The European Space Agency (ESA) recently formalized plans to send missions to the moon beginning in the early 2020s, with manned missions following by the middle of the decade. By 2030, they hope to have a permanently manned base. With NASA shooting for the search for life on Mars, ESA’s moon missions and base may seem pedestrian by comparison. It’s less sexy, less ambitious, and less interesting. At the same time it’s more attainable, more practical, and more necessary for the future of space exploration.

How is ESA Going to Do It?

moon_dome_base

The initial missions setting us up to return to the moon will be tasked with better understanding what resources the moon has to offer. Can they assist with living there, and help further exploration of the solar system? The first such mission is slated for 2020, when ESA sends the Russian Luna 27 mission to one of the moon’s poles to collect samples. Three years ago, I wrote about 3-D printers being the key to space exploration and colonization. The basic idea I wrote about was to take raw materials with you and use them to efficiently make the parts you need on a far-away colony. ESA is taking the idea one step further by planning to use resources actually harvested on the moon as the 3-D printing material. Lunar material would be combined with magnesium oxide and a post-printing binding salt to create a stone-like substance.

Early lunar missions will see astronauts in orbit controlling harvesting and building robots. This dramatically decreases the cost of getting a base in place. That those resources are the type that can be used still needs to be proven. If it does show to be true, a moon base is in the cards.

What Does it Mean Once the Base is Built?

Before I write about all the great operational benefits of a moon base, I have to first talk about the science. The most popular theory about how the moon was formed is that 4.5 billion years ago, what was a smaller, moonless Earth was hit by a Mars-sized planetoid that shared an intersecting orbit – think about what that collision must have looked like. I don’t think words could describe it. A significant amount of each body was stripped free. As the more massive of the two bodies, Earth inherited more of that debris and became the planet we know and love. The unnamed planet got less and became trapped by the new Earth’s gravity – and became our moon.

Now think about what happened since the moon joined us. The Earth coalesced, life formed and evolved, there have been countless cycles of change. Very little of what was there remains as it was – except on the moon. Nothing has substantially changed there in billions of years. It represents an opportunity to glimpse the building blocks of both our planet and the solar system as a whole. The science to be gained is unfathomable.

While not on the same level as the science opportunities, the operational benefits are likewise significant. If it proves out that the resources necessary for space exploration are indeed present on the moon, then it means that instead of launching them from Earth’s one gee, we only have to do so from the 1/6th gee gravity of the moon. There is also the fact that the moon has no atmosphere to overcome, no friction to slow things down. Supplies necessary to go to Mars and beyond could launched off the surface of the moon with an electromagnetic mass driver – like a giant electrical version of the steam-powered catapults that propel aircraft off carriers. Gone would be the huge rockets and fuel. All that would be there would be the supplies – no wasted mass. It is an extremely efficient mode of launch. To put it into perspective, per NASA’s fact sheet, a fully loaded SLS Block 2 launch vehicle – NASA’s next generation heavy lift cargo vehicle – weighs in at 6.5 million pounds and has a payload capacity of 140 tons, or about 280,000 pounds. In other words, nearly 96% of the mass launched from Earth is used up just to get the remaining 4% into orbit. Doing the same from the moon with a catapult means you get that 96% back.

lunar_mass_driver

Lunar Mass Driver Concept

No one is happier about the prospect of an ESA moon base than NASA. By one estimate, 2/3 of the cost of an individual Mars mission could be alleviated by getting most of the supplies from the moon – a potential savings of up to $10B per year.

Where Would the Base Be Located?

Current plans are for the ESA moon base to be located at moon’s south pole. The region offers two critical features: dark areas permanently shaded from the Sun; and tall peaks that are permanently in sunlight. Why is darkness good? Where there’s light, there’s heat. Where there’s not, it’s cold – really cold. Any water or other liquids have long ago boiled away from the lit areas of the moon, but on the dark areas they likely still exist in their frozen state, ready to be used. The most important of these is, of course, water. On the peaks, solar farms could be built to provide uninterrupted power.

Summing it All Up

NASA’s planned manned Mars missions have garnered most of the headlines over the past few years, the ESA moon base arguably means more to the future of manned space exploration. What is most  encouraging about the endeavor is the timeline. That manned moon missions could resume so quickly bodes well for humanity’s future among the stars.

