In the coming decades, multiple space agencies plan to send astronauts to the lunar surface. More than that, between the European Space Agency (ESA), the National Space Administration of China (CNSA) and Roscomos, there are multiple plans to build permanent outposts on the Moon. Perhaps the best known of these is ESA's plan to build an International Lunar Village,
As a spiritual successor to the International Space Station (ISS), this village would serve as a base for astronaut teams to conduct vital research and experiments. In recent years, some very interesting proposals have been presented as part of this plan, the latest of which comes from the European Astronaut Center (EAC) of ESA, where a team of students has developed a proposal for a sustainable lunar habitat .
The team leader is Angelus Chrysovalantis Alfatzis, a student of architectural engineering in his last year of studies at the National Technical University of Athens, Greece. He and his colleagues are just some of the many young researchers involved in Spaceship EAC, an ESA initiative designed to promote networking and collaboration with universities and research institutions across Europe.
Alfatzis and his colleagues developed their concept of a lunar base for the International NewSpace2060 Moon Launching Competition of 2018, a joint initiative with the Moon Village Association, which took place in the fall of 2018. Their entry was part of the Concepts and Architectural Problems category of Moon Village, where participants were encouraged to contribute ideas that work with existing technology and knowledge of Moon.
Alfatzis describes his architectural approach as "hyperlocal", which exploits the concept of in situ resource utilization (ISRU) to create sustainable living solutions for extreme environments in remote locations. While explaining his vision in a recent ESA press release:
"I always strive to find material and structural solutions according to the resources available on the site. At this time, my focus is to use the unprocessed lunar soil for the construction and architectural applications of this. "
This approach is in line with ESA's objectives to create the International Lunar Village, which requires the use of local resources not only to manufacture the base but also to meet the needs of its crew. Working together with others with the EAC initiative of the spacecraft, Alfatzis and his companions devised a concept called CORE (Crater Outpost for Research and Exploration).
The CORE concept requires a modular design that uses the geography and the regolith of the Moon to protect against the elements. The team selected the South Pole Basin-Aitken as the site of its base, which offers the benefits of constant lighting, easy communications with the Earth and proximity to frozen water tanks.
Each module would consist of a prefabricated inflatable structure with its own life support system and a central tube. In this way, the modules could be arranged vertically, one on top of the other, allowing transport between them. As Alfatzis explained:
"Our idea is to transport the inflatable modules to the base of a small crater in the South Polar Region of the Moon, and then fill the cavity gradually with lunar soil, until the modules are effectively buried. The shielding meters will protect those inside the radiation. "Building inside a crater will also help to isolate due to the stable temperature of the underground environment of the Moon and provides protection against the threat of micrometeoroids."
The plan also requires that an air lock module be added to the top of the structure, which would then be covered with more control to provide protection. Inside this bag of air, the Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) equipment would be stored and the lunar dust would be mitigated with the help of an electromagnetic cleaner, which would take advantage of the magnetic properties of the regolith to collect it.
All modules stacked vertically would be connected by an elevator located in the center. The first module next to the surface would house the waste treatment facilities and it would be where the astronauts prepare for the EVA and surface service missions. The intermediate module would be for research and communications, while the lower module would contain sleeping capsules, living rooms and a gym (also known as a "moon gym").
As Alfatzis pointed out in the video that was part of his team's entry, another benefit of the CORE design is the ability to expand it into adjacent craters. "The location chosen for the deployment allows the installation and configuration of more module modules, creating a true habitat village in nearby residences," he said. "The completion of the Moon village is an important step for sustainable and manned exploration."
Ultimately, CORE's main purpose is to create a habitat that supports human life by protecting its residents from external conditions that might otherwise pose a threat. In that sense, it is not at all different from the habitats built here on Earth, except that special considerations must be taken into account when designing habitats for the Moon.
This includes the lack of a breathable atmosphere, the extremes of temperature, the type of terrain and the low gravity of the Moon, which is approximately 16.5% of that of Earth. The lack of a protective magnetic field also means that any lunar base will also have to be able to protect its inhabitants from solar and cosmic radiation, not to mention the small meteorites that regularly fall on the surface.
For their concept, Alfatzis and the Spaceship EAC team were rewarded with a second place. As Alfatzis indicated, his success was due to the diversified talents that his team brought to the table:
"The multidisciplinary nature of our team, from aerospace engineers to biologists, helped us to examine all the different details of construction and energy requirements. The whole experience led us to think more deeply about the different aspects of lunar construction and habitation, showing us many different possibilities for our future on the Moon. "
Currently, ESA, CNSA, Roscosmos and NASA hope to build a lunar outpost by the end of 2020 or early 2030. In all likelihood, this base will be the result of cooperation between these and other agencies, all which will benefit from having a permanent research base that will help facilitate future missions to Mars and other locations in the Solar System.
Additional reading: ESA