Is a Lunar Base Better than the Proposed Lunar Orbital Gateway?

Craig Davidson (presented by Zubrin) authored a paper on why a lunar base is better than the proposed Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G) for the advancement of human space exploration.

The Lunar Gateway is suggested to be a Mir sized space station in orbit around the moon. If one would be required to go to the Gateway before heading to the moon, then it would add a 30% cargo penalty for those sending missions to the surface of the moon.

The not yet built Space Launch System or the unbuilt SpaceX Super Heavy Starship would need to be launched four times to build the Lunar Gateway. It could also be constructed with 20 Falcon 9 launches or the equivalent of twenty space shuttle launches.

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

The moon contains resources. For instance, there is ice in the permanently shadowed areas 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 are what exists below one meter.

Moreover, rocket fuel can be made on the moon. For one, hydrogen-oxygen can be produced by electrolyzing the water. For two, methane can be brought, and lunar oxygen can be used. If methane is brought using lunar oxygen, it saves 80% of the mass. Methane is the fuel for the SpaceX Super Heavy Starship and methane is easier to handle for rocket fuel.

However, the issue with the ice is that it lies in the shadowed craters. If we have new Kilopower nuclear reactors, then it’s possible to put the reactor inside the crater. But if solar power is being used, then the solar power has to be at the sunlit area at the top outside of the crater.

After that, you can use a microwave transmitter and trans beam power a few kilometres into the crater. Then you have a tent which is transparent on one side aluminized on the other, and the microwaves reflected from the side of the tent and down into the ground. Or, as an alternative, the tent could be entirely transparent, and you could have a reflective dish behind it.

The general idea is that microwaves are tuned to heat water, which is why they’re so useful for cooking. When they would penetrate the ground, it would result in water vaporizing out of the ground, and this is especially attractive if the water is the in the form of permafrost where it’s mixed with dirt.

Due to the temperatures in these craters, the permafrost could be extremely strong material, and it wouldn’t make sense to be doing pickaxe work on it to break it up. Thus, heating it with microwaves allows the vapour to come up into the tube that connects it to a trailer tank and then a rover tows that tank out. This way, you avoid hauling batteries into the crater to try to vaporize ice because that would be very inefficient. Thus, a near-term application of power beaming is extremely simple since you do not need to reconvert the microwaves back into electricity and the distances involved are modest.

What’s more, by increasing temperatures to 700 degrees Celsius, one can make iron from the lunar soil.

Both SpaceX hardware for the Moon Direct Mission or Blue Origin’s New Glenn rockets could help with lunar development.

Initial missions need fuel before lunar mining can be established. Thus, lunar mining could be set up robotically first, or primary fuel could be prepositioned in storage.

Lastly, Lunar Excursion Vehicles can be used as drones to explore any part of the moon if they rocket for 6 kilometres per second. The drones could explore the entire surface of the moon before setting up the lunar base.

A Lunar Base is Better than the Lunar Gateway

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