Business of the Artemis Project
Section 3.
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Spaceship Builders

Building spaceships is a job for professionals

A considerable number of professional spacecraft engineers are already volunteering their time to get the Artemis Project off top dead center, but when it comes to actually developing the spacecraft, we'll turn to the companies they work for. Our plan is to contract detailed development of the spacecraft to one or more experienced spaceship builders. Companies with a proven track record and the expertise and processes in place will be able to do the job right. We can't announce which aerospace companies will do each part of the program because those decisions haven't been made yet; each one will require a corporate commitment from the top down.

Keeping human beings alive and comfortable in the empty regimes of space is a complex engineering task, requiring broad knowledge and meticulous attention to detail. But even more than that, the business of commercial aerospace companies play a critical role in the long-term success of the Artemis Project.

Who is helping

There are no secrets about who we've been talking to about these things, though, as long as we emphasize that it's in the talking-about stage and not in the contract-negotiating stage. First off the block is Carnegie-Mellon University and the roving robots. We've also discussed the rovers and where we might go with this project with David Gump of LunaCorp. We're talking to Spacehab, Inc. and McDonnell Douglas in Huntsville (now Boeing, since the merger) about the pressurized elements and to Alenia Aerospazio about spacecraft assemblies and the manned element. We're talking to VIGA Tech, formed from a group of fellows at Sandia National Laboratories, about VR simulations. At Boeing in Houston, the Artemis Society's Lunar Base Development Team is looking at the mission design and spacecraft architecture. Rocket engine data are coming from several aerospace companies. Among the key officers of Artemis Society International are NASA engineers at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville and the Johnson Space Center in Houston. And, of course, we are developing plans with the many members of the fledgling Lunar Industries Association.

We've also talked to spacecraft engineers from Lockheed-Martin, Grumman, Rockwell Space Operations, Boeing Huntsville, Boeing Seattle, Rocketdyne Canoga Park (now Boeing North American), McDonnell Douglas Huntington Beach (now Boeing), and of course the NASA Johnson Space Center and the astronaut corps. Don't let us over-sell that point, however; it's by no means a coordinated effort and we can't claim to have corporate commitment from any of those companies. We'll get there, but we're not there yet.

Unexplored frontiers in the world of business

This will take time. For some experienced spaceship builders, the switch to private manned space flight is severe concept shock. Socialized space flight is the only paradigm they know. Don't underestimate the importance of this barrier to entry into the field: there has been only one successful pioneer in this area so far, and that's Spacehab. In fact, overcoming the fear of change from government to private manned space flight has proven to be the greatest challenge to the Artemis Project.

Even though everyone at NASA has provided unreserved encouragement and support, fear of the change dominates the thinking of the aerospace companies. This isn't as incongruous as it might seem at first look. Folks at NASA are free to think about the major goals of space development, and they do suffer from a certain level of frustration with the necessity of making space development into a series of politically significant programs. Aerospace contractors, on the other hand, have to worry more about their stockholders, profit margins, and return on investment. So while NASA employees have a strong precedent of successful manned space operations to guide their thinking, commercial aerospace executives are working in completely unknown and unexplored business regimes.

The bottom line drives the decisions

While Artemis Society International is putting together the non-profit side of the project and building the team (and an audience), the commercial side of the Artemis Project is putting together the part of the project where we need to bring in the seasoned professionals. To get them on board, we have to show them that the program is financially viable.

We created several commercial corporations to conduct the business of the Artemis Project; they're listed among the sponsors and program participants in section 10 of the Artemis Data Book. This experience has taught us a lot about the thinking of those responsible for the big commercial companies -- no matter how lofty your goals, if you don't keep an eye on the bottom line, if you don't carefully plan each little project for commercial success, if you don't provide your customers what they want and invest in telling them it's available, you're not going anywhere, much less to the moon.

Going back to stay

It might seem that we are subordinating the lofty goal of space development to the crass realities of business, but if you look a little deeper, you will see that this is vital to the long-term success of the Artemis Project. We want space development to endure from generation to generation, with no foreseeable bounds, no dead-end stopping point. We want this program to be something people want to do, so they will keep doing it. The best way to do that, and perhaps the only way to do it, is to create an environment where people can earn a good living from space exploration and commercial space development.

The program must be open-ended. It must encompass a wide regime of space programs and space industries. If people can earn a living doing each part of it, at each step of the way, then they will keep on doing it. So, far from being a compromise with reality or an evil to be endured, commercial business is the best measure of whether the program will achieve our goals of long-range space development.

Where we go from here

Within a few years we will get to the point where we need the guys with the big structural analysis models and the milling machines and the bookshelves full of data on fasteners and metals and industrial processes. Even before then, we need the advice of the spaceship builders to avoid following fruitless paths, and we need their commitment to make the program viable.

Business of the Artemis Project

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