NASA SP-509, Scenarios
Space Resources
Mary Fae McKay, David S. McKay, and Michael B. Duke
Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center Houston, Texas
National Aeronautics and Space Administration Scientific and Technical Information Program 1992

Superintendent of Documents, Mail Stop: SSOP, Washington, DC 20402-9328


Space resources must be used to support life on the Moon and exploration of Mars. Just as the pioneers applied the tools they brought with them to resources they found along the way rather than trying to haul all their needs over a long supply line, so too must space travelers apply their high technology tools to local resources.

The pioneers refilled their water barrels at each river they forded; moonbase inhabitants may use chemical reactors to combine hydrogen brought from Earth with oxygen found in lunar soil to make their water. The pioneers sought temporary shelter under trees or in the lee of a cliff and built sod houses as their first homes on the new land; settlers of the Moon may seek out lava tubes for their shelter or cover space station modules with lunar regolith for radiation protection. The pioneers moved further west from their first settlements, using wagons they had built from local wood and pack animals they had raised; space explorers may use propellant made at a lunar bass to take them on to Mars.

The concept for this report was developed at a NASA-sponsored summer study in 1984. The program was held on the Scripps campus of the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), under the auspices of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). It was jointly managed by the California Space Institute and the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, under the direction of the Office of Aeronautics and Space Technology (OAST) at NASA Headquarters. The study participants (listed in the addendum) included a group of 18 university teachers and researchers (faculty fellows) who were present for the entire 10-week period and a larger group of attendees from universities, Government, and industry who came for a series of four 1 - week workshops.
The organization of this report follows that of the summer study. Space Resources consists of a brief overview and four detailed technical volumes: (1) Scenarios; (2) Energy, Power, and Transport; (3) Materials; (4) Social Concerns. Although many of the included papers got their impetus from workshop discussions, most have been written since then, thus allowing the authors to base new applications on established information and tested technology. All these papers have been updated to include the authors' current work.

In this Scenarios volume, a number of possible future paths for space exploration and development are presented. The paths set the scene for the more detailed discussion in the remaining volumes of the issues of power and transport, nonterrestrial materials and human considerations.
This is certainly not the first report to urge the utilization of space resources in the development of space activities. In fact, Space Resources may be seen as the third of a trilogy of NASA Special Publications reporting such ideas arising from similar studies. It has been preceded by Space Settlements: A Design Study (NASA SP-413) and Space Resources and Space Settlements (NASA SP-428).
And other, contemporaneous reports have responded to the same themes. The National Commission on Space, led by Thomas Paine, in Pioneering the Space Frontier, and the NASA task force led by astronaut Sally Ride, in Leadership and America's Future in Space, also emphasize expansion of the space infrastructure; more detailed exploration of the Moon, Mars, and asteroids; an early start on the development of the technology necessary for using space resources; and systematic development of the skills necessary for long-term human presence in space.
Our report does not represent any Government-authorized view or official NASA policy. NASA's official response to these challenging opportunities must be found in the reports of its Office of Exploration, which was established in 1987. That office's report, released in November 1989, of a 90-day study of possible plans for human exploration of the Moon and Mars is NASA's response to the new initiative proposed by President Bush on July 20, 1989, the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon: "First, for the coming decade, for the 1990s, Space Station Freedom, our critical next step in all our space endeavors. And next, for the new century, back to the Moon, back to the future, and this time, back to stay. And then a journey into tomorrow, a journey to another planet, a manned mission to Mars." This report, Space Resources, offers substantiation for NASA's bid to carry out that new initiative.


James D. Burke and Barney B. Roberts

A major objective of this workshop was to develop scenarios for NASA's advanced missions. The first scenario, business as usual, we labeled the "NASA baseline plan." It shows the expected development of NASA programs under existing budget trends. We developed two, more aggressive scenarios that would require funding above the steady-state budget projection. These scenarios were built on the assumption that significant nonterrestrial resources would be available. The workshop then sought to identify additional technologies that would support the alternative scenarios.

In proposing alternative scenarios, we debated what goals were most promising or would have the most public support. It was apparent that limiting the concept of space resources to tangible materials from the Moon or asteroids could fail to support many popular space initiatives, such as a manned Mars mission, significant commercial applications in low Earth orbit (LEO) or geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO), and tourism. Thus, although the general thrust of the alternative scenarios was toward the utilization of nonterrestrial resources, one scenario emphasized the Moon ("space resource utilization") and the other was more general ("balanced infrastructure buildup").

