The United States could lead the return of humans to the surface of the Moon by 2022 for an estimated total cost of $10 billion, concludes NASA’s Alexandra Hall and NextGen Space’s Charles Miller in a paper written for New Space Journal, “A Summary of the Economic Assessment and Systems Analysis of an Evolvable Lunar Architecture that Leverages Commercial Space Capabilities and Public-Private Partnerships.”
The big takeaway, NASA astrobiologist Chris McKay told Popular Science, “is that new technologies, some of which have nothing to do with space — like self-driving cars and waste-recycling toilets — are going to be incredibly useful in space, and are driving down the cost of a moon base to the point where it might be easy to do.”
According to the study’s introduction, the exercise explored a scenario in which the strategic objective was commercial mining of a propellant from lunar poles that would will be transported to lunar orbit to support a human expedition to Mars. Key assumptions include:
- U.S. leadership an international partnership of countries to leverage private industry capabilities within the framework of an International Lunar Authority.
- 100% private ownership of the lunar infrastructure and assets. The partnership would not own the land itself, but would own what was removed from the land.
- An “evolvable lunar architecture” for the habitat.
Science Alert elaborates… The lunar base would house around 10 people for stays of up to a year at first, and could grow to a self-sufficient settlement of 100 within a decade. Settlers would get to the Moon on Space X’s soon-to-be-launched Falcon Heavy rocket and would use 3D printing to fabricate most of of the tools they needed. The colony likely would be established on the outer rim of one of the Moon’s poles, which receives enough sunlight to keep solar-powered equipment running continuously. Robots would excavate large volumes of ice contained in the craters; the ice would be used both for life support and the refueling of space craft.
Astronauts would live in dwellings similar to Bigelow Aerospace’s radiation-resistant inflatable habitats. The habitations would grow crops with the help of a toilet that recycles human waste into energy, water, and nutrients. Food and supplies for 10 people that couldn’t be made on site could be provided at the cost of about $250 million per year using the reusable Falcon 9 rocket.