A Colorado-based company plans to put a thousand employees working in space over the next thirty years. The company, United Launch Alliance (ULA), plans to create refueling stations in orbit around the Earth that allow commercial space vehicles to stay in operation without returning to ground. Employees would be needed to man refueling stations, make repairs on vehicles, and maintain life support functions.
ULA has laid out their vision in a presentation given at the Planetary & Terrestrial Mining Sciences Symposium and linked to on the company’s website. Plans include prospecting locations suitable for moon colonization, constructing massive orbital manufacturing stations, and developing “lunar resource extraction” outposts for mining the moon's surface.
The company’s project, known as “Cislunar 1,000 Vision,” depends upon cooperation between ULA and Lockheed Martin and Boeing, makers of the Atlas and Delta rockets used to launch equipment and personnel into orbit. A new Centaur rocket which uses a propellant made from liquid oxygen and hydrogen is planned for extensive use, allowing for refueling using water mined from either the moon's surface or from asteroids ‘caught’ in space.
Much of ULA’s plan depends on the successful development of the XEUS platform, a reusable interplanetary tanker that can land horizontally to allow for faster and easier refueling and loading of precious moon cargo.
George Sowers, ULA’s vice president for advanced programs, believes these new fueling methods will bring launch and refueling costs low enough to make mining the lunar surface feasible and, most importantly of course, profitable:
We’ve been chipping away at the problem of launch costs for years and years and years, and made incremental improvements, but not quantum improvements. The proposal here is that the transportation system be based primarily on liquid oxygen and hydrogen. It is a pretty readily available fuel combination.
If ULA can pull of their vision for a fully developed space economy based around their refueling methods, they estimate that their “gross space product” could reach $2.7 trillion a year, far above the GDP of many countries.