A Lunar Base is Better than the Lunar Gateway

There was a paper by Craig Davidson (presented by Zubrin) on why a lunar base is better than the proposed Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G) to advance human space exploration.

The Lunar Gateway would be a Mir sized space station in orbit around the moon. If there is a requirement to go to the Gateway before going to the moon then it would add a 30% cargo penalty to sending missions to the surface of the moon.

It would take four launches of the unbuilt Space Launch System or the unbuilt SpaceX Super Heavy Starship to build the Lunar Gateway. It could also be built with 20 Falcon 9 launches or the equivalent of twenty space shuttle launches.

The opportunity cost of the Lunar Gateway is twenty different interplanetary missions.

There are resources on the moon. There is ice in the permanently shadowed regions of the moon and there could be ice elsewhere under one meter of soil. The average temperature of the moons extreme temperatures is -50 degrees. The average temperatures is what exists below one meter.

Rocket fuel can be made on the moon. Either hydrogen-oxygen can both be produced by electrolyzing the water or methane can be brought and lunar oxygen can be used. If methane is brought using lunar oxygen saves 80% of the mass. Methane is the fuel for the SpaceX Super Heavy Starship and methane is easier to handle as a rocket fuel.

Getting the Lunar Water

The problem with the ice is that it is in shadowed craters. If we have new Kilopower nuclear reactors we can put the reactor inside the crater. If we are using solar power, then the solar power has to be at the sunlit area at the top outside of the crater. A microwave transmitter and your trans beaming power a few kilometers into the crater and then you have a tent which is transparent on one side aluminized on the other. The microwaves reflect back from the side of the tent and down into the ground alternatively the tent could be entirely transparent. You could just have a reflective dish behind.

The general idea is to microwaves tuned to heat water. Microwaves will penetrate into the ground and water ice will be vaporized. It will come out as steam. This is particularly attractive if the water is the in the form of a permafrost where it’s mixed with dirt.

The permafrost of moon craters will be an extremely strong and hard material. It would be too hard for Pickaxes. This is the reason for microwaves. Water vapor will be captured and put into a trailer tank.

You do not want to be hauling batteries into the crater to try to vaporize ice. Power beaming would be a better option. Short range power beaming is extremely simple. You do not need to reconvert the microwaves back into electricity and the distances involved are modest.

By increasing temperatures to 700 degrees celsius, then you can make iron from the lunar soil.

It does not have to be SpaceX hardware for the Moon Direct Mission. Lunar development can also be done with Blue Origin New Glenn rockets.

Initial missions need fuel before the lunar mining is setup. The lunar mining could be setup robotically first or initial fuel could be prepositioned in storage.

Lunar Excursion Vehicles can be used as drones to explore anywhere on the moon if they rockets for 6 kilometers per second. The moon base would be drone base to explore the entire surface of the moon.

43 thoughts on “A Lunar Base is Better than the Lunar Gateway”

  1. I did not proof read.
    I rewrote it.

    The general idea is to microwaves tuned to heat water. Microwaves will penetrate into the ground and water ice will be vaporized. It will come out as steam. This is particularly attractive if the water is the in the form of a permafrost where it’s mixed with dirt. 

    The permafrost of moon craters will be an extremely strong and hard material. It would be too hard for Pickaxes. This is the reason for microwaves. Water vapor will be captured and put into a trailer tank. 

    You do not want to be hauling batteries into the crater to try to vaporize ice. Power beaming would be a better option. Short range power beaming is extremely simple. You do not need to reconvert the microwaves back into electricity and the distances involved are modest.

  2. Personally, I think a Moon shipyard makes more sense. Less stuff floating off on you. And the materials are right there. The gravity well is a non-issue as a mass driver can impart the necessary velocity. I also think it is more human friendly to have a little gravity. But it does not have so much that it requires lots of bracing. It should be much easier to maintain as well. If you do it in space, then you need to launch all the components. That is a lot of launches. Just two launches if you use the Moon. One to get the astronauts there. And one as they leave with their new ship. Just getting things level and square is a pain in space, as levels do not function. Yes, even laser levels will not work. Gravity allows you to align stuff. It does not take much misalignment to throw everything out of wack. Sure you could build in a centrifuge, but what would be the point? The Moon is a much easier option…unless there are unions and Moon environmental protection wackos.

