Background and Introduction
As I have referred to in previous blog posts, in August of 2014 there was a meeting of about 44 people from various disciplines at a major Silicon Valley venture capital firm. The proposition put forward was that if there was $5 billion dollars available, could an installation on the Moon be put in place by 2023 that could sustain ten people. It is an exceptionally interesting thought experiment, and one that I have continued to turn over in my brain when I have had time. I don’t treat it as merely a thought experiment but as a challenge to see if it is indeed possible. Technology advancement is continuing in many fields such as robotics, telepresence, autonomous operations, swarms, and Augmented and Virtual reality. These advances are continuing to bring down the cost of space exploration and economic development of the Moon, Mars and the rest of the solar system. It is an exciting time to be alive.
I have just about every book, journal article, conference paper, and thesis written in the past sixty years on the subject of lunar bases, outposts, cities, and industrial sites. To me some of the best is the oldest, as NASA has paid less and less attention to doing anything besides science on the Moon in recent times. As an aside, it would be ruefully humorous to chart this decrease in attention over time. Figure 1, from Niel Ruzic’s “The Case for Going to the Moon” is the kind of thinking I would like you the reader to fix in your mind as you read this as the kind of operational lunar development that could indeed be accomplished in the near term:
Ruzic was no dreamer. He was the editor and publisher of the magazine Industrial Research, and was an accomplished professional in his field. Indeed, look at the illustration above and know that what you are looking at is the invention of the Cryostat, important in many manufacturing fields for precision temperature control in a vacuum. Ruzic holds the patent for this device, and it was gestated while he wrote his book. NASA is using a cryostat to obtain the exceptionally low temperatures necessary for the operation of the James Webb telescope. For those who are skeptical of lunar industrialization today, I give you the words of Arthur C. Clark, who wrote the forward for this book:
This book is a practical one. It maintains that science and space travel should have a practical purpose. Because of this attitude (as opposed both to the pure science and the political approach), and because it is written in ordinary English, this book is for three classes of readers. First, it is for the intelligent people who have wondered why we should spend all that money to go to the moon. Second, it is for statesmen attempting to divest their opinions about space from vested interests as they ponder why we should spend all that money to go to the moon. Third, it is for those scientists unashamed to admit we’re all laymen in some else’s field as they contemplate why we should spend all that money to go to the moon. [edit: Apologies for leaving the underlined text out yesterday when copying this from the book.]
I suspect that this book with be a revelation to a good many people in all three groups, especially those who talk about the ‘Moon Race’ as if it were only that. (The fact that it is a race is perhaps its least important feature). Some will be badly shaken by talk of large-scale industrial operations, ‘lunar cryostats’ and ‘mobile water mills’ that the author has invented. The eventual colonization of the solar system, and communications with intelligent life elsewhere–yet today, refusal to face such possibilities is nothing less than a flight from reality. There is no excuse from it, in the second half of the 20th century.
Thus nothing that I or anyone else writes about the subject of industrialization of the moon should be new. Interestingly precision temperature control for vacuum manufacturing On the moon was a big part of Ruzic’s idea in 1965. The horrible fact is that the economic development of the solar system, that many wrote about in the early days of the space age was buried in the rah rah of the space race, and then largely lost with the abandonment of the whole thing even before it was fully accomplished.
In this missive I would like to suggest the following idea, that is having at least in the beginning, instead of ten people on the Moon, a single person and have that person live on the Moon by him or herself, doing work, for one year before the next mission. Risky, yep, but if we want to do a commercial development on the Moon, this may be what it takes (and yes of course I volunteer for the job).
This approach helps to minimize cost, provide for the most productive relationship between robotic elements, human ingenuity, and the support of the telepresence operators on the Earth, all of whom will be crucial to making this work. At the end of the first year after the first human has done his or her job, other humans should be able to arrive and pick up the burden and reap the rewards. Now this person would not be on the first or even the second mission, but for the sake of brevity, I will only go into the first two missions. Following posts will go beyond that.
