Golden Spike to Unveil Plans Next Thursday

Dr. Alan Stern
Dr. Alan Stern

The mysterious Golden Spike Company — which is said to be planning a privately-funded landing on the moon by 2020 — will hold a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., next Thursday, Dec. 6 at 2 p.m. EST.

Despite the company’s attempt to operate in stealth mode, quite a lot seems to be known about its plans., which first broke the news, reports that “the effort is led by a group of high profile individuals from the aerospace industry and backed by some big money and foreign investors.”

A Tumblr account run by an anonymous writer is providing additional details apparently swiped from’s subscription-only L-2 website. According to the information:

  • Warren Buffet, Richard Branson and Guy Laliberte are reported to be among the investors.
  • The company has signed a $120 million deal for a Falcon Heavy rocket
  • Expeditions to be moon will cost about $2 billion apiece.

UPDATE: Parabolic Arc has learned from informed sources that Richard Branson is NOT involved in the company. Further, virtually all billionaires identified in the media as being investors are not involved. Full details will be available on Thursday.

It will be interesting to see if Branson is indeed an investor and shows up at the press conference. I’m not sure his presence would be that helpful. Branson has spent eight years on a suborbital spacecraft that has gone way over budget and has yet to make a single powered flight.  He doesn’t really add credibility to a plan to land men on the moon in roughly the same amount of time.

S. Alan Stern, the former NASA science chief who now works for the Southwest Research Institute, is the registered agent for the company, which is located in Colorado and incorporated in Delaware. has also reported that:

The company intends to use “existing or soon to be existing launch vehicles, spacecraft, upper stages, and technologies” to start their commercial manned lunar campaign.

The details point to the specific use of US vehicles, with a basic architecture to utilize multiple launches to assemble spacecraft in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The details make direct reference to the potential use of propellant depots and fuel transfer technology.

Additional notes include a plan to park elements in lunar orbit, staging a small lunar lander that would transport two commercial astronauts to the surface for short stays.

The architecture would then grow into the company’s long-term ambitions to establish a man-tended outpost using inflatable modules. It is also understood that the company has already begun the design process for the Lunar Lander.

The plan apparently has been circulating for some time among advocates of private exploration and commercial exploitation of the moon. A brief mention of the plan was included in a description of a conference held in Hawaii in May titled, “Independent Human Moon Mission: Prospects Emerging From Rising Tide of 21st Century Exploration.”

A privately circulated proposal, known as “Golden Spike” and backed by respected scientific and astronautical entities, envisions the development of a reliable “Cislunar Superhighway”.

The Internet domain is registered to Doug Griffith, a Los Angeles-based attorney specializing in space and aviation law who is an advocate for commercial human spaceflight.

The name “golden spike” has historical resonance for anyone building a transportation system. The Golden Spike was a ceremonial final spike driven by Leland Stanford to join the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads on May 10, 1869 at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory. This act completed America’s first transcontinental railroad, uniting the nation from coast to coast.

  • Bert

    Moon-cakes. Or at least, Moon-waffles. How high will pancake batter rise, in 1/6 gravity?

  • Duncan Sparks

    Southwest Research Institute is allowing its senior employees such as Mr. Stern to found these new companies. Southwest Research Institute must have some sort of financial interest in these companies such as uwingu and Golden Spike.

  • Thank goodness that private individuals and companies can come together and launch a visionary project like this. It is more than a high-risk commercial venture. It is an inspiration for humankind that will make a lasting difference in the world.

  • Don’t accuse SwRI of “financial interest[s]” in this stuff.

    E.g. Alan made sure that I did NOT connect Uwingu to SwRI. That, and I assume Golden Spike as well, is a separate venture he’s involved in

  • Duncan Sparks

    Mr. Lurio do you know for a fact that Southwest Research Institute is not involved in Golden Spike or are you guessing? Why shouldn’t Southwest Research Institute invest or support things like this? Makes sense that they would since it is space related and they do space stuff – they have commercial agreements in place with XCOR for example.

  • Thanks for that.

    Bob Clark

  • Alan Stern works part-time at Southwest Research institute, which gives him time to do independent projects like uwingu and Golden Spike. That has been part of the arrangement when he came to SwRI.