  3. In the long run, deep mining could certainly be a thing, and will indeed be easier on the Moon. With exotic carbon-based materials, we may even be able to mine Earth’s mantle eventually, at least the upper few hundred km so. But neither is likely in the short term. Probably at least a few decades away. Until then it’s mostly surface and near-surface mining.

    Also I expect asteroid mining to start not too long after Moon mining. Asteroids are almost entirely “surface”, except the biggest ones.

    The Moon as a space shipyard is an interesting idea. But once we figure out orbital construction, an orbital shipyard would probably make more sense. Some of the materials can come from the Moon though (and most of the rest from asteroids).

  4. I believe mining will be different on the Moon. They will want to mine very deeply. We are limited on Earth due to heat primarily. The Moon is much cooler much deeper. We will probably start with asteroid impacts mostly nickel and iron, or even just collect stuff on the surface with magnets, but when the easy stuff has been mined, they are going to go deep, into the mantel even, which is solid and should not be too hot until you get to the lower mantel and core.
    Most mining will probably be automated, and we can design equipment that can handle at least a few hundred degrees. How far can we push it? Hard to say. Electronics would need to be designed fairly differently to operate so hot. They have been talking about making computer chips from carbon rather than silicon for a while. Those are supposed to be able to handle much more heat. Other components? No idea. Batteries should should be easy. Low temperature is usually more of an issue for batteries.

    I would like to see massive mining operations on the Moon. We could make all sorts of spacecraft there and launch via mass driver retaining fuel for use after they have escaped the Moon’s gravity. Maybe even a bigger push getting them most of the way to their destination.

    Ships from the Earth would mostly just be bringing people that will leave in these larger more fully equipped Moon-built spacecraft to various destinations within the Solar System or to an antimatter station for fueling for more distant destinations.

  5. Not really. You pack what you need on the surface, refuel, and go. It’s like, why would you want to stop 10m from your house when you were going on a trip?

  6. The key thing is, the author assumes nobody will ever want to come back from the Moon and that nothing will ever be shipped back from the Moon. For returns to Earth, an orbiting way station makes perfect sense.

  7. I don’t know where Earth’s carbon came from, and I’m not sure the scientists know either. As I recall, I did a google search on that a while back, and didn’t find a satisfactory answer.

    But some points to consider:
    1. During formation, the surface may have been melted. This could soften the impact, so less stuff vaporized.
    2. The melt pool could absorb some of the vapor.
    3. Some of the vaporized stuff could cool down and accrete and absorb more vapor.
    4. The bigger the growing Earth, the longer the vapor cloud sticks around (gravity).
    5. As more asteroids and comets come in, they might sweep in some of the vapor and dust.
    6. Since that process is continuous, some of the carbon would get trapped in the deeper layers as the Earth grew.
    7. Radioactive decay stops around lead or so, IIRC, so that’s not relevant.
    8. I do expect the Moon to have a similar composition deep down, but that may be too deep to be relevant. The surface is more relevant for mining.
    9. AFAIK, the Moon isn’t geologically active, so what deep stays deep.
    10. In more recent times, and more relevant to surface composition, Earth has more gravity, more atmosphere, and a magnetic field. If an asteroid vaporizes on Earth, most of the carbon would stay in the atmosphere, and eventually come down and get captured by water, plants, etc. On the Moon, most of the vapor gets swept away by the solar wind.
    11. Plus Earth is geologically active, so some of that deep carbon finds its way out over time.

  8. How did we end up with carbon on Earth? Presumably, similar asteroids accumulated to form the Earth as formed the Moon. If it was all turned into CO2 on impact, and was held by Earth’s gravity, volcanoes and especially deep ocean vents should not be emitting any carbon, but they do in the form of methane: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrothermal_vent#/media/File:Deep_sea_vent_chemistry_diagram.jpg If it was all in the atmosphere, how did it then get under a black smoker. Some volcanoes are the Earth’s way of returning less dense materials that got submerged from a plate that is being recycled, but black smokers are typically in spreading centers where new sea floor is being made anew rather than being recycled.

