Colonize the Moon
The three main theories of where the moon came from are the Capture Theory, the Fission Theory, and the Twin Formation Theory. The composition of the moon is a key factor in determining which to believe. In 1969, scientists collected soil samples from the moon’s surface, and to their surprise, it did not support any of the current theories. The moon rocks were similar and different from the earth’s rocks. The composition of the rocks led to the Impact theory in 1975. This theory suggests a cosmic object crashed into the earth and sent rocks from the earth’s crust in orbit, where it cooled over time and its gravity formed it into the moon. This explains why moon rocks have little iron and volatiles, and similar oxygen isotope ratios compared to earths, but also why some rocks are different from earths, which are rocks from the colliding rock. In addition, the colliding rock would explain why the earth’s axis is tilted at an angle.
The debate over a cold moon versus a hot moon was settled when we saw up-close that the moon’s surface had ravines and molten rocks, proving the moon was hot at one point. The Late Heavy Bombardment theory sets the timeframe for when life appeared on earth. All seven basins where the moon was struck have rocks from 3.8 – 4 billion years ago, suggesting the earth was struck simultaneously, and leads us to the conclusion that life began 3.5 billion years ago. In the Imbrium-Procellarum terrain, there are 4.5 billion-year-old rocks, which is close to the age of the universe of 4.57 billion years. These may not be the oldest; we have to sample rocks from the largest basin called Aitken in the South Pole. This could help us determine how old the solar system is and how it came about.
Land on the moon with a crew of 16 scientists and engineers ready to stay by 2030. We will set up our base on the south side, because this is where the deepest crater is and where ice crystals have been found. Initially, the colony will not be self-sustaining and will require combustibles to be sent five times a year. Implementing a sustainable and affordable human and robotic program on the moon is discussed. To promote international and commercial participation, we must find a resource that can be mined for profit and produce solar power for all energy needs. We should mine for solar wind volatiles, helium-3 isotopes, created by the sun’s fusion reaction, which turns hydrogen into helium. It is a stable isotope of helium that only has one neutron rather than two. These volatiles are more abundant on the far side of the moon, because the near side of the moon always faces the earth.
The solar wind contains:
- Hydrogen: water, rocket fuel, hydrocarbons and oxygen
- He-3: fusion energy for propulsion or electric power
- He-4: atmosphere control and cryogenics
- Water: life support and oxygen
- Nitrogen: food, atmosphere control and reagents
- CO, CO2, CH4: food, hydrocarbons, and fuel
- F2: oxygen and metal production (Teflon)
- Cl2: oxygen, metal production and reagents
- SO2: metal extraction
- H2SO4: explosives and binder for bricks or boulders
The moon consists of lower boiling point elements and therefore has a simpler mineral composition than earth. The surface composition is O: 42%, Si: 21%, Fe: 13%, Ca: 8%, Al: 7%, and Mg: 6%.
98% of the moon is made of four minerals:
- Plagioclase feldspar: most are CaAlSi2O8, known as anorthite. Others are NaAlSi2O8, and this contains no iron and is therefore light, which is why the astronauts mainly brought this back.
- Olivine: (Mg, Fe) 2SiO4 is green
- Pyroxene: FeSiO3 and CaFeSi2O6
- Ilmenite: FeTiO3 is dark and heavy. Composition: TiO2: 52 – 54%, FeO: 45%, Al2O3: 0.3 – 0.4%, MnO: 0.3 – 0.4%, Cr2O3: 0.2 – 0.4%, and MgO: 0.1 – 0.4%.
Apart from the mare basalts, cooled molten rocks, most rocks are breccias, formed by the shock wave of high-speed impact craters fusing material. For this reason, many craters have small glass pools at the bottom. Later research showed that the samples of anorthosite came from 600 miles below the moon surface from meteorite impacts. It proved the moon was a magma ocean at one point.
