Lunar lander hopeful Golden Spike details business plans

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Golden Spike, which hopes to land people on the Moon and return them to Earth, has released new details about its technical and business cases.

The company intends to complete integrated systems studies in 2014, with an eye to starting construction the following year. By 2017 Golden Spike hopes to conduct at least one of five planned test flights, culminating in a Moon landing in 2019. The first test flights will be unmanned, says president and chief executive Alan Stern, a former top NASA science official.

Golden Spike is planning two to three round trips to the Moon each year thereafter, but Stern says the business case will close with only one flight annually, with $1.5 billion missions (or one of the two seats for $750 million).

"We think we can develop this entire programme for between five and eight billion dollars, including the flight test programme. And $1.5 billion, that's the kind of cost that countries routinely pay to fly planetary missions and Earth-orbital flagships," says Stern.

The flights are aimed mainly at nations with an interest in lunar science but without the aerospace industry or political will to build their own programmes. Putting a person on the Moon to conduct experiments is potentially much more effective than using a robotic lander. "We expect it to be vastly dominated by nations and space agencies, with a small but significant fraction of companies and tourists," Stern continues.

A study commissioned by the company says that up to 30 nations have the resources and interest to buy flights. "They're pretty creative with what they want to do," says Stern.

The company expects to have $13.7 billion in revenues by 2022, based largely on pre-payments from customers. Media rights, including sponsorship, will be sold to defray the costs.