Roscosmos and NASA are also planninglunar 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 48 years ago. Then, on December 14, 1972, the American astronaut Eugene Sernan, while walking on the surface of the moon, said: “We are leaving as we came, and with God’s help we will return.”
In the past few years, several countries have announced their readiness to continue lunar programs. Month it is attractive for several reasons. First of all, it is a springboard for flights to other planets of the Solar System – it is easier to take off from it than from Earth.
Second, it is a source of mineral wealth, mainly helium-3, which can be used for the production of fusion fuel.
Third, on the opposite side of the Moon, scientists plan 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 several hundred million years after the Big Bang.
And finally, perhaps most importantly, the base on the moon should become a testing ground for the technology of moving 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 every time is too expensive. Today, no space agency will finance the deployment of the crew, as was the case with the “Apollo” program. It is more about creating permanent bases, first in the orbit of the moon and then on its surface. But it is not an easy task.
The zone of increased competition
The first problem is that all participants in the “lunar race” focus on the same locations and resources. Therefore, the discussions are still not mainly about the scientific, but the legal and commercial aspects of the problem.
So, in all lunar designs, the location of the permanent base is determined in the south pole region of the moon. Although, for purely technical reasons, shuttle flights to the orbital station and back are easier to make 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 and where there is ice necessary to obtain water. In addition, it never gets dark here, so the solar panels can be charged continuously. On the rest of the lunar surface, the night lasts two weeks.
All participants in the “moon race” focus on the same locations and resources.
Despite the 1967 Agreement on the Principles of State Activities in Space Exploration, or, as it is often called, the space agreement, the use of space resources is not governed by international law.
However, there is an Agreement on the management of the activities of states on the moon and other celestial bodies, 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 planets of the solar system. And that only adds to the tension.
Water is “oil of the cosmos”
The location of the lunar base depends primarily on the location of potential water sources, which are necessary for all operations that ensure human life on the moon: general needs, drinking and growing food, obtaining oxygen for breathing and hydrogen as rocket fuel.
The Moon has long been thought to be completely waterless. This opinion was confirmed after scientists examined the samples that the astronauts of the Apollo mission delivered to Earth.
But in 2018 there was evidence that they were at the bottom of a crater large reserves of water ice. This gave new hope and strength to the lunar programs.
Scientists working on the settlement project suggest placing mirrors on the edge of the moon’s craters and directing sunlight into areas that are shaded. The heated ice will turn into vapor, which will pass through the electrolysis line, where it will decompose into hydrogen and oxygen. Another option for extracting crater water is to use an earthmoving combine with an ice evaporator.
According to experts, up to ten billion tons of ice have been captured at the South Pole. For comparison: to provide water and oxygen in a base where four people live, several dozen tons of water are needed per year.
In addition to large areas that are shaded, scientists have identified a number of small cold traps up to one centimeter in diameter, most of them located in the polar regions. Based on data obtained from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, scientists have calculated that a total of up to 40,000 square kilometers of the Moon’s surface could be covered by water ice.
Recently, the infrared telescope of the stratospheric observatory SOFIA detected traces of molecular water in illuminated areas. According to the researchers, the recorded spectral characteristics indicate the presence of ice that fills the gaps between the grains of minerals in the lunar soil. If this is proven, the list of locations for the construction of the base will be significantly expanded.
The composition of the lunar soil, regolithincludes iron and other elements: sicyl, aluminum, manganese, and calcium. According to the scientists, all this is potentially available for exploitation, as is oxygen, which in regolith accounts for 43%. And by combining oxygen with hydrogen taken from other sources or supplied from Earth, you can get water.
However, extracting oxygen from oxides and silicates requires a large amount of energy. Scientists suggest using the giant looked which focus sunlight on the shell of a small reactor. For the lunar dust to break down, the temperature in it must rise to 900 degrees Celsius. In addition, the oxygen release reaction requires hydrogen and carbon catalysts, which are supplied from Earth. Even with all these conditions, it will take years to produce aquatic fuel and send just one Apollo-sized spacecraft into lunar orbit.
Despite all the difficulties, the European Space Agency has already allocated funds to finance the project of extracting oxygen from regolith. The British company Metalysis will take care of it. The company’s experts, along with scientists from Glasgow University, said that during the experiment on Earth, 96% of the oxygen was used up from artificial lunar soil, and the rest was transformed into useful metal powders.
The moon, unlike Earth, has no atmosphere or magnetic field, so the buildings of the lunar base must protect its inhabitants from cosmic rays, solar radiation, and meteorites.
The first option is to fill the erected shelters with a multi-meter layer of lunar soil. The second is to place the base on rocks, canyons or caves. Scientists once proposed a lava tunnel under Mount Marius in the central part of the Storm Ocean as a kind of natural refuge. The walls will be erected by 3D printing by sintering regolith particles.
Recently, American scientists from the University of Arizona announced a project to build a lunar base from blocks obtained by melting regolith using a focusing solar reflector. The experimental apparatus developed by the authors has an area of ten square meters and within ten seconds it burned a hole in a steel plate six millimeters thick.
Scientists have calculated: in three years, with the help of such a device, a robotic line will produce regolith blocks, which will be enough to build a base with a total area of u200b u200btwo thousand square meters.
And later they suggest that the spotlight is used to illuminate living rooms and greenhouses where green vegetables, cabbage and potatoes can be planted. As part of a closed ecosystem, plants convert organic waste and convert carbon dioxide into oxygen for breathing.
Astronauts on the International Space Station are already eating green leafy vegetables planted at the station using the hydroponic method. According to scientists, the “space” salad in terms of the quality and number of useful ingredients is not inferior to that on earth.