Phase 1: ILRP Prototype

Note:  This paper can be downloaded from the bottom of the page

The International Lunar Research Park Prototype

A Concept Paper

Frank Schowengerdt

Director of PISCES





This paper sets forth a concept for an International Lunar Research Park (ILRP), beginning with a terrestrial prototype at the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES) on the campus of the University of Hawai`i at Hilo (UHH) and migrating to the Moon robotically to build the infrastructure necessary for eventual human habitation and commercial activity. 

The Park would be developed by many nations and private organizations to pursue discovery, applications, public benefits, commercial enterprises, education and sustainable human presence beyond low-Earth orbit. 

The ILRP would produce benefits across broad sectors of society as it is developed in Hawai`i and emplaced on the Moon, including international research with spinoffs to terrestrial and space commerce, education at all levels, public engagement and enablement of a permanent human presence on the Moon and beyond. 

For NASA, it represents a cost-effective way to implement its “flexible path” for extending human presence across the solar system and utilizes the unsurpassed lunar and Martian analog capabilities of PISCES. 

It offers NASA and other users from the international space exploration community a high-fidelity test and demonstration environment for developing infrastructure that will be needed for permanent human presence on the Moon. 

It enhances Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education by inspiring young people through the excitement of space exploration and settlement. 

It promotes international cooperation and commercial interest in space.  And finally, it leverages investments by Hawai`i, NASA, international space agencies and companies, particularly those competing for prizes such as offered by the Google Lunar X-Prize and NASA’s Centennial Challenges programs. For Hawai`i, the ILRP will bring new educational opportunities and economic development that can yield high-paying jobs in aerospace and related industries. 

For the Nation and the World, it will provide inspiration and help keep the dream alive that humankind will one day live and thrive off the Earth, thus “expanding Earth’s economic sphere,” in the words of a former White House science advisor. 

But if we’re ever to realize this dream, we have to have something tangible and permanent to point to, for research and development of sustaining technologies, for the public to feel and touch, to inspire kids.  And it has to be done by an international partnership of industry, government and academia.  

This paper outlines a program built on just such an international partnership.


 The International Lunar Research Park (ILRP) will be located on the campus of the University of Hawai`i at Hilo, the current home of PISCES. 

It will be built through multinational public/private partnerships and will engage companies and universities throughout the world in research, technology development and education to sustain life on the Moon and beyond. 

 The ILRP would take advantage of its location at the center of the Pacific Rim, a region containing many of the space-faring nations of the world, and would benefit from the unique geology of the Big Island of Hawai`i with its lunar- and Martian-like terrain and soil. 

It will host companies and universities to conduct research in a realistic lunar-like setting that would model a future research park and university on the Moon. 

As the technology matures and mission opportunities, public and/or private, materialize, robotic precursors to the Moon will begin to extend the research park to the Moon itself, establishing infrastructure that would include power, communications, fuel, habitats, radiation shielding, etc.  This initial lunar “Robotic Village” will gradually evolve into the ILRP, which in turn will evolve into a human settlement. 

As the robotically emplaced and enabled infrastructure is perfected and made sufficiently reliable, humans will follow to establish the first settlement, with commerce growing out of the research park to encompass many familiar Earth-based economic activities, in addition to unforeseen innovations that might be possible only on the Moon. 

This park, combined with the university and later settlements could form stepping-stones for human exploration of the asteroids, Mars and worlds beyond. 

PISCES will host the terrestrial phase this infrastructure-based approach to space exploration from its base in Hawai`i, offering a peaceful, internationally collaborative path into space as an alternative to the wasteful, duplicative efforts in which many nations are now engaged.


 The past decade has witnessed far-reaching developments in space. 

In 2004, the U.S. embarked on the so-called Vision for Space Exploration, led by NASA and its traditional aerospace contractors. 

Most recently, the government program has been re-directed to focus on developing new technologies to allow humans to go farther out into the solar system and stay longer, while moving NASA from a builder of rockets to a buyer of transportation, and thereby hoping to launch a vibrant and truly commercial space industry.

NASA has been given a mission of involving the broader international space exploration community and inspiring young people the way it did in the Apollo era, through increased emphasis on education and public participation. 

