A Singular Suggestion Toward A Radical Idea for Lunar Industrial Development

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:

Lunar Manufacturing Using the Advantages of Vacuum and Precision Temperature Control in Cryostat Processors
Figure 1: Lunar Manufacturing Using the Advantages of Vacuum and Precision Temperature Control in Cryostat Processors

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:

Figure 2: Area of the Whipple Development Near the Lunar North Pole
Figure 2: Area of the Whipple Development Near the Lunar North Pole

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.

Figure3: Telepresence Rover Accessed over Multi-Hop GEO Satellite for Lunar Delay Testing
Figure3: NASA SSERVI Telepresence Rover Accessed over Multi-Hop GEO Satellite for Lunar Delay Testing

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:

Figure 3:  The Eagle Engineering Rover and the Local Whipple Area Terrain
Figure 4: The Eagle Engineering Rover and the Local Whipple Area Terrain

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:

Figure 4: Isometric View of the Poleward Rim of Crater Whipple
Figure 5: Isometric View of the Poleward Rim of Crater Whipple

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.

Extended objectives

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

Second Mission

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:

Figure 6: Skycorp Power Lander Specifications
Figure 6: Skycorp Power Lander Specifications

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:

Figure 7: Microwave Emitters on a Rover Trailer Sintering a Landing Site
Figure 7: Microwave Emitters on a Rover Trailer Sintering a Landing Site

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)

Table 1: Energy Delivered by the 100 kW Power Lander Available for Work
Table 1: Energy Delivered by the 100 kW Power Lander Available for Work

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.

Approximate Cost

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.


50 thoughts on “A Singular Suggestion Toward A Radical Idea for Lunar Industrial Development

  1. We will need a way of moving bolders. The landing pads can avoid them but the road is likely to hit a few.

    1. Yep, but we have looked a LOT at the area and the number of boulders is relatively few. There is a blade on the rover but for the ones that are too big, at least in the beginning, we just go around them. Can fix that later when the human gets there with the other rovers and other equipment.

  2. Dennis:

    A long time ago, during the IGY, I spent most of the Antarctic winter at a remote two-man base, in a tiny hut made from a packing crate. I was there most of the time, but the other guy was replaced every few weeks by air from Mawson, our main base.

    One night (it was of course dark most of the time near mid-winter) we were confined to our crate by a blizzard, and the guy who was there with me went completely around the bend. He said he couldn’t stand it any more, so he got dressed in his windproofs and announced that he was going to walk back to Mawson, 50 miles away. The temperature outside was -40 F, the windspeed was 120 knots, and the visibility was about one foot in abrasive blowing snow. He would have been blown out to sea before he made 50 yards. I managed to calm him down by pointing out that Mawson had a radio sked with Mirny that we could interrupt, and they came to rescue him during the brief daylight the next day, when the blizzard was gone.

    The point is that I have seen what isolation under stressful conditions can do. I suggest that you be very careful in choosing the person for the first human expedition. It might be a good idea to isolate the candidate for a few months in a hut in the Arctic or Antarctic, just to make sure he or she could take it.

    Incidentally, I was Mission Scientist for Apollo 14, and spent a lot of time thinking about mobility on the Moon and looking at terrestrial analogs of lunar features. This was all a long tine ago, and I am now more or less retired, but please let me know if there is anything I can do to help.


    1. Phil

      Thanks, and I appreciate the insight. I have read much of the early Arctic and Antarctic explorers as well as the tales of the trappers in the early American west. I do absolutely agree that the choice of person is important. One thing that will be interesting is the level of communications that we have today. Whoever this person is, they will not be alone in the usual sense of the word. They will be working with people through telepresence operation of robots that will be working with the person. They will have the internet and television, and Netflix, and all the modern comforts of life, except human companionship. I do agree that there should be studies and a vetting process where a single person is isolated from other humans, yet with the communications capabilities of modern times. In the Arctic or Antarctic would work as well to give that gut feeling of being alone…

      Thanks, and I will keep you in mind!

