Setting Up An Industrial Village On The Moon using the nuclear cannon

Hi, this is Joseph Friedlander with a guest post for Next Big Future.

This article will discuss setting up an industrial village on the Moon. And on import substitution and Jane Jacobs economics (transactions of decline and transactions of ascent).

Note- This is a lengthy discussion of a plan for bootstrapping civilization into space.

In brief, Jane Jacobs wrote a number of books on how neighborhoods– regions– and countries ascend and decline. ‘Transactions of ascent’ result in building national wealth like China has done…… ‘Transactions of decline’ result in dissipating national wealth and even actively tearing it down (sadness for team) like the USA/UK has done.

We see this in comparison between families as well– Jane Jacobs economics is very real-world oriented. Not a lot of phony theories, curves and charts here, but realities based upon long and accurate observations as to how people actually transact in their lives.

I have written before on a hypothetical family business in New York 100 years ago. Imagine a family– kids go to school, or perhaps are home-schooled by the eldest daughter. Relatives come in (before quotas) and are housed for a while and set up in cooperative sub businesses as they pay back their relocation cost and are assisted in buying property next door. Everyone works, and no one buys anything they can produce or repair themselves. (This includes building and repairing and expanding the buildings. Whole crews of relatives sleep as in barracks in one completed building, buying bricks and making their own future apartments at night after their main day’s work is done–(in effect, colonizing and building habitation modules). There is a garden to save on vegetables. (The women sew with rented sewing machines until they make enough money to buy their own, in addition to numerous other chores.) Everyone gets up early and works until they drop. Raw materials from all over the world– and immigrants similarly world sourced –are available freely after customs are cleared– often a kid is sent down to pay off a delivery, collect a passage, or show a greenhorn relative to his new home.. The family works at home and the money stays at home. Slowly (and then not so slowly) family wealth grows– and taxes are low. Relative after relative is brought over, set up as a sub-contractor, and the original members, now prime contractor, become by their old standards, quite wealthy. They buy other property, make money in rents, use cashflows to make loans for machinery to their sub-contractors, and productivity and output constantly increase.

This story should sound vaguely familiar to most Americans with a sense of history– but it is ancient history in New York, which has essentially been destroyed as a center of wealth production, and now is a center of welfare and financial predation (both by the state and state-favored private actors). The home-based industrial activity described above would today be fantastically illegal, not merely because of zoning and government restrictions (and layers and layers of permits, taxes, etc needed) but because of tax laws, child labor laws and a punitive inspection environment that literally would rather see people homeless than providing for themselves in a less than formal way. In Chicago I read of a local official who had people’s homes condemned because of their modifications – the houses ‘weren’t up to code’. Presumably the cardboard boxes in which the contemporary homeless slept weren’t up to code either… when honest effort is outlawed, only outlaws will show honest effort.

In contrast, in China today a modern variant of that family story would be totally familiar. New York today is awash with transactions of decline. (What wealth does remain– and there are huge amounts of it– is rarely associated with productive industry but a mixture of speculation, marketing, financial games, political connections, union relationships, and so on. But nearly all of this is based on exploiting actual productive people somewhere else in the country, who somehow do still manage to produce). China today is awash with transactions of ascent. Each vector is poised to continue on its’ path– and one day those directional arrows will cross, and China will be rich, and New York poor. (Look at the financial news.

How far off is that day, really?)

New York is far more centrally located, with a better harbor, and DIRECT continental access to the richest market in the world—and is far closer to Europe, the second biggest market. Think how many layers of dysfunction had to be piled on top of each other to make New York a productive desert.

Now. Let us step back and look up at the Moon. A real productive and biological desert. One day, let us assume, it will be host to thriving industrial centers– and barring total teleoperation and automation (and nanotechnology) SOME people will be needed as fix-it men to fix the things that theoretically 1) should not need fixing or 2) the teleoperated robots should be able to fix without human intervention. (but that in real life need humans to keep going)

In fact, later on the proportion of machines to men should approach unity. But in the beginning there will need to be a kind of industrial ecology, a pattern of succession like the ascent from rock-eating lichen to diverse climax forest, each stage feeding the next.