To avoid being short-sighted on the subject of space resources, the workshop expanded its list to include such items as vacuum, low gravity, and location/view. We also note that our more complete list might not exhaust the possibilities.

Once these points were agreed upon, the workshop divided the analysis and reporting tasks among its members. The contributed sections discuss the baseline scenario, generic alternatives, potential sociopolitical conditions, the common or nodal technologies required to support the alternative scenarios, and issues for further study.

Baseline Program

Barney B. Roberts and Jesco von Puttkamer


The workshop agreed to use a proposed NASA plan as the baseline program. This assumed program has been developed from several sources of information and is extrapolated over future decades using a set of reasonable assumptions based on incremental growth. The principal source of basic data was a presentation given to the workshop by Jesco von Puttkamer, representing NASA's advanced planning activities. This work shows the space program planning efforts divided into four domains (fig. 1). Future activities are planned with balanced emphasis among these four domains.

It was considered reasonable to assume that the level of activity would remain constant in order to stabilize the use of public resources. This assumption resulted in a sequence of programs with waxing and waning budget requirements. As one program decreases in construction and development costs and becomes operational, public resources are made available for the next program. This approach levels the impact on facilities and capital investments and maintains a skilled and experienced work force.

As for budget estimates, only low to moderate growth after adjustment for inflation was assumed. A key principle underlying the proposed program is that maximum benefits will be obtained from commonality and subsystem evolution. Technologies and program elements will be synergistic and integrated to allow one project to use capabilities developed by another. In addition, the NASA planners tried to make realistic and practical estimates of the technology developments required to support each phase of design and construction. Using this information and previous history on the programmatics involved in the development of space hardware, NASA constructed a phased, evolutionary set of scenarios that we consider reasonable.

To summarize, the assumptions for the NASA baseline program are as follows:

Program Elements and Descriptions

The first domain shown in figure 1 (LEO) emphasizes the space station and includes the recommended program of the Solar System Exploration Committee (SSEC), Earth observation satellites, manufacturing in low Earth orbit, and other commercial ventures such as tourism. The second domain (GEO) emphasizes commercial activities in geosynchronous orbit-mostly communication satellites or platforms. Other GEO facilities would include an experimental platform and later a manned ..shack" to support and maintain the GEO facilities.

The third domain (the Moon) consists of the establishment of a temporarily manned science and research camp, similar to an Antarctic outpost. The lunar base would be totally dependent on Earth-supplied consumables and transportation. The fourth domain (Mars) includes an unmanned sample return mission.

Folding these four domains into a baseline program in accordance with the above assumptions results in the plan depicted in figure 2.

Critiques of the NASA Baseline

The workshop participants offered some critiques of the baseline plan, which are documented in this subsection in order to use them in the next section on alternative scenarios.

  1. Critique: Devote more emphasis to asteroids as a source of nonterrestrial resources.

    Rebuttal: Resources on the Moon may be more limited than those of asteroids; however, the high leverage items such as oxygen for transportation and mass for shielding are available there, and the Moon has many other advantages to science and human presence that asteroids may be lacking.

    Resolution: Seriously consider asteroids as a viable source of resources in conjunction with other potential sources.

  2. Critique: The baseline program demonstrates a lack of vision which is a result of conservative budget requests (or vice versa).

    Rebuttal: NASA is aggressive in its budget submittals and is demonstrably second only to the Department of Defense (DOD) in budget growth. However, the fact remains that policy guidelines established by the Administration and Congress do not permit much more than the proposed baseline.

    Resolution: A small portion of the planning exercise should not constrain itself within budget limitations but direct its attention to truly visionary space objectives in order to have an impact on our near-term technology developments and thereby contribute constructively to future budget drafts. NASA needs to make a better effort to "sell" its proposed programs to Congress and to the public.

  3. Critique: The NASA baseline plan should be compressed in time to allow an earlier start on some selected programs.

    Rebuttal. An unlimited budget cannot resolve all problems involving the factor of time. Technology developments require significant time for resolution even when adequately funded. In addition, the technology developed for each new program feeds on or evolves from the technology developed for a precursor program.

    Resolution: Identify key technologies for early development and, where possible and practical, compress schedules.

Alternative Scenarios Utilizing Nonterrestrial Resources

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