General, Research, Technology

Colony on the moon: the real future or the fantasies of billionaires?

“In my childhood,” recalls the science editorWired Eric Niiler, my brother and I could not get enough of Cosmos: 1999, a mid-70s series that hypnotized us with cool special effects, cute Barbara Bane, who played with her real husband Martin Landau, and the image of the Moon as the main the hero of the 48 minute episodes. The premise was a little far-fetched: an explosion at the lunar base pushes the moon out of Earth's orbit and sends it on a journey through the galaxy. What happened was only 15 years in the future.

In those years, the years after the Apollo program, weexpected NASA or some international space force to work on space bases in real life. More than four decades later, we are still waiting for our “lunar base Alpha,” although this is not due to lack of interest. Former astronauts, enterprising dreamers or dreamy entrepreneurs, they all keep the dream of a lunar colony. Today, through the fusion of technology, money and political interests, this idea can go beyond science fiction closer to reality. ”

Next - from the first person.

Content

  • 1 50 years of space exploration and ... no colonization
  • 2 Where to start?
  • 3 How will the lunar economy work?
  • 4 How realistic are the plans for the creation of the colonies?

50 years of space exploration and ... no colonization

From my interviews with cosmologists, representativesindustry and futurologists have learned that there is an unofficial plan that is slowly being formed to colonize the moon. First, private space companies are looking for ways to lower launch costs. Right now, SpaceX says, every launch of the Falcon 9 rocket costs her $ 62 million, and a more powerful Falcon Heavy - $ 90 million. Satellite companies and others want to receive something like a wholesale discount when ordering space flights. SpaceX delivers food and supplies to the International Space Station, hoping to start transporting astronauts by the end of 2019.

Then there will be flying and orbital platforms. The Chinese plan to launch an orbiting space station by 2020, while NASA has turned to private companies with a proposal to develop a lunar orbital platform-gateway near the moon by 2022. It can become the NASA launch pad for future expeditions and settlements, both on the Moon and on Mars.

At the same time, private firms like Moon Express,as well as the Chinese, Indian and European space agencies are moving forward with robotic landing modules and rovers. The final step, proponents say, will be the constant presence of people on the surface of the moon. Perhaps, first there will be a government base, and then a private hotel on the moon.

NASA's involvement in moon plans is the key toto allow private companies to build on the surface of the moon, says Chris Leviki, CEO of Planetary Resources, a Redmond startup that plans to develop asteroids for rocket fuel and water.

“Government programs are the maintenants at the mall, ”Leviki says of NASA and the future lunar base. “Without large tenants, small businesses cannot survive. Without NASA, it would be too hard to do it yourself. ”

Some argue that all this can happen.in the next 10 years. Others say at least 20 years will pass before the technology of routine lunar launches is developed and the cost becomes low enough to generate consumer demand.

And although it seems like everything is developing veryslowly, one of the lunar experts likens this to the creation of colonies of the New World, which does not pass in one night. “There is a delay between discovery, exploration and exploitation,” says James W. Head, a planetary scientist at Brown University, who began his career at NASA by choosing moon landing sites for Apollo missions.

Where to begin?

Proponents of the colonization of the moon believe that the lunarthe base will allow us to better understand how to reach the far reaches of the solar system. In addition, it will be fun to visit the moon at least once in life. In addition, the Moon is much closer to Mars - it can be reached in three days, and not in nine months - so more people will fly there.

In addition, valuable resources can be mined on the moon.

Some researchers from China and EuropeIt is believed that its surface contains large reserves of helium-3, a rare element that can be used as a future source of energy for refueling rockets traveling further from Earth into space. (The disadvantage is that processing helium-3 into something useful requires a huge amount of energy). Also in the polar regions of the moon there is frozen water: break it down into hydrogen and oxygen by electrolysis and get breathable air - another source of rocket fuel. Perhaps this will not be soon, but the leaders of the European and Chinese lunar programs have already announced that they intend to explore these options in future lunar missions.

There is another good reason to createcolonies: our survival. James Head recalls that he was often told by Apollo commander John Young, who flew into space during the Gemini, Apollo and shuttle programs when he was asked if people should return to the moon: “A view from one planet will not survive . Leaving the planet is a good survival strategy. Sooner or later it will be the only motivation to create bases on the moon. "

How will the lunar economy work?

