Last week the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released its first National Cislunar Science & Technology Strategy. The strategy set out R&D plans for the US government investing in the exploration and utilisation of cislunar space.
By cislunar, we mean the space between or within the gravitational spheres of influence of the Earth and the Moon. This includes any activity happening between the two bodies, such as in-space manufacturing, or equally on the surface of the Moon. The growth of activity in cislunar space has been driven by rapidly falling launch costs, greater commercial interest in space activities, and advanced space technologies. Cislunar space provides many opportunities to advance science, and to foster space exploration. Humanity has its eyes set on the Moon, and developing infrastructure in cislunar space will help us get there, as well as supporting many scientific studies.
The document aims to "address emerging challenges and opportunities, and advance U.S. leadership and cooperation in Cislunar space". To do this, it sets out 4 main objectives:
- Support R&D to enable long-term growth in cislunar space: this includes researching space science, both on the lunar surface and between Earth and Moon's orbits, and researching the effect on humans of space travel and prolonged space inhabitation.
- Expand international science and tech cooperation in cislunar space: this includes developing responsible practices for international actors in the space domain, by using cislunar space as the test bed for deeper space exploration, for example with the Artemis Accords.
- Extend US space situational awareness capabilities to cislunar space: as human activity in space grows, the need for situational awareness will increase multi-fold, and cost-effective capabilities will be required to ensure the safety of all humans and assets in cislunar space.
- Implement cislunar communications and positioning, navigation, and timing capabilities with scalable and interoperable approaches: in order to have efficient operations in space, communications and PNT as a common infrastructure will be required around and on the Moon.
The publication of this strategy is an exciting step, as it signals a clear intent for the US to develop cislunar space for both government and commercial use. By collaborating with other spacefaring nations and also commercial entities, they aim to set the pace and direction of the rapidly growing cislunar economy, both for scientific progress and economic development.
The recently launched Artemis 1 mission on 16 November is a crucial first step towards achieving a flourishing lunar economy. Future Artemis missions will aim to get crewed vehicles on and around the Moon, enabling development and testing of in-situ resource utilisation (such as of lunar ice), communications, space transportation and PNT technology.
Cislunar space is currently an unchartered area of human activity, and national space strategies as well as commercial endeavours focused on its development are likely to become more common.
Image Credit: Britannica.com