$10 Billion to Put a Colony on the Moon

March 22, 2016

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.

more “$10 Billion to Put a Colony on the Moon”

Commercial Colony on Moon Could Cost $5-$10 Billion

March 10, 2016

Drawing upon insights from a group of thought leaders and venture capitalists, a  paper published by “New Space” argue that a permanently inhabited lunar outpost could be established by the early 2020s at a cost $10 billion or less.

The paper, “Site Selection for Lunar Industrialization, Economic Development, and Settlement,” provides a preliminary treatment of the factors that would guide the optimum location for a commercially driven lunar settlement, which, in its initial phase, would house at least 10 people on extended tours.

Key parameters include: (1) power availability, (2) low-cost communications over wide areas,” (3) availability of water (or hydrogen-based molecules) and other resources, and (4) surface mobility.

The paper resides behind a paywall, but Popular Science provides a summary.

Power. The sun will be the primary source of power. The problem is that most lunar locations have 15-day nights, which creates a significant energy-storage problem. By the poles have nights lasting only four days or so. Therefore, the first lunar station will likely be located at one of the poles.

Communications. Communications will be easiest from the side of the Moon facing the Earth.But a relay station on the Moon or in orbit  could remedy the problem.

Terrain. Although the lunar north and south poles receive similar amounts of light, the paper deemed the north pole a preferable location for a settlement because it has smoother terrain that’s easier to travel across. In particular, the paper singles out the rim of Peary crater as being the best spot to develop a low-cost solar station. The crater likely contains water and has a smooth floor, making it easier for robots to traverse as they extract resources.

Commercial potential. Export options include water as a rocket fuel, precious metals from asteroid impact sites, Helium-3 as a nuclear fusion fuel, and even tourism. A study made last year, adds Popular Science, found that a Moon base could pay for itself by generating $40 billion rocket propellant per year.

Russians Still Determined to Land on the Moon

January 6, 2016
Angara 5V rocket. Image source: Anatoly Zak

Western economic sanctions following the annexation of Crimea and war in Ukraine have forced the Russian Federation to curtail its space program. But putting cosmonauts on the Moon is one goal that Russian space strategists refuse to give up,

Last week, reports Popular Mechanics, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree that transforms the government agency of Roscosmos into a state corporation, similar to the nuclear conglomerate Rosatom. Meanwhile Russian engineers have been working on plans to revive the old Soviet dream of landing cosmonauts on the Moon.

Lunar expeditions would use four cheaper Angara boosters, which would pay for themselves by delivering commercial and military satellites in addition to flying cosmonauts. The expeditions would be cheaper than those planned by NASA with its behemoth SLS rocket, which is too big for most commercial purposes. According to Popular Mechanics, the Russian Moon-exploration program would proceed as follows:

“Unmanned flight testing of the new spacecraft in Earth orbit would start in 2021, followed by an automated docking at the International Space Station in 2023. In the same year, the first crew would fly the new ship to the ISS. more “Russians Still Determined to Land on the Moon”

Moon Express Teams with Rocket Lab in X Prize Competition

December 8, 2015

Moon Express, a Cape Canaveral, Fla.-based company promoting lunar colonization, has found a rocket to get its lander to the lunar surface, reports The Verge. The company views the Moon as an untapped source of minerals to mine and real estate to settle.

A participant in the Google Lunar X Prize, a competition that will reward the first company to land a privately funded rover on the Moon, Moon Express will launch its MX-1E micro-lander on top of the experimental Electron rocket. The Electron is manufactured by Los Angeles-based Rocket Lab.

The launch contract was accepted by the X Prize Foundation. The expected launch date was sometime in 2017.

“At X Prize, we believe that the spirit of competition brings about breakthroughs that once seemed unimaginable or impossible, and so it thrills us to now have two Google Lunar X Prize teams with verified launch contracts attempting missions to the moon in 2017,” Chanda Gonzales, senior director of the Google Lunar X Prize, said in a statement. “The new space race is truly on!”

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Solar Wind Interacts with Moon’s Surface

December 1, 2015
Areas in red mark where solar wind is reflected the most. (Click for larger image.)

The Moon may not have an atmosphere, but it does have “weather” after a fashion. Researchers have found that the particles in solar wind appear to interact with the Moon in an unexpected way, reports the Daily Mail.

The solar particles interact with the Earth’s magnetic field to create the aurora borealis. But the Moon lacks a magnetic field, so scientists thought it passively absorbed the solar wind. But measurements made by Indian’s Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter have revealed that 10% of the solar wind is reflected back into space, creating turbulence as solar wind streams past the Moon. Vortexes billow onto the dark side of the Moon.

Charles Lue, a researcher at the Swedish Institute of Space Physics, has found that the reflection of solar wind varies with localized magnetic fields on the lunar surface.

Explains the Daily Mail:

In areas with strong magnetism, caused by iron in the crust, the solar wind flow is restricted, while adjacent areas receive increased flow. This results in unusual spirals of ions streaming off the dayside of the moon, where the solar wind strikes first, to the nightside.

The weathering of the moon’s surface by the solar wind may be less than previously predicted, which could mean there is less water hidden beneath the crust. Said Lue: “The reduced solar wind weathering allows us to separate micro-meteorite and solar wind-inducing weathering, including the effects of different solar wind species, differently well shielded.”