Photo credits: ESA/Foster + Partners and NASA (Mass Driver)

Posted by Darren Beyer

12 Comments

  1. If NASA have a project for a floating city on the sky on another planet, maybe we can use the same technology on something more achievable.
    If the space program have a launching base, one third of the distance to space, would speed up the space program?
    In 1930’s USA build a AIRCRAFT CARRIER ON AIRSHIPS with very low technology compared with today’s technology. I really believe space shuttles could be launched from a airship. Virgin Galactic launches there’s space ships from a airplane.
    I made this short video on YouTube only to explain the idea. https://youtu.be/B0jbF6RHtlQ.

    My theory is … -TO LAUNCH: Having a Airship launch platform leaving earth base with the spacecrafts. ( I have no knowledge how big the airship has to be and how many spacecraft it could carry) with all the technology we have now days, I’m pretty sure the scientist would come out with some solutions.-ONCE the Airship reach the maximum possible altitude,the spacecraft will be launched using a electric magnetic catapult for the initial pushing. this technology has been tested few months ago successfully! The Navy will use this technology to launch aircraft on the new aircraft carrier which is being built.
    -TO LAND: After delivering to the station the spacecraft will glide back to earth base to change engines if needed ,refueled ,reloaded and get pick up from the ground station by the Airship to be launched.
    To make that trip worthwhile I think the Airship should be able to carry at least 5 spacecraft that has the same size as our old Space Shuttle and at least half of the weight and more powerful engines. If the space program can have five launches a week and every launching, caring load the size of a module from ISS, would be great?
    We have to try everything to see if we can get out of the rockets systems. Its a lot waste of material and time.! With exception does reusable rockets from Blue Origin and SpaceX, for sure will be needed. I have this question for years and I believe can be done with all the technology we have today….

    Sincerely
    Jaime Oliveira

    Reply

      1. Believe me, when I heard for the first time about the space elevator, I felt so happy, because I believe for awhile that the ultimate fast and inexpensive solution to go to space have been achieved. I guess we still don’t have the technology to do it yet. For all I have seen through my life, I’m forced to believe the impossible, is only that, we haven’t found the solution yet.
        And thank you for sharing your post with me.
        Sincerely
        Jaime Oliveira

  2. […] potentially materials mined in space – see articles on space mining. As mentioned in my article on ESA’s moon base, it is planned to use 3D printing capability to build much of the facility using materials […]

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  3. maglev for space elevator future

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  4. […] via ESA’s Moon Base and How it Gets Us to Mars — Tek22 […]

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  5. …space-elevator (orbital station bike wheel-1g)… geostationary orbit, a huge “bike-wheel” is gyrating around its own axis for have 1g-centrifugal. Wheel held in place wit 4 CABLES (each cable with a track for Train, for both train´s crossing ↓↑) FORMING THE STRUCTURE OF A RHOMBUS♦ (minor diagonal of rhombus is the gyration-axis of the Station-Wheel)…rhombus´s below, the carbon nanotubes Track towards Earth…rhombus´s above, the Cable towards a higher counterweight with sufficient mass for having very very tense the Track… if…WHEEL´s RADIUS = 250 mts… Wheel gyration´s Axis length = rhombus´s minor diagonal = Wheel´s radius = 250 mts… Cable´s length of the rhombus´s side = Wheel diameter = 500 mts. Wheel´s ZONE-1g: habitable length = 1571 mts*50 mts wide*50 mts height, gyrating 360º each 31 seconds, angular-speed = 11.61º/sec, linear-speed = 182 kms/h… Station-Wheel´s GYRATION: AXIS IN PERPENDICULAR (90º) ORIENTATION TO THE ORBITAL TRAJECTORY…and so, while Station-Wheel follows its geostationary orbit, the Wheel does Not changes the spatial orientation of its axis, and thus there are Not Precession forces actuating (and thus there is Not collision tendency of the Station-Wheel against the rhombus´s cables… Wheel with maneuver´s tangential-rockets for gyration´s starts, or…gyration emergency stop…but the system must counteracting or supporting lateral charges against Track produced by the Coriolis effect when Train goes upwards or downwards…and so maintaining the Track always without transverse lateral↔movements, the gyroscopic-rigidity contributes for maintaining forever the gyration-axis perpendicular to the orbital trajectory… When the Maglev Train slowly arrives, using now their retractable cogwheels by the Zipper-Track (zippers installed on the same Maglev-Track), Train stops in Geo 0g-Station placed over one extreme of the gyration-axis… Passengers disembark and entering into gyratory circular corridor, they take now the interior-elevator of one of the Wheel´s hollow-radius, and tunnel “descending” till hotel into the final Zone-1g…where while Station-Wheel goes turning, the immense O2 producer Hydroponics Garden receives a filtered Sun light…and there are Earth´s awesome views.

