Introducing Coral, an Open Lunar Space Program
Four NASA veterans and more are collaborating on the first decentralized space program
Humans living and working on the Moon have been a dream of explorers for generations. The key enabler of this new settlement will be to develop self-sustaining agriculture and industrialization. The tide now is shifting from thought experiments to serious business models. This advance has become evident at leading lunar development events such as the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) held this May in Los Angeles, or the Space Resources Roundtable, held in Golden, Colorado. These events originated as academic exercises but are becoming the venues where visionaries meet with architects, engineers, and scientists to devise practical plans for returning to the moon and staying there. In this spirit, Space Cooperative announces our own first mission concept: Coral.
What is Coral?
Coral is named after the marine animal “Coral” that builds extensive and elaborate structures using minerals they extract from the seawater. Coral use local resources to perform accretive or additive manufacturing, which in human terms equates to 3D printing. Coral rank at the top as one of the most prodigious animal architects and builders, especially in the relationship between their minute size and the scale of the calcified structures that they build. The Coral Team hopes that their Coral system will prove equally prodigious and effective at extracting local resources — namely regolith — on the Moon and transforming it into durable and useful structures.
Almost every proposed lunar mission architecture includes the use of what the space industry calls “ISRU”: in-situ resource utilization. Put simply, it means to take the material resources available off-world and put them to industrial use. Coral is a program comprised of several projects that we hope to test and demonstrate on several flights to the Moon.
Starting with a team who, combined, already has over a century of experience in the aerospace industry…
While Space Cooperative is initially leading the program, it is presented as a collaborative project for Space Decentral, the decentralized autonomous space agency. Together, we will lay out the open source processes for the world to progressively develop the essential capability for lunar ISRU.
In these early phases, tasks will be managed on Github, but later this year we will be going live on Aragon using an additional suite of apps developed specifically for this purpose.
Coral: a Multi-Phase Program
The initial phase of Coral will take place here on Earth. Using lunar regolith simulant (Earth material processed to be reasonably similar to lunar material), we will assess the ability of mining, milling, beneficiation, and additive manufacturing (3D printing) equipment to function when utilizing lunar-like material. After a few iterations on Earth, we hope to develop equipment capable of not only using true lunar material, but also surviving the harsh lunar environment.
The next phase will be to design and develop the flight-ready hardware and launch it to the moon. For the purpose of this program, the mission design will be reliant on commercial landers such as Moon Express or Astrobotic, or other providers that come along. This allows us to focus our efforts primarily on the payload that will operate on the Moon, saving us the hassle of independently developing a lander or rover. We will doubtless learn some valuable and expensive lessons from this first space mission. At the same time, this mission will place hardware on the surface of the Moon that many groups may like to use in addition to ourselves.
Once Coral proves itself capable of reliably and repeatedly producing usable construction elements or members, the development curve for lunar ISRU will take off from simple but robust elements to more sophisticated and complex elements. Moreover, the variety of applications for this technology will lead to a suite of more and more highly-evolved tools that more effectively meet the needs of their users. Manufacturing precision will need to increase, as will manufactured material strengths and necessary feedstock quality.
The Astronomy from the Moon Community constitutes a family of ready-made potential customers for an early evolution of Coral. In this application, the vertical supports of a radio telescope or interferometer will have less stringent structural requirements that Coral can meet at this stage.
The next evolutionary step for Coral enables a critical infrastructure emplacement, such as a foundation and shield wall for the fission reactor that makes it possible for humans to stay through the 336-hour (14 Earth Day) lunar night. Just as terrestrial infrastructure of this magnitude demands higher standards, such a construction project demands higher precision and higher quality output from Coral.
Similar infrastructure in even closer proximity to habitats — think protective vaults or domes — will demand even higher quality. The geometry of living spaces will also require physically larger structures. In addition to further raising the bar for material strength, construction at this scale will give rise to the logistical questions familiar to project managers on Earth: where can I source my materials and how will I import them to my site?
The holy grail of in-situ construction will be to produce a pressure vessel capable of safely and reliably providing a pressurized living environment. Engineering for human-rated structures of this kind will be one of the most exciting and daunting challenges in history, but doing so will open up the solar system to us all.
How does Space Decentral work?
Currently, each Space Decentral member can participate in the network by proposing projects for activation and/or helping with open source tasks. This is where Coral comes into the picture: it’s a project on the second “helping with open source tasks” path that is partly used to encourage collaboration and teach the community (and learn from others) in the process of developing an open source space mission on Space Decentral. In doing so, we seek to prove that this new form of cooperation can develop missions that have a meaningful impact on cutting-edge challenges like lunar construction.
While this mission needs the approval (and support) of the Space Decentral community to be fully funded and ultimately launch to space, it will end up being our network’s first project regardless — as we have realized it is important to have one in these early phases.
