Could This Sustainable Lunar Habitat Become a Reality?

Several space agencies intend to send astronauts back to the moon in the coming years. What’s more, the European Space Agency (ESA), the China National Space Administration (CNSA), and Roscomos, all have plans to build permanent stations on the lunar surface. Perhaps the most famous initiative right now is the ESA’s plan to create an International Lunar Village.

The ESA’s village would function as a base for astronauts to perform critical research and experiments. Recently, some very intriguing proposals have been presented as part of this plan, and now a student from the ESA’s European Astronaut Center (EAC), has submitted a proposal for a sustainable lunar habitat.

Architectural engineering student Angelus Chrysovalantis Alfatzis,  from the National Technical University of Athens, Greece and his team are among the many young researchers participating in Spaceship EAC – an ESA initiative aimed at encouraging networking and partnerships with universities and research institutions in Europe.

Alfatzis and his team developed the lunar habitat concept as part of the 2018 NewSpace2060 International Moon Pitch Competition, a joint venture with the Moon Village Association, that took place last Fall. They entered their idea as part of the Moon Village Architectural Concept and Issue category, where contestants were prompted to come up with ideas that would function with current technology and what experts already know about the Moon.

Alfatzis’ concept used in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) to form sustainable living solutions for harsh environments in remote places. In a recent ESA press release, he stated that he strives to discover material and structural solutions that will work with already available resources on-site. Currently, he is focused on using unprocessed lunar soil for building and architectural applications.

His focus on in situ building is line with the ESA’s goals for building the International Lunar Village, which wants to use local resources not only to manufacture the base but also for the needs of the crew. During the Spaceship EAC initiative, Alfatzis and his colleagues invented a concept they call CORE (Crater Outpost for Research and Exploration).

The concept of CORE wants to use a modular design that would leverage the Moon’s own geography and regolith to shield humans and habitats from the elements. The team picked the South Pole-Aitken Basin as the site of their base because it provides the advantage of steady light, effective communication with Earth, and it’s close to pockets of water ice.

Each module would be made of an inflatable, prefabricated structure with its own built-in life support system and a central tube. Thus,  modules could be set up vertically, with one on top of the other with ease of transport between them. 

Alfatzis explained that their idea is to take the inflatable modules to a small crater near the lunar South Polar Region and then slowly fill the hole with lunar soil until the modules are effectively buried. This will protect those living inside from radiation. Constructing inside a crater will also work as insulation because the Moon’s underground environment has a stable temperature and offers protection from the threat of micrometeoroids.

According to their plans, the structure would add an airlock module at the top, which would then be covered with more lunar soil to offer even more protection. Inside the airlock, they would store Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) equipment and an electromagnetic cleaner to keep lunar dust at bay. They would also leverage the magnetic properties of lunar regolith to collect the dust quickly.

Moreover, the vertically-stacked habitat would all be connected by one central elevator. The first module closest to the surface would be home to the waste-treatment area, and it would also be where the astronauts get ready for EVAs and service missions. The module in the middle would be used for research and communications, while the last module would be for the sleeping pods, living area, and an exercise room.

Moreover, in a video that the team created for the contest entry, Alfatzis said that another advantage of the CORE design is the fact that it can expand to adjacent craters. 

Overall, the primary goal of CORE is to protect those living there from external conditions and support human life. Thus, it is similar to building homes here on Earth, except that special considerations need to be kept in mind when designing homes for the Moon.

These considerations include the lack of oxygen for breathing, the extreme temperature variations, the terrain, and the Moon’s lack of gravity – which is approximately 16.5% that of our planets. Moreover, any lunar base will need to adequately shield its residents from solar and cosmic radiation and tiny meteorites that regularly hit the lunar surface.

Alfatzis and his Spaceship EAC team won as runner-up, and Alfatzis said their success was thanks to the many talents their team had since the team was made up of people from so many backgrounds from aerospace engineers to biologists.

As of now, the ESA, the CNSA, Roscosmos, and NASA all have plans to construct a lunar outpost by the end of the 2020s or in the early 2030s. In reality, this base will most likely be made possible as a result of cooperation between all space agencies, since everyone stands to gain from a permanent research facility on the moon that will help shape future missions to Mars and other locations in the Solar System.