Saturday, 12 March 2016

A Permanent Moon Base May be Realised Within Ten Years

“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people.”
John F. Kennedy (Moon Speech - Rice Stadium)
Image credit: ESA/Foster + Partners

When I was growing up during the era of the space race, I clearly remember how it felt at the time that we were heading towards a revolution in space exploration. The film, 2001 – A Space Odyssey, neatly captured that vision...of an orbiting space station that you could take a domestic flight up to (courtesy of Pam Am – there was even an Airfix model of the craft) and then a shuttle from it on towards the moon base. And this really what we believed was just around the corner back then, but subsequent history, since those heady days of the 70s,  had other ideas.

A base on the moon rapidly became the stuff of dreams, the cost too great to be practical. As that dream and other crewed space exploration crashed around it, it wasn't long before some claimed that the moon landings were fake. But of course  there will always be a few who prefer to believe in conspiracies, rather than the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Regardless of the chequered past of human space exploration, we do now at last seem to be heading towards a new dawn. 

Private space companies like SpaceX are blazing a path here with their reusable Falcon 9 rocket, but it’s their Falcon Heavy, set to launch towards the end of this year, that could be a real game changer. This new rocket, with its ability to lift far heavier payloads, could be used to get habitation modules, and other important elements of a permanent base, to the moon.

A moon base printed from lunar materials.
Image credit: ESA/Foster + Partners
Another area of rapid development that could have major implications for a permanent base, is within the realm of 3D printing. NASA has already being trialling a printer on the International Space Station, to print out spare parts and even tools. And this approach can be scaled up.

The European Space Agency is currently working with private companies, to explore the use of a building printing on the moon, using lunar raw materials. This approach would have major cost saving implications. Also, made from lunar soil, the structures would provide the inhabitants with natural thermal and radiation protection.

ATHLETE
Image credit: NASA/JPL
Additionally, NASA is exploring autonomous building options, including using robotics as part of that solution. The Jet Propulsion Lab is currently developing the the ATHLETE (All-Terrain Hex-Limbed Extra-Terrestrial Explorer) robot, designed to work for ten years straight on the surface of the moon.  Capable of carrying out to 450kg, ATHLETE is intended as a general purpose robot, designed to deal with the tricky lunar terrain. ATHLETE robots can also be docked together to carry far heavier payloads.


But why build a moon base at all, beyond the reason, because we can?

One of the recent discoveries on the moon is the potentially large amount of water frozen around the polar regions (believed to have been caused by comet impacts). Water is significant for both producing breathable air, but also can quite literally be turned into rocket fuel, and it is this that is one of the key reasons for having a base on the moon at all. With NASA ambitions raised to Mars for a crewed mission, if fuel could be generated on the moon, this would hugely reduce the cost of that very expensive trip.

A mass driver could be used to launch 
mined materials back to Earth.
Image credit: NASA
Getting water into orbit, a heavy dead weight, even with the new generation of large rockets currently in development, is extremely costly. If we would could mine the water on the moon, this could hugely reduce the cost of crewed missions to the other planets in our solar system and even their moons.

Also, there is something on the moon that quite literally is worth more than gold…Helium-3. Unlike Earth that enjoys protection with its magnetic field, the moon is bombarded with Helium-3 by the solar wind. These deposits have built up, and it has been proposed, could be mined as a safe fuel for fusion power, although not everyone is convinced.


Concept art from 1984 of a moon base.
Image credit: NASA/Dennis M. Davidson
However, maybe it’s the human aspect that is the key reason for seriously considering a moon base. Famously the Apollo astronauts on the surface of the moon, could raise their gauntleted hands and with their thumbs, block out the view of Earth, hanging before them like a beautiful blue marble in the void of space. All human history, disappearing behind a digit…and that can’t but help give one a profound perspective about our place in the universe. And right there, with the moon as a stepping stone, which can help us leave the cradle of our birth, to venture out among the stars, is maybe the most important reason for having a moon base at all.