We can imagine the first stage to be test splashdowns of Wang Bullets laden with a couple thousand tons of industrial chemicals scarce on the Moon. (They may be common on earth. For example, soft coal, salt, sulfur, zinc, lead). If well targeted and penetrating the surface nearly all the splashdown may be recoverable without so much dilution as to be lost.

Since only about a third of the material which enters lunar orbit may soft land with present rocket systems, forms of controlled, sacrificial, braking collision such as Dr. Alan Stern’s SLAM idea are very worth exploring. (Alan Stern, executive director of the Space Science and Engineering Division at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI)) wherein he proposes to precision aim volatiles for hard landing on the moon for possible use by manned expeditions (saves about 3/5th of the payload from being retro fuel and most of the rest being lander mass; only 15% lost, allegedly). But Dr. Stern was considering a small amount of water, what an Atlas family vehicle could hurl moonward, whereas we could theoretically supply most of a million tons, plus plenty of scrap metal. The actual crash orientation would need to be controlled in all probability, to avoid excessive splashing (sample matter splash movies are available at –the fastest of these is only one quarter minimum collision velocity of the moon, and it reduces metal to peeling fragments and dust.) By contrast, hypervelocity collisions may be said to take place where the impact speed is in the range of or exceeds the speed of the compression waves in target and projectile; essentially the kilometers per second range. These are yet more violent.

A sample laboratory hypervelocity strike is at
Possibly an ideal target site would be a deep equatorial nearside crater or rille or valley whose walls would intercept and stop the splashes near the surface. Certainly a detailed site search would be a paper all its’ own. With specialized configuration of the craft and its’ subpayloads, it might even be possible to minimize splashing in a way not obvious to the non-specialist.

It might be possible to thus “salt” by controlled collision a given “easy” equatorial lunar landing site (polar landings take more propellant) to make it as if the products of hundreds of chemical industries were available locally in vast amount for the price of a precisely located shallow dig. Buried treasure on the Moon!

What this would essentially enable is a small human or robotic landing force to find “precision guided deposits” of water ice, say salts, other volatiles, chemical feedstocks (say coal and sulfur and industrial chemicals), enabling only a few tons of landed industrial equipment to rapidly process moon rock with solar power and making thousands of tons of products that would form the industrial backbone of a massive lunar base.

Imagine, for example, using coal from earth as the carbon source (with extreme solar heat) to reduce carbothermally moon rock to free the metals from the oxygen, and then using solar heat to distill the metals to any desired purity. Naturally there would be scrap (powder like) from the crashed Wang Bullet itself to mine. To make an integrated steel mill is such an involved—and heavy gauge– industrial undertaking that many would frankly call it fantasy in regard to an isolated outpost on the Moon. Yet with teleoperated robots from soft landers mining the very same crashed Wang Bullet they themselves hitched a ride off Earth on, the lunar outpost and its’ by comparison easy to construct foundry would be neither isolated (communications wise) nor undersupplied.

Iron could form mirrors, and aluminum the coating. The sun would provide the power, and the focus would melt down more iron and aluminum, native lunar basalt and ilmenite, to become products of foundry and construction site, and even the simpler mechanical parts of the new teleoperators themselves.

The carbothermal process, to simplify, uses a combination of heat and carbon to ‘force’ carbon to process metals that ordinarily it would not, and take the oxygen away. Since the Moon is made of metal oxides (and silicon dioxide) this will result in great amounts of metal being available cheaply with very little electricity (at the beginning—remember that one large goal here is eventually to make a lunar power system!).

This is another example of a useful 19th Century technology for use in space.
Before the current Hall process for making aluminum electrically, folks who wanted aluminum could use Deville’s process

Sodium was first produced commercially in 1855 by thermal reduction of sodium carbonate with carbon at 1100 °C, in what is known as the Deville process.

Na2CO3 (liquid) + 2 C (solid) → 2 Na (vapor) + 3 CO (gas).

The process is called ‘carbothermal’ because it employs both heat (solar on the moon) and carbon– but carbon will NOT do it at normal temperatures (i.e. the reaction is heavily endothermic) so you “subsidize it” with solar heat.
If a Wang Bullet makes available Earth coal on the moon, we can use carbon to reduce the rock and solar energy and catalysts to recycle the carbon dioxide

There is also possibility of carbochlorination of moon rock using coal and salt, which could make metal chlorides that can be separated by various means and then made to pure metals.