CubeSats to Probe for Water on Moon

October 8, 2015
CubeSats measure about four inches on each side — an oversized Rubik’s Cube. Photo source: NASA

The SpaceTrex lab at Arizona State University is partnering with NASA to create a tiny satellite, called the CubeSat, designed to measure and locate water on the Moon in the Lunar Polar Hydrogen Mapper or “Luna-H Map” project.

The competition is intense to be included on mission payloads. CubeSats are small enough, writes Popular Science, that they can hitch rides on rockets with larger payloads and get released on their own trajectories to conduct their own science. The first official launch of NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, scheduled for 2018, will carry 11 separate CubeSat missions into deep space, including one that will measure the effects of space radiation on yeast. The spacecraft will drop off LunaH-Map potentially along with two other lunar CubeSats to settle the question of how much water there is on the Moon and where it is.

The question for lunar water has strategic significance that the other scientific endeavors, as interesting as they may be, do not have. As Popular Science notes, lunar water will fuel exploration deeper into the solar system.

Jekan Thanga, the head engineer on LunaH-Map, dreams of a lunar gas station for astronauts. “Just think, we could have a refueling station at the L2 point,” he says, referring to a point beyond the Moon where gravitation alignments would allow supplies in space to remain stationary. “Our astronauts could stop there to refuel and stock up on supplies before heading out to Mars, or Europa.”

Since 2000 more than 300 CubeSat missions have been deployed in Earth Orbit, including the Planetary Society’s LightSail this year.

Moon Walking

September 22, 2015

In 1972 NASA published a time and motion study of Apollo 16 astronauts walking on the Moon. You can find that report here. The Atlantic Magazine has highlighted the findings here. NASA researchers were interested in finding out answers to very prosaic questions. Were space suits flexible enough? Would astronauts be physically able to handle critical equipment? Could then get up once they fell over?

One thing the researchers discovered: Because a person falls much slower on the Moon, he has more time to correct for a slip before reaching the surface.

Loss of traction on loose lunar soil — Buzz Aldrin described it as like “most talcum powder” — caused crewmen to slip and fall. Earth-style running was impossible. Astronauts utilized two “sharply divergent methods of locomotion” — walking and skipping. Both seemed to require the same amount of energy.

Mystery: If the Moon Has No Plate Tectonics, Why Does it Have Moonquakes?

September 21, 2015

In 1972 America’s astronauts left seismic sensors on the Moon. Gathering data for five years, they transmitted evidence of 12,000 moonquakes, reports The Atlantic.

Scientists have identified four classifications of moonquakes: deep moonquakes, thermal moonquakes, meteroid impacts, and shallow moonquakes. Deep moonquakes are the most common. Scientists counted 7,000 of them. Likely caused by the Earth’s tidal pulls, they occur about every 27 days and usually measure 2 or smaller in magnitude. Thermal quakes occur in response to the temperature changing from lunar day to night. Meteoric quakes are triggered by the impact of meteors.

The really interesting moon quakes are the “shallow” moonquakes. Seven of the 28 recorded up to 1977 exceeded magnitude 5. They last longer than earthquakes, where underground water helps dampen them. On the Moon, which is incredibly dry, seismic energy is more efficiently propagated.

Another factor differentiating shallow moonquakes from earthquakes: Unlike the Earth, the moon has no active tectonics.

The cause of shallow moonquakes remains a mystery.

Earth Gravitation Effects Scarp Formation on Moon

September 16, 2015
Lunar wrinkles, or scarps

Humans have long observed the effect of the Moon’s gravitational force on the ocean tides. it turns out that the Earth has a gravitational effect on the Moon as well. Earth gravitation is shaping formations of cliffs that form as the Moon slowly shrinks, reports C/Net.

The core of the Moon is cooling. As the core cools, the partially molten regions in mantle solidify and the Moon shrinks slightly, a process that wrinkles the crust. The wrinkles form a type of cliff called “lobate scarps,” usually less than six miles long and tens of yards high.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has identified 3,200 scarps randomly scattered across the Moon’s surface.

“There is a pattern in the orientations of the thousands of faults and it suggests something else is influencing their formation, something that’s also acting on a global scale — ‘massaging’ and realigning them,” explained study lead author and Smithsonian senior scientist Thomas Watters of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington.

That force comes from the gravitational pull of the Earth.

Because the Moon’s core is still cooling, the scarps are likely still forming. Seismic activity is likely to peak when the Earth and Moon are furthest apart. NASA hopes to be able to monitor the hypothesized moonquakes with a lunar seismic network..

Luna 25 Probe to Restart Russian Ambitions on the Moon

September 3, 2015
Model of the Luna 25 probe. Photo credit: Gazet.ru.

Russia is pinning its hopes for lunar colonization on Luna 25, a probe set for launch in 2025 — making it the first Russian craft to land on the Moon since 1976. Luna 25 will pave the way for an even bigger coal, a crewed landing and lunar base, reports Spaceflight Insider.

The probe, also known as the Luna-Glob lander, will land in the Boguslavsky crater near the lunar south pole and analyze the region’s regoloth. Its four television cameras will take footage of the area. Another two cameras will observe the work of the probe’s digging tool. A radioisotope thermoelectric device will provide power by converting the heat generated by the decay of plutonium-238 isotope into electricity.

“This mission is a scientific-technological one. We want to carry out scientific experiments there, but this is a technological mission in the sense that we need to return to the Moon, learn how to land, and survive the lunar night, since a lot of what was achieved in the 1970s has been forgotten,” said Vladislav Tretyako, a researcher in nuclear planetology at the Russian Space Research institute. more “Luna 25 Probe to Restart Russian Ambitions on the Moon”