  • Dennis Wingo

    Lets hope that there is a bit of substance to this and not just another instance of promoters promoting a promotion.

    The key question is.

    Where’s the money?

  • Dennis, I agree, that’s number one.

    Other factors could fold in re ‘other kinds of money’, e.g.: Does the plan assume that the crewed Dragon is developed by date x in large part by Commercial Crew Program dollars? Is there anyone who doesn’t believe that Congress will again slash CCP money? CCiCap is not going to stay on schedule because SLS/MPCV remains Congress’s top priority even if they have to drag all else, including ISS and CCP, into the grave with it.

  • I really like this idea, it sounds awesome, but I’m skeptical. The business model for commercial crew is, IMHO, largely riding on a single company’s success – Bigelow, as they’re the only company that’s serious about providing a LEO destination other than the ISS. And their business model relies on countries like the UAE, who don’t have any space infrastructure, purchasing space/time on Bigelow stations. Supposedly they have clients lined up, but is there such a demand for lunar bases? I’m just trying to be realistic, I see this as shaky, but it would be totally awesome if it worked.

  • Dave Klingler

    Just for fun, I’m going to make some uneducated guesses:

    – International Lunar Observatory Association is involved as a funder, because they’ve already offered a portion of the money.
    – SpaceX launchers with new lox/methane upper stages, because it’s a technical fit and because lox/methane could work well for depots
    – Bigelow hab, because they’re already involved with SpaceX and because they’re the only inflatable game in town
    – EML1, because it has a great view for tourists and because lunar orbits aren’t generally stable
    – 2-stage lox/methane reusable lander, because it’s simple to build a reusable lander that way (alternative would be NOFBX, but since Elon wants to head to Mars, it seems to me he’d go for lox/methane.
    – Dragon return capsule, because it (almost) exists

    Structuring a deal like this one would help SpaceX with Dragon and upper stage development, especially in the face of reduced CCiCap funding, whether or not it succeeds. And a lot of pieces are in place or on the way.

  • raw


  • alex wilson

    Dragon, at present, doesn’t have a heat shield capable of withstanding the thermal load imposed by a lunar return trajectory. That means either:
    a transfer stage/vehicle will have to be designed and built so the Dragon is slowed down to enter LEO, or (transfer vehicle) it waits in LEO for the crew to dock with it for return to the Earth, or,
    SpaceX finds the $$$ to develop and test a new heat shield for Dragon…plus probably upgrades to the capsule to make it more ‘livable’ for the multiple days a lunar transfer mimssion would take.
    as others have said: where’s the money? quoted per-mission price is $2 BILLION a pop, so this is not something that’s going to be funded by a couple of really-interested people, no matter how rich they are.
    still lots of “fill-in-the-blank” spots in the plan. inflatable habs haven’t been tested for long-term use in the type of thermal/radiation/micrometeor environment the Moon represents. upper stage is still a notional concept. no design to even begin testing for a lunar lander…..all of which is going to suck up even more $$$$$$$$.
    it’d be nice if it happened, but as of now, too many blank spaces, too many variable, and not enough explanation of where the piles of cash are going to come from to bet on this horse.

  • Andy


    Dragon’s PICA-X heatshield can handle lunar or Mars re-entry. Links to a couple articles where Elon says so:

  • Dave Klingler

    Alex, I have the impression that Dragon actually is capable of a lunar return. According to Elon Musk (in an article on this website), “The performance of the heat shield was spectacular. In an exercise of caution, we designed the heat shield to not just handle Earth orbit re-entry, but to actually be able to handle a worst-case, off-nominal lunar and Mars re-entry, so it’s an extremely capable heat shield and opens up a lot of possibilities.”

  • alex wilson

    As someone very wise once said to me: “Saying something will work doesn’t mean it *will*!”. They weren’t talking about heat shields, but if there’s one place you do not want to be wrong, a heat shield’s ability to handle the thermal load it will face has to be one of them, true?
    saw the coverage of their announcement on the BBC, and the commentary on their mission from John Logsden. he hit a lot of the same points I did, so I don’t feel like I’m being too pessimistic at all in what I said.