Links

The Dawn of a New Era in Space Flight:

These Restless Few:

Humanity – The Overview Effect from Space:

10 comments:

  1. permanent Moon base would be magnific for Space conquer

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    1. It would be huge! With robotic and 3D printing technology, maybe this time round it really will happen.

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  2. ...space-elevator (a cable to the moon)... Train Moon space elevator is not possible, because if could climb (to orbital counterweight for sends away by pulley´s "clothesline" cable system installed previously from Moon◙══════◙Counterweight...) each perigee 1 section track with 100 mts in length, 13 perigees/year, and only could climb 10 sections/year = 1 km/year of Track, 380,000 kms would need 380,000 years! builds the total Track. Moon space elevator with cable, perhaps, orbital Station-counterweight located between 56,000 kms in perigee (36,000 kms for no collision with geostationary space-elevator of Earth + 20,000 kms possible difference of Moon´s perigee) and 106,000 kms in apogee (56,000 + 50,000 kms approx. difference Moon´s Apogee - Perigee) from Earth. 2 space-elevators, 1 in each cable pulley´s "clothesline", while one go up to Moon, the other go down to Earth. But...supposing a speed 100 kms/hour: 380,000 kms/100 = 3,800 hours, 5 months travelling...

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  3. I've always loved the idea of a space elevator but the technical hurdles are huge. A mass driver on the other hand, that propels a mined load in a pod along a track and launches it back towards Earth, looks a far more straight forward proposition. And of course there is asteroid mining to be considered.

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  7. I think this is an informative post and it is very useful and knowledgeable. therefore, I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. tyulfile.blogspot.com

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    1. I find subjects like this endlessly fascinating, Binasa. If I wasn't so busy writing at the moment I'd be writing an article about going to Mars!

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  8. ...space-elevator (orbital station bike wheel-1g)... geostationary orbit, a huge "bike-wheel" is gyrating around its own axis for have 1g-centrifugal. Wheel held in place with 4 CABLES (two of them with a track for Train) FORMING THE STRUCTURE OF A RHOMBUS♦ (minor diagonal of rhombus is the gyration-axis of the Sation-Wheel)...rhombus´s below, the carbon nanotubes Track towards Earth...rhombus´s above the Cable towards the higher counterweight...if...WHEEL´s RADIUS = 250 mts... Wheel gyration´s axis length = rhombus´s minor diagonal = Wheel´s radius = 250 mts... Cable´s length of the rhombus´s side = Wheel diameter = 500 mts. Wheel´s ZONE-1g: habitable length = 1571 mts*50 mts wide*50 mts heigth, gyrating 360º each 31 seconds, angular-speed = 11.61º/sec, linear-speed = 182 kms/h... Station Wheel´s GYRATION: AXIS IN PERPENDICULAR (90º) ORIENTATION TO THE ORBITAL TRAJECTORY...and so, while Station-Wheel follows its geostationary orbit, the Wheel does Not changes the spatial-orientation of its axis, and thus there are Not Precession forces actuating (and thus there is Not collision tendency of the Station-Wheel against the rhombus´s cables...but the system must supporting lateral charges against Track produced by the Coriolis effect when Train goes upwards or dowwards...), the gyroscopic-rigidity contributes for maintaining forever the gyration-axis perpendicular to orbital trajectory... When the Maglev Train slowly arrives, using now their retractable cogwheels by the Zipper-Track (zippers installed on the same Maglev-Track), Train stops in Geo 0g-Station placed over one extreme of the gyration-axis... Passengers disembark and entering into gyratory circular corridor, they take now the interior-elevator of one of the Wheel´s hollow-radius, and tunnel "descending" till Hotel into the final Zone-1g...where while Station-Wheel goes turning, the immense O2 producer Hydroponics Garden receives a filtered Sun light...and there are Earth´s awesome views.

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