The Case for Lunar Power Standards

Standards have contributed to our growth and prosperity, making possible entire industries that constitute the backbone of the modern, globalized world.

Space has reaped many benefits from standardization too, and standardization still occurs regularly and within all the areas of the New Space economy. The Moon shall be the next among those areas for standardization, starting from power.

The Case for Lunar Power Standards

The world in the 19th century was a fervid, dynamic blossoming of human ingenuity and scientific prowess upending traditions, redefining and creating societies, and producing a cascade of tangible impact, captured in revolutionary marvels such as the dynamo, the incandescent light bulb, the alternating current, and the electric motor, powering and brightening up the Industrial Revolution and creating an unprecedented acceleration of innovation and economic prosperity.

However, this incredible burst of progress soon started to slow down.

The hundreds of new patents, designs, devices, products, units of measure, materials, and processes spreading around the world were too dissimilar to work together, and so they could not be integrated into new and more capable systems, serve expanding markets, or accelerate scientific discovery.

This paragraph from a historical recount illustrates this clearly:

“At the World's Fair in St. Louis in 1904, the exhibits that occupied the Palace of Electricity used electricity of numerous different voltages, direct current or 1-, 2-, or 3-phase alternating current, with many different frequencies as well as a variety of connectors and plugs.”

A Babel Tower of incompatible ideas about the future.

However, scientists, engineers, and industrialists all around the world quickly realized the risks and limitations of the situation, and stepped up to form councils, communities, and committees with increasingly larger reach and influence, dedicated to the formation of a shared set of rules and best practices to be adopted and refined in the pursuit of a greater good: standards were born.

Engaging in - often voluntary - standard-making activities allowed us to gradually and collectively simplify and harmonize the spectrum of methods and solutions, generating interoperability, common interfaces, and shared protocols that everyone could follow and comply with. This ultimately created the conditions for technologies to spread, and for their benefits to improve the lives of millions of people.

Now that all the machines on the floor of production plants ran at the same voltage levels, manufacturers of power generators could market their products to all the new plants and machines that the Industrial Revolution was pouring into the cities. Now that every household had the same wall plug connector, producers of home appliances could sell their refrigerators to every family. Now that electric motors with similar requirements could be sourced by multiple providers, factories could reduce the risk of being disrupted by failures or shortages in their supply chain. Now that experts and industries had spaces to exchange best practices and technical information, the quality and safety of their devices rapidly increased.

Standards have contributed to our growth and prosperity, making possible entire industries that constitute the backbone of the modern, globalized world.

Space has reaped many benefits from standardization too, and standardization still occurs regularly and within all the areas of the New Space economy. The CAN Bus, CubeSats, and the International Space Power System Interoperability Standards (ISPSIS) are all great examples. With over 40 countries in the world making plans to go to the Moon and to establish a sustained presence there, more than 100 missions are expected to take place by 2030, and hundreds of public and private organizations across industries and geographies generating a myriad of new and exciting exploration programs and business cases, the Moon shall be the next among those areas for standardization, starting from power.

Reliable and sustainable access to energy will be critical to support this intense activity, and a multitude of different solutions are currently being conceived, developed, and proposed to meet the power demands of the expanding landscape of Lunar actors.

From batteries to fuel cells, from cables to wireless power, from nuclear devices to solar plants, the Moon will be powered by a diverse energy mix and infrastructure, generating, storing, and distributing energy to landers and rovers, scientific payloads, human habitats, greenhouses, research outposts, radio telescopes, manufacturing plants, mining assets, data centres, and spaceports.

While the scale and the prospects of the economy around Lunar activities may not be comparable to that of the Earth in the 19th century, the challenges posed by lack of standardization can be similar. Without a sufficient degree of standardization, cooperative endeavours, and ecosystem growth can be hampered and slowed down by the absence of interoperability, reduced safety, poor scalability, and fragmented and inaccessible markets.

A Babel Tower of incompatible ideas about the Lunar future.

