Humanity's journey to a permanent settlement on the moon
#MoonBase #LunarBase #MoonRush
MOON — Half a century after the first man walked on the moon, another giant leap is in the works as mankind prepares to head back — and this time, doing more than just strollin'.
In April 2019, NASA announced plans to put astronauts back on the moon by 2024, and build a permanent lunar base by 2028 under its Artemis program.
IEEE Spectrum reports that getting to the moon involves super heavy-lift rockets.
For its 2024 lunar mission, NASA is relying on the Space Launch System or SLS.
Private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are also developing their own heavy-lift launch vehicles, the Falcon Heavy and the New Glenn, respectively.
NASA's lunar plans rely heavily on a space station called the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, which will follow a near-rectilinear halo orbit around the moon."
Gateway will serve as a staging post where astronauts can dock and leave their spacecraft, then travel to the lunar surface in a lander.
It will also provide them shelter, a place to stock up on fuel and supplies and relay communications, and a base to dispatch crew and robots to the moon.
Once humans actually get to the moon, the next step is building a permanent settlement, starting with habitats that are able to withstand extreme temperatures, radiation, and abrasive moondust.
IEEE Spectrum reports that some engineers and architects are using that same abrasive dust, known as regolith or lunar soil, to 3D-print habitats.
Walls can either be 3D-printed all in one piece at the location where they'll stand, or as smaller materials like bricks that can lock together when stacked.
Another approach, called sintering, uses solar power or microwave beams to heat regolith to near melting point, until it fuses.
There's also the possibility of inflatable modules that can expand to greater capacity.
To support life on the moon, habitats could use an open-loop system like the Apollo missions, where oxygen, food and water are provided, and waste disposed of on-site.
A more likely system, though, would be the one employed by the ISS, which uses physicochemical processes to recycle water and air on the space station.
But for a habitat to be sustainable, it will need to tap into local resources.
Water doesn't exist on the lunar surface, but is likely available as ice that can be extracted from the moon's dark craters.
One way to do this is by using a rover-mounted drill.
Another concept called thermal mining redirects sunlight into a crater with heliostats, where it turns water in the regolith to vapor.
The vapor collects in a tent and then condenses into pure water ice inside refrigerated cold traps.
This can then be used to sustain settlers, or broken into hydrogen and oxygen to create rocket fuel.
With no GPS on the moon, robotic rovers will also need to navigate the lunar surface and produce detailed 3D maps of the terrain.
Many more scientists are working on lunar projects.
Developing tech to allow high-bandwidth communications between earth and the moon, for example, or setting up a radio observatory on the far side of the moon.
If we master all these and more, a human colony on the moon might become a reality sooner rather than later.