      1. One of the big psychological issues for the lone industronaut is the knowledge that there would be virtually no chance of rescue if anything went wrong. Perhaps the spacecraft that he or she arrived in could be used as a lifeboat. But if the individual was trapped or immobilised by an accident there would be little chance of mounting a rescue operation in time even if you kept a rocket and capsule on standby for the whole year (if that’s even possible). The early Antarctic expeditions are an imperfect analogue for this situation, because while some of them did stay through the winter when they couldn’t leave and nobody else could get in, it was always in groups rather than as individuals. Trappers in the Wild West knew that they could live off the land, which you can’t do on the moon.

        It might be possible to test candidates by putting them in a habitat module at the bottom of the sea for a few months, but there are obvious ethical and legal objections to any test that involves complete isolation without the possibility of rescue. Therefore there will always be an element of uncertainty about whether the chosen candidate will be able to handle it, and it would be very important to keep them busy and to keep them in contact with friends and family on Earth.

        The best example of the kind of person you need is probably the sailors who make solo voyages around the world in small yachts. They have to be totally self-reliant for long periods of time in a very hostile environment. They also tend to be strong-willed individualists who want to do things their own way. Once you started sending larger crews you could recruit the same kind of people who become astronauts today, but the solo mission requires someone quite different.

        1. Andrew, we are in agreement. The difference is, that others have commented on, is that the degree of isolation is much less. First they would not even go until the laser com system is up and running so they will have a fat pipe back to the Earth. Second is that, through robotic avatars, they would have a lot of support via telepresence from the Earth. No rescue is not exactly right in that they would have a fully fueled return vehicle on the pad on the Moon ready to go and if something happened to them that made them unconscious, their robotic support could get them to the ship and the ship could do an auto return. Even the Space Shuttle had this capability if all of the crew were incapacitated or dead, it was just never made public mention of.

  3. I agree that good comm makes a big difference. The ship left us at Mawson and came back a year later, and our only contact with the outside world was via ham radio, but we thought we had it easy, compared to Shackleton, Mawson, Scott et al. Now people in Antarctica have air service, espresso machines, TV, email, Twitter, FaceTime with friends and family, and multi-player games on the internet. It’s a very good thing that space exploration will be more like that, at least until we go interstellar.


  4. would have been so interesting to have been a fly on the wall at the meeting of 44 people last year

      1. So what do you *expect* to happen? Do you think any of them were interested enough to back the concept, even if it’s only a small amount for feasibility studies at first?

        1. It is a process that is slower than we would like. What I expect is one of two things. The first is that one or several of them just say go for it (less likely) or that we continue to make incremental progress in other areas that continues to lower the implementation costs (more likely).

  5. In Figure 2, there are a number of small craters, some of which may have permanently-shadowed floors. In your opinion, might there be frozen volatiles there and might we want to start ice harvesting operations there?

    In looking at the map of routes along the rim of Whipple, I don’t see that those routes make it to the crater floor. But I believe that you say that the routes go to the crater floor. Can you explain?

    What’s the purpose of driving from the rim to the floor ad back? Is it to transport harvested volatiles? Couldn’t the lander simply land at the crater floor and be loaded with the harvested volatiles and then take off from there to an EML point?

    1. Where does the equipment to make the propellant get its power from? It cannot be chemicals fuel brought from Earth because then the volatiles are not needed. Nuclear power could be used but making that work at extreme cold is very expensive – see the James Webb Space Telescope. Solar power needs sun light so the raw material has to be transported out of the crater.

      1. Re: several of your questions, see my reply to Dennis below.

        > Nuclear power could be used but making that work at extreme cold is very expensive – see the JWST.

        Unlike the JWST, the cryogenic environment at the bottom of a permanently shadowed crater is natural and you don’t have to create it which may have led to much of JWST’s cost overruns. A nuclear reactor would be producing its own heat and so it wouldn’t have to be at cryogenic temperatures. The ice-harvesting operations have to be done in the cold traps so we can’t avoid it. But the equipment can be designed to provide its own body heat and it can be developed in simulated laboratory environments until the bugs get worked out.

    2. Routes 1,2, and 3 all make it to the floor of Peary to the first recognized craters with a water signature.

      It takes far less energy to drive than to fly. If you try and do everything at the crater, you have to haul all the equipment down there and provide power for it. Communications to the Earth is also a huge problem as there is no line of sight from the Floor of Peary to the Earth. It makes no sense to try and do everything in the floor of the crater.

