Assume that Amazon has set up a processing station on the Moon for whatever motive as a way to ship things out to space (Mars, etc.) faster and more efficiently.

How much time today and perhaps in the near future would it take for shipments to be delivered from Earth to the station on the Moon?

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding, Jaich, an interesting question. I am going to suggest it needs improving. I'm not sure if the Moon station is shipping goods beyond the Moon (in the body of the question) or to Earth (by the title). Earth-Moon shipment times will depend on the type of spacecraft used. Processing time for shipments depends on in-warehouse procedures unless this means total time between ordering and receiving the goods. Finally, Amazonian station is either a station with personnel from the Amazon region or women warriors. Amazon station, after the company's name, perhaps? OK. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Feb 2 '17 at 3:18
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome, and thank you for tagging very well. $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Feb 2 '17 at 3:26
  • $\begingroup$ Also, are we talking about moon->earth shipments, not earth->moon, or moon->asteroid or moon->mars? The title seems to indicate this, but the body of the question doesn't... also, we're looking the least-cost shipments? $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    Feb 2 '17 at 3:31
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps the addition to the question - about payload - could be a different question. It sort of invalidates my answer, and to be honest, I don't know how to answer it. $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Feb 2 '17 at 3:41
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    $\begingroup$ Jiak! Welcome to Worldbuilding. Since it looks like you're new to SE sites, I'll let you know that it is good to let a question "sit" for a few days before accepting an answer. It lets people see your question, the answers, and up/down vote the answers to see which one is best. The information in Zxyrra's answer is true, but someone may post a better one. $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    Feb 2 '17 at 4:09

Note - I'm excluding all processing time taken by the company, because that all depends.

According to this somewhat reputable source, the Apollo missions took three days - including landing, which is relevant. However, New Horizons - which did not land - took about eight hours. Considering that the second option was headed out to Pluto - with extreme speed in mind - and that going too slow means the competition wins - a reasonable guess would be between one and two days, depending on the size of the package and the urgency with which it needed to be shipped.

That's fast enough for Amazon Prime.

Alternatively, you could use a somewhat modern idea for a near-future delivery system. Designed to propel spacecraft out of the solar system to our neighbor Proxima Centauri, a giant laser could push packages at around 20% the speed of light.

Completely ignoring time required to load the "cannon", power it up, and unload - and completely ignoring cost or general common sense:

It takes 2 seconds for light to travel between the Earth and the moon.
Going 1/5 that speed takes 5/1 times as long.
You could potentially make the trip in 10 seconds.

That's also fast enough for Amazon Prime.

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    $\begingroup$ The reason why Apollo missions took three days was simply because it was the least-energy way to do it. You cannot travel too quickly, otherwise the moon's gravity can't pull you in. New horizons was able to speed past because it was to never be caught by any gravity. $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    Feb 2 '17 at 4:02
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    $\begingroup$ Completely ignoring acceleration too. For a 20 psol (percentage of speed of light) delivery, allowing one second acceleration and another second to decelerate. Sorry this means adding an extra second to the trip time. So now it's eleven (11) seconds, but the acceleration is 6 million gee (applied in two one-second bursts). Expect goods to arrive flattened. If at all, there might be a small problem of being vaporized by the Earth's atmosphere during the initial boost phase. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Feb 2 '17 at 4:36
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android I agree, but this is a rough estimate for fun. I'm sure that, combined with packaging, handling, and receiving, would lengthen it far beyond 11. $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Feb 2 '17 at 4:42
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    $\begingroup$ Obviously I was having fun with your obviously fun answer. I'm they can accelerate packaging, handling and dispatching to 6 million gee. Done in the blink of an eye. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Feb 2 '17 at 4:46
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    $\begingroup$ "Package was atomised upon delivery. 0/10, would not purchase again" $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Feb 2 '17 at 7:54

In the near future, how often do flights depart to Luna?

Right now we don't have an active Luna program. Back when there was one, the answer was "about once per year." I think it is a safe assumption that the parcel will travel on a regular scheduled flight.

If those depart once per week, there is a delay of 0-6 days from scheduling.

How long to package the cargo?

Right now things which go to space are checked in different ways for safety, designed for low weight, carefully stowed, etc. That takes weeks or months.

By the time we're talking about an Amazon delivery, obviously shipping stuff to space has become more routine. How much more routine? Can I order a can of beer? A lawnmover? Let's say packing the crate takes a day.

Transfer in orbit?

The Apollo missions launched the complete package from the Earth surface and discharged expensive vehicles at each step. A "mature" system would use a reusable shuttle to a transfer station in Earth orbit, a reusable vehicle from there to another transfer station in Luna orbit, and finally a reusable lander to the surface.

If the same flights carry cargo and passengers, the delays won't be too long. If only cargo is carried, it might sit in the transfer stations for a couple of days each.

The pure flight time is the smallest problem.

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    $\begingroup$ A lawnmover? Sounds like the kind of thing you need on the moon! $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Feb 2 '17 at 7:52

The Apollo missions took a direct transit route which allows for short travel times (important with astronauts aboard), but is relatively expensive in terms of fuel requirements. Some Lunar probe missions take longer, more efficient routes, which can take months to complete.

For example, the LADEE mission took a month to complete its trip, which involved three highly-elliptical Earth orbits before finally transiting into Lunar orbit. The GRAIL probes took an even longer flight path. Their roundabout, low-energy route swung almost all the way out to the Earth-Sol L-1 point and took over three months to complete.

So, Space-Amazon could charge more for "Space Prime" two-day shipping, but its regular "when-it-gets-there" shipping option might take months!

Having said all that, if your end goal is to deliver from Earth out to further destinations (Mars, asteroids, etc.), you don't want to go all the way down to the Moon's surface if you can avoid it. You'd need to spend a lot of fuel getting down to the surface in one piece, and then a similar amount to get back up into orbit. Ideally, you'd want to have your transit hub in Earth's orbit, so that you only have to launch your package up out of a gravity well once. To borrow a line from Heinlein, "Once you get to Earth orbit, you're halfway to anywhere in the solar system."


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