The Earth's moon is one of the largest natural resources of our planet. My question: how much would it cost to build an internationally accessible commercial facility (moonbase) on the Moon?

  • $\begingroup$ Related: popsci.com/colonizing-moon-may-be-90-percent-cheaper-we-thought $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Jan 31 '17 at 20:30
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    $\begingroup$ I suspect it would be cheapened greatly if Elon Musk's idea of a fuel depots filled by a fleet of reusable boosters takes off. Then a lunar module could be launched on a not ginormous rocket, the upper stage of the launch vehicle could be refueled in LEO and ascend to the next fuel depot (perhaps at EML-1), top up, and land the module on the Moon. That would drastically reduce the size of the launchers required and enable much better economy of scale, but it would require economical reuse to first become a reality making cost estimates highly speculative right now. $\endgroup$ Feb 1 '17 at 23:51
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    $\begingroup$ this question cannot be answered because it is currently not possible to build an international commercial moonbase, no matter how much money is spent. sure, you could build a moonbase but it is not going to be commercially viable. please ask again in 2117 ;-) $\endgroup$
    – szulat
    Feb 2 '17 at 14:33

Since we don't have any moonbases yet, this is going to be difficult to answer. So the following will guesswork with a few bits of data in between.

The only large-scale construction we've built in space is the ISS. Building the ISS cost on the order of $100 billion. The ISS can house about 10 people, which is reasonable for a scientific outpost, but really small for a commercial venture.

If we assume mining is the goal of this venture: a large gold mine on Earth employs ~500 people, and uses thousands of tons of equipment to move 15 million tons of rock. It produces 28 tons of gold/year, sold for $420 million/year.

Transporting the moonbase and industrial equipment to the Moon isn't going to be easy. A Saturn V could only transport about 15 tons to the Moon's surface (and about 5 tons of that would take off again).

Today, going to the Moon is just about feasible for scientific missions. Thousand-ton commercial ventures are way out of reach. Even the most precious materials mined on the Moon would be orders of magnitude more expensive than their counterparts mined on Earth.

Projects like the SpaceX ITS aim to change that, with a projected per-launch cost of $60 million for 300 tons to LEO. That's 2 times the payload of the Saturn V, so it might be able to land a single ISS module (weight around 20 tons for the large modules) in one piece. Let's try transporting 1000 tons of equipment to the Moon this way. That's 50 launches, or 3 billion in launch cost. Just transporting the materials to the Moon costs more than you can possibly make mining expensive stuff like gold.

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    $\begingroup$ Plus, instead of just a quick hop into LEO, you have to actually make the trip out to the Moon. This answer would be improved by discussing the impact of even just a TLI, let alone the actual lunar landing. I believe that the \$100bn is for our current ISS; as we have discussed previously, even just the marginal cost for landing from LLO increases the cost of the trip around sixfold, and before you can do that, you have to get to the Moon, which as Loren observed is about 4 km/s delta-v for a >2x gross liftoff weight. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Feb 1 '17 at 13:04
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    $\begingroup$ Although, in contrast to Apollo, the landers of station modules don't need to return. Or - using ISRU capacity of the station, can refuel on site for return. Regardless, a mining station on the Moon doesn't make economical sense. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Feb 1 '17 at 22:06
  • $\begingroup$ Mining for ISRU purposes might make sense $\endgroup$ Mar 4 '17 at 12:45

From Moon Base Would Be Cheap with Help from Private Industry: Report

The dream of sending humans back to the moon could become a reality for the relatively low price of \$10 billion — only about 10 percent of one previous cost estimate — as long as NASA is willing to buy from private spaceflight companies, a new report shows.

In 2005, NASA estimated that returning humans to the moon would cost 100 billion Dollars (approximately \$122 billion in today's dollars). But if the success of private spaceflight companies like SpaceX and Orbital Sciences continues, NASA could send humans back to the lunar surface in as little as five to seven years, at a highly reduced cost, the new report shows.

That's not all: 10 to 12 years after that first commercial moon trip, NASA could develop a permanent base on the moon for about \$40 billion in today's dollars, the report said. The proposed permanent moon base would be used to convert lunar ice into hydrogen propellant that could be sold for use by other spacecraft, including missions headed to Mars.

Here is an additional link that seems to support the findings of the above or at the very least be inline with the above (as provided by call2voyage's comment to the OP.)

Colonizing The Moon May Be 90 Percent Cheaper Than We Thought

As much as I would like to offer you a finite answer to cost, you're going to need to accept a bracket indicating the startup cost. \$10 Billion USD – \$40 Billion USD. Once the startup phase is concluded, the startup cost is over and the project is profitable from that point on.

The cost will be the cost of shipping people there and a startup habitat and supplies.

After that everything will be built from lunar resources by people living on the Moon.

Delivery to Earth is a piece of cake. Luna colony builds transfer vehicles from lunar resources and fuels them from lunar resources. Transfer to low Earth orbit from low lunar orbit (large structures) can be done by nuclear engines (see Project Rover, NERVA), or laser powered, solar wind powered, all of which are magnitudes cheaper than any Earth OR low Earth orbit launch cost.

Profitability (measured sans startup cost) is instant once production of space assets, fuels and transfer vehicles are started. Earth would, given today's propulsion systems, be incapable of competing in any aspect.

The basic equation is 1/6th G (the Moon) which is infinitely greater gravity than the microgravity of the ISS vs 1G (the Earth). Mining … that is not what you asked but it also will be magnitudes cheaper and … shall we say be a Lunar Colony decision. With the added bonus of nuclear engines to capture and return near Earth orbit objects for processing or processed in place and the processed products are shipped where needed.

The greatest problem with space is shedding being Humans: A Planetary Species to become Humans: A Space-faring Species, as in a fundamental change in thinking and how we solve problems. We start by discarding the perception that everything is a problem needing an Earth Hammer solution.

Habitats: lunar lava tubes are our Habitats, they are already made. We need to seal them, pressurize them and make them habitable.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – kim holder
    Mar 4 '17 at 16:57

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