Roscosmos and NASA also plan tolunar 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. On December 14, 1972, American astronaut Eugene Sernan, after walking on the moon’s surface, said, “We are leaving just as we came, and with God’s help we will return.”
In recent years, several countries have announced that they are prepared 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 the earth.
Secondly, he is a source of mineral wealth, mainly helium-3 which can be used for the production of thermonuclear fuel.
Third, scientists on the opposite side of the moon are planning to install a radio telescope that would be protected from terrestrial interference. And with his help, they want to find out cosmic radiation according to which they hope to learn about the events of the “dark age” of the universe – the first hundred million years after the Big Bang.
And last, perhaps most importantly, the base of the moon should be a test site for technology to move humanity to other planets.
Therefore, we will inevitably witness the active conquest of the Earth’s satellite in the years to come. But sending heavy rockets there every time is too expensive. Today, no space agency will fund the broadcast of the crew, as was the case with the “Apollo” program. They are more about creating permanent bases, first in the moon’s orbit and then on its surface. But this is no easy task.
Zone with increased competition
The first problem concerns the fact that all participants in the “moon race” are focused on the same places and resources. Therefore, the discussions are still mostly not about the scientific but about the legal and commercial aspects of the problem.
Thus, the location of the permanent base in all lunar projects in the region at the Moon’s south pole is determined. Although it is only for technical reasons that shuttle flights to the orbital station and back are easier to perform from the equatorial zone.
But it is precisely in the southern polar region that the so-called cold traps are concentrated – areas that are constantly shaded, where there is ice needed to get water. In addition, it never gets dark here, so the solar panels can be charged continuously. On the rest of the Moon’s surface, the night lasts for two weeks.
All participants in the “moon race” are focused on the same places and resources.
Despite the 1967 agreement on the principles of states’ activities 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 states on the moon and other celestial bodies that was adopted by a resolution of the UN General Assembly in December 1979, but no state has ratified it 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 raises the tension.
Water is the “oil of space”
The location of the lunar base depends mainly on the location of potential water sources that are necessary for all operations that provide human life on the moon: for general needs, drink and grow food, get inhaled oxygen and hydrogen for rocket fuel.
For a long time, the moon was considered completely anhydrous. This view was confirmed after scientists examined the samples that the astronauts from the “Apollo” mission delivered to Earth.
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.
Researchers working on the settlement project suggest placing mirrors on the edge of the moon’s craters and directing sunlight at areas in the shade. The heated ice will be converted into steam that passes through the pipeline to the electrolysis plant, where it will be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen. Another option for fetching water from the crater is with the help of a soil tool combination equipped with an ice evaporator.
According to experts, up to ten billion tonnes of ice have been caught at the South Pole. For the sake of comparison: to provide water and oxygen in the base where four people live, tens of tons of water are needed per year.
In addition to large areas in the shade, researchers have identified a number of small cold traps, up to a centimeter in diameter, and most are found in polar areas. Based on data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the scientists estimated that a total of up to forty thousand square kilometers of the moon’s surface could be covered with water ice.
Recently, the infrared telescope in SOFIA’s stratospheric observatory detected signs of molecular water in illuminated areas. According to the researchers, its recorded spectral character indicates the presence of ice that fills the gaps between the mineral grains in the lunar soil. If this is proven, the list of places to build the base will be significantly expanded.
Oxygen from regolith
Composition of the Moon, regolithcontains iron and other elements: sicilium, aluminum, manganese and calcium. According to researchers, all of this is potentially available for exploitation, as is oxygen, which is 43 percent in regolith. And by combining oxygen with hydrogen taken from other sources or supplied from the earth, water can be obtained.
However, extracting oxygen from oxides and silicates requires a lot of energy. Researchers suggest use giant ogled focusing sunlight on the shell of a small reactor. For the moon dust to break, the temperature in it must be brought to 900 degrees Celsius. In addition, the reaction to release oxygen requires catalysts: hydrogen and carbon, which are delivered in advance from the soil. And even under all these conditions, it will take years to produce aqueous fuel and just send an Apollo spacecraft to lunar orbit.
Despite all the difficulties, the European Space Agency has already set aside funds to finance the project to extract oxygen from regolith. This will be handled by the British company Metalysis. The company’s experts, together with researchers from the University of Glasgow, said that during the experiment on Earth, 96 percent of oxygen from artificial lunar soil was used and the rest was turned into useful metal powder.
Unlike Earth, the moon has no atmosphere or magnetic field, so the buildings on the lunar base must protect the inhabitants from cosmic rays, solar radiation and meteorites.
The first option is to fill the erected shelters with a measuring layer of lunar soil. The second is to place the base on rocks, canyons or caves. As a type of nature conservation, researchers once proposed a lava tunnel under Mount Marius in the central part of the Stormy Sea. The walls will be built with the 3D printing method by sintering regolith particles.
Recently, US researchers from the University of Arizona announced a project to build a lunar base from blocks obtained by melting regoliths using a focused solar reflector. The experimental apparatus compiled by the authors has an area of ten square meters and in ten seconds it burned a hole in a six mm thick steel plate.
The researchers calculated: in three years, with such a unit, the robot line will produce regolith blocks, which will be enough to build a base with a total area of two thousand square meters.
And later they suggest that the reflector be used to illuminate the living room and greenhouse 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 already eat green leafy vegetables planted on the station using the hydroponics method. According to researchers, “space” salad in terms of quality and number of useful components is not worse than the earth.