Roscosmos and NASA also plan to do just thatmoon cities“. What will the first human settlement look like outside our planet?
Lots of reasons to conquer the Moon
The last time humans landed on the moon was 48 years ago. Then, on December 14, 1972, the American astronaut Eugene Sernan, after walking on the surface of the moon, said: “We are leaving just as we came, and with God’s help we will return.”
In the past few years, several countries have announced their willingness to continue moon programs. Month attractive for several reasons. First of all, it’s a catalyst for flights to other planets in the solar system – it’s easier to pull off than from Earth.
Secondly, it is a source of mineral wealth, mainly helium-3 which can be used to produce thermonuclear fuel.
Third, the other side of the moon, scientists plan to install a radio telescope that would be protected from earthly 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 few hundred million years after the Big Bang.
And finally, perhaps most importantly, the foundation on the Moon should become a testing ground for technologies to relocate humanity to other planets.
Therefore, in the coming years, we will inevitably witness the active conquest of the Earth’s satellite. But sending heavy rockets there is always too expensive. Today, no space agency will fund the dispatch of the crew, as was the case with the “Apollo” program. They are all more about creating permanent beings, first in the Moon’s orbit, and then on its surface. But this is not an easy task.
Zone of increasing competition
The first problem relates to the fact that all participants in the “moon race” are focused on the same locations and resources. Therefore, the discussions are not primarily about the scientific, but about the legal and commercial aspects of the problem.
Therefore, in each moon project, the location of the permanent base is determined in the Southern Moon Pole area. Although, for purely technical reasons, it is easier to perform shuttle flights to and from the orbital station from the equatorial zone.
But just in the south polar region the so-called cold traps are concentrated – areas that are constantly shaded, where ice is necessary for getting water. Plus, it never darkens here, so the solar panels can be continuously charged. At the rest of the Moon’s surface, the night lasts for two weeks.
All participants in the “moon race” focus on the same locations and resources.
Despite the 1967 Agreement on the Principles of Space Activities in Space Exploration, or as it is commonly called, the Space Agreement, the use of space resources is not regulated by international law.
However, there is an Agreement on the Control of Activities of States on the Moon and Other Heavenly Bodies, adopted by a resolution of the UN General Assembly in December 1979, but no state has ratified it with its moon program. Moreover, on April 6, 2020, US President Donald Trump signed a decree endorsing the United States commercial development on the Moon and solar system planets. And this only increases the tension.
Water is the “oil of space”
The location of the moon’s base depends primarily on the location of potential water sources necessary for all operations that provide human life on the Moon: for general needs, drinking and growing food, obtaining breathing oxygen and hydrogen on for rocket fuel.
The Moon has long been believed to be completely waterless. This view was confirmed after the scientists examined the samples that astronauts presented the “Apollo” mission to Earth.
But in 2018, evidence emerged that they were at the bottom of the crater significant reservoirs of water ice. This gave the moon programs new hope and strength.
Scientists working on the settlement project suggest installing mirrors at the edge of the moon craters and directing sunlight into shaded areas. The heated ice will turn into steam that will pass through the pipeline to the electrolysis plant, where it will decompose into hydrogen and oxygen. Another option for getting water from the crater is with the help of an earthquake combination equipped with an ice evaporator.
According to experts, up to ten billion tons of ice have been trapped at the South Pole. For comparison: to provide water and oxygen at the base where four people live, several tens of tons of water a year are needed.
As well as large areas in the shadows, scientists have identified several small cold traps, up to one centimeter in diameter, most of which are in the polar regions. Based on data obtained from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the researchers calculated that a total of up to forty thousand square kilometers of the moon’s surface could be covered with water ice.
The SOFIA stratospheric observatory infrared telescope recently discovered signs of molecular water in illuminated areas. According to the scientists, its recorded spectral feature indicates the presence of ice that fills the gaps between mineral grains in the lunar soil. If this is proven, the list of locations for building the foundation will be significantly expanded.
Oxygen from rhegolith
Composition of the moon soil, rhegolith, contains iron and other elements: sodium, aluminum, manganese and calcium. According to scientists, all of this is potentially available for exploitation, as well as oxygen, which is 43 percent in rhegolith. And by combining oxygen with hydrogen taken from other sources or delivered from the Earth, water can be obtained.
However, extraction of oxygen from oxides and silicates requires a lot of energy. Scientists suggest use huge gagged which focuses sunlight on a small reactor shell. For the moon’s dust to decompose, the temperature in it must be brought to 900 degrees Celsius. In addition, reactivation of oxygen release requires catalysts: hydrogen and carbon, which are pre-transported from Earth. And even with all these conditions, it will take years to produce water fuel and send only one Apollo-sized spacecraft into moon orbit.
Despite all the difficulties, the European Space Agency has already allocated funding to fund the project of oxygen extraction from rhegolith. This will be dealt with by the British company Metalysis. The company’s experts, along with scientists from the University of Glasgow, said during the experiment on Earth, that 96 percent of oxygen was exploited from artificial moon soil, and that the rest was converted into useful metal powders.
Unlike the Earth, the Moon has no atmosphere or magnetic field, so the moon’s base buildings must protect the inhabitants from cosmic rays, solar radiation and meteorites.
The first option is to fill the raised shelters with a multi-meter layer of moon soil. The second is to lay the foundation on rocks, canyons or caves. As a kind of natural refuge, scientists once proposed a lava tunnel under Mount Marius in the central part of the Storm Ocean. The walls will be constructed using the 3D printing method by sintering regolith particles.
Recently, American scientists from the University of Arizona announced a project to build a moon base from blocks obtained by melting a regolith using a concentrating solar reflector. The experimental apparatus devised by the authors has a surface area of ten square meters and in ten seconds it burnt a hole in a steel plate six millimeters thick.
The researchers calculated that: in three years’ time, using such a device, the robotic 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 using the reflector to light living rooms and greenhouses, where green vegetables, cabbage and potatoes can be planted. As part of a closed ecosystem, plants recycle organic waste and convert carbon dioxide into oxygen for respiration.
Astronauts on the International Space Station are already eating green leafy vegetables planted on the station using the hydroponics method. According to scientists, “space” salad in terms of quality and quantity of useful components is no worse than earth’s soil.