Planning a Lunar Satellite Network

March 29, 2022

The European Space Agency (ESA) has issued a call for ideas for creating a network of lunar telecommunications and navigation satellites. The Moonlight initiative would allow dozens of planned lunar missions to share the same infrastructure to communicate with Earth and find their way to the lunar surface, according to an ESA press release republished in GPS World.

Two consortia of companies have completed their concept reviews, which set out their business and technical analysis of a lunar network. The next step will defining a detailed system architecture and identifying the most suitable partnership models between private space companies and ESA.

One consortium headed by Telespazio includes private manufacturing and engineering companies, universities and research centers and startups.

A second consortium headed by Surry Satellite Technology Limited includes satellite manufacturer Airbus, a satellite network providers, a satellite navigation cmopanies, and the goonhilly Earth Station, a UK-based radio communication station..

Scientists Probe Mystery of Lunar Swirls

March 23, 2022
Photo taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter camera showing the swirl region within Mare Ingenii NASA/GSFC/ASU

Scientists have identified a topographical phenomenon on the lunar surface: bright swirls resembling cream being stirred into coffee. The features, which range in size from a few meters across to more than 50 kilometers, are found across from the Moon. Summarizes NewScientist: “We don’t know what causes [the swirls], but a new analysis has discovered surprising hints that they are found where the ground is lower.”

FLEX: A Vehicle to Support Early Moon Colonization

March 16, 2022

California-based Venturi Astrolab has built a working prototype, tested in the American desert, of a rover, called FLEX, that is capable of transporting astronauts and cargo in support of lunar activities and experiments.

If selected by NASA, FLEX will support the Artemis program goal of establishing a long-term base on the Moon.

“Once you get there, you’ve got to be able to move things around,” said retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield who test-drove the vehicle, as reported by VOA Learning English. “You also need to transition the equipment that keeps you alive and that enables the activities.”

“When we settle somewhere,” he added, “we don’t just need to get people from one place to another, but we need to move hardware, cargo, life support equipment and more.” more “FLEX: A Vehicle to Support Early Moon Colonization”

The Coldest Place in the Solar System?

March 14, 2022
Shackleton crater sits at the moon’s south pole. Jorge Mañes Rubio. Spatial design & visualisation in collaboration with DITISHOE

Double-shadowed craters near the Moon’s south pole may be so dark that they would be among the coldest places in the solar system. The small tilt of the Moon as it orbits the Earth, only 1.5 degrees, means that it has hundreds of craters where direct sunlight never reaches. Double-shadowed craters make it impossible for even reflected sunlight to touch some areas. Temperatures can drop below  -170°C.

NewScientist has the story behind a paywall.

The Pentagon Plans Highway Patrol for Cislunar Space

March 12, 2022
Image credit: U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL)

A congressional spending bill has added $61 million for the U.S. Space Force toward setting up a surveillance network — or “highway patrol” — to track the domain between the Earth and the Moon.

Nation-states and commercial companies will fly nearly 100 missions, both crewed and uncrewed, to the Moon by 2030. As the cislunar region fills with satellites and space junk — there are at present an estimated 27,000 piece of human-made objects larger than a softball in orbit — the Cislunar Highway Patrol System (CHPS) will track and identify all man-made objects a combination of optical and radar sensors — critical for mitigating potential collision risks.

“The responsible use of space and unfettered access to space domain awareness ensures collision avoidance, on-orbit logistics, communication, navigation and maneuvering, all critical to the United States and allied space commerce, science and exploration,” states a video produced by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory that can be viewed here.

Some critics warn that the intrusion of the armed forces into cislunar space represents a potential usurpation of NASA and militarization of space. Military strategists say the stakes are too big to leave cislunar space to the civilians, and the Pentagon will be compelled to take on a major role. China, which has plans to build a lunar base, cannot be trusted to pursue only peaceful aims, and could use its space program for both economic and military advantage, Politico says. more “The Pentagon Plans Highway Patrol for Cislunar Space”

Solar Ejection Extends 2 Million Miles

March 11, 2022

The European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter has captured an image of a massive solar eruption that belched hot plasma 2.2 million miles into space. Fortunately, the eruption, which took place February 15, is heading away from the Earth, reports BGR.

When so-called coronal mass ejections face the Earth, which is 92 million miles away, they can overwhelm the protection provided by the Earth’s magnetic field and wreak havoc on telecommunications systems and power grids.

The Moon has no magnetic field, and giant solar eruptions could do even more damage to infrastructure on the lunar surface.


Engineers Test Pit-Exploration Robot

December 4, 2020
The PitRanger. (Credit: William Whittaker/PitRanger team)

The Moon is dotted with steep-walled holes known as pits, or skylights, which likely lead to sub-surface lava tubes that could serve as sheltered underground environments for human settlers. Engineers are developing specialized robots to explore these hard-to-access topographical features.

