Satellite Technology Feature Article
Who Will Buy a Ticket to the Moon?
By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor
The Golden Spike Company recently announced it is building a commercial transportation system to the moon. In order to get there, it has to book between 30 to 75 seats at $750 million per seat list price in order to cover its costs and make some money. Who will buy a ticket to the moon and are there enough organizations and billionaires out there with the wherewithal and desire to go?
Tourism gets a lot of discussion, but there's a big leap between a $50 million to $60 million trip to the International Space Station (ISS) and a $750 million lunar excursion. A total of seven people made eight tourist trips to the space station between 2001 and 2009, paying between $20 million to $40 million. Singer Sarah Brightman reportedly will pay more than $51 million for a 2015 visit to ISS.
Space Adventures, the broker for Russian trips to ISS, has been trying to sell a lunar circumnavigation -- no landing -- mission at a reported $300 million per seat for two tourists, but has only secured agreement with one individual by all accounts.
Image via Shutterstock
Golden Spike CEO, Alan Stern said lengthy discussions had taken place with one high-wealthy individual, but wouldn't be more specific. Film Director James Cameron is assumed to be a person who would most likely sign up for a unique space exploration adventure, having both the wealth and Hollywood entertainment experience to get the most financial benefit and worldwide media exposure out of a journey. Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson has also been mentioned as a candidate for a trip.
Better near-term prospects are most likely to be found with sovereign clients. At a December press conference, Stern cited the Soviet Union and Russian guest flier programs with Salyut and Mir space stations and international jockeying for ISS crew slots as evidence of multi-national interest in sponsoring lunar surface expeditions. Sixteen European countries have participated in manned space missions with 36 people so far, with Japan adding 12 people to the total.
Golden Spike believes countries already supporting multi-billion dollar unmanned missions to the Moon can and will be able to justify paying for a single and multiple manned lunar excursions to secure scientific knowledge, experience, and national pride. Over the past five years, nine lunar robotic missions have been launched by the United States, Europe, Japan, China, and India, with another four taking place in the next three years. There's also been continued rumors that one or more Middle Eastern countries have discussed supporting a bold space project for prestige and to motivate students to become involved with STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
NASA could potentially be a customer, but the space agency has substantial financial commitments to a number of long-term projects already. There would also be political jockeying involved between NASA and Congress due to the amount of money involved for one or multiple seats. It would take a potentially radical rethinking of NASA's current long-term plans to get a commitment for multiple seats.
Finally, corporations may be interested in taking advantage of Golden Spike's transportation system down the road. Lunar mining companies such as Moon Express and Shackleton Energy Company want to mine ice for use in space exploration and platinum-group metals for return to earth. While most mining work will be done by robots, human beings will be needed to supervise operations, troubleshoot problems, and repair equipment. The key question in mining operations is who will supply the capital to create the equipment and pay Golden Spike to get it to the Moon. Estimates range up to $25 billion to establish a manned mining outpost on the lunar surface.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman