A secretive and mysterious private firm called The Golden Spike Company is expected to make a major announcement this coming Thursday about its plans to undertake a private expedition to the moon by 2020. If the internet rumors are to be believed, these plans could see humans return to the lunar surface.
Not much is known about the company, but speculation has been rampant. At first it was thought that entrepreneurial backers included Warren Buffet and Richard Branson, but these claims have since be proven false. What is known, however, is that Golden Spike Co. (a reference to the ceremonial spike that connected the US transcontinental railroad in 1869) was founded by planetary scientist and aerospace engineer Alan Stern — the science chief who ran NASA's directorate from 2007 to 2008.
Though no official website exists, Golden Spike has a Facebook page and twitter feed. The Internet domain goldenspikecompany.com is registered to Doug Griffith, an LA-based attorney who specializes in space and aviation law — and an advocate for commercial human spaceflight.
According to NASASpaceflight.com, "the effort is led by a group of high profile individuals from the aerospace industry and backed by some big money and foreign investors." But while the exact details of who is funding the project remain vague, some details of the proposed mission are starting to emerge:
The company intends to use "existing or soon to be existing launch vehicles, spacecraft, upper stages, and technologies" to start their commercial manned lunar campaign.
The details point to the specific use of US vehicles, with a basic architecture to utilize multiple launches to assemble spacecraft in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The details make direct reference to the potential use of propellant depots and fuel transfer technology.
Additional notes include a plan to park elements in lunar orbit, staging a small lunar lander that would transport two commercial astronauts to the surface for short stays.
The architecture would then grow into the company's long-term ambitions to establish a man-tended outpost using inflatable modules. It is also understood that the company has already begun the design process for the Lunar Lander.
And as Parabolic Arc reports, the plan is derived from an earlier proposal with the title "Independent Human Moon Mission: Prospects Emerging From Rising Tide of 21st Century Exploration", described as "a privately circulated proposal, known as 'Golden Spike' and backed by respected scientific and astronautical entities, envisions the development of a reliable 'Cislunar Superhighway.'"
According to The Examiner, the private company has reserved a launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy at a cost of $120 million — which can lift 54 metric tons to low Earth orbit. The cost of each human-occupied lunar expedition is pegged at $2 billion.
The press conference is scheduled for Thursday, December 6, at the National Press Club. According to the media briefing, the Golden Spike Company will be making a "game-changing announcement about the future of commercial human space travel to the Moon." The firm is also expected to finally describe the team, the mission architecture, and the business model.
Top image: NASA>John Frassanito and Associates.