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Cislunar Space: Defining the Term
Cislunar space refers to the area surrounding Earth, extending up to the Moon’s orbit, approximately 400,000 kilometers away. This region includes various orbits, such as low Earth orbit (LEO), geostationary orbit (GEO), and the lunar orbital environment. Cislunar Space is expected to become an important part of future space exploration, with plans for lunar bases, space stations, and asteroid mining operations.
The Importance of Cislunar Space
Cislunar space is of strategic importance for several reasons:
Developing infrastructure in cislunar space will enable more efficient transportation, communication, and utilization of resources. This includes fuel depots, communication satellites, and space stations that can serve as waypoints for deep space missions.
Cislunar space is also vital for space resources mining operations, as it provides a staging area for missions targeting the Moon and near-Earth asteroids. These celestial bodies hold a wealth of resources, including precious metals, water, and other volatiles, which can be utilized for in-space manufacturing, life support, and propulsion.
With renewed interest in lunar exploration, cislunar space will play an important role in supporting missions to the Moon. Establishing a lunar base and exploiting the Moon’s resources, such as water ice and valuable minerals, will require a robust cislunar infrastructure.
Cislunar space is increasingly viewed as an essential strategic domain for national security. Establishing a presence in this region allows countries to protect their assets, maintain situational awareness, and demonstrate their technological capabilities.
United States National Cislunar & Technology Strategy
The National Cislunar Science & Technology Strategy, published in 2022, provides a vision and the first science and technology objectives for realizing U.S. leadership in Cislunar space, including the Moon. Fostering scientific discovery, economic development, and international cooperation are essential to sustaining this leadership. The key objectives of the strategy are:
- Objective 1: Support research and development to enable long-term growth in Cislunar space.
- Objective 2: Expand international S&T cooperation in Cislunar space.
- Objective 3: Extend U.S. space situational awareness capabilities into Cislunar space.
- Objective 4: Implement Cislunar communications and positioning, navigation, and timing capabilities with scalable and interoperable approaches.
United Launch Alliance’s Vision for Cislunar
United Launch Alliance’s vision for cislunar space focuses on expanding human presence, fostering economic activity, and creating a sustainable infrastructure that enables exploration, resource utilization, and scientific research. By developing transportation systems, resource extraction technologies, and in-space manufacturing capabilities, ULA aims to make cislunar space a hub of human activity, paving the way for further exploration and settlement of our solar system.
Although the details of ULA’s vision may evolve over time, several key objectives can be outlined based on their past statements and projects:
|Cislunar Transportation||Develop a transportation infrastructure for efficiently shuttling people and cargo between Earth, the Moon, and other cislunar destinations using reusable space vehicles like the Vulcan Centaur rocket.|
|Lunar Landers and Rovers||Enable exploration and commercial activity on the Moon by developing and deploying various lunar landers and rovers for scientific research, resource extraction, and habitat construction.|
|Lunar Resource Utilization||Reduce the cost of space missions by extracting, processing, and utilizing lunar resources such as water ice and rare metals through in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) technologies.|
|Space-Based Manufacturing and Assembly||Perform manufacturing and assembly of spacecraft, habitats, and other infrastructure in cislunar space, reducing the need to launch heavy payloads from Earth and improving the feasibility of ambitious space projects.|
|In-Space Fueling and Power Generation||Develop technologies for in-space fueling and power generation, such as the Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES), enabling long-duration missions and reducing the need for frequent resupply missions from Earth. Harness solar energy and potentially nuclear power for electricity generation in cislunar space.|
|Cislunar Habitats and Outposts||Construct human habitats and outposts throughout cislunar space, including the lunar surface and various lunar orbits, to support scientific research, resource extraction, and potentially tourism, while also serving as stepping stones for further exploration of the solar system.|
|Collaboration with Private and Government Partners||Collaborate with various stakeholders, including private companies, government agencies, and international partners, to pool resources, expertise, and technology, accelerating the development of cislunar infrastructure and making space more accessible for all.|
Currently Planned Cislunar and Lunar Missions
Many nations view lunar and cislunar investments as a means to advance their domestic space industrial capabilities and as the first step toward a greater presence in near-Earth space. The scientific and economic potential of a robust space presence and international partnerships in space drives many companies and countries to pursue lunar and cislunar missions. The opportunities lunar and cislunar missions present have caused nations to begin designing policies to regulate and promote celestial resource extraction and in situ resource utilization (ISRU)-or the production and manufacture of materials found on the Moon or other celestial bodies.
The rush to settle cislunar space or the Moon is motivated both by science and the important strategic value held by certain sites in cislunar space or on the lunar surface. For various sites, certain physical properties add value, such as stability on orbit or the prospect of water in the form of ice.Source: CSIS
Details on planned missions are provided in the document below.
Implications for the Space Economy
The development of cislunar space will have far-reaching implications for the space economy. The following are some of the most significant consequences:
New Market Opportunities
The growth of cislunar activities will create a variety of new market opportunities, such as satellite servicing, refueling, and space transportation services. This, in turn, will stimulate demand for new technologies, services, and skilled workforce.
As cislunar space becomes more accessible and economically viable, it is expected to attract public and private investment. This infusion of capital will accelerate technological advancements and contribute to the overall growth of the space economy.
The development of cislunar infrastructure will lead to economies of scale, driving down the costs of space operations. As a result, space travel will become more accessible, and new business models will emerge.
Expanding into cislunar space will necessitate increased international cooperation, as countries will need to collaborate on establishing norms, sharing resources, and coordinating activities. This collaboration could foster stronger diplomatic ties and help resolve potential conflicts over resource allocation and territorial claims.
Innovation and Technological Advancements
As the space economy grows, so will the demand for innovative solutions to tackle the unique challenges of cislunar space. Breakthroughs in areas such as in-situ resource utilization, advanced propulsion, and space manufacturing will have a lasting impact on the industry and beyond.
The expansion of cislunar activities will generate new job opportunities in various fields, including engineering, science, and logistics. This growth will have a positive effect on the global economy, as well as help address workforce shortages in the space sector.
Cislunar Space is Strategic and Long Term
Cislunar space is poised to become an important part of the space economy in the long term. The strategic importance of this region, coupled with its potential for new market opportunities, will drive investment, innovation, and job creation.