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  6. ☼↓↓▓0.08g▬▬▬←▬▬▬▬▬↓Moon▬▬♦1g▬→▬▬1g…Space-elevator (orbital station ramp)… Faraway high beyond Earth surface at 150,000 kms…fast orbital speed 11.4 kms/sec…with only 0.08g centrifugal, 0.8 mts/sec² (a person who has 80 kgs ↓ gravitational force on Earth equator radius=6378.1 kms; over there with a radius=156378.1 kms only has 6.64 kgs ↑ centrifugal force…gravitational force downwards minus centrifugal force upwards)…could be the counterweight Terminal Orbital Station-Ramp… Awaits passengers in Earth-Station a hyperspeed vertical electric Train of Magnetic Levitation… “Spatial Train coming from Orbital Station-Ramp and Orbital Station-Wheel at these moments arriving will depart again after one hour, passengers with Moon destination please embark on SHIP-COACH when will be hooked at Train´s end”… (((if…Train´s mass=10 Tm and its vertical max speed=10000 kms/h…CORIOLIS EFFECT AGAINST TRACK ↓to East, ↑to West: acceleration=0.4 mts/sec². FORCE=0.41 Tm… How Track is attached on Earth´s equator, this Lateral Thrust occur in the same orbital plane, orbit forward or backward, and thus almost there are Not Precession´s problems in the System…except because due to slight orientation´s changes (nutation, etc) of Earth´s axis, would that doing each a certain time a little correction, with their own axial maneuver´s rockets, for reorientation of Wheel´s Axis)))…medium-speed = 5,000 kms/hour: Earth/Orbital Station-Wheel, distance = 35,786 kms…total travel time = 7 hours… Orbital Station-Wheel/Orbital Station-Ramp, distance = 114,214 kms…total travel time = 23 hours… Well seized from retractable cogwheels, with slow-speed at the beginning travel of strong gravitation from Earth, with conventional Zipper-Track: MAGLEV ON…COGWHEELS ON… THE TRAIN DEPARTS►… “Passengers please belts”…starting horizontal from Station, when train goes climbing is VERTICAL, looking upwards…vertical-train with special zig-zag corridor with protections and seats also in the center for avoiding passenger´s fall down in straight line till coach´s bottom… Already enough far (100 kms height: that train still would weight…9692 kgs↓ – 35 kgs↑ = 9.65 Tm↓, thus its maglev strength would must be at least 10 Tm↓ thrust…), with some minor gravitational Earth attraction: Cogwheels off… Here we go…goooooo!…constant acceleration upwards…Maglev hyperspeed→… Already braking enough near from each Station…slow-speed, changes propulsion system again: COGWHEELS on… Entering in slow track on rhombus structure… 7 hours: half length above half length below through Station´s floor, Train is on rhombus inclined track at zero-speed, near from Water-Recycling Plant with carbon nanotube´s filters…and the other Air-Filtering Plant with catalysts…the passengers disembark in weightlessness: Geo 0g-Station…passing from static-platform to gyratory circular corridor, go taking soon an interior-elevator in one of the hollow-radius and “descending”…finally, the passengers have arrived at destination: Wheel centrifuge 1g-Station, with its gyration´s-axis perpendicular to orbital trajectory… A Wheel with 500 mts in diameter. 1g-habitable length 1571 mts*50 mts wide*50 mts height…gyrating into 4 cables, each cable with a Track for Train, a rhonbus structure forming for Wheel´s supporting…

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    1. correction: (thus its maglev strength would must be at least 10 Tm “↑” thrust)