→ Learn more about the Space Mission Activation Process to see how you can run a project alongside to Coral.
Join our chat room and let us know you’re interested in Coral!
The lunar frontier is finally opening up, and we intend to ride out with the first wave of prospectors. Will you join us?
Founding Coral Team
[Note: This is the original Coral team when the program was announced in 2018, it has since changed.]
Dr. Marc M. Cohen is a licensed architect who has devoted his career to developing the new field of Space Architecture. Marc worked at NASA Ames Research Center for 26 years, then at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems for 4.5 years. At NASA Ames, Marc began as a facilities architect designing aircraft support facilities, life science labs, and wind tunnels. At the beginning of the Space Station Program (1983), Marc was appointed to the Space Station Concept Development Group at NASA HQ where he served as a “commuting member” for a year.
Dr. Donald Barker is a rare combination of both academic and professional excellence. In addition to holding a doctorate in geology as well as masters degrees in space architecture, mathematics, physics, and psychology, he has nearly 3 decades of experience supporting NASA Johnson Space Center’s shuttle and ISS programs. His technical qualifications and work experience cut across professions and systems ranging from crew health and robotics to GN&C and physical sciences.
Patrick graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from UCLA and now works in the private sector of structural engineering within the Los Angeles area. In the span of nearly 3 years he has worked on a diverse array of new and existing residential and commercial structures across seismically-active southern California. Patrick earned NASA’s recognition for his Mars-focused ISRU concept and briefly studied space mission engineering before co-founding Space Cooperative.
Andy started his career in the field of structural engineering for large, complex commercial and research facilities before beginning 30 years of multidisciplinary work at NASA Ames Research Center. There, he worked on projects as wide-ranging as life support systems and robotic Martian aerial vehicles. Andy now brings a wealth of technical and institutional knowledge to the team.
Brent Hilscher is a process engineer with 15 years experience in gold, base metals, and oil sands operations. He has thoroughly demonstrated technical expertise through the conception, testing, design, and construction of multiple technologies. Brent’s ingenuity led to his collaboration with prominent entities such as the UN, NASA, and The World Bank. He now leads the Mining Division of Sacre-Davey Engineering as their Principal Process Engineer and offers a uniquely experienced perspective on the terrestrial mining industry.
John has decades of industry experience designing, fabricating, and testing aerospace systems for both Lockheed Martin and NASA Ames Research Center. His handiwork went on to fly on vehicles including Space Shuttle Columbia and the F-35. His well-developed knowledge of systems engineering and hardware testing also enabled him to perform independent research and testing on lunar ice harvesting equipment.
Suzana studied Architecture and Urbanism at the Federal Fluminense University in Brazil, and shortly after graduating, earned an MBA in project management at Fundacao Getulio Vargas. For 8 years she worked in the engineering company Promon Engenharia, first as an intern and later as a licensed architect, developing large scale industrial and infrastructure projects such as ports, factories, subway systems and power plants. In 2016 she shifted her career towards space exploration by pursuing a masters degree in Space Architecture at the University of Houston, graduating in May 2018.
Sean began his career in space exploration during his undergrad, at the University of California, Irvine, through active hands-on involvement with a Cube Satellite program. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, he worked on product development as an associate mechanical design engineer for Max Q Systems, embedded/IoT/robotics projects for tech startups, and numerical simulations as a volunteer for rLoop — a non-profit global think tank that competed in the first SpaceX hyperloop competition.
Keegan dedicates his life to all things space: after earning his B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, he started his career working for Masten Space Systems before founding RedWorks Construction Technologies. Guided by his passion for developing ISRU technology, Keegan and his team are bringing such a product to the terrestrial market while leading a team in the America Makes 3D Printed Habitat Challenge.
Prior to co-founding Space Cooperative, Yalda was a Senior Product Manager at Oracle where she created solutions for the Enterprise Resource Planning cloud software suite. Her career as a product manager and designer for software companies spans 10 years. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from UC Berkeley and an Astronautical Engineering Certificate from UCLA.
Brayden is solutions-oriented aerospace welding and manufacturing engineer with 12 years experience facilitating the overall design process from initial specifications and simulation to prototyping and production. Throughout his career he has held various positions in the manufacturing process such as project management, streamlining manufacturing, and setting forth high caliber design and quality standards. Additionally, Brayden has contributed to projects for SpaceX and JPL, both internally as an employee and externally as a contractor, respectively.
Long-time Bitcoin zealot, Alexis Aiono has been around the crypto industry since 2012. In 2013, she helped build the first P2P lending website that used crypto at BTCjam and has since been working on different projects and companies such as CoinList. Currently, she calls herself an armchair crypto philosopher who wishes to contribute to projects that work towards a better, fairer tomorrow for all people.