Roscosmos and NASA are also planninglunar cities“. What will the first human settlement outside our planet look like?
Lots of reasons to conquer the moon
The last time humans landed on the moon was 48 years ago. Then, on December 14, 1972, after walking on the surface of the moon, American astronaut Eugene Sernan said, “We are leaving just as we came, and with God’s help we will return.”
In recent years, several countries have announced their willingness to continue with lunar programs. Month is attractive for several reasons. First of all, it is a springboard for flights to other planets in the solar system – it is easier to take off from it than from Earth.
Second, he is a source of mineral wealth, mainly helium-3 which can be used for thermonuclear fuel production.
Third, scientists plan to install a radio telescope on the far side of the moon that will be protected from terrestrial disturbances. And with his help they want to find out cosmic rays according to which they hope to learn about the events of the “dark age” of the universe – the first several hundred million years after the big bang.
And last, perhaps most importantly, the base on the moon should become a testing ground for technologies to move humanity to other planets.
Therefore, in the coming years we will inevitably witness the active conquest of the satellite of the Earth. But sending heavy missiles there every time is too expensive. Today, no space agency will fund the deployment of the crew, as was the case with the “Apollo” program. They’re all more about creating permanent bases, first in the moon’s orbit and then on the surface. But this is not an easy task.
Zone of increased competition
The first problem is related to the fact that all participants in the “moon race” are focused on the same locations and resources. That is why the discussions are still not about the scientific, but about the legal and commercial aspects of the problem.
For example, in all lunar projects, the location of the permanent base is determined in the region of the south pole of the moon. However, purely for technical reasons, shuttle flights to the orbital station and back are easier to perform from the equatorial zone.
But it is in the southern polar region that the so-called cold traps are concentrated – areas that are constantly shaded, where ice is needed to obtain water. In addition, it never gets dark here, so that the solar panels can be charged continuously. The night lasts two weeks on the rest of the lunar surface.
All participants in the “moon race” are focused on the same locations and resources.
Despite the 1967 Agreement on the Principles for the Activities of States in Space Exploration, or as it is often called the Space Agreement, the use of space resources is not regulated by international law.
However, there is an agreement on the management of the activities of states on the moon and other celestial bodies, passed by a resolution of the UN General Assembly in December 1979, but no state has ratified this agreement with its lunar program. In addition, on April 6, 2020, US President Donald Trump signed a decree approving the United States commercial development on the moon and the planets of the solar system. And this only increases the tension.
Water is the “oil of space”
The location of the lunar base depends mainly on the location of possible water sources necessary for all operations that provide human life on the moon: for general needs, drinking and growing food, obtaining oxygen and hydrogen for rocket fuel.
For a long time, the moon was considered absolutely waterless. This view was confirmed after the scientists examined the samples brought to Earth by the astronauts on the “Apollo” mission.
But in 2018, evidence emerged that they were at the bottom of the crater significant reserves of water ice. This gave new hope and strength to the lunar programs.
Scientists working on the settlement project propose placing mirrors on the edge of the lunar craters and directing sunlight to areas that are in the shade. The heated ice turns into steam that travels through the pipeline to the electrolysis plant, where it breaks down into hydrogen and oxygen. Another option to extract water from the crater is by using an earth-moving combine equipped with an ice evaporator.
According to experts, up to ten billion tons of ice have been collected at the South Pole. In comparison: to provide the base where four people live with water and oxygen, a few dozen tonnes of water are needed per year.
In addition to large areas that lie in the shade, scientists have identified a number of small cold traps up to an inch in diameter, and most are in the polar regions. Based on data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the researchers calculated that a total of up to 40,000 square kilometers of the lunar surface could be covered with water ice.
Recently, the infrared telescope of SOFIA’s stratospheric observatory detected signs of molecular water in illuminated areas. According to the scientists, its registered spectral feature indicates the presence of ice filling the gaps between the mineral grains in the lunar soil. If this is proven, the list of sites for building the base will expand significantly.
Oxygen from regolith
The composition of the lunar soil, regolith, includes iron and other elements: sicilium, aluminum, manganese and calcium. Scientists say all of this is potentially available for exploitation, as is oxygen, which is 43 percent in regolith. And by combining oxygen with hydrogen from other sources or from the earth, water can be obtained.
However, extracting oxygen from oxides and silicates takes a lot of energy. Scientists recommend use giant laughed that focus sunlight on the shell of a small reactor. In order for the moon dust to disintegrate, the temperature in it must be brought to 900 degrees Celsius. In addition, the reaction of oxygen release requires catalysts: hydrogen and carbon, which are provided in advance by the earth. And even under all these conditions, it will take years to produce aqueous fuel and send just one Apollo-sized spacecraft into orbit around the moon.
Despite all the difficulties, the European Space Agency has already allocated funds to finance the project for extracting oxygen from regolith. This is provided by the British Metalysis. The company’s experts, along with scientists at the University of Glasgow, said that during the experiment on Earth, 96 percent of the oxygen was harnessed from artificial lunar soil and the remainder was converted into usable metal powders.
The Moon, unlike Earth, has no atmosphere or magnetic field, so the lunar base buildings must protect residents from cosmic rays, solar radiation, and meteorites.
The first option is to fill the erected shelters with a multi-meter low lunar soil. The second is to place the base on rocks, canyons or caves. As a kind of natural shelter, scientists once envisioned a lava tunnel under Mount Marius in the central part of the Storm Ocean. The walls are erected using the 3D printing method by sintering regolite particles.
Recently, American scientists at the University of Arizona announced a project to build a moon base from blocks obtained by melting regolith using a focusing solar reflector. The experimental device put together by the authors covers an area of ten square meters and burned a hole in a steel plate six millimeters thick in ten seconds.
The researchers calculated: in three years time, the robot line with such a device will produce regolith blocks, which is enough to build a base with a total surface area of two thousand square meters.
And later they propose to use the reflector to illuminate living rooms and greenhouses, where green vegetables, cabbage and potatoes can be planted. As part of a closed ecosystem, plants will recycle organic waste and convert carbon dioxide into oxygen for respiration.
Astronauts on the International Space Station are already eating green leafy vegetables planted on the station using the hydroponic method. According to scientists, “space” salad is no worse than Earth’s in terms of quality and number of useful components.