For the lunar base to work, it needs toeconomic basis. Among the United States, the economy of "low Earth orbit" (LEO, in short) is already brewing, among those that launch satellites into space, serve them and are preparing to build places for people who will live and work in Earth orbit.

The economy of the NOU is growing. Since 2000, more than 180 startups have attracted more than 18.4 billion investments, according to the May 2018 Bryce Space and Technology report. SpaceX worth $ 28 billion is a real giant in the commercial space industry, and the head of the corporation, Elon Musk, wants everything at once: launch a satellite constellation on the NOU, send people to the moon and establish a base on Mars.

Mask has a story of deadlines. Be it the delivery of the Tesla Model 3 or its ambitious plans for space. But the launch frequency of SpaceX rockets - 28 since the beginning of 2017 - made his company one of the most successful space companies in the world.

It also turned out that using reusableSpaceX rockets can cool down launch costs. This could open the door to a new set of zero-gravity parking around the Earth and possibly the Moon. These private gas stations can eventually replace the International Space Station, a mission of 20 years and a cost of $ 100 billion, which is about to be completed.

Transition from the NOU economy to the lunar economy -a very real scenario, says Jeffrey Manber, CEO of Nanoracks, a Houston-based company that runs its own space lab on the ISS and launches 10-inch cubesat for commercial and university clients with the ISS.

“In five years there will be hotels at the IEO, and inten you will see growing infrastructure, ”says Manber. "Hotels with warehouses, gas stations, commercial modules or moon colonies will be scattered across the entire frontier."

Call Manber crazy, but a lot of itwhat he is talking about is already happening. Bigelow Aerospace, a space technology startup, built an inflatable work module for astronauts at a space station in 2016 and plans to launch another moon in orbit by 2022. The company is owned by Robert Bigelow, the founding billionaire who believes that UFOs visited Earth. Bigelow is one of several billionaires to race for the moon among Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin, Mask and his SpaceX, Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic.

Their fat wallets and freedom from necessitysubmitting a quarterly earnings report helps push technology forward with leaps and bounds. They build rockets that can deliver Bigelow and Nanoracks to the moon. Only NASA during the Apollo era could burn as much fuel as Bezos, who recently announced that he was selling Amazon stocks for a billion dollars a year to support Blue Origin.

Blue Origin is developing the Blue Moon landing module, which will be able to transfer cargo to the lunar surface for the future base, and the New Glenn rocket, which passed successful tests in July.

How realistic are the plans for the creation of the colonies?

The economics of launching missiles could be a watershedmoment in the development of all this, says writer Andy Weir. He wrote The Martian, a science fiction novel about an astronaut trapped on Mars, which was eventually filmed by Matt Damon. As a continuation, Weir wrote "Artemis" about the lunar colony. According to the plan of Weir, "Artemis" will be built in the 2080s. He also believes that a real lunar base is also possible.

“To make our future Heinlein’s,”he says, referring to Robert Heinlein, a 50s science fiction classic, “you need to find a cheap way to leave Earth's gravity; as soon as you do that, the rest will come. ”

Weir calculated what it takes to sendtourists and tourists on a moonlit vacation for $ 70,000. His rough estimate is that the cost of launching a rocket should drop from $ 4,635 per kilogram to $ 35 per kilogram. This is a significant decrease, but it may not take long before the numbers converge.

As soon as this problem is solved, Weir believes, the natural resources of the moon will be enough to build a city.

“Even in a world in which you have lowered the price of a DOE, youyou need to use resources on the spot, ”says Weir. "The pioneers did not take wood pallets with them to build their homes." Weir says that the Moon is extremely rich in what you need to build a lunar base - for example, with anorthite stone, which covers vast areas of the moon's surface, because it can be divided into aluminum, oxygen, calcium and silicon (used in glass).

But after all his research, Weir realized thatthe seabed, the polar regions of the Earth and the Sahara are easier to colonize than the moon. He notes that you need to take oxygen with you for breathing, protection from cosmic radiation and water with food.

“The problem is that no one wants to send people to the moon,” says Weir. “Everyone wants to send robots. People are soft and die. Robots are strong and ... die too, but nobody cares. ”

China is already working on this. China plans to launch a lander and rover in December on the far side of the moon. The country's leaders also talked about putting astronauts on the moon by 2036, and the White House demands that NASA return to the moon.

Head, a Chinese planetary scientist, believesthat the Chinese government will provide such a technology enterprise with any resources. The Chinese space program will not stop due to lack of funds, like the American one. For China, putting people on the moon is the main task.