Thus our interest in coal and salt on the Moon! Also if you lose 400000 tons at $30 a ton in a mission failure, it costs a lot less than if its some aerospace grade hardware– and you trade it on the moon for metal fresh from moon rock and build the hardware in space from that!

This scenario of increasing lunar surface self-sufficiency would cover the interesting case where the launch by Verne Blowgun from Earth would cost only a dollar a kilogram, yet to ferry to soft land on the Moon would cost a hundred times that, not because of the cost of the fuel in Lunar orbit but because of the cost of the landers. If fuel were currently FREE in low lunar orbit the amortized cost of landed payload would still be expensive. (Perhaps in the $100+ of dollars per kg range—see below)

A way around this expense would be to bootstrap off the riches available at a controlled crash site. Once there is an operational lunar base, (and not the tiny outposts currently fashionable to study, but a depot-level facility with massive industrial capabilities) the bottleneck will be broken because literally the lunar base can be its’ own shipyard and refuel for the landing at a future Wang Bullet in low lunar orbit, enabling lander reuse and shipping costs to the lunar surface at low dollar per kilograms levels, possibly even enabling an influx of human settlers, who will be most welcome as prospective employees.

You want a nice variety of supplies within a few kilometers– ideally, one kilometer– of splashdown. Imagine three or four Wang Bullets hitting that close together while we calibrate the bomb design and constancy of yield to achieve a good understanding of how to tweak the velocity to just over escape, to make the soft-landed supply stage easily achievable with minimum retro-fuel.

Then come the soft-landed supplies– in small, hardy landers. If G-cushioned and very flat you may even have hardy rovers– say 1 meter wide and long by 20 centimeters high. But this is not essential at this stage.

Now that you have fine-calibrated Wang Bullet Escape speed you capture one into lunar orbit, and some of the sub-spacecraft using low-thrust engines pull their fuel bladders to make a logistic chain to Low Earth Orbit. Say 500 tons net remain in lunar orbit, and of the other 500 tons, 150 tons made it to a highly eccentric transfer orbit to low earth orbit, and of that 50 tons made it to low earth orbit itself (leaving 100 tons in the transfer orbit)

Now an ordinary space capsule in the under 10 ton range the Russian Soyuz, the Chinese Shenzou (the USA had Gemini and will hopefully soon have the Space-X Dragon and the Boeing CST100 capsule can meet the ‘egg sac with engines’, dock with it, and be propelled to the transfer orbit, redock again with another ‘egg sac with engines’, and make it to the 500 ton cache in lunar orbit. Using parts from the Wang Bullet payload, the astronauts could construct a lander frame for their capsule (in the style of Lunar Gemini plans

or indeed a kit lander itself, choosing to leave their capsule tethered to the Wang Bullet in lunar orbit.

Notice that for this plan no new heavy lift booster other than the Wang Bullet itself is needed. Commercial boosters of today or planned for the near future will do fine for transporting the humans and low-g delicate cargo.

Now the first manned landing since 1972 occurs near the site with hundreds of soft landers (the size of Surveyor spacecraft) and three or four thousand tons of industrial chemicals (note that the impacting Wang Bullets may disperse their different cargoes to unique nearby sites). The astronauts raid lander after lander for supplies while they assemble rovers, shelters, fill sandbags with regolith and radiation-shield their new dwellings. They literally set up dozens of shelters so they have a place to retreat to in case of problems with one– and for future base growth. They assemble teleoperated robots with wheeled rover bases and remote-controlled arms that technicians on Earth can operate, and soon, only two are eating, but 50 pairs of robot arms are helping them.

The astronauts rove around the impact sites, take samples, and direct their teleoperator allies to dig out the ice, coal, sulfur, and other chemicals. The teleoperated rovers pull trailer loads of the stuff in, and mixing(for example) coal with roasted regolith, carbon dioxide is produced, and molten metals. The Carbon dioxide is captured, distilled, electrolyzed to monoxide, and fed back to the reaction– and oxygen is produced for the astronauts and for oxidizer. Many other chemical processes are set to motion in this way, and their products are towed around in the trailers of the growing teleoperator rover population. Garages are built to keep the teleoperators warm during the brutal two-week night.

