ULA laying the foundations for an Econosphere in CisLunar space

by Chris Bergin

United Launch Alliance (ULA) President and CEO Tory Bruno has provided a new overview of his company’s role in a proposed “Econosphere” in space. Although it will take decades to fully realize its potential, ULA hardware is set to provide the key elements via its CisLunar 1000 roadmap, allowing numerous commercial companies to come together to create a self-sustaining community of around 1000 people in the space between the Earth and the Moon.

The CisLunar 1000 plans revolve creating an in-space economy that would tap into the vast amount of resources that could be harnessed from objects such as Near Earth Asteroids (NEA) and on the surface of the Moon.

Eventually, the community would become self-sufficient via in situ resource utilization (ISRU), while becoming economically viable via the prospecting of precious materials that are rare on Earth but abundant in space.

“What we understand today is there’s over 17,000 of these (varying range of NEAs) that come in different classes. Best estimates, there are two trillion kilograms of industrial metals residing in that region,” noted Mr. Bruno during his address to students at the University of Colorado Boulder.

ULA CisLunar slide on resources

“Materials like Aluminum, Titanium, Iron, Cobalt, Nickel and so on. That’s about a 1000 years of the total production we have here on Earth.”

He added there are more of the precious materials – such as gold, silver and platinum – in this region that has ever been mined in the history of humankind, while also referencing the large amounts of water – a key element for ISRU – that resides on the Moon.

“Water’s important because it’s rocket fuel,” added Mr. Bruno.

CisLunar 1000 staging points could also become a base of operations for deep space missions, with the additional benefits of setting sail from a spaceport, with numerous components – from hardware through to propellant – having been created, harvested and stored in space, as opposed to the costly and far less efficient process of hauling them uphill from Earth.

“If we can have our propellant in space, instead of having to lift it out of Earth’s gravity well, then we have the makings of a transportation system,” Mr. Bruno noted. “Once you make it to LEO you are two thirds to anywhere else in the Solar System.”

ULA’s CisLunar envisioning

While various proposals have been promoted over recent years, the financial viability of creating such an industry is often out of the reach of the numerous companies that have shown an interest in space prospecting.

ULA is attempting to create the conditions that would allow interested companies to join the CisLunar workforce via a staged buildup of hardware via their primary role of space transportation.

The first stage calls for the utilization of space habitats, allowing for an initial base of operations. ULA is already working closely with Bigelow Aerospace, allowing for obvious synergy in this opening salvo of staged hardware. This first phase would allow for around 20 people to live and work in space.

This would create the roadmap to increase the population via the addition of more habitats and hardware. It is envisioned that such bases of operations could be in Earth orbits and the EML-1 (Earth-Moon Lagrange point) orbit near the Moon.

Such operations would not be restricted to prospecting rare materials but also working on numerous space-related industries, such as the often-touted Space Power Systems, beaming targetted solar energy back to Earth, through to biological research and advanced material production.

The range of CisLunar industry – via ULA

ULA is currently best known for launching a broad range of spacecraft on its Atlas and Delta rockets. However, the company will soon evolve its fleet with the addition of the Vulcan launch vehicle.

This new rocket will initially launch with the veteran Centaur upper stage before eventually welcoming a new cryogenic stage called ACES (Advanced Common Evolved Stage).

ACES is one of the keys to ULA’s CisLunar 1000 plans.

“Alright, so the propellant is there, all you need is the spacecraft”, Mr. Bruno said in opening the overview of ACES. “It is a revolutionary Upper Stage.”

ULA’s ACES – via CisLunar presentation provided by ULA

Utilizing Integrated Vehicle Fluids (IVF) technology, ACES has a lightweight internal combustion engine to capture and use the hydrogen and oxygen propellant that is normally boiled off to keep the propellant tanks autogenously pressurized, provide all the electrical power requirements and also allow for the maintaining of attitude control.

As such, no hydrazine or helium is required by the stage, meaning IVF also allows for the stage to be used as propellant depot as only LH2 and LO2 would need be transferred.

“Now we have a stage that can live in space for three to five years,” added Mr. Bruno. “It’s a space truck, it’s a truck in space that can be the backbone of a practical transportation system that unlocks all of those natural resources that are barely out of our reach (today).”

ULA’s CisLunar 1000 plans will require numerous companies and entrepreneurs to join in with the effort to make it work.

“This is (not just) about ULA. We just want to be the trucking company,” Mr. Bruno added. “This is an entire Econosphere that will take a whole bunch of companies to do this.”

He said that he envisions about 200 companies coming together in a CisLunar marketplace in a “collation” ranging from space entrepreneurs to venture capitalists.

Click here for slides from the updated presentation – and you can watch the replay of Mr. Bruno’s address below:

Tory Bruno from United Launch Alliance

We're excited to welcome Tory Bruno of United Launch Alliance​ to campus Tuesday! Join us for a student seminar at 2 p.m. (followed by meet & greet) in ECCR 245 or watch the livestream here on Facebook.

Posted by CU Engineering @ Boulder on Tuesday, March 20, 2018

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