Between the multiple space agencies planning to conduct crewed missions to the lunar surface, the many business entities that have hired them to help them, and the lunar base proposals, the message of the modern space age is clear: We are returning to the moon. And this time, we intend to stay! Much like the efforts of the Apollo era, this involves several challenges, ones that require “the best of our energies and skills.”
These challenges lead to all kinds of innovative solutions, which recognize the need to take advantage of lunar resources to protect against the environment and meet the needs of populations. A new proposal made by a team from the International Space University (ISU) has found a new way to do it. Their proposal? Using SpaceX Spaceship Human Landing System (HLS) as the base of a lunar base.
This proposal is the work of a team of several universities and scientific institutes across Europe, who currently attend the International Space University (ISU) in Strasbourg, France. It was also the subject of a presentation that took place at the 72nd International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Dubai last week (25 Octobere – 29e, 2021) and is the subject of a proposal document and an official report (as well as a summary).
The project, titled âSolutions for Building a Moon Base,â was the product of a nine-week collaborative study that was part of the 2021 ISU Space Studies Program (SSP). This professional development course welcomes postgraduate students and professionals from all disciplines and offers a curriculum that includes politics, law, business, humanities, life sciences, engineering, physical sciences and space applications.
As a starting point, the team looked at the design of the SpaceX Lunar Starship, which the company submitted as part of a NASA competition to create a Human Landing System (HLS) for the Artemis program. This vehicle is essentially a modified version of the Vessel reusable space vehicle that Elon Musk hopes to use (along with the Very heavy booster) for regular flights to the Moon, Mars and beyond.
Like that of SpaceX Vessel / Super-heavy launch system, the Lunar Starship is designed to be fully reusable. In addition to orbital refueling, SpaceX’s lunar mission architecture also provides for the creation of fuel depots on the Moon so that the Vessel can fly back to Earth. For the sake of their project, however, the ISU team suggests using the Starship shell as the foundation of their base.
Charlotte Pouwels, physicist and researcher at Airbus Defense and Space Netherlands, is a member of the ISU 2022 Master in Space Studies program (MSS2022). She and her team were inspired to create a concept that would allow the rapid and cost-effective construction of permanent lunar infrastructure while enabling crews to meet the challenges of living and working in the lunar environment.
âEstablishing a lunar outpost requires humans to have all the provisions and equipment to maintain and stay healthy, at least for the duration of a rescue mission,â she said. . âIt would take at least three days from Earth or 7 to 11 days from Gateway. All life support systems and communications must be reliable and redundant. The issues that Project Starship addresses are: crew health, social welfare, safety, communication, energy, thermal control, structural reliability and many more.
The plan provides for the use of HLS vessels (SS Rosas) as a living space for astronauts and construction teams (Rosas base). These crews will live in these habitats for two to three months while assembling the infrastructures (with robotic assistance) for a permanent human presence. According to Pouwels, the main advantage of this proposal is that it allows astronauts to bring their habitat and necessary supplies with them:
âThese challenges can be overcome if enough supplies are delivered and installed in the outpost to be ready for any situation. Thus, our solution uses the current state-of-the-art transport vehicle – the SpaceX Starship Human Landing System (HLS), which is currently in development.
“Our design aims to use the vehicle’s exceptional capabilities as well as its massive size to transfer space-proven life-saving and life-saving systems with redundancy and spare parts. This research is unique in that it does not need unproven or theoretical concepts and systems. If the Starship was successful, this habitat could be operational in less than five years.
During the mission, a crew Vessels (SS 501) and the other for refueling (SS Rosas) will fly to the Moon and deploy a series of remotely controlled robots – known as the Modular Robotic Building Autonomous System (MOROCAS) – which will transition between the two. Vessels in a horizontal position. Astronauts will then convert the interior into living volumes, add multi-layered insulation (MLI), and deploy all essential operational equipment. At the same time, the robots will cover the base with a protective layer of regolith.
âThe main challenge of our concept was to bring the vehicle to a horizontal position,â said Pouwels. âWhile on Earth the spacecraft cannot stand its structure being vertical, 1 / 6th gravity and the large pressure difference will certainly help to maintain the shape of the vehicle. If that is not enough, the regolith under the vehicle will be stacked to support it, and additional supports can be installed inside the habitat.
The basic layout of the proposed Rosas base (pictured above) is that of an established habitat on the edge of Shackleton Crater, located in the Moon’s South Pole and Aitken Basin. The base will be covered with a 5 m (16.4 ft) layer of regolith to protect it from radiation and micro-meteorite impacts, leaving only the airlocks and nose hatch uncovered to allow access to the base. inside. One of these airlocks will be transformed into an observation platform.
Thanks to its location around Shackleton Crater, this observation platform will allow a permanent view of the Earth on the lunar horizon. The base can also be enlarged with the addition of a knot around the forward hatch, allowing crews to dock one habitat to another. The interior will be divided into three levels that will run the full length of the vehicle, including sections previously occupied by methane and oxygen tanks.
âWhile this means the vehicle will no longer fly, it reuses the entire structure for long-term habitat,â Pouwels said. âThis results in a habitat of almost 2,500 m3 in volume (2.5 times the ISS) using only the vehicle itself, freeing up the payload for redundant life support systems. Covering the vehicle with a 5m regolith and adding MLI inside will improve crew protection against micrometeorite impacts, radiation, and thermal protection. It is also the simplest form of ISRU.
Once completed, the base will have all the necessary amenities to face the vagaries of the lunar environment. The hull, the additional MLI and the regolith layer will limit the radiation exposure of astronauts to tolerable limits – 2.5 sieverts (Sv) for males and 1.75 Sv for female astronauts. Astronauts will follow a program that limits their lunar extravehicular activity (LEVA) to six hours per day and will maintain a rigorous exercise program of resistance and high intensity interval training.
Overall, the Rosas base proposal is part of a larger constellation of ideas for a âMoon to Marsâ mission architecture. These missions have been in the works since the mid-2000s, as NASA and other space agencies plan to take the next big steps to secure humanity’s future in space. For each of these plans, says Pouwel, having a permanent moon base is essential:
âThis project is ahead of its game by using the Starship as it is under development, but not relying on any technology yet to be proven. With the reuse and mass production of Starship, this basic lunar concept can be quickly expanded, with many habitats linked together to create a lunar city. The fundamental aim of this concept is to have potential income or benefits from the grassroots in the near future.
Moreover, Pouwels and his colleagues hope that this idea will attract potential investments depending on the number of applications it may have in the near future. They also hope that once a vision of a lunar outpost is realized, it will allow several more to follow. In this, they are undoubtedly right. Once humans gain a foothold on the Moon, opportunities for research, expansion, investment, and commercialization will follow.
From there it will be possible to send missions to Mars and other places in deep space. Once we can also gain a foothold on these bodies, the dream of becoming an âinterplanetary speciesâ will come true!
Further reading: website, report, Paper