Meanwhile, in a trend little noticed by the public at large, a whole new private space sector is emerging, led by companies such as Space-X and Bigelow Aerospace. 

Dubbed "NewSpace" by the Space Frontier Foundation, this exciting group of companies is leading the way to a future in true space commerce. 

At the same time, NASA has established a new directorate-level Office of Space Technology, into which the highly successful Innovative Partnerships Program has been merged, offering new opportunities for the kind of private/public partnerships on which this concept paper is based. 

In order for any national space program to be sustainable, it has to engage the broadest possible spectrum of the private sector, including non-aerospace companies, universities and the general public; "Participatory Space Exploration," as the current NASA administration calls it. 

This is the only way the program will survive through the many administrations and Congresses that will be in place during the decades it will take to explore the Solar System and build settlements on the Moon and beyond. 

In order for the program to be affordable, NASA must look for leveraged partnerships wherever feasible.  There is simply not enough money in the projected NASA budgets to move humans beyond low-Earth orbit and also do all the other things Congress expects the agency to do.

Just as sustainability and affordability are important for the long-term movement of people off the Earth, they are equally important for space commerce because its future rests ultimately not on the current political climate or the shape of the federal budget, but on the existence of sustained markets with affordable entry. 

Before anyone is going to invest in costly space ventures, those markets must be identified and verified on Earth.  Additionally, new markets not yet dreamed of, made possible by the special environment of the Moon, must be enabled by research done on Earth and infrastructure emplaced on the Moon.

One of the most successful ways markets have been identified and developed historically has been through public/private partnerships; e.g., the railroads and the airline industry. 

In recent years these partnerships have increasingly taken the form of research parks and universities.  Examples include Research Triangle Park in North Carolina and the NASA-Ames Research Park in Silicon Valley.  The International Lunar Research Park on the Big Island of Hawai`i will be an extension of the latter.



The Big Island of Hawai`i


In the 1960s and 70s, NASA chose a location on the lower slopes of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawai`i to train the Apollo astronauts for their work on the Moon.  That training helped the astronauts get a feel for what the surface of the Moon would be like as they learned to perform such rudimentary tasks as collecting samples.  Of all the places they trained, the Apollo astronauts said the Big Island was most like the Moon.

In 2008, some 40 years later, NASA returned to Hawai`i once again to prepare for a trip to the Moon, this time to learn how to make what we’ll need to stay there.  Groups from industry joined teams of scientists, engineers and technicians from NASA, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the German Space Agency (DLR) to conduct tests and demonstrations of robotic In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) systems.

The teams returned to PISCES in January and February of 2010, accompanied by many new companies, to conduct greatly expanded tests of new technologies. 

By returning to PISCES, these teams are rediscovering what those early Apollo astronauts found; that the Big Island of Hawai`i, with its lunar-like soil and physical features, is one of the most ideal locations in the world to learn how to develop and validate the telerobotics, operations and logistics resupply technologies necessary to establish a sustainable Earth-moon communications network, site preparation technologies, research laboratories, and eventually a habitable environment in which humans will live and work. 




PISCES was founded at UHH in 2007 and funded by the Hawai`i State Legislature that same year to utilize the unique geological features of the Big Island as a test bed for developing new technologies to sustain permanent human presence on the Moon and beyond. 

The Center pursues or enables research, development, education and public outreach, emphasizing ISRU and Robotics, but also including agriculture, energy, materials and other pertinent areas in the physical and biological sciences, engineering and the social sciences. 

The goals of PISCES parallel those of NASA: to promote STEM education through the excitement of space exploration, to engage the international space community and to involve commercial entities.

Education and outreach, particularly to K-12 schools on the Big Island, is a prominent feature of PISCES. Educational activities include higher education programs in space studies based at UH-Hilo, with involvement from other campuses of the University of Hawai`i, and informal educational opportunities for K-12 students. 

The outreach effort is guided by a Hawaiian Cultural Advisory Council and includes collaboration with the nearby `Imiloa Astronomy Center.  Among its many outreach activities, PISCES gives talks at local schools, participates in space-related events such as Onizuka Day and sponsors an annual award at the Big Island Science Fair. 



