Purdue center to focus on development of earth-moon economy

The Cislunar Initiative, announced July 18, aims to expand access to cislunar space, supply the building blocks for infrastructure, identify and utilize space resources, advance the development of space policy and provide educational opportunities.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- To create a sustainable presence beyond Earth, humans need to further expand into the region encompassing Earth and the moon, called “cislunar space.” That takes building an infrastructure that opens up economic expansion, just as the interstate highway system spurred economic growth in the U.S.

Purdue University is leading an effort that will provide national leadership in the development of cislunar capabilities and advance the space-based economy through collaboration with industry, academia and government agencies.

The Cislunar Initiative board and members of the AAE faculty. (Credit: Dave Mason, Image Source Photographic)

The Cislunar Initiative, announced Thursday (July 18), aims to take a leadership role in expanding access to cislunar space, supplying the building blocks for infrastructure, identifying and utilizing space resources, advancing the development of space policy and providing critical educational opportunities.

“On July 18, 1969, after a journey over 200,000 miles from Earth, Apollo 11 crossed into the moon’s gravitational sphere of influence, a perfect example of cislunar space. Fifty years later on the same day, we are proud to launch the Purdue Engineering Initiative in cislunar space. From research and commercialization to talent development, our faculty, students and staff will contribute to critical dimensions of the next 50 years of small steps and giant leaps in space,” said Mung Chiang, the John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering.

Purdue, the “Cradle of Astronauts,” is internationally known for its strengths in propulsion, mission design, habitats in space and systems engineering. The initiative will unite and leverage these capabilities to increase access to the inner solar system.

“It’s time to expand our space infrastructure beyond Earth’s orbit to include the moon,” said David Spencer, co-chair of the Cislunar Initiative and an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics. “Moving forward, we will need access to space resources in order to achieve our exploration objectives. The Cislunar Initiative is geared toward conceiving and enabling the systems needed to support long-term human and robotic operations in the cislunar environment.”

NASA’s Artemis program aims to return astronauts to the moon by 2024, leading to a projected sustained human presence on the lunar surface by 2028. The space industry already generates $350 billion annually in revenue and is expected to reach $3 trillion per year over the next 30 years. Space tourism, followed by suborbital point-to-point business travel, will also bring a new source of revenue.

“If we want to one day use orbits that would make going to Mars more convenient, for example, we’ll need to access the cislunar space and facilitate vehicle movement within the region with a reasonable amount of propellant. Purdue’s strength is in building that transportation system,” said Kathleen Howell, Hsu Lo Distinguished Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and a co-chair of the Cislunar Initiative.

As the orbital economy grows, there will be space traffic to manage and assets to defend. Creating human habitats on the moon will also require robust methods of protecting people from extreme temperatures and radiation.

This calls for putting new policies and infrastructure in place to ensure that space is free from activities that may produce space debris, which could be catastrophic for both human and robotic systems in the cislunar environment. It also means creating more opportunities to fund and develop the technology needed for establishing a presence on the lunar surface.

Purdue Cislunar plans to address these challenges with five near-term objectives:

  1. An incubator program that will spur development of collaborative research centers, small satellite science and technology missions and new cislunar infrastructure technologies.
  2. A consortium on cislunar space development for entrepreneurs, private industry and government agencies that will host industry workshops and short courses related to cislunar development and space technologies.
  3. CislunarHub, a platform providing the global space community with simulation tools and online resources for space system design, analysis and modeling.
  4. A space policy fellows program that will bring together the nation’s leaders in space policy development for seminars, short courses and summer fellowships.
  5. A cislunar education program featuring K-12 education on space exploration, as well as an online certificate program for students and professionals through Purdue University Online.
David Spencer, an associate professor in AAE, is co-chair of the Cislunar Initiative with Kathleen Howell, Hsu Lo Distinguished Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics. (Credit: Dave Mason, Image Source Photographic)