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Update: Several people were kind enough to make helpful suggestions about this question. I'm looking strictly for well-reasoned, fact-based answer only. Thanks!


In the question More complete source for Lunar Gateway is “a stupid architecture” comments? (National Space Council Users' Advisory Group) I reference some of the fairly rare public criticisms of the Gateway initiative/project's architecture by at least three prominent US individuals associated with the space program and/or industry. Points quoted there seem to reference getting the Gateway station itself built near the Moon first, and then using the station as a staging point for Lunar exploration and potentially (probably) mining it for resources such as water for LH2/LO2 propellant production as well as life support.

One of those examples is former NASA director Mike Griffin's quote discussing the Gateway-before-boots ordering; build the station first, then explore the moon, versus robots and people on the moon first, find and mine the water, and then put the station in orbit.

Some concern was expressed that other countries could get "boots on the Moon" faster than the US in this case.

Here I'd like to ask only about US business, economic and technological development aspects of Gateway as currently envisioned, versus a concerted "robots and people on the moon first for exploration" effort followed later by the Gateway.

Question: Does the currently proposed Gateway provide substantial business, economic and technological development opportunities beneficial to the US directly or indirectly (and of course to other participating countries) by building it first, even if it means substantial expenditures and possibly "first boots" of other countries on the Moon before "returning boots" of the US?


The following is background and part of the process that led me to writing and then refining this question:

There is general agreement that the push to get to the moon by the end of the (1960's) decade contributed to technology advancement that benefitted the US economy for decades afterward. One example could be the miniaturization of the flight computers via integrated circuits.

NASA director Jim Bridenstine was in Ottawa recently to talk to Canadian techology leaders. From the CBC News article:

Bridenstine is in Ottawa for a large gathering of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, where speculation is running high about Canada's possible participation in the U.S. space program.

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, a vocal booster of Canada's AI hubs in Ontario and Quebec, is also scheduled to speak, along with one of Canada's former astronauts, Marc Garneau, the current federal transport minister.

The meeting is also discussed in the CBC News video in YouTube: NASA wants Canadians on the moon. The screenshot below shows Bridenstine with Navdeep Bains who is Canadian Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development

Bridenstine's discussions of the Gateway project always include concepts like interoperability and open-source standardization, which have been seen as very helpful to rapid growth in some areas of industry and technology, especially when substantial economic competition is also present in the mix.

The video Bridenstine Speaks at NASA Advisory Council Meeting from 29-Aug-2018:

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine spoke the agency’s exploration goals, during a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) on Aug. 29 at the agency’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. The Council meets several times a year for fact finding and deliberative sessions. Meetings are held at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC, as well as at NASA Centers across the country.

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    $\begingroup$ I'd say that neither is true. The Gateway architecture is not optimized for the growth of industry or economy and it's not optimal for science. The gateway architecture is optimized for politics. In my opinion it's primary purpose is to provide jobs for the SLS rocket to do (the current plan for LOP G includes at least 10 SLS launches) $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Nov 16 '18 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ Also, related. I believe this got a lot of good answers, but this question could be a less opinionated version of my question focused on advancement of technologies through LOP-G and potential advancement of space-travel ability. $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Nov 16 '18 at 15:13
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    $\begingroup$ I think it's very unclear what is being asked for here. Are you looking for sources of people defending the LOPG program? $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Nov 16 '18 at 15:14
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh it's now much easier to understand, thanks $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Nov 16 '18 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ @MagicOctopusUrn The question has been reopened and I've done a substantial rewording. Do you think that it might be good to clean up comments and start fresh? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Nov 18 '18 at 1:25
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I don't believe so. If you want to find useful metals or water, you'd use either a satellite in orbit, or you'd go to the lunar surface directly and start prospecting. Given the rarity of SLS launches through the 2020s and likely through the 2030s as well, the Gateway would do little to improve our knowledge of the lunar environment. As best as I can tell, the Gateway-before-boots has been chosen because NASA these days is more cautious than not, and because it keeps constituents in politically well-connected districts employed. Other NASA programs such as CLPS seem to me a better option to grow the space industry and US economy, given the explicit reliance on commercial providers.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks. It's true that launches pack a substantial dollar-punch, but presumably designing, building, and equipping the Gateway will involve substantial contracts to suppliers as well. My question is meant to ask of that aspect of the gateway would be good for business, and that's why the technology offshoots of the efforts to go to the Moon in the 1960's is mentioned. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Nov 17 '18 at 1:25
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think so - who besides NASA has any desire for a small station in that orbit? If they were looking to retire the risk for something the commercial space industry were likely to want more of later, they'd take advantage of Bigelow Aerospace's B330, or develop a propellant depot, or something other than the current Gateway design, which show it essentially as a smaller ISS. The traditional contractors (Boeing, LockMart, Northrop) don't seem inclined to invest money in space unless the government pays for it, and so far it seems firms like them will get the contracts for the Gateway. $\endgroup$ – Snoopy Nov 17 '18 at 2:43
  • $\begingroup$ It is usually discouraged to make substantial changes to a question after someone posts an answer. However this question was closed and several people reached out to me to make suggestions how to improve it and make it a better match to this site. Based on their advice I've made some adjustments. I think your answer still applies nicely, but you might want to make small adjustments to match the changes. Sorry for the trouble! $\endgroup$ – uhoh Nov 18 '18 at 1:28
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    $\begingroup$ I would say almost precisely the same thing. Between now and 2028 NASA is supposed to have four SLS and three commercial missions building and supplying the Gateway, using hardware that is already built, or will likely be built, by legacy contractors (at this point it's still a toss-up, but they've got lobbying power), whereas they'll fly up to ten commercial lunar missions, which by their nature will cost much less and require more innovation. For the price of Gateway you could fly many more CLPS missions. Source $\endgroup$ – Snoopy Nov 18 '18 at 5:34

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