The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is working with Northrop Grumman to flesh out a concept for a moon-based railroad network.

“The envisioned lunar railroad network could transport humans, supplies and resources for commercial ventures across the lunar surface — contributing to a space economy for the United States and international partners,” Northrop said in a March 19 statement.

The company’s work will focus on identifying the interfaces, resources and funding needed to build such a network as well as the technological and logistical risks. Northrop will also propose lunar rail system prototypes explore how the capability could be built and operated.

The effort is part of DARPA’s Lunar Architecture Capability Study, or LunA-10. The seven-month study will not fund construction or hardware development but is instead designed to identify the technologies that are foundational to developing a future infrastructure on the moon.

Northrop was one of 14 companies DARPA selected in December to explore concepts to support a future lunar economy by 2035. Focus areas for those studies include power generation, moon mining and resource utilization, navigation, and mobility and logistics. The firms selected include launch providers, startups, defense prime contractors and tech companies. DARPA has not disclosed the value of the contracts it awarded.

The studies come as the U.S., its international partners and commercial firms envision future activity around the moon. In recent years, DARPA and the Air Force Research Laboratory have started several programs to explore logistics and satellite sensing in a lunar environment.

The Space Force’s interest in the military utility of operations around the moon is also growing. The service in February announced plans to create a Space Futures Command that will validate forward-looking concepts and emerging missions. Cislunar operations — defined as activity around the moon — is one of the first concepts the command will explore.

Speaking March 18 at the Satellite 2024 conference in Washington, D.C., Lt. Gen. Shawn Bratton — the Space Force’s chief strategy and resourcing officer — said Space Futures Command’s cislunar work will focus on understanding whether operations in that environment offer military benefits to the service.

The plan is to then share that information with Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman and Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall.

“I think there’s important mission there. I can’t prove that there’s military utility there,” Bratton said. “I think we owe the boss, both Gen. Saltzman and the secretary, a little bit better data that validates that . . . yes, cislunar is critical and here’s how we should use it.”

Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.

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