Future Lunar Bases – Space Quarterly Magazine Preview

By Marc Boucher
February 24, 2012
Filed under
Future Lunar Bases – Space Quarterly Magazine Preview
Future Lunar Bases - Space Quarterly Magazine Preview

The following excerpt is a free preview from the March issue of Space Quarterly magazine. This article is only available in the U.S. edition of the magazine.

Future Lunar Bases, Why, Where, and How By Dennis Wingo

Lunar bases and their location is a subject that has been discussed and argued about for decades, without any real consensus, because each interest group is driven to a different area. Some think little of the Moon and see it as nothing more than a distraction on the way to Mars. The thesis of this article is that not only is the Moon vitally important for developing a sustainable infrastructure to support the eventual settlement of Mars, it is vitally important for the overall future of mankind and for the economic development of the solar system. It is far beyond time for our community to make this intellectual commitment and then develop our thoughts and plans from there. In order for mankind to prosper on the Earth in the long term, the resources of our solar system, beginning at the Moon, are crucial, and it is time to quit apologizing for this stance. To provide structure three general regions of interest will be discussed, based upon utility, cost, and long-term viability.

Requirements Development

If you look at lunar infrastructure studies by NASA since the late 1980’s, requirements have been primarily science driven. During the recent Constellation program, the science rational of looking at the geologic history of the Moon, toward its origins, drove NASA to favor the south polar region on the rim of crater Shackleton. This is partly due to its location inside the South Pole-Atkin Basin, an ancient impact that could have excavated lunar mantle material. Also, polar sites are near resources of water as identified by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), and previous lunar missions. The rim of Shoemaker also is one of the nearly permanently illuminated areas, reducing the need and cost of nuclear power.

NASA efforts previous to Constellation were less constrained in their approach to a site and while a specific site was never definitively chosen, it was generally considered to be at a non-polar location. A baseline that enabled this freedom of location was a nuclear power system for continuous power. This reduced the logistical burden of energy storage systems to survive the over 320 hour lunar night, but with a greatly increased development cost and political risk. Additional reasons for a near side location include continuous communications, telepresence operations, and the “comfort” of seeing the Earth. However, an ESA study (Moon 2025) from the early 2000’s had an interesting idea to break this sense of comfort by placing a base on the far side of the Moon as a mental test of the outlook of the inhabitants of the base. Would such a crew, without the comfort of seeing the Earth in the sky, develop a different way of thinking regarding exploration?

Very few serious efforts, especially NASA ones, have looked beyond the science meme. However, if economic development is the goal, how does site selection change? With the failures of NASA efforts since Apollo, we should incorporate as a core value that private enterprise will either drive requirements or at least be an integral part of such development. Deriving requirements with economic development as a goal provides a guide to site selection. These are as follows:

Cost – without cost control and local resource leverage, it is unlikely to go beyond paper studies.

Global Surface Access – whether science or industrial development, global surface access is a must.

Access to Resources – cost control and economic development require ready access to resources, including sunlight.

Power – success of lunar activities is directly proportional to power available.

Cislunar Access – anytime launches are highly desired

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