Monday, June 15, 2009

Moon Water: What It Could Really Mean

The search for water on the Moon is something that has been going on for many years, and the debate rages as to whether or not it's really there. More probes are being readied for the task of finding water ice on the Moon, and articles about that can be found in several places. What I want to talk about is the possible results of actually finding water ice on the Lunar Surface, or subsurface.

Provided they do find adequate water ice on the Moon, this would be the spark necessary to make the Moon profitable. For a while I've debated how the Moon can be made profitable so that private companies would want to get in on the action, and therefore help propel humanity to the next level. Hotels, Helium 3 Mining, etc.

Well, water would be the most quick hitting, short turn around on investment scenario. Mining ice and turning it into potable water and fuel (Liquid Hydrogen and Oxygen) ON the Moon would generate huge amounts of cash. Every space faring nation in the world would want to use your Lunar gas station. They had better sell Gummy Worms and Code Red Mountain Dew though, else I'll be pissed. :)

With respect to this debate, there is always someone spouting, "I wonder what the cost of going to the Moon and mining/refining these resources might be? I doubt it'd be cheaper than launching it from Earth."

This depends on whether or not one is capable of thinking long term. In the short term, the set up is expensive as hell. In the long term, this would be highly profitable for many years, and play a major role in driving the costs down for a more sustainable and active space exploration program.

I find the start up cost argument amusing, so my rebuttal is this, how much does it cost to start up a business, get all the equipment you need, establish your suppliers, set up advertising, etc? By all accounts, and according to a short sighted, small time frame mindset, no one should ever start a business, because the costs to do so at the beginning are just so damn overwhelming.

Oh wait...there's profit on the other end to be made? You mean I'd go from red to black in X number of years, after recouping my initial start up costs? You mean that the entire world would use me as a stopping point, paying huge amounts of dollars (but still much cheaper than bringing it themselves) to refuel and buy my water? Welcome to Business 101.

Let's play with some numbers just for fun. Let's say it would cost $10 billion to set this kind of facility up, and you know no one company would do this, but a partnership among several companies. Now let's just look at the potable water part (not the fuel part), which is only half the scenario and most likely the less profitable of the two commodities one would provide. I would venture to guess that selling fuel would be the biggest profit maker.

But still, let's focus on just water. Currently the average cost is $100,000 a gallon to get water to LEO ($10-15 thousand a pound at 8 pounds per gallon of water). Logic would dictate that to sell it, you'd have to go much less than that, else what's the point. So let's sell the water, on the Moon, to buyers at $25,000 a gallon. That's one HELL of a savings for the buyer. Now let's say you mine and refine 1,000 gallons of water a month. That a profit potential of $25 million a month -- $300 million a year.

With just that alone one would break even in 34 years, and everything after that is just plain profit and growth. I readily admit that I'm not considering operation costs, but I also think I'm grossly underestimating the amount of water that could be produced monthly. I am also not considering the bigger of the two commodities, the fuel. This would be the cash cow, not the potable water.

With 5 major national space programs and who knows how many private space companies as customers, one can easily see how this is a viable and attainable next step for humanity. Additionally, with an operation like this on the Moon, there would be a significant increase in flights. Why wouldn't there be, since the costs would drop drastically? All one has to do is be a true visionary and look 50 years down the road, not 5 minutes ahead on their watch.

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