By Agence France-Presse
As space agencies prepare to return people to the Moon, the best engineers are racing to design a tunnel piercing machine capable of digging underground colonies for the first moon inhabitants.
“Space is becoming a passion for many people again. There are discussions about going back to the moon, this time to stay, ”said Jamal Rostami, an expert from the US-Iran, told AFP at the World Tunnel Congress in Naples this year.
The US President Donald Trump's administration wants NASA to put people back on the Moon by 2024, and the agency is also drawing up plans for a “Gateway” station to be a platform for astronauts with n traveling to and from the surface of the moon.
Billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are among the fierce competitors for military, civil or commercial launches, with SpaceX Musk leading the race on building rockets ready to fly in time.
But the harsh conditions on the surface of the Moon mean, once up there, that people need to be shielded from radiation temperature and freeze in structures that maintain atmospheric pressure in a vacuum.
They also need protection from meteorite strikes.
“Imagine something my fist size as a piece of rock comes on 10-12 kilometers (6-7 miles) per second, it can hit anything that would destroy it immediately,” says Rostami at the meeting in ne & # 39. Italy.
“So every plan for habitat on the moon means making a ditch, creating a structure and covering it with some kind of ditch, which is the soil on the moon.
“Our idea is to start underground, using a mechanism we already use on the ground, a tunnel boring machine, to make a continuous opening to create habitats or connect the colonies together,” he added. .
Analysis of images of lava tubes surface of the moon said it can accommodate major underground cities, Rostami, director of Earth Mechanics Institute in the UK Colorado Mines Mine.
But having something as huge as a tunnel boring machine will be up, there won't be an easy task.
“Weight is a problem. It is quite expensive to take a kilogram of material from the earth to the moon. Our machines are hundreds of tons of mass, so it's not practical to take the machines as they are, ”he said.
“We have to transform the design, where all the components are optimized, weigh much less, and perform better.” T
The machines must also become fully automated and minimize repairs to a minimum, a particular challenge when handling equipment that sees a lot of wear and tear as they eat through rock and dirt.
There is also the question of how to power them.
With a four meter diameter machine that needs around 2,000 kilowatts of energy, experts argue whether it is possible to use small nuclear power plants to ignite a moon version, he said.
Treasure is to freeze
There can be 1,000 people living in the outer space by 2050 – either in orbit or on the Moon – according to the United States Launch Alliance, which estimates that this initial space audit will cost 2.7 trillion dollars.
Despite some mention of the first inhabitants of the space using mining tools such as moon tunnel diggers (LTBM) to dig out precious minerals, Rostami said that their priorities would be to remove something even more valuable. .
“We're not talking about gold. The first target is water. We know that water has to be caught in the moon poles, where the temperature is as low as -190 degrees Celsius (-310 Fahrenheit) ”.
“One of the ideas that is being discussed is the heating of the part in a permanent shade, evaporation of the water and its capture,” says Rostami, who has launched a first Master's degree. and a PhD in Spatial Resource Engineering in Colorado.
“Another idea is to use it, to glue it to a facility and let it thaw. The extracted material can then be used along with the water to print 3D buildings in the colonies, ”he said.
One thing is certain: the LTBM in the future will be tested thoroughly on the first Earth “because once it has been located, that is it. It will be very difficult to make any big changes ”.