The Pentagon Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has launched a new study called LunA-10 that explores the infrastructure requirements for a future moon economy. The goal is to launch an economy on the Moon within the next 10 year. This is something to celebrate. DARPA’s success in catalyzing the economic infrastructure is impressive. DARPA investments have spawned innovations that are now part of our modern lives, such as the internet, GPS, and voice recognition software on smart phones and other devices. The contributions to our economy are staggering. GPS has contributed to $1.4 trillion of economic growth since 1983. Internet is worth $7.2 Trillion globally and contributes to $2.45 Trillion to U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — almost 12 percent. It continues to grow 10 times faster than overall economic growth. Imagine what DARPA could do with space. DARPA will not fly to the Moon, nor build anything there. DARPA develops the technology to make these things possible, while NASA and commercial space companies do the rest. DARPA, as a government agency, is small with only 220 employees. How do they manage to do this? DARPA develops foundational technologies by quickly deploying its large discretionary budget to create a diverse portfolio of investments among multiple universities and small business (often in competition) to explore what is feasible, and then accelerate the winners.
DARPA works on high-risk technologies that have the potential to significantly impact the nation. It is a good example of this, and we applaud the Biden administration’s decision to mobilize DARPA in order to advance the fundamentals for an “cislunar economy” on the Moon. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said, “We’re in an epic space race,” with stakes that are even higher than the 1960s race. This is not about being the first to reach a destination, but to be the leader in creating new economic wealth. China’s goal is to industrialize and develop a Moon-Earth Economic Zone that will return $10 trillion in annual economic productivity by 2050. China has recognized that it must “seize this opportunity” to implement the Earth-Moon Space Infrastructure Planning as soon as possible, and that now is the crucial time to expand the space infrastructure into the earth-moon area. NASA followed suit with its Moon to Mars Objectives and Development. This gives priority for the first-time to a cislunar economic system and supporting infrastructure. This is a national effort and NASA can’t do it alone. DARPA LunA-10’s goals are in line with the national strategy as well as NASA’s. NASA and DARPA are already working together on LunA-10. This builds on years of successful collaboration in the advancement of civil space applications, such as launch, servicing in space, robotics, and advanced propulsion.
A program as fast-paced as LunA-10, with a large investment and only seven months of development, offers the chance to catalyze international participation in commercial industry, which will lead to a Lunar Economy within 10 years. This is a critical time. We are about to enter the first ever off-world economic system. It is not time to be timid or back down. This is absolutely the right time to bring in the team trained to think outside the box and get things done quickly.
Peter Garretson is a senior fellow in defense studies at the American Foreign Policy Council, and author of “Scramble for the Skies: The Great Power Competition to Control the Resources of Outer Space” and “The Next Space Race: A Blueprint for American Primacy.” He hosts the AFPC Space Policy Initiative’s Space Strategy Podcast.
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