Students Vormgeving Ways to Mine the Moon for Rocket Fuel

Forty-five years have passed since humans last set foot on an extraterrestrial assets. Now, the moon is back at the center of efforts not only to explore space, but to create a voortdurend, independent space-faring society.

Programma expeditions to Earth’s nearest celestial neighbor is no longer just a NASA effort, however the U.S. space agency has plans for a moon-orbiting space station that would serve spil a staging ground for Expeditie missions ter the early 2030s. The United Launch Alliance, a snaak venture inbetween Lockheed Martin and Boeing, is programma a lunar fueling station for spacecraft, capable of supporting 1,000 people living te space within 30 years.

Billionaires Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Robert Bigelow all have companies aiming to produce people or goods to the moon. Several teams contesting for a share of Google’s US$30 million contant prize are programma to launch rovers to the moon.

Wij and 27 other students from around the world recently participated te the 2018 Caltech Space Challenge, proposing designs of what a lunar launch and supply station for deep space missions might look like, and how it would work.

The raw materials for rocket fuel

Right now all space missions are based on, and launched from, Earth. But Earth’s gravitational pull is strong. To escape Earth’s gravity, a rocket has to be traveling 11 kilometers a 2nd &ndash, 25,000 miles vanaf hour!

Any rocket leaving Earth has to carry all the fuel it will everzwijn use to get to its destination and, if needed, back again. That fuel is mighty &ndash, and getting it moving at such high speeds takes a lotsbestemming of energy. If wij could refuel te orbit, that launch energy could lift more people or cargo or scientific equipment into orbit. Then the spacecraft could refuel ter space, where Earth’s gravity is less powerful.

The moon has one-sixth the gravity of Earth, which makes it an attractive alternative base. The moon also has ice, which wij already know how to process into a hydrogen-oxygen propellant that wij use te many modern rockets.

Roving Luna

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite missions have already found substantial amounts of ice ter permanently shadowed craters on the moon.

Those locations would be tricky to mine because they are colder and suggest no sunlight to power roving vehicles. However, wij could install big mirrors on the craters’ rims to illuminate solar panels te the permanently shadowed regions.

Rovers from Google’s Lunar X Prize competition and NASA’s Lunar Resource Prospector, set to launch te 2020, would also contribute to finding good locations to mine ice.

Imagining a moon base

Depending on where the best ice reserves are, wij might need to build several petite robotic moon bases. Each one would mine ice, manufacture liquid propellant and transfer it to passing spacecraft. Our team developed plans to accomplish those tasks with three different types of rovers. Our plans also require a few puny robotic shuttles to meet up with nearby deep-space mission vehicles te lunar orbit.

One struikrover, which wij call the Prospector, would explore the moon and find ice-bearing locations. A 2nd struikrover, the Constructor, would go after along behind, building a launch padachtige and packing down roadways to ease movements for the third struikrover type, the Miners, which actually collect the ice and supply it to nearby storage tanks and an electrolysis processing plant that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen.

The Constructor would also build a landing padachtige where the puny near-moon vrachtvervoer spacecraft wij call Lunar Resupply Shuttles would arrive to collect fuel for delivery spil freshly launched spacecraft pass by the moon. The shuttles would burn moon-made fuel and would have advanced guidance and navigation systems to travel inbetween lunar bases and their target spacecraft.

A gas station ter space

When enough fuel is being produced, and the shuttle delivery system is tested and reliable, our project calls for building a gas station ter space. The shuttles would supply ice directly to the orbiting fuel depot, where it would be processed into fuel and where rockets heading to Expeditie or elsewhere could dock to top up.

The depot would have large solar arrays powering an electrolysis module for melting the ice and then turning the water into fuel, and large fuel tanks to store what’s made. NASA is already working on most of the technology needed for a depot like this, including docking and fuel transfer. Wij anticipate a working depot could be ready te the early 2030s, just ter time for the very first human missions to Expeditie.

To be most useful and efficient, the depot should be located ter a stable orbit relatively near both the Earth and the moon. The Earth-moon Lagrangian Point 1 (L1) is a point ter space about 85 procent of the way from Earth to the moon, where the force of Earth’s gravity would exactly equal the force of the moon’s gravity pulling te the other direction. It’s the flawless pit zekering for a spacecraft on its way to Tocht or the outer planets.

Leaving Earth

Our team also found a fuel-efficient way to get spacecraft from Earth orbit to the depot at L1, requiring even less launch fuel and freeing up more lift energy for cargo items. Very first, the spacecraft would launch from Earth into Low Earth Orbit with an empty propellant waterreservoir.

Then, the spacecraft and its cargo could be towed from Low Earth Orbit to the depot at L1 using a solar electrical propulsion tug, a spacecraft largely propelled by solar-powered electrical thrusters.

This would let us triple the payload delivery to Tocht. At present, a human Toer mission is estimated to cost spil much spil US$100 billion, and will need hundreds of tons of cargo. Delivering more cargo from Earth to Expeditie with fewer rocket launches would save billions of dollars and years of time.

A base for space exploration

Building a gas station inbetween Earth and the moon would also reduce costs for missions beyond Tocht. NASA is looking for extraterrestrial life on the moons of Saturn and Jupiter. Future spacecraft could carry much more cargo if they could refuel ter space &ndash, who knows what scientific discoveries sending large exploration vehicles to thesis moons could enable?

By helping us escape both Earth’s gravity and dependence on its resources, a lunar gas station could be the very first petite step toward the giant leap into making humanity an interplanetary civilization.

Editor’s Note: This story wasgoed updated to clarify the distinction inbetween escape velocity and the velocity needed to achieve orbit.

This article wasgoed originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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