PhD Student, New York University
Designing a lunar base that would convert in-situ resources to rocket fuel for future space missions
This paper summarizes a 5-day competition at California Institute of Technology in late March where 32 students were invited to participate from all around the world and divided up into two teams to see which team could design a feasible base on the moon meant to extract resources from the surface and convert it to fuel for future deep space missions. This paper is on behalf of the winner of that challenge with the group name, LEEP: Lunar Extraction for Extraterrestrial Prospecting. Our concept focused on establish a base at the rim of a as well as inside a crater on the southern pole of the moon. Inside the crater is permanently shadowed which results in water that is present on the moon being frozen. However, since it is permanently shadowed, this means that solar powered machines cannot work in this region. Our concept uses reflective mirror-type devices at the base of the crater to shine sunlight into the crater so that solar powered machines can actually work there, also reducing the need for nuclear powered machines. These machines would be in charge of prospecting ideal locations for operations as well as drilling into the surface to extract ice then converting it to fuel. That fuel would then be transported from the surface to a fueling station in orbit in between the moon and Earth. This fueling station would be responsible for intercepting spacecraft from Earth and fueling them with what it received from the Lunar surface. This would greatly reduce the amount of fuel that would be required to send spacecraft from Earth to deep space because they would just need enough fuel to reach the fueling station where they could then be re-fueled. The goal of this concept is to make a manned mission to Mars achievable by the 2030s. With our concept, we were able to accomplish 5 such missions in that time frame.
Abstract: We assess the possibility of reducing the travel time of a manned mission to Mars by examining four different propulsion methods, and keeping the mass at departure under 2,500 tonnes, for a fixed architecture. We evaluated representative systems of three different state of the art technologies (chemical, nuclear thermal, and electric), and one advance technology, the "Pure Electro-Magnetic Thrust" (PEMT) concept (proposed by Rubbia). A mission architecture mostly based on the Design Reference Architecture 5.0 is assumed in order to estimate the mass budget, that influences the performance of the propulsion system. Pareto curves of the duration of the mission and time of flight versus mass of mission are drawn. We conclude that the ion engine technology, combined with the classical chemical engine, yields the shortest mission times for this architecture with the lowest mass, and that chemical propulsion alone is the best to minimise travel time. The results obtained using the PEMT suggest that it could be a more suitable solution for farther destinations than Mars.
Pub.: 26 Nov '15, Pinned: 30 Jun '17
Abstract: The national space programs have an historic opportunity to help solve the global-scale economic and environmental problems of Earth while becoming more effective at science through the use of space resources. Space programs will be more cost-effective when they work to establish a supply chain in space, mining and manufacturing then replicating the assets of the supply chain so it grows to larger capacity. This has become achievable because of advances in robotics and artificial intelligence. It is roughly estimated that developing a lunar outpost that relies upon and also develops the supply chain will cost about 1/3 or less of the existing annual budgets of the national space programs. It will require a sustained commitment of several decades to complete, during which time science and exploration become increasingly effective. At the end, this space industry will capable of addressing global-scale challenges including limited resources, clean energy, economic development, and preservation of the environment. Other potential solutions, including nuclear fusion and terrestrial renewable energy sources, do not address the root problem of our limited globe and there are real questions whether they will be inadequate or too late. While industry in space likewise cannot provide perfect assurance, it is uniquely able to solve the root problem, and it gives us an important chance that we should grasp. What makes this such an historic opportunity is that the space-based solution is obtainable as a side-benefit of doing space science and exploration within their existing budgets. Thinking pragmatically, it may take some time for policymakers to agree that setting up a complete supply chain is an achievable goal, so this paper describes a strategy of incremental progress. The most crucial part of this strategy is establishing a water economy by mining on the Moon and asteroids to manufacture rocket propellant. Technologies that support a water economy will play an important role leading toward space development.
Pub.: 25 Oct '16, Pinned: 30 Jun '17
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