Golden Spike contracts Northrop Grumman for lunar lander design

January 3, 2013 11:57 am Eastern | by Benjamin Strevy, Analyst
An announcement from Golden Spike:
The Golden Spike Company Announces Northrop Grumman
Under Study Contract for Lunar Lander Design
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Comments (21)

Bartosz Malinowski
With the currently planned price per trip, I don't see any poosibility for a govt client other than NASA, or some rich arabic nations. This won't be ESA (no chance for geographic return), while others could view payments to a US company as defeating any chance for additional prestige.
5th January 2013 10:46am
Clark S. Lindsey
South Korea has partnered with Khrunichev on its Naro-1 rocket. If the launches had been successful, (the problems seem to be with the SK upper stage), SK would not doubt have hailed them as prestigious accomplishments. Brazil is partnering with Ukraine on their Cyclone rocket. Even the US military allows the Atlas V to use a Russian firm's engine. So I don't think using foreign systems is necessarily a showstopper to sovereign deals with GS. The key, I think, is to make a mission look like a Read More
6th January 2013 8:51am
Bartosz Malinowski
Provision of some limited surface systems or, worse, just some experiments package still makes a foreign nation look (internally) like a client and not like a partner. Khrunichev is a state-owned company, technical plans related to Naro have been reviewed by RSA, and Korean technical contribution in the launcher so in fact this rather significant. So, this could look like partnering with glorious Russia and not being just a client of a private foreign company. Also, doing some science on the Read More
7th January 2013 5:27am
Clark S. Lindsey
In all the articles I've read about the Naro-1 project, including translated ones from SK, the first stage is treated simply as a component built by a Russian contractor. Naro-1 is not treated as a joint SK-Russia, govt-govt, project. Even if Khrunichev is state owned, it is not the same as the Russian govt space program and it is not treated as such. "Provision of some limited surface systems" Limited is your term. It doesn't have to be limited. "would not justify a manned mission" That's Read More
7th January 2013 8:48am
Bartosz Malinowski
The "national prestige" justification for spending for space activities consists IMO in politician being able to say: "we measured "the best of our energies and skills" and WE did it" - and not in saying "look how much money I previously extracted from you I could send to these nice guys in America". So the contribution should need to be indeed significant. To compensate for all the US commercial hardware, a foreign nation would need to at least build a permanent habitat, for its contribution Read More
7th January 2013 6:28am
Wouldn't it have made sense to contract Masten for their lander? Unless Northrop Grumman was clearly a better business choice?
3rd January 2013 6:33pm
Andrew Platzer
They're going for the big money. You don't attract hundreds of millions of dollars in investment by contracting with a small shop like Masten. Golden Spike shows it's serious by going with a big name like Northrop Grumman, even if it's going to be ridiculously expensive. GS is not looking for a disruptive style program, just Apollo-lite.
3rd January 2013 10:28pm
Apollo-lite would be quite disruptive, if they can pull it off.

I am hopeful that they can, too. I don't see any significant technical barriers to it, other than large but pretty standard development programs. The only major question is whether they can make the service inexpensive enough that they find a big-enough market, governmental or private. Only one way to find out.

4th January 2013 11:08am
Andrew Platzer
I don't see it as very much disruptive. Their cost for a mission is $1.6B. A full Apollo cost including landing was estimated at $375M per mission (1969 dollars, via Wikipedia) which works out $2.2B today. So they've managed to reduce the cost by 25%. Now if they could do it for $600M a trip, I'd be impressed.
5th January 2013 11:13pm
Clark S. Lindsey
I don't know how the Wikipedia article did it, but NASA mission cost estimates are always problematical. They typically use a marginal cost when they should use average cost. Also, unlike for businesses, they don't include paying off the cost of development, the cost of the money borrowed, etc. Golden Spike, on the other had, must pay back its development costs (including the three test missions), interest, a profit for its owners, etc. So the price per mission includes a contribution towards Read More
6th January 2013 8:27am
Coastal Ron
I would agree with Clark, in that the Wikipedia citation is likely just the marginal cost, and excludes the $Billions spent on development.

In this case Golden Spike is truly spending far less to reach the Moon. Not that it makes going to the Moon any more desirable, but at some point the cost will decrease to the point where it will truly be a "what the heck, I can afford that" expense.

7th January 2013 9:22am
Bartosz Malinowski
Even in the US, which private entity is going to pay 1.5B per trip? Instead, one might want to start one's own space program for such an amount and try to team up in some way with Spacex for reusable lander and reusable EDS design and development. Waiting time might turn out to be the same. I suppose the GS prices publication has been done too early.
6th January 2013 3:04am
Fred Willett
A lunar lander seems to me to be at the wrong end of the development program.
Before that you need a reusable vehicle to get you from LEO to lunar orbit. Reusable means cheaper. Reusable means fuel depots.
But even before that you need cheaper access to space. That means reusable rockets.
All this is at least 3 steps too soon.
Unless they know something we don't.
3rd January 2013 2:31pm
Martijn Meijering
Nope, all these three things should come *after* a lander. They only make sense once you have sufficient traffic. Premature investment in infrastructure is a waste of scarce resources and an unneeded technological risk. If you want to go to the moon, you invest in what's needed for that. And above all that means a lander.
3rd January 2013 4:20pm
You are both right. Premature investment before the market appears is wasteful but, on the other hand, the market may not ever appear at the initially very high price points and the business case may not ever close until that additional infrastructure is in place. Only way around that problem is to develop other markets or wait for markets to develop to justify the investment in the additional infrastructure.
3rd January 2013 6:31pm
ken anthony
Creation of <a href="">a lunar SSTO 'Grasshopper'</a> produces what Elon calls a forcing function which would result in two depots. One in LEO and one in lunar orbit. A 30 ton vehicle with a 10 ton payload (each way) should be easily doable. The vehicle might have a production cost of $50m amortized over a number of missions. Given to the right company it might only cost about $200m to develop since the structure does not Read More
1st June 2013 3:17am
Clark S. Lindsey
The first goal of Golden Spike is to lay out a credible plan for a human lunar mission architecture based on currently, or nearly, available rockets, i.e. Atlas V and Falcon Heavy, and still stay within at least the hairy edge of private financing feasibility. The only missing hardware is a lunar lander and a propulsion module for a Dragon capsule. This is why they are making the lunar lander design their first priority. They estimate they need about $2.5B for hardware and operations Read More
4th January 2013 9:25am
Hopefully the CO2 scrubbers in the lunar lander will be the same shape as the command module this time!
3rd January 2013 10:57am
Now if i was a conspiracy nut - I'd say this is a smokescreen by the DoD to get one of the big players to do some serious VTOL research without the usual constraints and oversight.
3rd January 2013 10:36am
Frank Glover
Were I of that inclination, I could more easily believe that's what Blue origin is really for...especially as they hired some former DC-X people.
3rd January 2013 4:01pm
They're hitting every single mark on the "vapor" checklist. Contracting with Big Aerospace is totally unsurprising. All that's left is to hire a professional PR firm and start selling tickets through newswire articles with the phrase "out-of-this-world" in the title.
3rd January 2013 9:33am
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