Commercial Space Exploration
Spaceport Associates focuses its efforts on commercial space exploration, space resources and eventual space settlement. The Founder, Derek Webber, has been appointed as Vice Chairman of the international Judging Panel of the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition, and in that capacity is contributing to developing capabilities for private commercial access to the Lunar surface. The competition has an end date in December 2017 and currently 5 international teams are competing to win prizes for designing, testing and ultimately operating spacecraft on the Lunar surface, without significant governmental funding. Webber also has special responsibility for the conduct of the Heritage Prize part of the competition, protecting Lunar Heritage sites, while offering prize money for Hi Def photography of such sites. Derek Webber gave a TED Talk in Budapest to emphasize why and how this should be done, see the following link. Further emphasis of this need to balance prizewinning with protecting Lunar Heritage Sites was given by Derek Webber during a Google Lunar XPRIZE Team Hangout titled “Exploring Apollo Now”, where he was interviewed by Dr Pamela Gay on the 45th Anniversary of the First Lunar Landing, see the following link.
Derek Webber has made contributions to the development of US commercial space policy in a number of ways, including providing testimony to the 2002 President’s Commission on the Future of the US Aerospace Industry, and the 2004 President’s Commission on Implementation of United States Exploration Policy. He was appointed as a formal independent reviewer of the 2009 draft report of the National Research Council of the National Academies: "America’s Future in Space – Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs". Spaceport Associates provided input to the National Academies Review of NASA’s Strategic Direction in 2012, and presented a paper on the policy aspects of space tourism for long-term initiatives such as space settlement at the 2012 International Space Congress in Naples, Italy, and at ISDC 2013 in San Diego, and at subsequent conference venues.
Current policy initiatives involve proposing a new destination for space tourists in geostationary orbit, known as Gateway Earth. The image shows artwork by Phil Smith illustrating the concept. The Gateway Earth complex would consist of governmental and commercial modules (one of the commercial parts is a space hotel). Transportation up and down from low Earth orbit to geostationary orbit would be by one or more commercial tugs cycling around and refueling in low Earth orbit. The proposal uses commercial revenue streams to help finance the construction and operation of this new outpost situated near the edge of Earth’s gravity well. Having such an orbiting base available in geostationary orbit, with re-usable transport up and down, will make it much easier and cheaper for national space agencies to conduct interplanetary missions, whether crewed or uncrewed. This work is being progressed via a new group, the Gateway Earth Development Group (GEDG), inaugurated November 12th 2015 in Oxford, England at the Re-Inventing Space Conference, and using the new website www.GatewayEarth.space. The chart summarizes the concept.
Other commercial space exploration areas being supported include 3-D additive manufacturing, in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) on planetary surfaces, tugs, orbital refueling, spacecraft servicing and space hotels. Webber is a backer of Planetary Resources, whose aim is to mine asteroids, and of Uwingu, which is focused on opening up future commercial Mars exploration efforts. Webber’s efforts in the Mars exploration business case development were recognized in Buzz Aldrin’s book Mission to Mars (National Geographic, 2013). The main thematic focus of the initiatives is the eventual settlement, enabled by economic development, of parts of the solar system, and using its abundant resources to help life on Earth.