The Place and the Process
The place for the first lunar development has been addressed by our team before and it is at the rim of Whipple crater near the north pole of the Moon. The link to that article is here. As a recap, here is the general area involved in figure 2:
Since we have a site, we can begin the process of developing it. The site is of course chosen carefully in order to maximize solar power. It is also on the other side of the moon from where the scientists want to go (the south pole).
The First Mission
The first mission should be a rover scouting mission to the surface of the Moon, anywhere in the area shown above, though the topography is highest toward the crater about 4/5ths of the way up. Since the availability of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle we can put about 1600 kg on the lunar surface. Thus, along with the rover, which would be mounted on the Skycorp Medium Lunar Lander platform, there would be a fairly small ( 12 kW max power) solar array, a radar beacon for following mission, and an RF/Laser communications system. NASA’s LADEE mission used a very early lasercomm system to provide 622 megabits per second from lunar orbit. This system would be specified at 2-5 gigabits/second.
There would also be a local high power 5.8 gHz high power Wi-Fi with a range of 50-75 kilometers, allowing this system to be the communications platform back to the Earth for the rover and future needs as well. A system for the autonomous charging of the rovers, that we have already prototyped here at Skycorp, would be used to recharge the rover. This would be done to unburden the rover of the large solar arrays, power system, and communications system that would otherwise be needed for direct communications back to the Earth. The general form of this system has already been tested in the field with NASA in 2010 at the Desert RATS analog site near the grand canyon. Figure 3 shows images from the field where we had the NASA Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) rover.
We used a multi-hop Internet Over Satellite system to replicate delays similar to what you would have when operating on the Moon from the Earth. The NASA Center Director at Ames drove the rover in the desert from his office at Ames. Figure 4 shows the rover and the terrain in the area as it could be implemented in a lunar mission, down to the floor of Peary, for the first mission:
First the area inside of the yellow lines in figure 1 will be explored. That is about 3.1 km x 0.5 km. That is the key area of the site. While we have good Lunar Orbiting Laser Altimeter (LOLA) data, we still need to ground truth that to determine exactly where the highest point is and then that will later be the site of the solar farm. The Eagle Engineering rover design was chosen because a lot of work went into the chassis design before, and it can later be reused and rebuilt for other applications when the crew person arrives. That rover also will have a lot higher speed capability (several km/hr) so that more terrain can be covered than with the current common NASA quasi-autonomous rovers on Mars. Since the site is only 1.25 light seconds to the Earth and 2.5 seconds round trip, telepresence operation is quite feasible, as well as real time high definition video and sensor feeds. Figure 5 shows the terrain in the general area inside of the yellow lines in isometric view:
The orange cylinder is the highest altitude site in relation to solar illumination according to LOLA data. The other “peaks” shown on the isometric may or may not be large boulders on the surface. The LOLA data has them there, and there are boulders in the high resolution Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) images, but they are of undetermined nature at this time.
The primary objectives of Mission 1 are:
1. Land Safely and deploy assets.
2. Establish high speed laser and wi-fi communications assets and radar beacon.
3. Reconnoiter the vicinity of the poleward rim of Whipple to find area for the solar farm provide data for further site planning.
4. Develop methods for telepresence operation and gain experience in real world situation.
1. Drive rover along Peary rim to lunar north pole and to Hinshelwood crater to characterize terrain.
2. Drive rover down the rim of Peary/Whipple to test out the Route 2 (see figure 4) to the permanently shadowed craters in the floor of Peary.