The International Lunar Research Park


With government space programs in the U.S. and other nations in flux amid the global economic recession, there has never been a better time for a collaborative, international, infrastructure-based approach to space exploration that takes full advantage of private/public partnerships.

 For years, policymakers at NASA and elsewhere have debated the merits of various routes back to the Moon and have repeatedly asked the questions “why are we going and what are we going to do when we get there?”  

Without serious answers to these questions, and in the absence of credible business plans from commercial partners, program after program has succumbed to the political and economic realities.

What is needed to break this impasse is a prototype ILRP facility on Earth where all manner of approaches to sustainable living on the Moon can be researched and tried in a high-fidelity analog environment. 

Innovative ideas about how to make money on the Moon would be tested in the research park, supported by related research at the university. 

At the same time, step-by-step infrastructure development would proceed, coordinated and integrated with business plan development by tenants of the research park. 

All of this would be done to buy down risk before undertaking expensive trips to the Moon itself.

 This prototype facility would involve permanent structures housing industrial and academic researchers in the UHH Technology Park, with large adjacent test areas for setting up robotic precursor infrastructure elements and for proving out business plan ideas.  

Field test sites, including the current PISCES test site on the lower slopes of Mauna Kea, would enhance these facilities.

A major feature of the ILRP prototype at PISCES would be a full-scale, technically valid, simulation of a future lunar settlement consisting of “landers,” rovers, modules, systems and subsystems linked together to support Earth-based teleoperators and eventually human crews performing research, surface operations and habitat-keeping tasks.

The ILRP prototype at PISCES would expand as the number of uses, partners and products increases.  PISCES would cooperate closely with NASA and other space agencies in designing the park, which would be managed in conjunction with, and as an extension of, the NASA-Ames Research Park.

Accompanying the research park would be a lunar/Mars-studies-themed university, affiliated with the University of Hawai`i but involving a consortium of other universities, dedicated to study and education in the applicable sciences, engineering, legal, social and other aspects of such an evolving lunar robotic village and human settlement on the Moon and eventually Mars. 

All the educational activities in which PISCES is presently engaged could be magnified a hundred-fold on such a campus, inspiring its international student body to pursue knowledge within the many technical disciplines required for space exploration.

The ILRP at PISCES would be situated on an approximately 40-acre parcel of land located in the UHH Technology Park. 

The site contains volcanic soil characteristic of lunar regolith in its chemical composition and physical properties. 

Land costs would be minimal since the site is currently owned by the State. 

Funding would be sought through a major fundraising campaign targeting private donors, foundations and state and federal sources.


The Benefits

This project will benefit space exploration programs of NASA and international space agencies, increase interest in STEM disciplines internationally, produce jobs through operations and spin-off companies and create spin-off technologies to improve life on Earth.  These benefits will be especially important for residents of Hawai`i. 

Recognizing the potential economic, scientific and educational benefits of the original PISCES, the State of Hawai`i appropriated roughly a million dollars for the program, a significant investment for a small state that is in the most severe economic downturn it has ever seen.  

Hawai`i in general, and the Big Island in particular, have a critical need for new high-paying jobs that space research can bring to make the region less dependent on the vagaries of agriculture and the tourist trade.

Children in Hawai`i, many of them native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, need inspiration to see the utility of the difficult science and mathematics courses they take to open up exciting career opportunities. 

They can get that inspiration, as so many of us did in an earlier era, through exposure to space exploration activities where they can take field trips and attend summer camps.  Their voyaging and settlement culture allows them to relate easily to space exploration and settlement of the Moon – living off the land, taking care of your “island” in space.

Big Island residents in particular need greater opportunities for higher education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to prepare them for jobs outside those currently available in agriculture and the hospitality industry. 

The space-related curriculum being developed at UHH and the new engineering programs being planned, to which PISCES will make major contributions, will help to provide those increased educational opportunities. 

But in order to keep graduates of the new programs from having to leave the island and even the state, it is important that new jobs be created locally.  The ILRP, along with the companies it can attract and the spin-off technologies it can generate, will help create those new jobs.

