX moon flights in 2018: “Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans to fly two private citizens around the moon by late next year” (February 27, 2017).
The Diplomat asks “Are China and the US Set for a Showdown in Space?” (January 28, 2017). China’s interest is more economic than military, exploration, or for scientific research:
… Chinese views on space resources are particularly under-studied. Space resources deserve to be studied because of the potentially vast economic value and potential to cause inter-state conflict. … China conceptualizes space activity principally within the context of economic development, which has important implications for space resources and property.
Elon Musk and other private U.S. space companies also focus on economic opportunity, beginning with lucrative satellite launches, and preparing for space tourism for wealthy customers, and then looking at mining and other moon resource opportunities. Like high-definition televisions, the wealthy buy high-tech goods and services first. Their early high-dollar purchases help pay for further development and innovations that bring costs down for wider markets.
This Motley Fool article looks at SpaceX as a for-profit business: “How Does SpaceX Make Money?,” (June 25, 2016). This Space.com article, “Blue Origin’s Sweet Spot: An Untapped Suborbital Market for Private Spaceflight,” (August 12, 2016) reports:
A central objective of the company is creating a commercial suborbital space tourism vehicle for paying customers. But Blue Origin also plans to make money by taking science experiments into the final frontier.
Critics complain that much SpaceX income comes from federal funding (“Without NASA there would be no SpaceX and its brilliant boat landing,” (Ars Technica, April 11, 2016). But supporters of SpaceX, Blue Origin and other private space companies reply that NASA is fully federally funded and its launch and exploration costs are far, far higher (in part because they rely on traditional NASA/military contractors).
So, the debate over private vs. government space exploration tilts now toward private firms. This TEDx presentation by Jeff Greason, “Making Space Pay and Having Fun Doing It,” then of XCOR, outlines how commercial space development brings costs down.
The Chinese are heading to the moon as well, and Space.com reports on “China’s Lofty Space Ambitions Include 2018 Landing on Moon’s Far Side” (December 28, 2016):
China’s Information Office of the State Council on Tuesday (Dec. 27) released an expansive white paper on that country’s space activities in 2016. The document also projected a look at China’s space agenda over the coming years, a plan that includes a lunar sample-return mission and the first soft-landing on the far side of the moon in 2018.
And from 2015: “China unveils plan to land on mysterious far side of the moon” (Christian Science Monitor, July 21, 2015).
Back to potential U.S./China conflicts in space, The Diplomat article above reports on controversial 2015 U.S. legislation:
While many analysts believe the topic of space resources is far removed, there are at least two companies in the United States working on mining asteroids: Deep Space Industries (DSI) and Planetary Resources International (PRI). In 2015, Congress passed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, which established a “first come, first serve” principle for property ownership in regard to space mining, and the United States has granted a license for Moon Express to accomplish the first commercial landing on the moon.
The U.S. law has been controversial worldwide. Since China is a growing power in space and an active member in formulating international space policy, its attitudes are perhaps of greatest importance in normalizing activity related to space resource utilization.
Mining and other operations on the moon may be a legal challenge as well as a technical and economic one. “Mining the Moon? Space Property Rights Still Unclear, Experts Say,” (Space.com, July 25, 2014):
But it’s unclear at the moment who is allowed to extract and profit from the moon’s resources, leading to a growing debate within scientific, entrepreneurial and policy circles — a debate made more lively and complicated by the changing landscape of stakeholders in space.
Lunar exploration is no longer the domain of governmental agencies alone. With activities like the Google Lunar X Prize and private-public partnerships stimulating a “New Space” industry, commercial organizations have business plans and are attracting investment to develop low-cost, regular, reliable access to the moon within a decade…
See also, “Moon Mining Idea Digs Up Lunar Legal Issues,” (Space.com, January 13, 2011)
More on Google’s Lunar X Prize here: “Google Lunar X Prize: The Private Moon Race Teams (Images).”
Also opening possible paths to the moon is the nonprofit Waypaver Foundation:
WayPaver is a catalyst for possibility. Through our efforts to eliminate roadblocks to Lunar Settlement we generate momentum for sustainability on Earth, the moon, and progress in further space development.
Waypaver’s lunar settlement page is here.