The three main types of activities considered in this lunar market assessment
As humankind’s space odyssey continues, the next chapter sees a target of returning to the Moon and establishing a permanent presence there. Success in this venture would lay the foundation for the beginnings of a lunar economy. A lunar economy encompasses all general economic activity associated with the production, use and exchange of lunar resources on the Moon’s surface, in lunar orbit and on Earth. While there are a huge variety of potential activities that fit into the definition of a lunar economy (in particular for what concerns the support activities to human presence on the Moon), this paper focuses on three types of lunar activities: transportation, lunar data and in-situ resources utilisation (ISRU).
The first, transportation encompasses both cislunar space and lunar orbits, including the travel routes between Earth and the Moon, and is driven mainly by the ferrying of humans and resources to and from the Moon in order to develop our presence in the Moon’s vicinity and on its surface. The second, commercialisation of lunar data, covers the exploitation, on the Earth, of different types of data gathered during lunar missions. It mostly includes technical data associated in general to the preparation of space missions or research on space resources, and is completed to a smaller extent by entertainment data for various leisure applications on Earth. The third, exploitation of in-situ resources, includes mining and extracting resources, manufacturing products, building infrastructure, as well as exporting goods and materials – for scientific purposes, to support human presence, or as commercial activities in the medium and long term. These activities, almost identical in nature to their terrestrial counterparts, are the basic building blocks of establishing a self-sufficient lunar economy.
The lunar exploration ecosvstem extends beyond space agencies, involving private actors and non-space industries
Space entities, such as providers of space transportation infrastructures and technology or manufacturers of space equipment, will profit from a surge in demand for spatial capabilities and services. This demand will be stimulated not only by increasing lunar economic activity, but also by the future opportunities that will be unlocked and created from a self-sufficient lunar economy, such as markets for deeper space exploration to other planets. Non-space entities are the less obvious beneficiaries of a functioning lunar economy; however, they stand to benefit greatly from its growth nonetheless. These terrestrial industries (mining, automotive and construction companies) with nascent connexions to space technologies might constitute a driving ecosystem for the lunar economy, as they become downstream beneficiaries of spillover effects created by space innovations.
As of today, many private companies have taken initiative and are very well positioned to offer transportation, data or in-situ technologies in support of future lunar missions. In parallel, national agendas have become even more space-focused, with particular attention given to the Moon, setting ambitious goals and coherent roadmaps. To create and sustain a full-fledged lunar economy, a crucial factor will be a strong, continuous collaboration between public and private entities – through the thick and thin of dynamic market forces. Over time, particularly in the short-run, markets will need to adjust to disruptive innovations, fluid political agendas and other external forces.
Existing collaboration between private and public entities in other space domains should play a decisive role in the context of such risky and capital-intensive endeavours, for instance through co-financing, support to R&D and establishment of anchor customers for first commercial providers involved. Such collaboration would drive the success rate and increase the pace of lunar ambitions, to ultimately unlock the transformative potential of a lunar economy.
The high stakes of a lunar economy call for a close monitoring of the drivers and challenges ahead
A lunar economy will undoubtedly have far-reaching effects on various aspects of society; primarily touching the economic, political, and scientific spheres. First, the main drivers leading economic transformation should be observed in technological innovation, the creation of new industries and markets, and high levels of public investment., These three factors will in turn have positive effects on the growth rates of terrestrial industries. Second, a growing lunar economy will be closely intertwined with political agendas and the complex web of international relations. The Moon and all its potential represent undeniable strategic and nationalistic opportunities, which terrestrial superpowers are sure to covet. Finally, there is an equally important scientific element. The research conducted on Earth to enable the feasibility of establishing a lunar economy, paired with the potential spatial knowledge which will be gained from time spent on the Moon will be invaluable to the furthering of science.
Today, the different activities and markets under consideration are in their nascent phase, with a renewed dynamic from the recent re-focus from various space agencies. There are still several unknowns which remain, regarding the pace at which markets will mature, the success of technological demonstrations, or how much business potential can be expected in the coming decade. It is important to pinpoint and monitor the drivers for these markets and identify the early signs of success and challenges in the current roadmaps announced by various space actors. In that vein, this paper provides a state-of-play analysis across lunar transportation, resources exploitation and data commercialisation activities, in order to support the identification of present and future business opportunities associated to these markets.