The surface has about an inch of dust, which can be problematic, and is followed by 30 feet of pulverized rock fragments that can be mined. However, it becomes cement like toughness after a few feet, so explosives are used to break it up. Earth-concentrated ore deposits are formed by the action of water, so elements such as gold, silver and platinum are likely not present, although these precious metals would not justify going there anyway. Ice crystals were discovered in 1994. The ice is in the bottom of a permanently shadowed crater near the south pole. The icy patches cover an estimated 15,400 square miles, roughly the size of Maryland and Delaware combined. Previously, there was no evidence of water on the moon due to the absence of water vapor, sedimentary rocks, or hydrous minerals such as mica. Highlands cover 85% of the surface and almost all the far side. This area is rich in aluminum, which can be extracted, and closer craters could be searched for diamond or coesite (SiO2).
Benefits and Feasibility
Most people are intrigued to discover what we can accomplish as a human race, and want to know how the universe began. The technology is there, except for adequate nuclear fusion reactors that can handle even trace amounts of helium-3. The mining of enough He-3 to make it worthwhile is daunting, but the benefits are worth it. Due to the small amount of 20 ppb He-3 in the regolith, we have to mine a 0.75 mile area, 9 feet deep, yielding 220 lbs He-3 worth $141 million. The mining of 2*109 tons/yr of regolith will not disturb the moon’s orbit, as the moon weighs 73*1018 tons and the earth 5.976*1021 tons.
Qualifications & Schedule
- Extract oxygen
- Oxygen is found in 45% of the regolith.
- It produces water, vital to sustain life.
- Is stored as rocket fuel. 85% of rocket fuel is oxygen.
- Extraction occurs by fluffing up moon dust, ilmenite, and reacting it with hydrogen and adding heat or ionizing the hydrogen. The dirt then acts like a fluid, which contributes to the production of water.
- Many processes require high temperatures and therefore large amounts of energy.
- Titanium and more oxygen can be extracted by chlorine or fluorine reactions.
- Waste products Si, Fe, and TiO2 are used for solar cells.
- Fuel cells use H2 and O2.
- Life-support uses N2O2, H2O, and CO2.
- Propulsion uses H2, O2, and He-4,
- Hydrogen cycle: H2 + FeTiO3 <-> Fe + TiO2 + H2O -> H2 + ½ O2 (900 °C).
- Carbon monoxide cycle: FeTiO3 + CO <-> Fe + TiO2 + CO2.
- Methane cycle:
- FeTiO3 + CH4 <-> Fe + TiO2 + CO + 2H2
- 2CO + 6H2 <-> 2CH4 + 2H2O
- 2H2O <-> 2H2 + O2
- Williams’s reduction reaction: 79’ FeTiO3 + H2 <-> Fe + TiO2 + H2O2.
- Build a camp in the largest crater
- Craters, commonly called mascons, have higher gravity due to their concentrated mass. The increased gravity will help keep the machines on the ground.
- To build the camp, we need an efficient way to extract iron from dirt to use for building materials and electrical cables. The mare has up to 20% weight iron, but we need a way to find where the iron is concentrated, and then use large magnets to separate the iron.
- The structure of the base camp will be constructed with a bulldozer brought from earth, which can also produce the bricks used for the buildings. The bulldozer will excavate roads, the power systems area, the habitat and crew workstation, and the volatile refining area. Later, it will create a launch and landing area that is a safe distance from the camp to maintain dust control.
- Assemble the rover brought from earth.
- The rover is powered by solar panels on top, which can rotate to achieve optimum solar flux. The rover will have sufficient mass to remain on the surface and give it traction. Due to its heavier mass, its speed will be slow compared to on earth (P = mv).
- Its task is to scoop up the moon dust and process it for helium-3 and other elements, or vacuum the dust into an area that can be stored and processed later.
- It grates the surface smooth and heats it to form silicon solar cells. Solar panels will be on an incline, with incident solar radiation normal to them. The electricity generated is sent to a transducer on a pole 100 feet in the air attached to the base. The environment is ultra-high vacuum, so it is easy to create thin film solar panels, and the necessary Si, Fe, TiO2, Ca and Al are already present.
- The earth’s atmosphere does not obstruct solar energy from reaching the solar panels, and eight times more sunlight reaches them. However, the efficiency of lunar panels is 0.266% (low-end) compared to 20% for satellite panels. The lunar panels are 1/12th as efficient as satellite panels, so the panels must cover 15.3% of the lunar surface to justify this approach.