The estimated cost of the first mission is as follows: (Rough Order of Magnitude)
1. Rover, lander, laser, comms, and associated equipment. ($120m)
2. Launch costs (Falcon 9) $67 million.
3. Operational costs, (six months) $5 million.
Total = $120+$67+$5 = $192 million
Energy is life, energy is development, and energy is revenue. The more energy you can put at a site for the lowest cost, the better the chances of success for the entire project. Thus the advent of the Falcon Heavy with its estimated 18 tons to trans lunar injection is indeed a game changer, especially at the quoted price of ~$90 million. For a commercial installation that actually does work, the absolute minimum to get things moving is on the order of 100 kW peak power. This system is shown in figure 6:
The first power lander will be positioned at the highest point along Whipple crater. This is the point that has the second most time in the sunlight in the north polar region. This point is chosen as the site is more accessible to Peary and other locations around the north pole. This highest point will be the solar farm, eventually to house up to a megawatt of power landers. Along with the power lander itself, flown on the heavy modular lander platform on the Falcon heavy. Along with the lander will be a distribution box for power, with multiple AC output voltages. Also will be a 30 meter #000 power cable.
A small trailer will also be onboard this flight that will hook up to the rover previously landed. The trailer will carry a payload of microwave emitters that in aggregate can output about 30-40 kilowatts of power. These will be used to sinter landing sites for the next four landers. Figure 7 shows the rover with the sintering trailer at work:
The rover also will be fitted with a leveling blade for leveling the area before it is sintered. This level of microwave power will provide a melted area approximately 70 to 100 cm deep. Plenty enough to bear the weight of a lander. This is absolutely necessary as landing in an unconsolidated area with regolith will cause the blasting of particles of dust and rock that could severely damage nearby landers. During the Apollo era the Apollo 12 lander scoured the Surveyor III lander with rocks and dust at up to 100 meters/second velocity. In NASA’s original design reference missions in 2005-7 the answer was to land a kilometer away and transit to the outpost but that is highly inefficient and unnecessary if you have the ability to sinter, which you need for a plethora of applications.
This process will be used to prepare for the landing of other equipment and the habitat for our human worker. The sintering system can also sinter roads around the site. The rover would have to have its battery pack or fuel cell system beefed up so that it could do this untethered but that is the goal. A very interesting technology that will be in place by then will be a large battery pack from Tesla that could provide enough power to operate the system for one to two hours. This would be enough to sinter a road at a rate of a approximately a half meter/minute ( x 5 meters wide or 2.5 sq/m/minute) or 30-60 meters (150-300 m/sq per hour). A kilometer long road that is 2x as wide as the sintering beam (10 meters) could be done in 28 hours and require about 60-100 kilowatt hours of energy per hour, plus the rover 5 kw/hr requirement or 65-105 kW/hr, a total of 980-1540 kW hours. Table 1 shows the total power available from the 100 kW system (ignoring for now the 12 kW first lander)
A landing pad of 25 x 25 meters will take a little over four hours. The four landing pads would take about 20 hours total operating time and 700-1,100 kW/hr of energy. The rovers and equipment will all be operated via telepresence.
The basic work could be done in the estimated 598 hours of sunlight at the location with everything going into hibernation mode, just kept warm by heaters, during the ~110 hours of darkness.
The primary objectives for mission 2 are:
1. Precision landing at the highest point along Whipple crater at designated location (+/- 10 meter precision)
2. Deployment and setup of power system with wireless connection to the previously emplaced communications system.
3. Deployment of sintering trailer from the lander and hook up to the rover brought in the first mission.
4. Sinter four landing pads for future missions.
5. Sinter a road, approximately 200 meters long to the future site of the first habitat.
1. Powerlander with 100 kW solar array and power distribution center = $200 million.
2. Sintering trailer = $20 million.
3. Falcon Heavy launch = $90 million
4. Operations Cost = $5 million for six months
5. Total $315 million
So Where’s the Human?
The first two missions described here would accomplish their goals within three to six months of landing, possibly much sooner. However, even after the first two missions, we would not yet be ready for the human. There is a third mission that has a lot of robotic content that will be discussed in the next chapter of this effort. The fourth landing will be the habitat and supplies for the human with the fifth landing being the first human to live on the Moon for a year.