Skip to comments.Op-ed | Moon Direct: How to build a moonbase in four years
Posted on 03/31/2018 1:47:39 AM PDT by LibWhacker
This op-ed originally appeared in the March 26, 2018 issue of SpaceNews magazine.
The recent amazing success of the Falcon Heavy launch offers America an unprecedented opportunity to break the stagnation that has afflicted its human spaceflight program for decades. In short, the moon is now within reach.
Heres how the mission plan could work. The Falcon Heavy can lift 60 tons to low Earth orbit (LEO). Starting from that point, a hydrogen/oxygen rocket-propelled cargo lander could deliver 12 tons of payload to the lunar surface.
We therefore proceed by sending two such landers to our planned base location. The best place for it would be at one of the poles, because there are spots at both lunar poles where sunlight is accessible all the time, as well as permanently shadowed craters nearby where water ice has accumulated. Such ice could be electrolyzed to make hydrogen-oxygen rocket propellant, to fuel both Earth-return vehicles as well as flying rocket vehicles that would provide the lunar bases crew with exploratory access to most of the rest of the moon.
The first cargo lander carries a load of equipment, including a solar panel array, high-data-rate communications gear, a microwave power-beaming set up with a range of 100 kilometers, an electrolysis/refrigeration unit, two crew vehicles, a trailer, and a group of tele-operated robotic rovers. After landing, some of the rovers are used to set up the solar array and communications system, while others are used to scout out the landing area in detail, putting down radio beacons on the precise target locations for the landings to follow.
The second cargo lander brings out a 12-ton habitation module, loaded with food, spare spacesuits, scientific equipment, tools, and other supplies. This will serve as the astronauts house, laboratory, and workshop of the moon. Once it has landed, the rovers hook it up to the power supply and all systems are checked out. This done, the rovers are redeployed to do detailed photography of the base area and its surroundings. All this data is sent back to Earth, to aid mission planners and the science and engineering support teams, and ultimately forming the basis of a virtual reality program that will allow millions of members of the public to participate in the missions as well.
The base now being operational, it is time to send the first crew. A Falcon Heavy is used to deliver another cargo lander to orbit, whose payload consists of a fully fueled Lunar Excursion Vehicle (LEV). This craft consists of a two-ton cabin like that used by the Apollo-era Lunar Excursion Module mounted on a one-ton hydrogen/oxygen propulsion system filled with nine tons of propellant, capable of delivering it from the lunar surface to Earth orbit. A human-rated Falcon 9 rocket then lifts the crew in a Dragon capsule to LEO where they transfer to the LEV. Then the cargo lander takes the LEV, with the crew aboard, to the moon, while the Dragon remains behind in LEO.
After landing at the moon base, the crew completes any necessary set up operations and begins exploration. A key goal will be to travel to a permanently shadowed crater and, making use of power beamed to them from the base, use telerobots to mine water ice. Hauling this treasure back to the base in their trailer, the astronauts will feed the water into the electrolysis/refrigeration unit, which will transform it into liquid hydrogen and oxygen. These products will then be stored in the empty tanks of the cargo landers for future use primarily as rocket propellant but also as a power supply for fuel cells and a copious source of life-support consumables.
Having spent a couple of months initiating such operations and engaging in additional forms of resource prospecting and scientific exploration, the astronauts will enter the LEV, take off and return to Earth orbit. There they will be met by a Dragon either the one that took them to orbit in the first place or another that has just been launched to lift the crew following them which will serve as their reentry capsule for the final leg of the journey back home.
Thus, each mission that follows will require just one $100 million Falcon Heavy launch and one $60 million Falcon 9 launch to accomplish. Once the base is well-established, there will be little reason not to extend surface stays to six months.
Assuming that cost of the mission hardware will roughly equal the cost to launch it, we should be able to create and sustain a permanently occupied lunar base at an ongoing yearly cost of less than $700 million. This is less than four percent of NASAs current budget or about a quarter of what is being spent yearly on the agencys now obsolete Space Launch System program which has been going on for over a decade without producing a rocket.U.S. Vice President Mike Pence gets a close look at a recovered Falcon 9 booster during a February visit to Kennedy Space Center, Florida, for the National Space Councils second public meeting. Credit: NASA
The astronauts will not be limited to exploring the local region around the base. Refueled with hydrogen and oxygen, the same LEV spacecraft used to travel to the moon and back can be used to fly from the base to anywhere else on the moon, land, provide on-site housing for an exploration sortie crew, and then return them to the base. We wont just be getting a local outpost: well be getting complete global access to an entire world.