Larger shelters both pressurized and open to vacuum (but shielded from radiation and micrometeorites and temperature swings) can be made with the new metal available directly from lunar materials. As can solar mirrors and boilers. Available power increases, antennas for communication are larger– the electronics are from Earth, but the antennae bodies are from lunar materials.

It is uncertain how long a tour of duty could be, but over a year has been achieved in zero gravity already– and one can imagine building a large flat domed shaped space where people literally swing around in a centrifuge (at first, a tether suspended one, later, a metal armed one) to keep their 1-G muscle fitness tone during off hours.

The more astronauts come down, and the longer they can stay, the more complicated the products of the nascent Lunar industrial complex can become. Remember, the remote-controlled teleoperators (with 4 shifts of manned control) outnumber the astronauts probably by 100 to 1 at this stage. The astronauts are there to see how ‘ground truth’ looks to a Mark One Eyeball, and to do jobs that the teleoperators can’t quite pull off (but these very challenges will spur developing the next generation of teleoperators in a way that no amount of paper studies could achieve)

The second expedition might land at the same site, with more low-g supplies unlaunchable by Wang Bullet (but brought to the Lunar surface by Wang Bullet carried fuel). By now the teleoperators have built up quite a lunar infrastructure, most of which could function– to an extent –even without men present. But the men add a logistics driver to the complex, as well as a media interest factor. It is possible that if the Wang Bullet is sufficiently cheap, that reality TV might enable financing of the first Moonbase! (I did say possible– not probable…)
Although a closed ecology is often presented as a necessary part of the first Moonbase (One can imagine a NASA plan with a small billion dollar greenhouse) the fact is that probably will be one for much later stages of lunar ecological succession. Early on, there are only a few people, and with oxygen and water recaptured and saved, growing food is something not yet easily achieved. Dried MRES (meals ready to eat) arriving and rehydrated are (with the Wang Bullet) much cheaper to send than some billion dollar agricultural module. ($100 a pound down is an expensive day’s meal– but it would take 10,000 man days of food (27 man-years) to equal a million dollars– and ten million (27,000 man years) to equal a billion dollars. This is an example of ‘real economics’ in space– long before we have sent a billion dollars of food to the Moon by Wang Bullet, we will have self-sufficient lunar greenhouses. One measure of Jane Jacobs economics is ‘import substitution’–by which you make (if need be) crude homespun products first just to stop the bleeding from the family pocket. As you do, and make, you learn. And your quality improves. When your quality gets good enough, you export– and instead of merely stopping a drain of money, you have a new source of money. Tens of millions of times over, this is the recent history of China. And these ‘transactions of ascent’ are equally applicable on the Moon. But the Moon’s strength is not in agricultural output– but in vacuum processing, abundant solar power and the chemicals that can be gotten out of rock, and orbital position, always orbital position. The Moon is already in space, and even a V-2 class craft can ascend to orbit it.

The cheapest export would be power (but it would have to be on a vast scale, and nearly all the components would have to be made locally.) It would be logical to undertake great experiments in vacuum deposition of materials– a vacuum 3d printer using energy fields and projectile particles. If this could be achieved (many analogous processes such as MBE are used every day on Earth) microwave broadcast electronics might be printed directly on the lunar surface, and the power generators to feed them (from the Sun) would not be long in coming. (LINK TO Criswell plan ) Their exports might be photons (energy) and information—See the Server Sky plan — and energy and information are both massless. A far distant third export might be lunar liquid oxygen and processed metals glass fibers and construction materials retro-ed to low orbit cheaper than Earth could launch it there, to support space business operations (such as satellite or space hotel construction).

Another industrial priority for lunar industry would be making fuel and oxidizer (for example, a metal and oxygen rocket) for direct ascent to Earth to return crews past their tour of duty– and a Moon-made reentry vehicle to send them in (once this is achieved, we have substituted for another Earth import—and closed the circle of returning the crews). Of course, if the crews came to stay and settle on the Moon, this considerable expense could be spared…

By this stage you might have gigantic lunar plows that would magnetize out the .1% of meteoric nickel-iron in lunar soil—moving a billion tons of lunar soil a few meters to be able to seize a million tons of metal asteroidal fragments. A hundred cubic meters a second of regolith moved would yield 3 million tons of nickel-iron a year.

