DARPA wants to build a 'thriving commercial economy' on the moon in 10 years

Where best to set up Artemis Base Camp? Researchers are homing in on sites that feature long-duration access to sunlight, direct-to-Earth communication and gentle slopes and also offer access to permanently shadowed regions that may contain water ice.
Artist depiction of possible early moon base. (Image credit: NASA)

DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is seeking rapid development of technologies to support the foundation for an integrated lunar infrastructure. 

The 10-Year Lunar Architecture (LunA-10) capability study will attempt to unite what the agency sees as isolated efforts within the scientific community in order to produce a diverse technological framework to facilitate activities in space around and on the surface of the moon in the coming decades. The DARPA study is scheduled to last seven months, and will include lunar service providers and users, according to a statement on the agency's website published Aug. 15.

"A large paradigm shift is coming in the next 10 years for the lunar economy," Michael Nayak, program manager in DARPA's Strategic Technology Office, said in the statement. To help expedite this shift, LunA-10 will identify companies with "technically rigorous business plans," and promote collaborative innovation between them to create multiple, commercially viable services on the moon by around 2035. 

Related: Moon mining gains momentum as private companies plan for a lunar economy

As the DARPA statement acknowledges, this timeline coincides with NASA's efforts to establish a permanent human presence on the moon as a proving ground for future missions to Mars. NASA's current Artemis program includes eventual plans for a space station in cislunar orbit, an outpost at the moon's south pole and expeditions across the lunar surface.

This scope of exploration combined with the anticipated growth in commercial lunar enterprises will require a sturdy and reliable infrastructure to support it, which DARPA hopes to address with LunA-10.

Power transference and data communication will be key focuses of the study, and the combination of those technologies, a priority. One way to accomplish this would be with complex lasers capable of wirelessly beaming electricity while simultaneously carrying a data stream.

"LunA-10 aims to facilitate the fusing and co-optimization of as many infrastructure sectors as possible, into key nodes that can be scaled up in the future," the DARPA release states.

"Imagine a wireless power station that can also provide comms and navigation in its beam," Nayak said, also adding, "LunA-10 is looking for those connective nodes to support a thriving commercial economy on the moon."

DARPA is giving companies interested in throwing their hat into the ring until Sept. 6 to submit abstracts for LunA-10. Selected companies will then go through a technical presentation later next month, and will be eligible for up to $1 million in funding. Companies ultimately chosen for the LunA-10 study will be announced during the Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium (LSIC) fall meeting, in October, and expected to brief the scientific community on their progress during the consortium's meeting in April, 2024. Final reports are scheduled for a meeting next June.

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Josh Dinner
Writer, Content Manager

Josh Dinner is Space.com's Content Manager. He is a writer and photographer with a passion for science and space exploration, and has been working the space beat since 2016. Josh has covered the evolution of NASA's commercial spaceflight partnerships, from early Dragon and Cygnus cargo missions to the ongoing development and launches of crewed missions from the Space Coast, as well as NASA science missions and more. He also enjoys building 1:144 scale models of rockets and human-flown spacecraft. Find some of Josh's launch photography on Instagram and his website, and follow him on Twitter, where he mostly posts in haiku.

  • Ken Fabian
    I think what they call "a thriving commercial economy" is very different to what I would call it; they won't be doing anything that sells anything that actually pays for what they are doing.

    Competing for taxpayer funded contracts for things that are not commercially viable and don't make money and having a lower bid than others isn't the same as exploiting a commercial Lunar opportunity that supports itself. But once beyond Near Earth where satellites servicing Earth based customers are profitable activities taxpayer funded contracts are the only "commercial" opportunities. Without genuine opportunities for profitable enterprise - which the distance and difficulties prevent - I think there will be an enduring failure to thrive.

    We can and will do many things in space that greatly benefit humanity - ie benefit people on Earth; without genuine commercial viability within the greater Earth economy (no such thing as an independent space economy) colonies on moon or Mars will require perpetual support and their innate and unavoidable failure to thrive independently will defeat any Longtermist "planet B" type objectives.

    Asteroid minerals for Earth offers at least potential for self perpetuating growth on a commercial basis, whilst Meteor Defense is a shared security goal that does legitimately rely on taxpayer funding and can support ongoing taxpayer funded space technology development.
    Reply
  • Atlan0001
    Ken Fabian said:
    I think what they call "a thriving commercial economy" is very different to what I would call it; they won't be doing anything that sells anything that actually pays for what they are doing.

    Competing for taxpayer funded contracts for things that are not commercially viable and don't make money and having a lower bid than others isn't the same as exploiting a commercial Lunar opportunity that supports itself. But once beyond Near Earth where satellites servicing Earth based customers are profitable activities taxpayer funded contracts are the only "commercial" opportunities. Without genuine opportunities for profitable enterprise - which the distance and difficulties prevent - I think there will be an enduring failure to thrive.

    We can and will do many things in space that greatly benefit humanity - ie benefit people on Earth; without genuine commercial viability within the greater Earth economy (no such thing as an independent space economy) colonies on moon or Mars will require perpetual support and their innate and unavoidable failure to thrive independently will defeat any Longtermist "planet B" type objectives.

    Asteroid minerals for Earth offers at least potential for self perpetuating growth on a commercial basis, whilst Meteor Defense is a shared security goal that does legitimately rely on taxpayer funding and can support ongoing taxpayer funded space technology development.
    You are so far off the rails and have no understanding of what human frontier means. First and foremost, many of Mankind's industries will transplant to the space frontier (not Mars and not the Moon) for many commercial and environmental economic and societal reasons. Jobs and careers and lives will be opening up out there and emigration from the Earth will increase to where the industries, resources and the expanding energies and life will be. The only thing benefiting the Earth will be the synergy of the exchange of energies and filling the growing voids caused by a growing industry transfer and emigration out.

    I cannot believe some people are so lacking in seeing the many, many, faceted picture of all history's expansionist frontiers of creativity, life and energy. Novas of so many creative frontiers, energy frontiers, growth frontiers, mind expanding frontiers, in frontier breakout from the equivalent of a growing black hole if it isn't done.

    To begin with, what will be superconductively shooting down the chute to Earth will be products we might rather not make or grow on Earth but otherwise will be needed or wanted on Earth. Earth will be a new frontier benefiting from the unlimited growth frontier, Some just have no clue how things work, especially an opening system versus a closing system! There is no prosperity -- or survival -- to be had for humans on Earth doing nothing more than treading a treadmill to nowhere!

    Out there, life and machine technologies will work together symbiotically like George Lucas, among others, imagined so well in his 'Star Wars' movies. Machines will not replace life out there, because artificial intelligence will be as varied as human intelligence, and in some, or in just as many cases, just as naturally complex, chaotic and stupid.
    Reply
  • Atlan0001
    As for DARPA and its vision concerning the Moon, the Moon will be good for two things only, Moon mining for resources for in-space industry and colonization, and science stations freeloading off of, cohabiting and utilizing, the mining facilities. No permanent human occupation . . . entirely temporary rotational occupation!!!!

    If you want a vision of the Moon facilitation, watch the movie 'Outland' with Sean Connery. That supposedly takes place on the moon Io but human occupationally -- as a mining facility -- it serves just as well for Earth's Moon.
    Reply