US military equipment in Iraq

The US military is scrapping $7 billion of equipment in Iraq because the cost of bringing it home exceeds the equipment’s value.

This should be a lesson for space development. A resource is not a resource unless you can afford to extract it and move it where it needs to go.

There are many people who believe that lunar resources (or asteroids, or pick your favorite destination) obviate the need for cheap access to space. Many “new spacers” insist that the only correct way to reduce the cost of space is by using lunar resources, rather than reducing launch costs. Some have actually claimed that the “obsession” with cheap access to space has “held NASA back” for 50 years. (Apparently, they live in some alternate reality where the Apollo project did not happen.)

In reality, lunar resources are like armored personnel carriers in Iraq. It’s easy to talk about potential uses for either one, but neither one is valuable unless the logistical costs are affordable. For lunar resources, this includes the cost of transporting the necessary equipment and personnel to the Moon, in order to begin extraction, as well as the cost of transporting the extracted materials from the Moon to whatever other point in space where they might be useful.

The notion that transportation costs matter is hardly a new idea. It was clearly demonstrated in space-development studies 30 years ago (and by common sense, long before that). Unfortunately, “new spacers” don’t want to pay attention to studies by old timers. Instead, they jump onto poorly conceived bandwagons like the Bush Vision of Space Exploration that promise pie in the sky without ever bothering to do the math.

Mining the Moon is a good idea, but an Apollo-style program will not lead to a viable mining industry. Affordable to cis-lunar space must come first.

Written by Astro1 on June 27th, 2013 , Space Policy and Management

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    Chris Landau commented

    What does scrapping mean? Selling it to the Iraqui’s and pocketing the change. Giving it away? Selling it to Iran or Syria? Burning it? What does that mean? Can I have a billion and then the USA only needs to scrap 6 billion? Nice waste. Manufacture some more. then you can scrap some more. great business model, as long as you are not the man in the street. I must say, I feel a lot safer now. I wonder what the military gets as a tax write off for dead soldiers?

    Chris Landau

    June 27, 2013 at 2:25 pm
    Roger commented

    You said “Many ‘new spacers’ insist that the only correct way to reduce the cost of space is by using lunar resources, rather than reducing launch costs.” Who are these NewSpacers? What NewSpacer believes that cheap access is wrong-headed? This kind of thinking could only come from a congressman or someone with a government-sponsored job, like, like…like an astronomer, or an old-school rocket builder. Somebody (at Copenhagen Suborbitals, I think) said a while back that the best way to cause real innovation was to knock a zero of the end of your projected budget. That’s when you start to get somewhere.

    Please don’t refer to those big-spending idiots as NewSpacers. Call them OldNassers.

    June 28, 2013 at 6:36 pm
      Astro1 commented

      “New space” is a brand name certain space advocacy organizations created to describe themselves. (Your “congressman” guess is pretty close to the mark. The person who coined the term is a minor politician in upstate New York.)

      In 2004, “new space” groups called for a substantial increase in the NASA budget to support the Bush Vision of Space Exploration — i.e., sending NASA astronauts back to the Moon in space capsules. Many of their members objected that a new Apollo program would only increase the cost of access to space. They were told to shut up and go away. Technical and economic objections were shunted aside. According to “new space” leaders said NASA needed to explore the Far Frontier, develop in-situ resources, and establish the first permanent settlement on the Moon. Cheap Access To Space had to wait until NASA “created a market” by doing those things. Nine years later, NASA is no closer to achieving those goals than it was in 2004.

      July 1, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    Ed, stop cherry-picking the actions or opinions of a few and attributing them to all under the New Space tent.

    July 4, 2013 at 3:51 pm
      Astro1 commented

      If “new space” policies are merely the actions or opinions of a few, why are those few allowed to control the agenda? Why do you contine to call yourself “new space” if you don’t support the “new space” policies? Sounds kind of dysfunctional.

      July 5, 2013 at 9:30 pm