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posted by Fnord666 on Tuesday February 28 2017, @03:44AM   Printer-friendly
from the to-the-moon-but-not-back? dept.

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).


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  • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Tuesday February 28 2017, @04:25PM (2 children)

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Tuesday February 28 2017, @04:25PM (#472836)

    If I had rule of space, with sufficient resources to drop even one kiloton asteroid per month anywhere on Earth I wanted, I'm pretty sure I could negotiate all the luxury goods, entertainment and other things I wanted to be sent up to my crew. Just have to pass that self-sufficiency threshold so the mud dwellers don't negotiate by boycott of life-sustaining essentials in return.

    In all practicality, dropping nickel-iron asteroids containing sufficient amounts of interesting other elements (tantalum, iridium, gold, etc.) on a "mining target area" somewhere in a desert would be a pretty good alternative to mining the crust for the same things.

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  • (Score: 2) by GreatAuntAnesthesia on Tuesday February 28 2017, @08:48PM (1 child)

    by GreatAuntAnesthesia (3275) on Tuesday February 28 2017, @08:48PM (#473028) Journal

    Just have to pass that self-sufficiency threshold so the mud dwellers don't negotiate by boycott of life-sustaining essentials in return.

    Or by sending poisoned foods. Or goods that gradually off-gas small but significant quantities of chemicals that will poison you / screw with your life support systems / corrode the seals on your airlocks. Or things that explode violently and unexpectedly. Or an enraged bobcat.
    Better hope your self-sufficient fare is as good as what the mud-dwellers are serving up, because that's all you'll ever dare to eat for the rest of your life.

    In all practicality, dropping nickel-iron asteroids containing sufficient amounts of interesting other elements (tantalum, iridium, gold, etc.) on a "mining target area" somewhere in a desert would be a pretty good alternative to mining the crust for the same things.

    How about a shaped projectile designed to blast a deep, narrow hole into the Earth's crust, allowing miners to reach deep deposits more efficiently? If the projectile itself was also made of useful materials, then bonus.

    • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Tuesday February 28 2017, @09:09PM

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Tuesday February 28 2017, @09:09PM (#473035)

      Shaping a projectile seems like a lot of work as compared to just applying some delta-V.

      And, there's no reason to be hostile with the mud side, we're up here to help, bring you valuable rocks, deflect ones that might land somewhere unpleasant. Just like nuke missile submarine crews, though, it probably would be a good idea to treat the rock-jockey crews as well as you can, don't want any disgruntled workers with that much potential destruction at their disposal.

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