A further stage might follow of using the finest particles picked up by the plows and baking off the fine gasses adhering to their surfaces from the solar wind, yielding tens of thousands of tons of nitrogen and hydrogen and helium per year. More import substitution, and vital for agricultural production on the Moon. Still more import substitution.

Remember somewhere around 1820-1880 people made the first huge cast one piece train frames. They had sand (Earth regolith) and molten iron, and no modern protective clothing. Note that I assume teleoperators for safety, but even without you can rig things to pour when you are far, far away and come back a lunar night later to see how the pour cooled. (And probably cold-annealed as well!) Practice makes perfect.
As reader ‘EngineerPoet’ has noted, (hat tip)–‘Mission-critical parts shouldn’t be manufactured on-site using untested techniques with no backup.’ but what would happen is that the first manned mission might test those techniques– and if they failed, well the next mission goes to the same site again until someone gets it right. The beauty of it is if you need to take a year off, you do it– the Moon is still there, orbit unchanged. Obviously that one experiment would fail (many did on the Shuttle, I am thinking of the tether experiment that snapped) but the main mission would succeed, and you learn by doing. That is how Chinese quality has gone from toylike (older readers will remember when Made In Japan was a cheap-shoddy-goods joke) to masterful in 20-25 years. Much of that was achieved by talent diffusion throughout a growing, learning and cross-hiring economy. Notice that they recently unveiled something like 10 new models of small airplanes. There are more car companies in China than US companies have models of cars. You learn by doing. You forget by not doing. Transactions of ascent. Transactions of decline. Which works for a group, a people, a nation?

In that spirit of innovation and testing and expansion we can imagine a lunar magnetic levitation accelerator track, to directly hurl lunar liquid oxygen containers to aerobrake and circularize in low earth orbit. (Various lunar derived fuels are possible here too). If so, we could have a logistics chain not dependent on Moon-orbiting Wang Bullets (direct collision shots are easier because of the less fine speed control needed). Also, we can imagine much larger logistics flows. If a space tugboat made on the Moon and retro-ed to low Earth orbit fueled up, then sought out a capsule full of people(or the ISS with a load of visitors) we can imagine a Falcon 9 heavy packed with perhaps 50 people, (a Saturn V might have carried 300-500–the rule is 2-4 people a ton) carried to the lunar orbit space station, and from there to the Lunar surface. 4 Such shots a year after 12 years would enable an industrial town of 2500 on the lunar surface—which every decade would need a Wang Bullet full of MREs. (I doubt there would ever be a pure food flight– by then they would have their own food production). Assuming young couples made the trip, they would be radiation-shielded except for their immigration flight– and from there the boot-up would continue, including the biological growth of young families. After 100 years—with this ‘no heavy lifter’ immigration model, you would have something like New England in the 17th Century in terms of population dynamics. And from the 17th to the 20th Century, New England multiplied 100 fold in population, to more than equal the Original 13 colonies’ population in 1776…

How to use the Wang Bullet

Brian feels that the window for using this system is from now to about 2030-2035. Because as Joseph has said many times, this is an interim system. If you have the means to send large amounts of cargo as cheaply without nuclear as with nuclear, why buy into the complications (radioactive waste, however small, the protesters, etc)

At the tail end of that window, perhaps about 2030 if the war anticipated for that decade isn’t too bad… All kinds of systems are possible, from space elevators and other tether systems to nuclear fusion space planes to clever systems as yet unthought of. And others, like nanotechnology, which could make everything current obselete overnight. The same nanotech super strong materials (like buckytubes as long and thick as you want in bundled cable ready to go) that could enable space elevators after a decade of construction could enable super-light single stage to orbit craft within a single year. (It may astonish you that if we could build tissueweight walls that simply would not tear, we could build a small orbital launcher no larger than a minivan– of which 99% might be conventional fuels. That is an example of near term ‘dumb’ nanotech, i.e. with no moving parts once built. If you have active control over matter, all bets are off– you can have atomic hydrogen that can cut the fuel fraction from 99% to just half or even less. If you can get the fuel fraction down to 33% that is the same proportion as a car carrier and you can use conventional construction. Here you see the cascading effects of piled inventions. The more toys you have to play with the more combinations. Eventually one of those combinations will click and the vault to the Cosmos will crack open…

However, Back to the Wang Bullet. Let us suppose we were ready to go tomorrow.