      EML is only one location to go to. It might be better to have a DRO orbit for a staging point in the lunar system.

      1. > do everything in the floor of the crater.

        I’m not suggesting that. I’m suggesting that initially, one lands at the Peak of Eternal Light (PEL), set up the solar panels, and then the lander hops to the crater floor to deliver the ice-harvesting equipment to where the ice concentration is probably the highest. Then power is transmitted between the solar panels at the rim and the worksite at the crater floor.

        Bringing power together with operations could be done in one of five ways:
        – Having a Topaz-like reactor at the crater floor to power both operations and electrolysis.
        – Have rovers driving from the floor to the solar farm where electrolysis and recharging the rovers could be done.
        – Beaming the power from the solar farm to operations and electrolysis on the crater floor using lasers or microwaves.
        – Transmitting power from the solar farm to operations and electrolysis on the crater floor using a wire.
        – Using batteries or a fuel cells using residual propellant in the lander for ice-harvesting operations on the floor and then the lander hops to the PEL where the harvested ice is electrolyzed.

        My favored is transmission using wire including possibly superconducting tape for the permanently-shadowed portion of the path. The wire could be draped over the crater walls using either a small rocket or draping it while the lander hops to the floor (a one-time event). Using a wire would prevent the need for driving hundreds of tons of water ice up the crater wall thereby preventing wear-and-tear, repairs, and loss of equipment.

        > Communications to the Earth is also a huge problem as there is no line of sight from the Floor of Peary to the Earth.

        Solutions could be:
        – to have a relay at the rim,
        – a ring of relay satellites in the stable 86 degrees lunar polar orbit, or
        – several relay satellite in an EML2 halo orbit.

        I favor the first.

        1. Everything you talk about is possible, but expensive. Nuclear is out, period for cost reasons. Transmitting power costs a lot as well and the stray microwaves would couple with the water in the cold traps, removing the resource. Landers that hop take a lot of energy as well and their exhaust would remove enormous amounts of the resources that you are after from thermal effects of the exhaust.

          We will have a relay at the rim of Whipple… Why in the world do people keep wanting to build satellites when they are not necessary and are a cost item!

          Did you look at the slope angles? They are not difficult slopes.

          You want to use the absolute minimum operations in the crater floor, at least in the near term.

          high temperature superconducting cable will be used, again after there is more infrastructure in place.

  6. Instead of having multiple solar panels on individual landers, why not land solar panel payloads, telerobotically move them away from the landers, set them up, and then the landers could be refueled and reused? Reusing the landers to bring more solar panel payloads to the surface means that fewer landers would need to be launched thereby saving costs.

    1. Later this will work. However the power lander can put down 100 kW worth of power, and you integrate the inverters, fuel cells, and power management system. You then can synchronize multiple power landers into a microgrid and then provide a common power switching system that runs the installation. Remember that we are at the lunar poles and so for maximum efficiency the panels must be facing the sun and low sun angles are hell on panel outputs. I have already put together a microgrid of over 60 kW worth of modular systems like this and I know it works. It also provides for redundancy as no one failure can take out the whole system.

      1. Something doesn’t look right with my calculations. I was calculating how quickly a 100 kW lander could electrolyze water into propellant:

        Electrolysis of water:
        – 48,120 J/kg
        = 48,120,000 J/tonne

        E(J) = P(W) × t(s)

        48,120,000 J = 100,000 W x t
        t = 481 sec = 8 min/tonne.

        That seems too fast. What am I missing?

        1. More like 36..5 hours per 1,000 kg of water, that is using 100 kW. For the 100 kW power system the maximum feasible power to allocate to this task is about 25 kW which will take ~146 hours….

          This does not take into account system losses which should add another 10% time. 13.16 mJ/kg is the right number, but even that is just the theoretical number.

          1. That should be 13.16 MJ, not mJ.

            Still, 36.5 hrs +/- for a tonne of propellant isn’t bad for a single power lander. Fuelling an initial demo delivery (e.g. a tonne of water to LLO) wouldn’t take more than a couple of months to produce the propellant.

            1. If the demo only needs to deliver a tonne of water can we get the solar panels, rover, harvester, manufacturing plant, avionics and ascent stage under 500 kg?

              The ascent stage could be a refuelled descent stage. A longer stay may be needed.