The benefits will not just accrue to residents of Hawai`i, of course, but nationally and internationally as well.  The spinoffs from space research are widely known and have been extensively documented by NASA.  Inspiration of young people around the world to pursue careers in science and engineering is the reason many nations, large and small, are now engaged in aspects of space exploration.     

Regardless of the direction NASA is given by the current and subsequent administrations, the fact remains that humanity is on an inexorable path to move its abode beyond Earth.  

Establishing a unique, world-class lunar/Mars research facility and adjacent exploration-themed university in Hawai`i will send a powerful message to the world that NASA and America are not giving up on the dream of returning to the Moon before voyaging to Mars to stay; to “expand Earth’s economic sphere.” 

Over the years, as visitors from all over the world see what is happening in Hawai`i, they will come to share that dream.


Costs and Funding


It is difficult to estimate the cost of the proposed ILRP prototype at PISCES because such a development has never been undertaken. 

Nevertheless, starting from earlier estimates of PISCES base facilities and a proposed analog outpost, and using prevailing per-square-foot rates for laboratories and offices in Hilo, we can arrive at a starting figure of $20-30 million for capital construction costs and $3-5 million per year in operating costs. 

These estimates will be developed in detail and refined as the planning proceeds.  They do not include costs of migrating the facility to the Moon and operating it there.  Funding will be sought from federal, state and private sources.

The federal government, primarily through NASA, has been an important source of funding for PISCES and most of the space-related activities in Hawai`i to date, and so would be a likely source of both capital and operational funding for the ILRP prototype.  

Traditional routes to this funding will be sought through the various parts of NASA and its field centers, including the new NASA Office of the Chief Technologist, as well as through the Hawai`i Congressional delegation.

The State of Hawai`i is always looking for new ways to promote economic development, especially in the more depressed areas of the state, and to provide higher-paying alternatives to jobs in the hospitality industries, which are major sources of low-wage employment on the Big Island. 

This project can make major contributions to that economic development by positioning Hawai`i at the epicenter of a new collaborative international movement into space.

We will also pursue funding from private foundations and individuals having an interest in space exploration.  We have already identified several such sources.



Following are the initial steps required to develop the PISCES ILRP prototype.


1.       November 14-18, 2010:  “Next Giant Leap” Workshop at 2010 JUSTSAP Symposium. The workshop provided a forum for formulating the concept and moving the plan forward. 

2.       December 2010:  Immediately Following the JUSTSAP Symposium: 

a.     Develop a concept paper for the International Lunar Research Park (this paper.)

b.     Begin planning for the Asia Pacific Economic Conference (APEC), to be held in Honolulu in November 2011 and which President Obama will attend.

3.     January 2011. Present the vision, goals, program plans, research plans, K-12 education plan, public outreach plan, marketing plan, fundraising plan and budget projections to potential stakeholders in Hawai`i State Legislature, the Hawai`i Congressional Delegation and NASA.

4.       March 2011:  Begin talks with potential tenant companies and universities; to include NewSpace companies and their suppliers, companies engaged in space exploration research and other research organizations.

5.       March 2011:  Begin detailed planning for APEC and launch of ILRP/ILDA  

6.       April 2011:  Begin planning for the Asia-Pacific Economic Council (APEC) meeting to be held in Hawai`i in November 2011.

7.       April 5, 2011:  Hold exploratory workshop at NASA Ames to bring together experts and pioneering thinkers from all walks of the space exploration and utilization community to develop a strategic implementation plan for the ILRP.  This workshop will also address funding and authorization mechanisms such as an International Lunar Development Authority (ILDA).

8.       April 2011:  Establish formal steering committees for the ILRP and ILDA.

9.       May-June 2011:  Develop detailed Strategic Plans for ILRP and ILDA.

10.    July 2011:  Present plans at NLSI Forum at NASA Ames.

11.    September 2011:  Present plans at AIAA Space 2011 in Long Beach, CA.

12.    November 2011:  APEC Meeting and Formal Launch of the ILRP and ILDA.    



Lynn Harper,
Mar 24, 2011, 2:13 PM