What is the best use of it– the best way to package a Moon mission?

Remember that the payloads must stand very high Gs on takeoff (say a minimum of 4000 Gs). This means that a 1 meter high package will ‘feel’ 4 kilometers high, i.e. have the weight of a mountain of copies on it. Ordinary materials like aluminum can take 1 meter height, steel maybe 2 meters (Proof: 16 inch battleship shells, launched for 50 years at such accelerations– and they do not break up mid-flight from damage from normal acceleration.

This argues that the best interior to that ICBM like, sloped cone aeroshield would be linked egg-sac like 1-2 meter packages. Some of the cables would snap, but not all. Some of the cells might rupture, but not all. If each of those modular packages had a supply of payload, fuel and micro-thrusters able to take the launch, they could adjust their flight path for a collision with the moon at a minimum of 2.4 km per second (Luna 2 for example hit at 3 kilometers a second because of excess speed over bare escape velocity).

Such high speed collisions reduce not to fist-chunks and gravel but to sand and powder. Those who have seen rocket sled tests of F-4s into concrete walls (think nuclear reactor concrete shield tests)

basically seem like instant ways to turn a plane into a splash of powdered aluminum. A hit at 480 miles an hour is only 214 meters per second– one tenth lunar minimum impact speed of 2400 meters per second– and one hundredth the energy level. You can see that simply scattering light metal capsules would not be terribly survivable (small low mass sub- landers decelerate rapidly in air, but not in vacuum) Yet if not too dispersed (think Lunar rays near craters) such their powdered remains might be very mineable.

As Brian has commented, there are dumb impactor projectiles (the very first one might be a test just to understand the Wang Bullet system, with the idea of making a rich deposit that later missions can mine. We have mentioned Dr. Stern’s research that even water hitting the surface would be frozen at moderate depth if it penetrated. It would have long ago evaporated from the Lunar tropics (not the poles) but the best base areas of choice might be (for some purposes) near the Lunar equator. Unmined Lunar ice at the poles doesn’t help you, say, in the Sea of Tranquility at the beginning of the base era before mines and lunar surface transport is set up.

A few hundred tons of frozen splashdown materials like ice, sulfur and other cheap chemicals might be a real help to a starter base.

Just as with a Saturn V direct lunar landing scenario, the more expensive way (fuel expense being discussed here) is to try to retro the whole heavy empty launch stage. The cheap way is to retro a sub-lander and let the big aerocone crash into the Moon, then lightly precision landing nearby.

In the case of a lander-S-IV-B stage (Saturn 5 third stage with heavy landing gear and nose cone) the dry stage on the surface might be 13 tons versus 7-8 tons of payload— (5-6 tons is not out of the question if some projections were right)

But a sublander like the Lunar Module or the Altair module projected to fill the entire payload capability of the S-IV B could soft land 18 tons near the 13 ton wreck of the S-IV-B. Obviously the net total payload down is greater, because you have to retro less dead structural weight (you cut the dead 3rd stage loose), so less fuel is carried and more payload. On the other hand, each engine costs money, each pyro event (separation firing) brings a chance of mission failure… nothing is for free.

Suppose then for the Wang Bullet we get 3000 tons up, of which 1000 is the structure, 1000 fuel and 1000 payload. We have been lucky that our final velocity is just a tad over bare escape velocity, so only the minimum 2.4 km/sec retro delta-v is needed. We use perhaps 100 tons of fuel to nudge the 2900 tons remaining to a precision hit. Then we cut loose the part that is going to crash hard—1100 tons, and have say 1800 tons left. Retroing takes about half that in fuel. 900 tons reaches the Lunar surface– of which 300 tons landed is lander structure (many small landers to increase success chances) and 600 tons is actual landed payload.

Note that a cheaper way than a complete soft landing—may be like the Martian landing strategies of losing nearly all your velocity (there with parachutes, impossible on the Moon) with dumb retro, say solids– and then cutting loose many layered impact pods that can take 200-300 m/sec (the speed of a Korean War jet fighter) without disintegration. You save fuel but spend on packaging– however, the packaging might have great salvage uses in a Moonbase.