              1. To answer your question, no.

                In my opinion, unless this is a NASA science mission, it is a waste of money to just do a demo mission. We know what is there, we know what to do, it is time to do it.

              2. I was planning on – start small, minimise the things to be developed, get the system to work and then scale up. Also that the pilot plant’s mission would only get money for one launch vehicle.

                500 kg is the payload of a Morpheus Lander launched on an Atlas V, with the lander doing the Trans Lunar Injection. The Falcon Heavy has not flown yet, so I disregarded it. However the 45 tonne payload version is very likely to fly within the next 2 years – so a Falcon Heavy will be available before the money is allocated.

                To land 8.5 tonne something like a Masten XEUS will be needed. This is still in development but a firm order for one with stage payments will probably speed things up.

              3. Why 500 kg? If one launched on a Falcon Heavy for 53 tonnes to LEO and a cryogenic lander departed LEO using a drop tank / propellant depot tank then the calculations tell us that we could get about 8.5 +/- 1 tonnes to the lunar surface. I believe that much could be sufficient but that 500 kg wouldn’t. There’s tricks to saving mass initially like the lander being the propellant storage tanks so that electrolysis is done there and one combines ice harvesting, steaming, and transport into a single vehicle,

              4. A rover and harvester powered by batteries is limited in what it can do. Consequently the ice will have to be brought back to the base for processing by machinery powered directly the solar panels.

                For continuing operation a separate ascent stage is needed. A storage tank will also be needed for water and possibly the hydrogen. The LOX can use the tanks in the lander’s descent and ascent stages.

                To protect the solar panels the rover may need to tow the ascent stage to a safe distance prior to take off.

              5. Demo may have been the wrong term. The vehicles and equipment would be reusable so that after the first production run (what I called the demo) then the hardware would continue on to produce commercial-level of service / products.

              6. Hi Andrew, So, this is where things may get a bit philosophical meaning not susceptible to a calculated answer. Which is the better way to plan: make no assumptions until the technology is demonstrated or make plans based upon likelihoods? Re: the Falcon Heavy you prefer the former and I prefer the later. Who’s right? Hard to say.

                Also, which is better: to start small and scale up or to start with the largest hardware likely to be available?

                Ultimately, I’m anxious for the earliest possible minimalist settlement (e.g. four couples). So I am aiming for landers large enough to deliver crew and as soon as reasonably possible. So, I think that something like a Xeus and Falcon Heavy or refueled Delta IV upper stage is feasible within a few years. But the amount of money and the investment risks are such that I believe that government funding would be necessary. So this is why I am advocating Lunar COTS. But different views would lead to different strategies.

              7. Andrew,
                > Consequently the ice will have to be brought back to the base for processing by machinery powered directly the solar panels.

                Or the power could be transmitted to process the water near the location where it is harvested. I’m not at all convinced that this is an unsolvable problem.

                > For continuing operation a separate ascent stage is needed.

                I’m not convinced. Better yet to reuse the entire lander. If it is refueled, I don’t see why this couldn’t be done. Apollo had separate descent and ascent stages because they were doing a one-time mission and so didn’t mind throwing away stages. But ours is an ongoing operation and so I think that the entire lander as a SSTO is doable and best.

                > A storage tank will also be needed for water and possibly the hydrogen.

                I would limit the hydrogen to the hydrogen tank. Water could be in the payload bay which is also used to carry hardware payload. It would need to be watertight.

                > To protect the solar panels the rover may need to tow the ascent stage to a safe distance prior to take off.

                Yes, my concept is to either:
                – Winch the lander away,
                – Drive the solar panels away from the lander before they are set up, or
                – Land the lander in a pre-selected small crater for a natural barrier.
                Also, part of the first payload could be a blast-resistant tarp to prevent sand blasting. The solar panels could also be turned perpendicular to the direction of blast.

              8. If the lander is used to store the water and then takes off production has to stop because there is no where to store the water or hydrogen and LOX.

              9. > production has to stop because there is no where to store the water or hydrogen and LOX.

                Sort of true. But the percent of the work cycle that electrolysis would be interrupted while the lander is traveling would be relatively small (~10%). And even this is true only for while we have a single lander. The moment a second lander is in service, it would do all of the electrolysis while the other lander is traveling.