However, lack of standardization is not the only source of challenges to peaceful and sustainable Lunar development. Bad standardization is another. A certain type of standardization can stifle innovation and the affirmation of better technologies and new discoveries. For instance, standards that reduce the number of product options offered to customers create larger markets, which allows companies to leverage economies of scale. This can encourage incremental innovation but, at the same time, it can discourage disruptive innovation. In other circumstances, implementing standards can be very expensive, which goes to the disadvantage of small, innovative newcomers. Similarly, inflexible standards that are difficult to update can postpone the adoption of better solutions. Finally, top-down approaches where standards are defined without deep involvement from all stakeholders can be non-inclusive and produce a mismatch between guidelines and viable forms of implementation. Reluctance from power producers, distributors, and users to join and lead the dialogue about standards can allow others to raise barriers, inflict major switching costs, and undermine their competitiveness. So can the inability to leverage effective standard-making methods.

This calls for community-driven initiatives to create and explore healthy frameworks for incremental capacity building, adaptive and transparent processes, and inclusive and participatory ecosystems. Within these frameworks, standards should be refined collectively to meet short-term needs and anticipate long-term opportunities, while maintaining the flexibility to integrate new technologies and the ability to organize the cradle-to-grave lifecycle of standards, responsibly.

Luckily, many analogies on Earth can inform such endeavours, and several initiatives are being undertaken in the space community to address this important matter.

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation is working with the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) to develop key standards to abide by to obtain the governmental permits and licenses that are necessary to conduct spaceflight-related activities.

The European Cooperation for the Standardization of Space (ECSS) is the reference organization in Europe, with key inputs from space agencies and industry.

The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) has launched the Lunar Operating Guidelines for Infrastructure Consortium (LOGIC), where working groups of stakeholders are formed to create technical standards on areas including power, informed by DARPA’s 10-Year Lunar Architecture study. The participatory element is thus present and includes both industry and institutions, and the approach is conceived to be iterative. However, participation, for now, is limited to a relatively small group of US-based entities, leveraging the early outcomes of an initiative promoted by a defence agency.

Analogous approaches might be undertaken by other collectives within other countries to solidify local industries and regulatory ecosystems. While this is certainly good for the exploration of models and frameworks for the new Lunar settings, it will be interesting to evaluate how scalable and accessible such paradigms can be when the scope is extended beyond domestic borders.

When the focus shifts from the national scale to the international one, the incentives that drive standardization change. For power standards on Earth, the early days of standardization saw groups of co-nationals convening to find common ground and to assist the regulatory efforts of the lawmakers aiming at the stability of the domestic markets and the quality and robustness of the industrial base.

Among different countries, the primary drivers for standardization are peaceful economic relationships. It is not a coincidence that the two world’s biggest standardization organizations - the International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission - stopped working during the two World Wars, and experienced their fastest growth after 1946, establishing independence and inclusiveness as their core values, and setting missions to promote global trade and worldwide adoption of shared rules. Similarly, international industry-led groups such as the USB Implementers Forum could form and enjoy the widespread adoption of the USB standard thanks to the existence of a vast, stable, international underlying market.

On the Moon, these conditions are still to be defined, as astropolitical relationships evolve and strong economic market forces are yet to solidify. This creates an opportunity to critically observe the current trends and to contribute proactively by engaging with the community.

With this in mind, Open Lunar is currently discussing with industry experts and international providers and users of Lunar power to discuss their needs and gather their perspectives on the current state of the art and future scenarios for Lunar power standardization.

In parallel, Open Lunar is combining this knowledge with the results of its observations and review of current initiatives, technology trends, and terrestrial analogies, with the goal of co-creating an independent and innovative set of recommendations and activities for community-driven development of Lunar power standards, culminating with the proposal of a Unified Lunar Grid Code. This will be further explored in the next blog post. 

If you are interested or actively working on these topics, send an email to the research lead, Paolo Pino (, or to get involved.

Ad Lunam.