By 2020, the Shackleton Energy Company says it intends to be operating the world's first lunar base and propellant depot for all manner of spacecraft.
To make this ambitious plan possible, the company this week said it had begun its initial fundraising campaign via a company called RocketHub which defines itself as a crowdfunding outfit that helps raise money for a variety of entrepreneurial pursuits.
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Shackleton stated that after a phase of robotic prospecting, its crews will establish the infrastructure in space and basecamps in the lunar polar crater regions to supervise industrial machinery for mining, processing and transporting lunar products to market in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and beyond. The company said it will use a mix of industrial astronauts and advanced robotic systems to provide a strategically-assured, continuous supply of propellants for spacecraft.
"To make this business a reality, SEC has assembled an international team of highly capable explorers; space engineers; robotic mining experts, proven aerospace managers; economists, and space policy/legal experts. SEC team members have deeply embedded relationships at many levels within the international space community, industry, academia and NASA. We are ready to launch this space program and will use the proceeds of this offering to jumpstart the huge engineering and organizational effort necessary to have our industrial astronauts on the Moon by 2020 and be open for business," wrote science entrepreneur Dr. Bill Stone on his Web site. Stone will be leading the Shackleton effort.
NASA estimates the deposits contain billion of tons of ice which could be transformed into a variety of products the most lucrative and useful being liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants. Using this enormous supply, Shackleton said it will be able to realistically meet the propellant demand required by an expanding space economy in perpetuity.
"Entrepreneurial launch companies are working hard to reduce launch costs for business-class payloads to LEO. We will rely extensively on lower cost launch vehicles to reduce our overall development and operating costs. Shackleton will provide the commercial infrastructure backbone with its propellant depots that will enable a massive reduction in the cost of launching anything into space. This enormous cost reduction is due to exploiting the much lower gravity gradient well (1/6th g) that exists on the Moon, using clever aerobraking maneuvers from the Moon to LEO that does not rely on expensive fuel consumption and a mission concept that we have developed that relies on a modular, flexible, reuseable system transportation architecture," the company stated.
You may recall that in April NASA began to solicit proposals for what it calls an In-Space Cryogenic Propellant Storage and Transfer Demonstration that will lay the ground work for humans to safely reach multiple destinations, including the Moon, asteroids, Lagrange points and Mars.
NASA says the flight demonstration mission "will test and validate key capabilities and technologies required for future exploration elements such as large cryogenic propulsion stages and propellant depots.
It won't be an easy task. NASA said some of the requirements include the need to:
- Demonstrate long duration, in-space storage of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen cryogenic propellants.
- Demonstrate in-space transfer of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen cryogenic propellants.
- Demonstrate approach for zero boil-off storage of liquid oxygen in microgravity.
- Demonstrate approach for acquisition and bubble-free flow of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen in microgravity.
- Demonstrate approach for leak detection of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen in microgravity.
- Demonstrate approach for flow measurement of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen in microgravity.
NASA says the benefits of space fueling depots include minimizing the propellant weight for a given mission, allowing spacecraft to refill on long journeys to Mars or other locations. Space refueling could also involve developing commercial providers to deliver on-orbit propellants and could allow on-orbit assembly, satellite servicing missions, and resupply of empty or partially filled spacecraft.
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