Currently, NASA has no such plan. Instead it is proposing the build a lunar orbiting space station dubbed the Deep Space Gateway. This boondoggle will cost several tens of billions of dollars, at least, and serve no useful purpose whatsoever except perhaps to provide a launch manifest for the Space Launch System. We do not need a lunar-orbiting station to go to the moon. We do not need such a station to go to Mars. We do not need it to go to near-Earth asteroids. We do not need it to go anywhere. If we do waste our time and money building it, we wont go anywhere.
If you want to get to the moon, you need to go to the moon. We now have it in our power to do so. Lets seize the time.
Robert Zubrin is president of Pioneer Astronautics and the Mars Society. An updated edition of his book, The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must, was recently published by the Free Press.
DREAM AGAIN ! ! !
Honest t'God, after reading this I was transported back to my Jr High days (late 50's early 60's) when outer space was a reachable dream in America.
Kennedy said we WILL do it and we did.
President Trump has broken the beurocratic stronghold on America's dream machine and turned us loose again.
Elon Musk just kept sloggin' along, "I THINK I can, I THINK I can, I THINK I can ... ) and look'a here !
Extensive feasibility comments at source article. Very interesting technical discussion.
Since every NASA project seems to take 50,000 years to complete these days, my distant ancestors might benefit from a Muslim outreach center on the moon to study global warming.
There’s bound to be something else much closer to home that we could waste a bunch of money on.
I dream of a secured border first before bases on the moon.
Just print a couple hundred billion $’s and we’re off to the moon!
It just so happens that Elon Musk ‘s name for his Lunar Base is “Moonbase Alpha”. Just so long as he is very careful about storing nuclear waste, we should be all right.
Have we done a NASA study to find out how the muslins feel about this? Nothing can be moved forward until they have good feelings.
Just print a couple hundred billion $s and were off to the moon!
Like the Apollo program, the money spent on a sound well thought out lunar program will return far more money than it took to create as well as new and beneficial inventions and discoveries - which like the computer and phone you use now, you will not want to live without. Nor when you go to the doctor the MRI machine, among a huge list of medical devises that keep people like you and me healthy and alive.
Here in Wisconsin, many used the same financial argument for getting the multi-billion dollar US Foxconn plant. They believed that spending $3 billion to get Foxconn was unacceptable and, as you said, a waste of money.
Turns out that for every $1 spent by the state, the return per year is $3 just for the plant itself. That figure does not count the return to the state from all the subsidiary and supply business which will build near it in Racine.
It takes money to make money. Risks are part of the game. Although some would prefer to watch China colonize the moon, reaping the benefits and gladly selling them to the US ‘cheap’. That is the “Make America Last Program” or “America’s No Future Project” or “Make America Great Again like Obama Did Proposition”.
And BTW for most everything the government does we print money to get these days - that is until we get America back on its collective feet financially which will take big expenditures to achieve - just like rebuilding the military money will have to be printed to return it to a viable force from the hollow collapsing shell Obama made.
I understand the benefits we gained from new technology that came from the space program years ago. But there needs to be a reason for the base other than that. So far no one has outlined the benefits that would come from a lunar base. It has to be beyond just being cool.
It’s actually easier to build something on the moon than earth because there are no EPA restrictions there.
...each mission that follows will require just one $100 million Falcon Heavy launch and one $60 million Falcon 9 launch to accomplish. Once the base is well-established, there will be little reason not to extend surface stays to six months. Assuming that cost of the mission hardware will roughly equal the cost to launch it, we should be able to create and sustain a permanently occupied lunar base at an ongoing yearly cost of less than $700 million. This is less than four percent of NASAs current budget -- or about a quarter of what is being spent yearly on the agencys now obsolete Space Launch System program which has been going on for over a decade without producing a rocket... Currently, NASA... is proposing to build... the Deep Space Gateway. This boondoggle will cost several tens of billions of dollars, at least, and serve no useful purpose whatsoever -- except perhaps to provide a launch manifest for the Space Launch System.
I don't generally hold Zubrin in very high regard, but he's been thinking these things over to the exclusion of most other things, and he nails it again, IMHO. Thanks LibWhacker.
Is there a way to make a moon base pay for itself?
And we all know what happened on Sept 13th 1999. Will these science fools never learn?
Militarily the moon is the ultimate high ground. Thats reason enough.
That is 1 good reason...if we armed the station!
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