- Theoretically, if the lunar panels were doped with GaAs, their efficiency increases by a factor of 3.
- Produce stainless steel
- Heat-treated type 420, which can be used for future machines, rockets, and building materials. Composition: Fe: 86.65%, Cr: 13%, C: 0.35%.
- Set up radar equipment
- To decide where the best place to mine for volatiles and setup satellite dishes.
- Make shielding for habitat
- A few feet of regolith over the buildings
- Weld and produce glass fibers for fiber optics
- Advanced or retreat mining
- The most preferred for the quick return on investment.
- Most of the energy will be used to bust the rock up and classify it.
- Also, a combination of surface and underground mining will be used.
- Other options are: drill and blast, in-situ recovery with solutions to heap leach out metals from the ore in the ground, or open-cut.
- A crusher with a jaw is used to break up the material.
- Other options are: gyratory, cone, and ball / rod mill.
- For the sorter, we can use grizzles, screens, cyclones, flotation, settling velocity, or shaker table.
- A mining bulldozer can switch from scraper, to rake, to plow.
- Aluminum will be mined along with other ores.
- The new Saturn VI must cost $3,000/kg and have a payload of 104 kg (the current Saturn V costs $57,000/kg and has a payload of 105 kg).
- 75% of the costs incurred in the first 30 years
- Total cost: $19.95B
- Capital costs (setup costs of the plant): $1.098B/1,000MW plant ($1,098/kW)
- Saturn VI capability: $5B
- Basic support: $1.5B
- Flight: $1.5B
- Fuel: $1000/kg
- Demonstration plant: $5B
- Development planning: $1B
- He-3 plant: $1.5B
- Fusion power plant: $6B
- Assume $15B capital available.
- Revenue: $800B/kW-h
- 15 miner-processor He-3: $585M/yr
- Fusion: $1B net
- Gross: 10 years from arrival and 15th plant: $1.1B
- Breakeven: 12-years
- Breakeven: $140 M/100 kg He-3
The downside to fusion or He-3 is it takes 18 years for the first operating 100 kg He-3 plant or 1,000 MW fusion plant. The upside is it is clean (non-radioactive) energy. The project must ensure near-term returns on investment and internal cash flows that support expansion. The production of radioisotopes for medical treatment and cancer treatment on earth will help justify the costs. Equipment and buildings have a limited lifetime due to particle and radiation damage. The equipment will remain operational while astronauts work on it, and 90% of manufacturing and machine operations will be carried out from earth.
To justify this mission, we must supply most of the world’s energy. This breaks down to 20 TW/yr in 2050 and 1,000 TW/yr in 2070. When we have 13,000 MW for the moon base, we will make more panels on flat surfaces and send 20 – 30 TW to earth’s 12 receiving stations via radio waves. This must be an international effort and would be a launch platform for Mars. NASA’s initial plan was to go to Mercury, and they had planned missions. They were not interested in going to the moon. Most scientists agreed that going to the moon was not worth the scientific benefit. Everything changed when President John F. Kennedy gave his famous 1961 speech, which brought us to the moon. Why did we not want to spend only 0.5% of our GDP on NASA after the Apollo flights? There were crashes, but mainly scientists withdrew from the debate when they noticed that advanced scientific missions did not follow the Apollo missions.
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- D. Nardo, The Moon. Farmington Hills, Michigan: KidHaven Press, 2003.
- I. O’neil, “Building a Moon Base: Part 1 – Challenges and Hazards”, April 21, 2008.
- N. Smith, “Have space greenhouse, will travel”, April 17, 2009.
- J Wharris, “Is Colonizing the Moon Possible?”, January 1, 2009.
- H. H. Schmitt, “Mining the Moon”, Popular Mechanics, October 2004.
- Wikipedia. “Colonization of the Moon”.
- M. Smith, “Moon Reports: Moon Wars”, May 5, 2049.
- Fusion Technology Institute: NEEP533 Course Notes (Spring 2004) Resources from Space, University of Wisconsin-Madison. May 7, 2004.
- MIT Achieves Breakthrough in Nuclear Fusion Popular Mechanics. Aug 28, 2017.