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Defense Of Advanced Research Projects Agency Exploring Technology For Moon-Based Economy 

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is embarking on a seven-month study to analyze the infrastructure and baseline technology that would be needed to develop a moon-based economy within the next 10 years. 

Through their lunar architecture study, called LunA-10, DARPA is attempting to establish the framework needed for “rapid scientific and commercial activity on and around the moon,” between 2025 and 2015, according to an Agency statement.

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“A large paradigm shift is coming in the next 10 years for the lunar economy. To get to a turning point faster, LunA-10 uniquely aims to identify solutions that can enable multi-mission lunar systems,” said Michael Nayak, the program manager in DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office. 

The “multi-mission systems” that Nayak is referring to could include dual use military and commercial technology, such as a wireless power station that would offer communication and navigation capabilities. Nayak compared DARPA’s role in building the lunar economy to it’s contributions to the creation of the internet. 

“Just like DARPA’s foundational node of ARPANET grew into the sprawling web of the internet, LunA-10 is looking for those connective nodes to support a thriving commercial economy on the moon,” Nayak stated. 

The US and other nations, as well as commercial companies, have been planning missions as a part of their vision for a future economy on the moon. DARPA and the Air Force Research Laboratory have begun a slew of programs in recent years meant to explore satellite sensing and logistics in a lunar environment. 

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The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency announced in May that they’re developing a Lunar Reference Frame that will show a mapping infrastructure to support a GPS-like capability for the moon. 

According to reports, “the DARPA effort is focused on fusing various infrastructure sectors that have technological overlap into hubs that could be built up in the future, as economic activity on and around the moon increases. Those sectors include: transit and mobility; energy; communications; and other revolutionary orbital or surface infrastructure concepts.”

DARPA is not planning on funding any new technology development, transportation, or integration with space vehicles, and instead is forming teams that are made up of companies with expertise in lunar technology. 

The teams will be responsible for identifying enabling capabilities, developing analytical frameworks, and considering logistical and technical challenges for future moon operations. 

DARPA is projecting their study will officially begin in November and go until June 2024. They’re also coordinating with NASA to create a blueprint for scientific exploration on the moon and Mars.

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Up To 100 Space Missions To The Moon To Take Place In The Next Decade 

Scientists are estimating that as many as 100 lunar missions could be completed within the next decade as interest in the moon heightens. Many nations and private companies have expressed interest in the moon, and cislunar space, referring to the area between Earth and the moon. 

According to the executive director of Astralytical, a space consulting firm based in Atlanta, Laura Forczyk: “We’re already seeing this competing rhetoric between the US government and the Chinese government. The US is pointing to China and saying, ‘We need to fund our space initiatives to the moon and cislunar space because China is trying to get there and claim territory. And then Chinese politicians are saying the same thing about the United States.”

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Both the US and China currently have plans for lunar exploration programs involving bringing astronauts to the moon, as well as researching the possibility of building habitats and infrastructure in the moon’s orbit and on its surface. 

South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, India, and Russia are also interested in planning out lunar missions. Commercial companies such as SpaceX have already begun preparing to launch a private crew on a “tourism flight in lunar orbit” this year as well, according to reports from NBC News

“During the Cold War, the space race was for national prestige and power. Now, we have a better understanding of the kind of benefits that operating in cislunar space can bring countries back home,” said Kaitlyn Johnson, deputy director and fellow of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Forczyk added that “with so many lunar missions planned over the next decade, space agencies and commercial companies will likely be angling for strategic orbits and trajectories.”

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“It might seem like space is big, but the specific orbits that we are most interested in get filled up fast,” Forczyk explained.

“Much of the increased activity in cislunar space owes to substantial decreases in launch costs over the past decade, with advancements in technology and increased competition both driving down the price of sending objects into orbit. At the same time, planetary science missions offered humanity a glimpse of the resources available in space, ranging from ice deposits on the moon to precious metals in asteroids,” said Marcus Holzinger, an associate professor of aerospace engineering sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“Once people started really thinking through that, they realized that that water-ice can provide substantial resources or enable the gathering or collection of resources elsewhere in the solar system,” he stated.

“If humans intend to establish a permanent presence on the moon, and venture beyond Mars, it will be imperative to prioritize safety, sustainability and transparency, said Jim Myers, senior vice president of the civil systems group at The Aerospace Corporation.

“Those elements have to be there. Unless we do this in a very thoughtful way, unless we plan, we’re going to run into all sorts of trouble.”