from the can-you-dig-it? dept.
The European Space Agency plans to start mining for water and oxygen on the moon by 2025.
The agency announced Monday it has signed a 1-year contract with European aerospace company ArianeGroup to explore mining regolith, also known as lunar soil or moon dust.
Water and oxygen can be extracted from regolith, potentially making it easier for humans to spend time on the moon in the future, according to ArianeGroup. The research could also make it possible to produce rocket fuel on the moon, enabling future expeditions to go further into space, the aerospace company said.
[...] The mission would be a collaboration between aerospace scientists and technicians in France, Germany and Belgium. The project is now in the research phase, with scientists hoping to use an Ariane 64 rocket in coming years to send mining equipment to the moon.
On July 1, Johann-Dietrich Wörner will become the new general director of the European Space Agency. SPIEGEL speaks with him about his dream of building a colony on the moon and the difficulties of traveling to Mars.
SPIEGEL: Which celestial body would you like to travel to most of all?
Wörner: My dream would be to fly to the moon and build permanent structures, using the raw materials available there. For instance, regolith, or moon dust, could be used to make a form of concrete. Using 3-D printers, we could build all kinds of things with that moon concrete -- houses, streets and observatories, for example.
SPIEGEL: The only question is how you intend to transport European astronauts into space in the future. Currently, you are completely dependent on Russian Soyuz capsules. If relations with Russia continue to worsen, it could jeopardize joint flights.
Wörner: Russia is and remains an extremely reliable partner for us. Even in the Cold War, space travel helped ease political tensions. Just think of the famous rendezvous maneuver in the summer of 1975, when an American Apollo spaceship and a Soviet Soyuz spaceship docked while orbiting the earth. And today, we space travellers can once again help overcome the current period of crisis.
[...] SPIEGEL: Shouldn't we Europeans be capable of taking people into space without outside help?
Wörner: Unfortunately, we missed a number of opportunities. For instance, it would have been possible to convert the ATV cargo spacecraft into a manned spaceship. We should have done more with that.
SPIEGEL: What caused the project to fail?
Wörner: Money, as is so often the case in life. Every nation wants to shoot astronauts into space and toot its own horn for doing so. However, there is only limited enthusiasm among the ESA member states to pay for manned space travel. But perhaps there will be new opportunities at some point. I'm not giving up hope that we Europeans will create our own manned access to orbit.
Can we make it to the stars without national prestige being the goal?
A NASA scientist suggests that building a base on the moon would be feasible within a $10 billion budget, in a special issue of New Space focusing on the feasibility of lunar colonization:
What if I told you there's no reason we couldn't set up a small base on the moon by 2022 without breaking the bank? The endeavor would cost about $10 billion, which is cheaper than one U.S. aircraft carrier. Some of the greatest scientists and professionals in the space business already have a plan. NASA's Chris McKay, an astrobiologist, wrote about it in a special issue of the New Space journal, published just a few weeks ago.
Before we get into the details, let's ask ourselves: Why the moon? Although scientists (and NASA) don't find it all that exciting, the moon is a great starting point for further exploration. Furthermore, building a lunar base would provide us with the real-world experience that may prove invaluable for future projects on other planets like Mars, which NASA plans to reach by 2030. The main reason the moon is not a part of NASA's plan is simply because of the agency's crimped budget.
NASA's leaders say they can afford only one or the other: the moon or Mars. If McKay and his colleagues are correct, though, the U.S. government might be able to pull off both trips. All it takes is a change of perspective and ingenuity. "The big takeaway," McKay says, "is that new technologies, some of which have nothing to do with space — such as self-driving cars and waste-recycling toilets — are going to be incredibly useful in space, and are driving down the cost of a moon base to the point where it might be easy to do." The document outlines a series of innovations — already existing and in development — that work together toward the common goal of building the first permanent lunar base.
Howard Bloom has written a guest blog at Scientific American addressing the Trump Administration's plan to return to (orbit) the Moon. That mission would use the Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule, which have cost $18 billion through 2017 but are not expected to launch astronauts into space until around 2023. Bloom instead proposes using private industry to put a base on the Moon, using technology such as SpaceX's Falcon Heavy (estimated $135 million per launch vs. $500 million for the Space Launch System) and Bigelow Aerospace's inflatable habitat modules:
[NASA's acting administrator Robert] Lightfoot's problem lies in the two pieces of NASA equipment he wants to work with: a rocket that's too expensive to fly and is years from completion—the Space Launch System; and a capsule that's far from ready to carry humans—the Orion. Neither the SLS nor the Orion are able to land on the Moon. Let me repeat that. Once these pieces of super-expensive equipment reach the moon's vicinity, they cannot land.
Who is able to land on the lunar surface? Elon Musk and Robert Bigelow. Musk's rockets—the Falcon and the soon-to-be-launched Falcon Heavy—are built to take off and land. So far their landing capabilities have been used to ease them down on earth. But the same technology, with a few tweaks, gives them the ability to land payloads on the surface of the Moon. Including humans. What's more, SpaceX's upcoming seven-passenger Dragon 2 capsule has already demonstrated its ability to gentle itself down to earth's surface. In other words, with a few modifications and equipment additions, Falcon rockets and Dragon capsules could be made Moon-ready.