Those who have seen Ninja calthrops or crows feet (sticky metal spiky things scattered on floors to hurt opponents feet) can imagine cushioned versions crushing to absorb the impact blow. A similar strategy works for the Friedlander Sabot during the terrible microseconds of Wang Bullet launch– crush and move to avoid utter destruction.

Rather than attempting a hardlanding, you get much more functionality and reliability out of retroing to zero (or near zero) at local target zone. Say down to 2-400 m/s where heavy construction and conventional foam packing can help. A backyard rocket could do it, any of these lunar lander challenge rockets could do it.

Another way is to learn from the Luna 2 mission at the very dawn of the Space Age. On September 13th, 1959 the first objects from Earth impacted on the Moon, at 3 kilometers a second. Yet amazingly some small fraction of them are alleged to have survived intact. How did the Soviet-era engineers achieve this feat?

Lessons for the Wang Bullet from the Luna 2 Mission.
according to

On impact, it scattered a quantity of Soviet emblems and ribbons across the lunar surface. They were assembled into spheres which broke up on hitting the surface. About 30 minutes later, the final stage of Luna 3’s launching rocket made its own crater on the Moon.

Now you will notice— at 1.5 kilometers a second, you hit and leave only powder.

The launching rocket hit shortly after and left a crater and powdered metal. How did the metals survive?
Some great cleverness–engineers used explosives not as an accelerator, which also works (link to explosive acceleration plan ) but as a decelerator.

The medallions that were the propaganda payload were in the back of sphere-shaped packages. In front were explosives. Acting as a decelerator. A simple fuse set off a charge that sacrificed the front of the sphere to decelerate the back. One can imagine this very cheap method being used to decelerate multi-ton packages to survivable speeds (especially if fluid-filled or otherwised buffered by foam or collapsable absorption layers). MREs, (meals ready to eat) for example might survive– and if the fluid was water, it might, according the the calculations by the ATLAS team (LINK) survive to be a mineable ice deposit in the -4 F lunar subsoil.
According to Wikipedia,
…spacecraft also carried Soviet pennants. Two of them, located in the
spacecraft, were sphere-shaped, with the surface covered by identical
pentagonal elements. In the center of this sphere was an explosive for
the purpose of slowing the huge impact velocity. This was designed as a
very simple way to provide the last necessary delta-v for those
elements on the retro side of the sphere to not get vaporized. Each
pentagonal element was made of stainless steel …
third pennant was located in the last stage of the Luna 2 rocket, which
collided with the moon’s surface 30 minutes after the spacecraft did.
It was a capsule filled with liquid, with aluminium strips placed into
it. …

So explosive deceleration and sacrificial fluid filled capsules may be a way to get survivability in hardlanded supplies instead of splashing them into powder.

Those who are cynical and unbelieving about the possibility of $100000 soft landers for the Moon should consider the simplicity of explosive deceleration, especially staged explosive deceleration.

Classes of small rocket engines that could land huge masses on the Moon if starting from a Wang Bullet in Lunar Orbit.

Going down to the Moon is not expensive if going up is super cheap. You need a 1930s-40s class rocket engine, 1967 book and at engine shutoff you have say half rocket and half payload weighing six times the thrust in local g units. So a 1 ton thrust (say 20 kg mass) home workshop liquid fuel engine can land 3 tons of lander and 3 of payload (say 4 and 2 if pessimist) on the Moon. Imagine 100 such probes, 50 of which survive–
This is the X-15 engine

massing 413 kg, it could land (no fuel margin) 155 tons dry on the moon– between 50-75 tons of payload down. Very storable ammonia and less storable liquid oxygen 1960 technology.

a small hybrid engine about this class –Space Propulsion Groupis an aerospace company founded in 1999 by Dr. Arif Karabeyoglu, Prof. Brian Cantwell and others from Stanford University to develop high regression-rate liquefying hybrid rocket fuels and motors. They have successfully fired motors as large as 12.5 in. diameter which produce 13,000 lbf. using the technology and are currently developing a 24 in. diameter, 25,000 lbf. motor to be initially fired in 2010.