The trick is designing these vehicles to be compatible with small landers, making them capable of negotiating steep pit aprons, and equipping them to acquire cross-pit images. A team led by William “Red” Whittaker, a robotics professor at Carnegie Mellon University, has developed the PitRanger, a 33-pound mini-robot outfitted with a solar panel and an adjustable telephoto camera and tested it in a massive sinkhole in Utah.

Whittaker explains his challenge to

“The scenario is to rove to a pit with a micro-rover, peer into the pit, acquire images of walls, floors, caverns, and then generate pit models,” Autonomy for fast exploration is the critical technology since the small, solar-powered rovers won’t be able to carry direct-to-Earth radio for supervision or guidance.

In addition, “the rover must succeed in a single illumination period” on the moon, because it needs the sun for energy and heating. (A lunar day lasts about 14 Earth days, and the lunar night is equally long.) “It only has 12 days, not 12 years, to complete its mission.”

The rover would circumnavigate the rim, identify the overlooks offering the required, and deploy a tiltable camera to obtain the required angles needed to create a high-fidelity, 3D-quality image, The result will be far superior to anything that a Moon-circling satellite could capture.

Not only do pits provide potential habitats, they are windows into lunar geology. Scientists expect to gain insights into volcanology, morphology and much more, Wittaker said.


Chinese Focus on Helium-3 Resources

November 29, 2020
Chang’e-5. Credit: AFP

As China invests in its space program, scientists have identified helium-3 (He-3), an ideal fuel for nuclear fusion reactors, as a major subject of interest.

According to CGTN, a Chinese English-language news source, Chinese scientists say the Earth possesses roughly 30 kilograms (about 66 pounds) of the helium isotope. Deposited by solar wind, the substance is abundant on the Moon’s surface — about a million metric tons. That’s enough to power the Earth for a thousand years.

Extracting He-3 from the lunar regolith does pose a challenge. The material would have to be heated to about 600 degrees Celsius before being extracted, packaged and transported back to Earth.

China’s Chang’e-5 lunar space mission, a 23-day operation launched Monday, aims to bring back regolith from the Moon.

“There seems to be another wave of interest of going to the moon, both by the United States and China and there may be other countries as well,” said University of Wisconsin engineering professor Gerald Kulcinski. “And most of these programs have, as part of their goal, harvesting helium-3 for terrestrial use.”

Resource Scarcity on Moon Could Spur Conflict

November 23, 2020

Resource scarcity on the Moon could lead to overcrowding, resource depletion and international tension, warns an international team of scientists in a paper published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A.

“A lot of people think of space as a place of peace and harmony between nations. The problem is there’s no law to regulate who gets to use the resources, and there are a significant number of space agencies and others in the private sector that aim to land on the moon within the next five years,” says Martin Elvis, astronomer at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian and the lead author on the paper.

“We looked at all the maps of the Moon we could find and found that not very many places had resources of interest, and those that did were very small. That creates a lot of room for conflict over certain resources.”

Water will be needed for survival on the Moon. Iron will be required to build anything. The Helium-3 isotope will be the fuel for nuclear fusion. Even solar power is subject to scarcity; only a few spots at the lunar poles are exposed to 24-hour-per-day sunlight. The resources are spread unevenly across the satellite.

“The biggest problem is that everyone is targeting the same sites and resources: states, private companies, everyone. But they are limited sites and resources,” says Tony Milligan, a co-author and senior researcher with the Cosmological Visionaries project at King’s College London. “We don’t have a second moon to move on to. This is all we have to work with.” more “Resource Scarcity on Moon Could Spur Conflict”

How to Build a Moon Base

November 22, 2020
A 3D printed shield protects the habitat from radiation and debris . The pressurized area can house four people. Skylights provide daylight. The original capsule acts as an airlock and tech support module with communications and other equipment © ESA / Foster & Partners

BBC’s Science Focus magazine provides an interesting spin on the primary challenges behind establishing a Moon base.

Where to locate. Given the high cost of getting material to the Moon — $10,000 per kilogram just to escape the Earth’s gravity well — the idea is to use materials on hand to the greatest extent possible. That explains the keen interest in settling in the poles where abundant water ice is sequestered in craters that never see the light of day. Another advantage of a polar location is the ability to install solar panels in mountain peaks that are exposed to the sun around the clock.

Building the base. Planners expect to make extensive use of 3D printing. Experiments on Earth with imitation regolith have shown that it is possible to build large structures with the technology. However, it remains to be seen how well the process will work in the Moon’s light gravitational field. more “How to Build a Moon Base”