Our return to the Moon will not be like the Apollo style exits of the old Constellation project. This new approach requires a true moon room: our first foothold in another world. The sooner we understand what it takes to begin, the better.
The national policy directive of the Trump administration (through its Space Council) demands the return of humans to the lunar surface to use their resources. Given that NASA has been previously entrusted with this short-term spatial goal-lunar return-understanding the meaning of the objective will be a breakthrough to complete a vital mission that has failed and failed twice before.
The lunar return is often interpreted in several ways, from simply orbiting the Moon at a great distance ("look but not touching") to surface operations that create a permanent human presence and robotics. Those are very different points of view, proving once again that the devil is in the details. Clearly, what "moon presence" we get depends entirely on how the people selected to guide this important national goal of human return interpret that term.
Go back for a moment and examine some possible drawbacks and benefits of different modes of lunar return. Simply touching the lunar surface, and possibly configuring some experiments or returning samples, does not begin to address or take advantage of the potential value of the permanent lunar return. In the last two decades (yes, decades) we have learned that the Moon contains material and energy resources, including water resources that will allow for long-term residence and use. By establishing such a presence (as mandated by the Trump administration and actively pursued by other nations), we have an unparalleled opportunity to realize the full potential of the Moon: learn to use these spatial resources to establish true long-term capacity, one that it stimulates an innovative commercial enterprise while allowing a long-term space travel beyond the Moon.
A critical aspect of the Moon's presence is having sufficient reliable electrical power to support surface activities, including human facilities and rooms, and the construction of an extensible surface infrastructure and spatial resource architecture. Power is critical in space (necessary even for the simplest application); so having useful energy available from local sources is huge in any attempt to allow the establishment of new and innovative systems.
Because the axis of rotation of the Moon is oriented almost vertically to the plane of its orbit around the Sun, its poles are unique areas that have almost continuous sunlight. Instead of rising and settling as on Earth, the sun continually appears and revolves around the polar horizons of the Moon. This simple, but vital difference caused by the orientation of the Moon addresses a critical need: previous studies show that the location of the moon room near equatorial sites is severely penalized due to the limited available sunlight and the subsequent changes in temperature when a lunar day has 14 days of sunlight (-100 ° to 150 ° C) followed by 14 days of darkness (-250 ° C). Some kind of reliable energy source is required to allow the room during the 14-day moon night at the equator.
By comparison, the conditions at the poles are practically benign, at -50 ° C! Using data from the LRO (robotic lunar orbiter), we have identified regions of almost permanent sunlight in the polar regions of the Moon: the main place where a permanent presence on the Moon is possible.
Given that the poles of the Moon have unique characteristics and deposits, what advantage should we derive from their relationship? With the permanent presence enabled by almost constant solar energy, we can begin to map, prospect and harvest the ice deposits and other volatile elements present at the poles. Water is a rare commodity in the space close to Earth; we now know that significant amounts of frozen water have accumulated in the permanently dark craters at the poles. Water has many uses in space, in addition to its obvious use to sustain human life, water can also serve as a means of energy storage. It can be divided into its component hydrogen and oxygen using solar energy, then recombines again in the water, generating reliable electrical energy as a by-product.
The alert reader will have noticed that the above discussion is leading to an important conclusion: that our return to the lunar surface must be permanent, and the mission is to learn to use what the Moon has to offer to create a new capacity space. Although this is not a completely new concept in terms of mission objectives, is the first time we recognize that such an objective is not only feasible, but has the potential to be revolutionary.
Our examination of recently discovered facts about the lunar poles lead to several conclusions. First, we go to the Moon to experiment and learn to extract useful products from lunar materials, which is called ISRU (utilization of resources in situ). Because our initial experimental efforts are likely to be fraught with difficulties and failed approaches, we need sufficient equipment and capabilities to understand their magnitude and adapt. (This does not mean mbadive factories).
The adoption of this mode of operation really simplifies our choices. First, we establish an outpost, a permanent installation whose location does not change (bear in mind that there are limited polar places where the conditions of permanent and volatile local sunlight are available). Although it is valuable to carry out sorting missions to specific sites of scientific interest or use, it makes sense to organize your exit mission from a centralized outpost. By identifying and confirming the value of locating operations near the almost permanent solar light at the poles to generate electricity and access water, stakeholders in the new space economy are confident that the resources needed for ordinary surface operations will be available. constantly. An outpost can be used in a variety of ways, but the fact that it is permanent makes it an "anchorage" facility on the lunar surface that attracts more players.
Although resource processing focuses primarily on the collection of water ice, the use of other material resources such as construction aggregate, along with the reduction of metal, are also important. Once established, the advanced facility can become not only a processing facility, but also an experimental laboratory, where different streams of resource processing can be tested and evaluated.
The problem remains that although this approach contributes to obtaining the strategic knowledge necessary to establish a permanent presence, at present, such planning seems to remain out of focus, so any coordination is probably fortuitous, rather than planned . Although the first robotic lunar charges are likely to be small, an integrated architecture must include robotic and human flights. Beyond being precursors, robotic missions must remain a continual requirement for missions designed to help and badist human crews on the Moon. The initial robotic missions will probably consist of simple measurements and characterizations, but later robotic flights will locate the infrastructure (habitation, electric power systems, mining machines, and processing equipment). Such missions are necessary indefinitely and continuously, therefore an integrated plan to ensure continuity – an architecture that focuses on integrating all of these parts (not just creating a wish list) – must start now and begin in earnest.
To achieve this lunar return directive and have good chances of success (this third time around "charm"), a separate and independent authority is required, one designed to focus solely on the requirements of a sustained lunar presence. This program office needs a manager with experience in robotic and human missions. It should not be operated as the typical Office of the Mission Directorate that selects and flies individual cargo, and whose operations are largely autonomous and independent. Instead, each lunar mission and each piece of equipment should be part of a broader mosaic of deployment of badets, infrastructure and operational capabilities. It is imperative we understand which pieces go together (whether commercial, national or international badets) -located in an appropriate sequence; This requires designing a well-thought-out architecture that still allows adjustments, with enough flexibility to improve its viability and ensure long-term success.
It is fundamental from the beginning that the purpose of the lunar return is fully understood and subscribed. Our goals include establishing a sustainable human presence on the Moon, with the ultimate goal of learning to use what the Moon has to offer to create new space capabilities. While the configuration of ice mining serves many of these purposes, the Moon is rich enough in material and research opportunities so that new processes can be carried out experimentally. The room can be achieved by covering habitat modules at the poles using the abundant places of creation of regoliths from the light surface of the Moon, where humans are protected from exposure to hard radiation, while it can still be monitored and controlled the teleoperated machines. Solar energy can melt the surface regolith on roads and provide material for solar panels. The potential opportunities for the expansion and participation of commercial, scientific and transportation investment have no limits.
So let's go to the Moon permanently. We started by occupying only one space on the Moon, not only to consolidate our resources to obtain the maximum leverage, but also to learn to exploit the environmental factors necessary for rapid production. The surface operations will be expanded as we begin to understand how to achieve maximum leverage and can transmit this knowledge to those who have new ideas: entrepreneurs willing to join and invest in a growing space economy.