              10. This assumes that we have a customer. Water from the Moon is very expensive. The break even point has to cover the cost of launching all the equipment and propellant to LEO. Currently Falcon Heavies cost $90 million. New hardware development and manufacturing costs need including.

              11. > This assumes that we have a customer.

                NASA yes, but not necessarily commercial initially. Boeing and OSC are examples of companies which are being funded by NASA but whose commercial customers are not yet obvious (for Antares and CST-100). Both are providing redundant capability for NASA which is a legitimate objective. After they achieve that capability, then we’ll see if a commercial customer shows up (e.g. Bigelow & CST-100). Same with Lunar COTS. First provide NASA with cis-lunar transportation and access to Luna, then yes, try to transition to orbital boosting, servicing, circum-lunar tourism, & commercial surface operations such as PGMs.

                > The break even point has to cover the cost of launching all the equipment and propellant to LEO.

                Remember, if refuelable, a lunar lander, launched once, can be used time and time again. Launching propellant to LEO is as little as once for the entire program. After that, the goal is to fly on propellant produced on the Moon. It might be possible that the initial investment (development, construction, launch, operations) could be recovered within two years of the first launch.

        2. The ice will also need warming up and melting. A process that takes a lot of energy. Powering the harvesters and rovers will take more energy. The resulting gasses may need compressing and liquefying.

          1. I believe that all other power requirements pale in comparison with what is necessary to electrolyze water for propellant. Also, time wise, it would probably take longer to electrolyze than to harvest the ice. In a vacuum, you don’t have to warm it up much before the ice starts to sublimate. Shade can be used to help condensation. The Regolith Excavation Challenge used only 30 watts whereas a power lander would provide more than 300 times that power.

            1. Sublimate – there are ways of extracting hydrogen from steam. The whole process may need investigating to find the best/appropriate way of doing it.

              1. Electrolysis is the best way in the near term, requiring the least equipment. longer term we can use steam reformation as we should have a lot of thermal energy to work with.

            2. Your belief is in error. Everything needs power and we only have a daily average of 70 kW to start with in order to maintain a power budget, without margin. The 100 kW system is just barely enough to start. We will put another 100 kW as soon as possible, which should be enough to start to have some real fun.

              1. Can you explain? There are PELs with more than 70% average sunlight. I know that everything requires power but the energy needed for rover movement, steaming, transport, and filtering vs distillation, is so much less than electrolysis. Also, I think that transport circuits to LLO every six months would be an acceptable initial pace. It seems to me that a 100 kW power lander should be sufficient for initial operations. Additional power landers simply accelerates your process cycles.

  7. Jeff Greason, head of XCOR, has proposed low cost lunar missions discussed here:

    Exploration and the private sector.
    by Jeff Foust
    Monday, July 28, 2014

    Many in Congress want us to return to the Moon. Some have suggested to offer a prize like the Ansari X-prize for a private manned mission to the Moon for $2-3 billion by the time of the 50th anniversary of the last of the Apollo landings in 2022.
    This would be a fraction of what NASA would pay to accomplish it, and by using currently existing launchers and stages, or soon to exist ones like the Falcon Heavy, the companies to accomplish it could even make a profit at it.

    Bob Clark

  8. This concept assumes that the regolith will be deep enough to allow the creation of a solid landing pad that can support the weight of a spacecraft. Is there any uncertainty about how deep the regolith will actually be in that area? Is it something that would need to be checked first?

    1. Andy

      No uncertainty at all. We have a lot of knowledge in this area. In the Mare region it is tens of meters thick and much thicker in the highlands regions, which the Whipple site is.

  9. Dennis,

    Awesome, though I find most of your articles and books to be so. I think of your writings and plans as dreams, in a good way. Compared with just fantasy, a dream plus passion and right timing has some chance to become reality. Keep up the good work.

    I do have a mundane quibble in the off-topic area of the blog itself. The top area, the “banner” is very tall, taller than other similar blog sites, WordPress or otherwise. It’s tall enough I can’t see your graphics and illustrations. I have a 15 inch MacBook Pro, 1440 x 900 pixels. Here’s a screen shot.


    Everything else about the presentation is fine. I appreciate your hard work.

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