The project Rabbithole was a collaboration between EPFL and iSpace. It occurred from late 2017 to mid-2019, representing >5 months’ full-time modeling work spread over 14 months. Dr. Marc-Andre Chavy-Macdonald, a system architect with 6+ years at the cutting edge & passion for satellite design, supervised the project. The interactive animations were done by Edouard Demers, a 4th-year mechanical engineering student.
Recently, several private firms have proposed visions & plans for lunar ecosystems, often related to resources: e.g. ispace, SpaceX, and ULA. Indeed, the 2009 remote detection of water by India’s Chandrayaan-1 orbiter and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter focused attention on lunar resources. The U.S. Geological Survey is taking first steps to evaluate regolith as reserves. Water may be used for refueling; several companies have begun planning its extraction, and envisioning the novel ecosystem needed. Though these organizations may lack the financial means of space agencies, they bring renewed interest in sustainable, continuous operations, vs. the traditional mission-based mode.
Accordingly, technologies and systems are being prepared, including novel extraction concepts like thermal mining. Demand for resources could come not only from exploration needs, but refueling satellites. A key enabler is on-orbit refueling and servicing, for which commercial services have begun, and which may gain important market share. These developments clearly affect the various plans for lunar resources, which have deep uncertainties. Yet no holistic model of its dynamics at an ecosystem level, characterizing the main uncertainties, is known to the authors.
Another key aspect of establishing more permanent, sustainable space operations is logistics. Indeed, though shifting exploration targets to the Moon considerably complicates space logistics needs, space resource industries promise some relief, at the expense of more logistical complexity. This new sophistication requires research. Such an ecosystem will also potentially have a wider impact on the economy.
goals & scope
A System Dynamics model of the nascent Lunar resources industry has been developed with the company ispace Inc., allowing some insight into its possible evolutions. This project aimed to extend the model and improve its fidelity for high-priority areas. These included sources of demand – government exploration programs and eventually satellite refueling – and mining technologies. This comprised technico-economic modeling at large scales, with key identified stakeholders, and the creation of an online model which can showcase eSpace thinking. The model can then drive discussion and planning of the future cis-Lunar ecosystem, and its attendant logistics.
This interface wishes to INFORM people about the project and its possibilities as well as its limitations. Besides TEACHING System Dynamics content and global sensitivity analysis theory, it also aims at CONVINCING stakeholders of the project's feasibility and its conditions necessary to its accomplishment. Finally, it will hopefully INSPIRE students and start-up owners to work towards this common goal and take part in this ambitious but fascinating endeavour.
The cis-lunar ecosystem — A systems model and scenarios of the resource industry and its impact. M-A. Chavy-Macdonald, K. Oizumi, J-P. Kneib, K. Aoyama, Acta Astronautica, 188, 545-558 (2021)
ispace Inc. is a private Japanese company developing robotic spacecraft technologies to pursue its project of constructing a sustainable Earth and Moon ecosystem. The headquarters are located in Tokyo, Japan with offices in the United States and Luxembourg. By taking advantage of lunar water, the company would be able to develop the space infrastructure needed to enrich life on Earth. Also, by making the Earth and Moon one system, a new economy with space infrastructure at its core will support human life, making sustainability a reality.