Friday, January 4, 2013

The Golden Spike

Click here to watch the Golden Spike announcement video on YouTube.

Talk is cheap.

Human spaceflight is not.

The cost of human spaceflight beyond Earth orbit is, well, out of this world.

So I was a bit skeptical when The Golden Spike Company announced on December 6 its intention to sell round-trip flights to the surface of the Moon.

According to media reports, the cost of a Golden Spike flight would be about $1.5 billion. The company claims it can launch its first flight by 2020.

An illustration on the Golden Spike web site shows an example of a lunar expedition. According to that illustration, Golden Spike would use a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket as the booster to escape Earth orbit.

An example of a Golden Spike lunar expedition using a SpaceX Falcon Heavy as the launch booster. Image source: The Golden Spike Company. Click the image to view at a larger scale.

Yesterday Golden Spike announced it had reached an agreement with Northrup Grumman to design the lunar lander.

Northrop Grumman’s participation brings heritage lunar engineering expertise to Golden Spike. Northrop Grumman is a major aerospace and defense contractor. Its legacy companies — Grumman and TRW — designed and built the Lunar Module and Lunar Module Descent Engines for the Apollo moon landing missions that between 1969 and 1972 ferried a crew of two astronauts from lunar orbit to the lunar surface and back again six times ...

Among the tasks Northrop Grumman will perform for Golden Spike are:

  • Reviewing requirements and synthesizing a set of study ground rules and assumptions emphasizing system reliability, automated/ground command operability, and affordability
  • Establishing velocity (Δv) budgets from and to low lunar orbit for pragmatic lunar landing sites
  • Exploring a wide variety of Lunar Lander concept options, including staging, propellants, engines, reusability, autonomy, systems capabilities for exploration, as well as landing site flexibility
  • Establishing the design trade space and establish pragmatic limits for future more detailed analysis and development

It's hard to imagine an adventure tourist spending more than $1 billion for a lunar stroll, but Golden Spike believes it will have other customers.

Golden Spike predicts its customers will want to explore the Moon for varying reasons — scientific exploration and discovery, national prestige, commercial development, marketing, entertainment, and even personal achievement. Market studies by the company show the possibility of 15-25 or more expeditions in the decade following a first landing.

I'm still skeptical, because I can't think of a nation that would want to go to the Moon for “national prestige” unless it was their own vehicle. The profit incentive, in my opinion, is far off in the future.

But if the Golden Spike investors are willing to pay Northrup Grumman for a design contract, I'm slightly less skeptical.

Click here for a more thorough analysis of Golden Spike on

An illustration of the Golden Spike lunar lander. Image source: The Golden Spike Company. Click the image to view at a larger scale.

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