    I suppose some carbon could have come from radioactive decay? But, if that happened on Earth, or more to the point in the Earth, it should also have happened in the Moon. Certainly all of it would not have vented into space. Some is probably as methane gas just like it is in the Earth, and some has probably chemically combined with minerals. It may well require deep mines to find this stuff but it should be easier and safer to mine in the Moon because the weight would be less on the tunnel ceilings. There would be dangers as well. If you filled a mine with air so humans could work in there…and you did find methane…we can’t breathe that stuff…so everyone would have to have an Emergency oxygen supply.

  9. It was the speaker being quoted. I looked at the video. But, you are right, in that the article writer did not appear to take any effort to insert the appropriate punctuation. And there were other errors.

  10. No, we *arrive* at asteroid Bennu Dec 3rd. Sample grab won’t be for another year or so. In the mean time, they will survey the asteroid from ever lower orbits, then pick a good spot to do their sample grab. Then the come back to Earth.

  11. “Better” depends entirely on what your mission goals are. The Gateway is a destination the SLS can reach, providing a rationale for that rocket. If that’s your goal, it works. If you want to bootstrap space industry, a different kind of L2 station is desired, one that can process near-Earth asteroid rock.

    Some asteroid types are 20% water and carbon compounds. The two being visited by probes right now are examples. H2O + C –> O2 + Hydrocarbons = storable rocket propellant. This can be sent from L2 “downhill” to LEO, using slow aerobraking. With propellant in LEO, all your missions going outward get easier. Instead of 6 Big SpaceX Rockets (1 payload + 5 refuel) to deliver one load to high orbit, you can deliver 6 payloads to high orbit.

    You can also use this propellant to deliver to the Lunar surface. You want to mine the Moon too, because asteroids and the Moon are *different ores*. That gives you more variety of space products you can make. L2 or other high orbit is where you want to do your processing, because you have 24-hour sunlight.

  12. From what I read, carbonaceous asteroids vaporize almost completely on impact, so most of the carbon is lost. There are trace amounts in the regolith, a little more in some places, but nothing major (that we know of, at least).

  13. I do speak formally when the occasion calls for formal speech. If this was an audio of someone speaking, I’d forgive a lot, as when we’re speaking extemporaneously we obviously don’t have as much room to organise the words.

    However, in this case, the person is putting things in writing. When writing, there’s time to stop, think, and compose the sentences in a way that makes it easier for the readership to understand the ideas the author is trying to convey: because the important thing is conveying ideas.

    Finally, the issue is exactly that the writer left out punctuation. In Cicero’s days, the custom was not to write any punctuation and let the orator figure it out as she read the texts aloud, but modern literature demands of the writer to insert those graphic marks, and when they are missing we readers, who expect these marks to help parse the text, are left confused and have to go once more over the text trying to infer where the commas, periods and colons ought to go. And brainpower spent on that is brainpower we don’t spend mulling the idea of lunar microwave water farming over…

  14. This article is written by amateurs who are dreamers and don’t know what they are talking about. Get your facts straight.

  15. A Moon base is definitely better. But it is not the best. A base is something you resupply all the time. What you want is an ecosystem, a habitat. You want a self-sufficient population. One capable of expansion.

    You are not really a “two planet species” if both populations die when the bigger one dies.

    That is not to say you could not send stuff, but supplies should not be necessary for it to perpetuate.

    And I chose to think there is carbon there somewhere. It might even be at the poles with the ice as dry ice. Perhaps, just a bit deeper. And even if there is no dry ice, there has to be a crashed asteroid or something with some carbon.

  16. Big deal, you left out punctuation. Nothing wrong with starting a sentence with “and” or “but”.

    “But anyway, the general idea then, is microwaves, of course, are tuned to heat water. That’s why they’re so attractive for cooking. And they would penetrate into the ground. Cause water to vaporize out of the ground. And this is particularly attractive, if the water is in the form of a permafrost, where it’s mixed with dirt, where, and especially at the temperatures in these craters, permafrost could be extremely strong material. You don’t want to be doing pick axe work on it to break it up. But here we’re just heating it with microwaves. The vapors come up. They go in there. There’s a tube connecting it to a trailer tank, and then a rover tows that tank out.”

