The American Museum of Natural History’s Beyond Planet Earth contest. They’re looking for original, out-of-this-world ideas on the future of space exploration in 3 minutes or less – watch their introductory video to find out more:
“We estimate that we can create an entire turn-key lunar outpost on the Moon within about 15 to 16 years, with humans arriving about 10 years after the initial robotic missions go,” Spudis said. “The mining operation would produce about 150 tons of water per year and roughly 100 tons of propellant.
And do any new technologies or hardware have to be built?
“Not really,” said Spudis. “Effectively this plan is possible to achieve right now with existing technology. We don’t have any ‘unobtainium’ or any special magical machine that has to be built. It is all very simple outgrowths of existing equipment, and many cases you can use the heritage equipment from previous missions.”
A lunar mining facility harvests oxygen from the resource-rich volcanic soil of the eastern Mare Serenitatis.Credit: NASA/Pat Rawlings.
And what about the cost?
Spudis estimates that the entire system could be established for an aggregate cost of less than $88 billion, which would be about $5 billion a year, with peak funding of $6.65 billion starting in Year 11. This total cost includes development of a Shuttle-derived 70 mT launch vehicle, two versions of a Crew Exploration Vehicles (LEO and translunar), a reusable lander, cislunar propellant depots and all robotic surface assets, as well as all of the operational costs of mission support for this architecture.
An upgraded Spacex Falcon Heavy could then greatly reduce the cost of the Spudis lunar plan.
“The Moon offers us this water not only to support human life there, but also to make rocket propellant to allow us to refuel our spacecraft both on the Moon and space above the Moon.”
In a series of 17 incremental missions, a human base would be built, made operational and occupied. It starts with setting up communication and navigation satellites around the Moon to enable precision operation for the robotic systems.
Next would sending rover to the Moon, perhaps a variant of the MER rovers that are currently exploring Mars, to prospect the best places for water at the lunar poles. The poles also provide areas of permanent sunlight to generate electrical power.
Next, larger equipment would be sent to experiment with digging up the ice deposits, melting the ice and storing the products. (See our previous article about using bulldozers on the Moon).
The significant amount of water than has been found on the Moon at the poles makes this plan work.
“We estimate there are many tens of billions of tons of water at both poles,” Spudis said. “What we don’t know in detail is exactly how much water is distributed what physical state it is in, and that’s one of the reasons why the first step in our plan is to send robotic prospectors up there to map the deposits and see how they vary.”
Next Big Future report on news that the Space Agency hid the cheaper cost of in-space fuel depots to get a heavy lift rocket. Nextbigfuture also covered Robert Bigelow’s prediction that China will have claimed large parts of the moon as its territory before 2030.