Empty weight:2,640 lb (1,200 kg)
Loaded weight:7,920 lb (3,600 kg)
Powerplant:1×N2O/HTPBSpaceDevHybrid rocket motor, 7,500 kgf (74 kN)
Isp:250 s (2450 Ns/kg)

The Spaceship One engine (that cost $100000 to fire) 7.5 tons thrust, can land 45 tons on the moon dry.

Popular Mechanics mentions Elon Musk’s engine designer’s amateur engine. 13,000 lbs thrust, 35 tons down ton the Moon. This is twice the FULL weight of the Lunar Module in Lunar Orbit!

Building a liquid-fuel rocket engine isn’t easy, even for an experienced propulsion engineer. Liquid propellants are cheap and provide lots of lifting power, but the engines rely on a host of valves and seals to control the flow. And they usually require supercooled oxidizers, like liquid oxygen, to mix with the fuel so it can ignite. The resulting combustion essentially a controlled explosion is channeled at high pressure into the nozzle, creating the thrust that propels the rocket. Despite these challenges, by early 2002 Mueller had moved his operations to a friend’s rented warehouse and was putting the finishing touches on the world’s largest amateur liquid-fuel rocket engine, an 80-pounder designed to produce 13,000 pounds of thrust.

Speaking generally now, 20-1000 lbs thrust to about 5 tons thrust has been historically done quickly. 10-30 tons follows with a reasonable small company (SPACE X has 34 tons or so to ~51 tons for the new engine. Doable by a small company— the guy in the article above (Mueller) happens to be backed by a medium sized one so it worked out well. Note that their engine is more efficient than a small company’s would be—
With each increase in engine size, the difficulty of debugging it increases, combustion instabilities get higher and higher.

Space X’s new engine could land about 300 tons on the Moon.

The Canadian Arrow team reverse engineered a V-2. They have completed the first series of tests on their 57,000lbf (254kN) thrust engine
This could land over 150 tons on the Moon.

If you can get Skylab down to the Moon you can do business like the big boys.
But the key thing is to get thousands of tons of supplies and landers and parts all within moonwalk distance for a fast bootup of an industrial village on the Moon.

To aid in immigration, we might imagine ultralight spacecraft, with just half a ton of (emergency reentry shielding + spacesuit) mass per person, including the person! This would cut the expense per person from around say $10 million to 2 million, and with a barebones rocket might cut it to a few hundred thousand dollars an immigrant. Imagine something like a 1 man MMU suit with MOOSE emergency retroshield capability –imagine that free-flying astronaut docking with a tug sent down from the initial lunar orbit Wang Bullet. It would be like taking a go-kart to a bus, loading the go-kart on the bus, taking the bus to a ship (ferry) and driving it on. Each stage would leverage the last. to dock with a boat– the boat being sent down from the huge ship. Super leverage that way. They could have done this in the 60s. Think about that. For the same mass, another plan would be, instead of orbiting an 8 ton 3 man spacecraft, to send a 2 man (1 ton) direct ascent and landing craft for the same mass (one way of course– but consider that the supplies are all prelanded and in place). within a few hundred meters of touchdown.

Ironically, once down on the Moon you would want to orient this industrial village to supplying high orbit (say L-4 or L-5) lunar supplied solar sail shipyard in space. (Those mockable ‘drydocks’ in the Star Trek movies, if shaped somewhat differently and of sufficient size would do very well for assembling super-thin solar sails.

With large solar sails you could enable whole new classes of missions starting around 2015-2020
Solar electric sails are being developed

Why go down to the Moon just to come up? (Friedlander’s Paradox of Lunar Development?:) Because very few eggs are born ready to walk. You need to boot up using cheap electronics that you can protect with a vault of regolith around it from space radiation. You need space-sourced materials, and they are NOT ready to use (can you imagine if they were? Lunar hills made of ingots sorted by isotope number, pressurized tanks of volitiles– alas…) so you need a whole industrial infrastructure to prep them and turn them into subcomponents ready to use. You need to set up a system to extract mass from the moon and deliver it to the zero g high orbit sailyards, then you can get huge mass from the asteroids…

A plan to suck volatiles (mosquito style) from comet-like objects…

Eventually mass in orbit is cheap and you can reuse space tugs and then prices fall another factor of 10– but by then the frontier is in full bloom…

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