[...] In 2000, Bigelow purchased a technology that Congress had ordered NASA to abandon: inflatable habitats. For the last sixteen years Bigelow and his company, Bigelow Aerospace, have been advancing inflatable habitat technology. Inflatable technology lets you squeeze a housing unit into a small package, carry it by rocket to a space destination, then blow it up like a balloon. Since the spring of 2016, Bigelow, a real estate developer and founder of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain, has had an inflatable habitat acting as a spare room at the International Space Station 220 miles above your head and mine. And Bigelow's been developing something far more ambitious—an inflatable Moon Base, that would use three of his 330-cubic-meter B330 modules. What's more, Bigelow has been developing a landing vehicle to bring his modules gently down to the Moon's surface.
[...] If NASA ditched the Space Launch System and the Orion, it would free up three billion dollars a year. That budget could speed the Moon-readiness of Bigelow's landing vehicles, not to mention SpaceX's Falcon rockets and could pay for lunar enhancements to manned Dragon 2 capsules. In fact, three billion dollars a year is far greater than what Bigelow and Musk would need. That budget would also allow NASA to bring Jeff Bezos into the race. And it would let NASA refocus its energy on earth-orbit and lunar-surface refueling stations...plus rovers, lunar construction equipment, and devices to turn lunar ice into rocket fuel, drinkable water, and breathable oxygen. Not to mention machines to turn lunar dust and rock into building materials.
An organization that Howard Bloom founded, The Space Development Steering Committee, has been short one member recently (Edgar Mitchell).
By 2040, a hundred people will live on the Moon, melting ice for water, 3D-printing homes and tools, eating plants grown in lunar soil, and competing in low-gravity, "flying" sports.
To those who mock such talk as science fiction, experts such as Bernard Foing, ambassador of the European Space Agency-driven "Moon Village" scheme, reply the goal is not only reasonable but feasible too.
At a European Planetary Science Congress in Riga this week, Foing spelt out how humanity could gain a permanent foothold on Earth's satellite, and then expand.
He likened it to the growth of the railways, when villages grew around train stations, followed by businesses.
By 2030, there could be an initial lunar settlement of six to 10 pioneers—scientists, technicians and engineers—which could grow to 100 by 2040, he predicted.
"In 2050, you could have a thousand and then... naturally you could envisage to have family" joining crews there, Foing told AFP .
Did the Stars and Stripes on the moon signify the establishment of an American colony?
Most likely, this is the best-known picture of a flag ever taken: Buzz Aldrin standing next to the first U.S. flag planted on the Moon. For those who knew their world history, it also rang some alarm bells. Only less than a century ago, back on Earth, planting a national flag in another part of the world still amounted to claiming that territory for the fatherland. Did the Stars and Stripes on the moon signify the establishment of an American colony?
[...] Still, the simple answer to the question of whether Armstrong and Aldrin by way of their small ceremony did transform the moon, or at least a major part thereof, into U.S. territory turns out to be “no.” They, nor NASA, nor the U.S. government intended the U.S. flag to have that effect.
Most importantly, that answer was enshrined in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, to which both the United States and the Soviet Union as well as all other space-faring nations, had become a party. Both superpowers agreed that “colonization” on Earth had been responsible for tremendous human suffering and many armed conflicts that had raged over the last centuries. They were determined not to repeat that mistake of the old European colonial powers when it came to decide on the legal status of the moon; at least the possibility of a “land grab” in outer space giving rise to another world war was to be avoided. By that token, the moon became something of a “global commons” legally accessible to all countries—two years prior to the first actual manned moon landing.
So, the U.S. flag was not a manifestation of claiming sovereignty, but of honoring the U.S. taxpayers and engineers who made Armstrong, Aldrin, and third astronaut Michael Collins’ mission possible. The two men carried a plaque that they “came in peace for all mankind,” and of course Neil’s famous words echoed the same sentiment: his “small step for man” was not a “giant leap” for the United States, but “for mankind.” Furthermore, the United States and NASA lived up to their commitment by sharing the moon rocks and other samples of soil from the lunar surface with the rest of the world, whether by giving them away to foreign governments or by allowing scientists from all over the globe to access them for scientific analysis and discussion. In the midst of the Cold War, this even included scientists from the Soviet Union.
Case closed, no need for space lawyers anymore then? No need for me to prepare University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s space law students for further discussions and disputes on the lunar law, right?
Canada will contribute US$1.4bn to a proposed Nasa space station that will orbit the Moon and act as a base to land astronauts on its surface.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the step would "push the boundaries of innovation".
The space station, called Gateway, is a key element in Nasa's plan to return to the Moon with humans in the 2020s.
As part of the 24-year commitment, Canada will build a next-generation robotic arm for the new lunar outpost.
"Canada is going to the Moon," Mr Trudeau told a news conference at Canadian Space Agency's headquarters near Montreal, according to AFP.
*Canada is going near the Moon.
Previously: Russia Assembles Engineering Group for Lunar Activities and the Deep Space Gateway
China Will Focus on a Lunar Surface Station Rather than a Lunar Orbiting Station
SpaceX's Falcon Heavy Could Launch Japanese and European Payloads to Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway
Head of Russian Space Agency Roscosmos Wavers on Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway
Is the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway the Right Way to the Moon?