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  7. (2) space-elevator (orbital station ramp)… Tour continuing again… THE TRAIN DEPARTS►… once passed the slow zipper-track on rhombus structure, enters again on fast main maglev-track… km 50,630, braking: Moon-Launching-Point, Train is at zero-speed, rear SHIP-COACH is released staying alone, again… THE TRAIN DEPARTS►… (((SHIP-COACH, while Earth turns, awaits patient the hour for releasing from Track and going to Moon with exact heading…now…takeoff and goes transferring orbits till Moon orbit where firing rocket again, brakes and lands on Moon-Station… “Come to occult face with us and visiting the ancient Alien in ruins City”…and once recharged with fuel and passengers…equal than aircraft carrier, from a Launching-Catapult… SHIP-COACH TAKEOFF►… and returns conventionally to Earth)))… Already enough near from Terminal (magnetic shield anti-radiation and UV rays protection)…slowly by zipper-track maglev and train´s cogwheels are braking strongly “downhill”… 23 hours: Train is horizontal on Terminal at zero-speed, near from Ship´s Launching-Ramp towards Jupiter/interstellar Space, in spectacular and covered by transparent graphene´s domes with Earth views always in the ceiling, the passengers disembark at destination: counterweight centrifuge Ramp 0.08g-Station.

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  8. (3) space-elevator (orbital station ramp)… On Track, besides, there are 3 (one at down in Earth-Station, one at middle in Rhombus structure, and one at top in Ramp-Station) special powerful automatic maglev-vehicles which, in case of emergency, would go out to Train´s encounter and equaling speed between both: soft contact and braking and both stopping… On Train, besides, 2 gigantic and folded in little compartments resistant graphene´s parachutes with a rigid central-ring for Track passing through: one parachute at Train´s front only for emergency when Train goes climbing, and so it could return “softly” to ground… And other parachute at Train´s rear with a sophisticated system also maglev of rigid central-ring for Track passing parachute´s through without hitching… On come back, at 9,000 kms height (exosphere) maglev central-ring is launched and pulling extracts and deploys its parachute, when Train comes hyper-speedy and maglev-braking falling towards Earth, for avoid now already Gravity´s acceleration…aero-braked regulating with a major or minor Distance between Train and canopy´s rigid-central-ring of the parachute: max Distance, chute totally deployed max braking…less Distance, chute partially deployed less braking. System or rear parachute which normally before touch ground is automatically refolded (bringing again the canopy´s central-ring into its Train´s compartment and coiling the canopy and its fine cords around motorized gyratory cilinders)… Train enters on terminal horizontal-track and stops in Earth-Station.

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  9. (2) space-elevator (orbital station bike wheel-1g)… if…WHEEL´s RADIUS = 250 mts… Wheel gyration´s Axis length = rhombus´s minor diagonal = ½ Wheel´s radius = 125 mts (axis could be a resistant hollow tube with for example 20 mts in diameter with an adequate wall´s thickness, hollow which could serving how tank of anything, e.g. air, or tank of frozen water storage no totally full, for volume expansion from liquid to ice without tank, Axis, breaking, thawing using solar-heat)… Cable´s length of the rhombus´s side = Wheel diameter = 500 mts. Wheel´s ZONE-1g: habitable length = 1571 mts*50 mts wide (separation at both sides between Cable and Circumference of the gyratory Wheel, approx.= 5 mts, adjusting this separation installing an Axis with major or minor length, as much as shorter Axis…stronger and, for easy train´s passing, an angle nearer to 180º value in both rhombus´s-vertex, minor diagonal, where are the Big Soundless-♫-Bearings of Axis´s-insertion…a few Electrical Motors fed with Solar-Energy maintain automatically the gyration-speed counteracting the slow braking by friction from the Bearings…besides of Bearings: main Maglev system also for the gyration and Axis´s supporting, leaving the Bearings only how secondary security system?…with a slight roominess between each Bearing and its exterior subjection, into the roominess all around…little solid pistons radial extensible and retractable… Axis´s subjection: extensible ON, with Bearings; extensible OFF, with Maglev. With a sufficient cables tension coming from the counterweight, if Axis resists: the whombus structure is undeformable)*10 Floors with 25 mts in height each one, gyrating 360º each 31 seconds…a person with 80 kgs mass, would have in each Floor a centrifugal force:… Floor 1: 1.04g=84 kgs… Floor 2: 0.94g=75 kgs… Floor 3: 0.84g=67 kgs… Floor 4: 0.73g=59 kgs… Floor 5: 0.63g=50 kgs… Floor 6: 0.52g=42 kgs… Floor 7: 0.42g=34 kgs… Floor 8: 0.31g=25 kgs… Floor 9: 0.21g=17 kgs… Floor 10: 0.1g=8.4 kgs…it gyrating into 4 cables, each cable with a track for Train, a rhombus structure forming for Wheel´s supporting…

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