    Sure, it’s sloppy. But who speaks formally.
    If you have a complex thought, sometimes English gets messy. I used to have that problem all the time. You sometimes have to explain all the little facts to get the big idea out…or it looks like Swiss cheese…with no clarity as to why certain choices are made. He is putting the logic out there, so you can appreciate the choices made in the proposal.

    Sometimes ideas branch into many alternatives, rather than just moving serially; that is when things turn into a mess. Asides are generally spoken at a faster pace, so you can tell when they end.

    Language is for communication…did he succeed in communicating? I did not have any problem following him. Did you?

  17. I know it was a corny teen scifi short story but Heinlein’s “The Menace From Earth” had a great scene where the kids in the story fly with wings in the low gravity of Mars in a cave that stored air for the colony. It really captured my imagination as a kid and made me interested in his other books. I vote for the Heinlein Moon Caves as the tourist trap of the solar system.

  18. 3D printers will just add complexity on the moon and increase weight. At some point they can provide value in making impromptu parts.

  19. Those aren’t the only places. There are LOTS of locations where all the photos that they allow to be published show useless wasteland.

    Antarctica. The Sahara desert. Los Angeles. Valle de la Luna de Atacama, Lake Eyre, Ash Shalfa…

    The conspiracy has no end.

  20. Why has it taken so long to go back to the moon? We think they are hiding something. Also Mars Why do they always land in a place that looks like a waste land and not nere the face on Mars

  21. Jeez! Did the author ever take high school English?

    The general idea then is microwaves are tuned to heat water that’s why they’re so attractive for cooking and they would penetrate into the ground caused water to vaporize out of the ground and this is particularly attractive if the water is the in the form of a permafrost where it’s mixed with dirt where and especially if the temperatures in these craters the permafrost could be extremely strong material you don’t want to be doing pickaxe work on it to break it up but here we’re just heating it with microwaves the vapors come up they go in there there’s a tube connecting it to a trailer tank and then a rover tows that tank out.

  22. SLS has never flown. If it does, the launch cost will be in the vicinity of a billion bucks – not counting cargo costs.

    It’s old tech. SLS literally reuses Shuttle components. Nothing on SLS is reusable.

    Why are we spending so much brainpower trying to figure out how to use SLS to establish and use an orbiting lunar station, when it’s so much cheaper to use the Falcon Heavy – which has flown – to go directly to the moon?

    When New Glenn and Super Heavy/Starship come on line with new-tech reusable components, we’ll see launches of *more* than SLS can lift at a quarter to a fifth of the launch cost.

    SLS, at this point, is just pork. The only reason to continue to pursue it is it pleases the stakeholders. That’s not a good enough reason. We need to cancel this turkey, sooner rather than later.

  23. Instead of 1 crew vehicle a couple of 3D printers and extractors could be send on the first Falcon heavy launch. With 3D printers and supplied stack of IT chips tools and robots could be printed and assembled. From this a dome from glas could be printed and buildings could be printed from concrete with iron rods to strengthen the concrete. In the dome crops and trees could be planted and oxygen en methane could be made.

  24. There’s no logical reason for a hyper expensive NRHO gateway. An SLS propellant tank derived gateway could be deployed to NRHO with– a single SLS launch. Water shielding the gateway against heavy nuclei would require a few commercial cargo launches to NRHO.

    NASA’s gateway concept is a lot more expensive because they want to launch a crewed Orion along with gateway components– ISS style. And nothing is more unnecessarily expensive than the ISS:-)

    Co-orbiting propellant depots located at NRHO could be continuously supplied with water or propellant by commercial launch vehicles until such resources are available from the lunar surface.

    You could probably deploy an outpost to the lunar surface with just two SLS launches: one to deploy two lunar cranes plus solar power arrays and a second launch to deploy a large lunar regolith habitat. A multi-level Regolith Hab could be a simple 8.4 meter in diameter SLS propellant tank derived habitat with a self deployed regolith wall that would be filled with lunar regolith– 2 meters thick– by lunar cranes equipped with clamshells.

    Crews could be transported to the lunar surface from NRHO by XEUS or other reusable single staged landing vehicles. Such propellant depot fueled lunar spacecraft should also be capable of easily transporting astronauts between LEO to NRHO.


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