In this article we look deeper in to the "Lunar" category of the map. The “lunar economy” is a concept that has been around for decades: humans living and thriving on the Moon as a 'home away from home'. The concept turning into reality might be sooner than you think!
There have been various successful missions in the past which have seen men walk on the Moon. While there has been a decades-long pause in human exploration of the Moon, programs such as NASA's Artemis are now gearing up to get people of all genders, races and backgrounds to the Moon within the next decade. Naturally, this has sparked interest in the area and inspired many entrepreneurs to set up their own businesses targeting the lunar economy.
Through our in-space ecosystem map, we can see that there are a mix of new startups, and more established aerospace and defence primes, targeting the lunar economy. Most early startup companies looking at the lunar economy tend to be highly specialized in one area, for example either rovers, or habitats, or landers. This is likely due to the very early stage of these companies. The natural capital constraints of early-stage startups requires them to focus, though as the lunar economy starts to build out, we would expect it to become easier for these startups to raise capital.
This is in contrast to established names like SpaceX who are able to target multiple parts of the lunar ecosystem: the Lunar Gateway, and also lunar landers. The Gateway will be a space station in lunar orbit, like the International Space Station has been in low earth orbit (LEO). Thus, using lessons learned in LEO, we are hoping to create a space station in “Low Lunar Orbit”. NASA is working with multiple commercial partners including Maxar and Northrop Grumman on the Gateway.
There’s a lot of focus on lunar landers, as these are required to actually access the Moon’s surface. Without them, the other companies hoping to set up base on the Moon can’t actually get there. Thus, NASA has already awarded commercial contracts to companies developing landers. Once reliable access to the surface has been achieved, lunar habitats and lunar resource utilization companies will be able to get started. Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines are two examples of companies developing lunar landers, and both are currently waiting for a launch slot to demonstrate their technology. In addition, Astrobotic is developing a small surface vehicle that would have technology to survive the two-week lunar night.
Lunar logistics is a hybrid category. It includes cislunar transport services which deliver payloads to the Moon (FedEx of space?). It also includes mobility on the lunar surface such as lunar rovers, which will be required to transport humans and goods across the Moon. Growth in the latter part of this category is likely to be in a holding pattern until there is a viable market for such products - i.e. until humans have a sustained presence on the Moon. However, did you know that a lot of major car manufacturers, like Toyota, are involved in developing lunar rovers? The technology might be closer to home than you think.
Although the concept of a lunar economy seems many years away, some of the categories in our map have the biggest companies involved. Also, projects such as Lunar Gateway have a lot of government funding and contracts compared to other categories. However, from a venture capital perspective, lunar companies have perhaps not seen the same amount of interest. The difference is likely due to VC funds requiring returns over shorter time scales - but as the market becomes more proven here we’d expect that to change. Broadly, once frequent and reliable travel and access to the Moon is available we expect the lunar economy to come into its own as a significant part of the overall in-space economy.