Nov 22, 2022 - Economy

The coming Moon economy

Illustration of a U.S. quarter with moon texture glowing in the starry night sky

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

NASA's successful Moon rocket launch last week will be a boon for private companies, experts tell Axios.

Why it matters: As global economic growth slows, space and Moon exploration could become a source of ignition for new ventures and jobs.

  • The successful launch of Artemis I is "opening the door for expanding the lunar economy," says Takeshi Hakamada, CEO of ispace, which is planning to launch its first private mission to the Moon on Nov. 28.

Driving the news: NASA's un-crewed Artemis I mission showed companies looking to do business on and around the Moon that they would likely have a major customer there in the coming years.

  • NASA plans to send people to the lunar surface by 2025 and eventually create a "sustained" lunar presence.
  • Private companies including ispace and Astrobotic are already planning to send missions to the lunar surface, delivering cargo not just for government customers, but also for other companies.

By the numbers: There are at least 22 companies specifically focused on the Moon that have raised funds from private sources, according to venture capital firm Space Capital.

  • Over the past decade, at least $781 million in private investments have gone toward the lunar industry.
  • Most of that money so far has gone to companies working on transportation — think rovers and landers — but as that issue is solved, other business lines could start to emerge around resource mining and habitat building.

Be smart: Supporting private industry is baked into NASA's Artemis program and is part of the space agency's broader move to buy services from private industry in Earth orbit and eventually on the Moon.

  • The Space Launch System rocket was built by multiple contractors, including Boeing and Northrop Grumman. The space agency also has contracts with private companies to build spacesuits for the lunar surface and SpaceX is building a lander for the Moon.
  • NASA is also working with companies that are developing the technology needed to mine the Moon for resources.

The SLS program has been over-budget, delayed and technically challenging, the Planetary Society's Casey Dreier says, but it is also ultimately responsible for carving out a path for other missions to come behind it from NASA and private industry.

  • "And then you have a road from the Earth to the Moon," he said.

Yes, but: The lunar economy is still in the very early stages.

  • "I don't expect a 100% success rate of all of these different companies that are launching to the Moon for the first time," Space Capital's Chad Anderson said.

What to watch: For now, the main customers in the lunar industry are governments, but that could change as the Artemis program matures and more companies and investors make big bets on the Moon.

  • Competition among countries, greater communication and data needs and defense rank among the top reasons for early government spending, Carissa Christensen, founder and CEO of BryceTech, tells Axios.
  • If and when breakthrough products and services that are unique to the Moon emerge, there will likely be even bigger growth from commercial and consumer spending, says Christensen.

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