New DARPA study to explore infrastructure needs for future lunar economy

The LunA-10 capability study aims to define the analytical frameworks for a lunar infrastructure that will be key in laying the foundations for a future self-sustaining lunar economy.
Artist rendering of astronaut on the moon (NASA image)

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has launched a new study to understand what infrastructure and other capabilities will be necessary to create a moon-based economy in the next decade.

The 10-Year Lunar Architecture, or LunA-10, capability review aims to define the analytical frameworks for an infrastructure that will be key in laying the foundations for a future self-sustaining lunar economy. By understanding what infrastructure is needed, as well as the desired end-state, DARPA hopes the LunA-10 assessment can help drive current investments in moon-based economies, said Michael Nayak, program manager for DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office.

“We care about this lunar economy of the future, and we’re getting there,” Nayak said in an interview with DefenseScoop on Tuesday. “There’s some big leaps that have been made in commercial investment. But are there perhaps some tipping points that can really push us in the near term — so the next 10-years — towards the idea of a lunar infrastructure?”

Nayak described the seven-month study as “fast and furious.” According to a presolicitation published on on Tuesday, DARPA is looking to bring together companies from the lunar services commercial industry that have ideas for how infrastructure technology can be delivered to and operated on the moon. The study will not fund specific tech development or transportation to the moon, it noted.


LunA-10 is focusing exclusively on “multi-service” infrastructure — meaning a single infrastructure node could perform more than one function — as a way to address logistical challenges to getting to the moon, Nayak said. As an example, that could entail fusing a power station, communications and positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) capabilities onto a single node, he explained. 

“Let’s say I’m using an optical wavelength to transfer power [via] power beaming. If I’m going to that trouble, can I also just code onto that beam a navigation waveform so now I can tell you where you are with reference to me?” he said. “Now, let me encode communications waveforms onto it so I can get back telemetry [and] provide you telemetry.”

Nayak added that the study is a way to bring together companies from the commercial space industry that are individually concentrating on developing one specific function and foster collaboration between them. 

“We’re at this moment where there are so many companies that are doing amazing things without the government’s assistance, and that’s awesome,” he said. “But where is it going? And can we help figure out what the stumbling blocks are ahead and then start working on technical solutions now that could solve these problems in the future?”

The United States and other nations, as well as the commercial industry, have grown increasingly interested in returning to the moon and creating a lunar economy. NASA’s Artemis program aims to establish a regular human presence on the moon before the end of the decade, and the organization released its own plan in April to create an architecture there.


Meanwhile, the U.S. military has also begun looking towards the moon. DARPA and NASA recently tapped Lockheed Martin to build and test the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) nuclear thermal rocket engine.

However, Nayak emphasized that the LunA-10 study is specifically catered to commercial and economic use and that officials anticipate no military uses with the technology they’re developing. He added that the program is in line with NASA’s goals for the Artemis Accords, which establish an international framework for the civil exploration and peaceful use of the moon and other planets in outer space.

LunA-10 is looking into three thrust areas — energy, communications and mobility — as well as other relevant concepts. When understanding the possibilities of a lunar economy, DARPA wanted to focus on foundational elements first that could eventually be scaled, Nayak said.

Power and energy are obvious necessities for sustaining economic activity on the moon, but can be challenging when considering some of the energy-deficient places on the moon like the lunar south pole, he said. DARPA’s presolicitation notes that the agency is specifically interested in wireless power beaming infrastructure and excludes surface nuclear fission.

The study is also looking into surface-to-surface and surface-to-lunar orbit communications, as well as communications to and from the Earth and the moon, according to the presolicitation.


“This is the next 10 years that we’re looking at, and so there’s probably not a lot of automation, there’s probably not a lot of people or equipment or logistics that have been established,” Nayak said. “Whatever we field on the moon, whatever commercial services are just starting to get operating, they need to report back on how they’re doing, what the problems are and how they are monetizing.”

The third focus area, mobility, isn’t considered an immediate problem but it’s one that DARPA wants to tackle early on, Nayak noted. It will look into how equipment sent to the moon on heavy-lift rockets is dispersed across its surface so that it isn’t anchored to its landing site forever. 

“We want more exploration, we want more range, we want to go over the horizon to the next crater. [But] how do I move all of that stuff? What are the logistics of mobility? And so, moving from that central node outward I think is a key. That’s where we go from the foundational lunar economy,” he explained.

DARPA is asking companies to submit a three-page abstract by Sept. 6, followed by a 10-page white paper and technical presentation by Sept. 26 if requested by the agency. DARPA will announce the firms that were chosen to participate in LunA-10 during the meeting of the Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium (LSIC) in October in Pittsburgh.

The study will conclude in June 2024, and DARPA hopes to publish an analytical framework with a defined infrastructure and plan for system scaling. Throughout the review, the industry team will routinely meet with NASA for discussion and feedback, Nayak said.

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