Space settlement roundup – Aug.3.2019

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images related to human expansion into the solar system:

** Purdue University unveils Cislunar Space Engineering Initiatives program:

Vision Statement The Purdue Engineering Initiative in Cislunar Space (Cislunar Initiative) will envision and enable the collaborative utilization of cislunar space to extend humanity’s reach throughout the solar system.

Mission Statement Cislunar Initiative will provide national leadership in the development of cislunar space. Through a process of exploration and discovery, Cislunar Initiative will expand access to space, identify and utilize space resources, advance the development of space policy, and grow the cislunar economy.

Check out the program’s Objectives, which include an “incubator program to provide seed funding for proposal development”, a Industry-University Consortium on Cislunar Development, and a Cislunar Education Program.

** In Swiss IGLUNA program, student teams built & demostrated prototype space habitats in a glacier near Zermatt in the Swiss Alps:

In the first ESA_Lab@ project, student teams across Europe develop modular demonstrators that combined will set the foundation for a living in space.

Ideas of the everyday life find their way out into space and return solutions for a better living on Earth. Brick by brick these technologies will create the cornerstones for a community expanding into space.

ESA_Lab@ with its network acts as coordinator providing the institutional link between all parties, system engineering, and IT infrastructure.

Supervised and supported by their university the student teams

    • materialise their demonstrators
    • establish their local partner and sponsors network
    • interact with other teams
From Sept. 2018 to July 2019,  20 student teams

… from 13 universities from 9 countries around Europe are collaborating in this project called “IGLUNA – A Human Habitat in Ice: Demonstrating key enabling technologies for life support in frozen worlds”;

Each student team develops their contribution during two academic semesters starting in September 2018 until June 2019;

From 17 June to 3 July 2019, the students will test their modules in a field campaign in a glacier in Zermatt, Switzerland;

The whole habitat which will be build inside the glacier cave in Zermatt will also be accessible for tourists and media;

The Swiss Space Center coordinates the project and serves as a coordinator for the events and main systems engineering activities.

An article about the EPFL (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) team’s participation in IGLUNA this year: Lunar mission deep in Zermatt’s ice – EPFL

At EPFL, students from several schools have been busy working on the project since September. The team, led by architect and lecturer Pierre Zurbrügg, built an igloo-like habitat 15 meters below the surface of the Klein Matterhorn glacier, which stands 3,883 meters above sea level. The structure, made from load-bearing and insulating materials, was designed and built by students from the School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering (ENAC) as part of the “Living on Mars” teaching unit. “We had to factor in the practical constraints of the IGLUNA field site,” explains Zurbrügg. “For instance, we needed to be able to transport the materials, assemble the habitat quickly, and work in temperatures of -4°C. We opted for a brick structure that’s relatively easy to assemble. It took just three days to build.”

** Enormous caverns beneath the lunar surface could offer excellent sites for early settlements: Living Underground on the Moon: How Lava Tubes Could Aid Lunar Colonization |

Researchers have identified “pits” on the moon, which are likely lava-tube “skylights” — geological doorways to underground tunnels that were once filled with lava.

If they do indeed provide access to lava tubes, skylights could be a game-changer for human lunar exploration, said NASA Chief Scientist Jim Green. Lava tubes are protected from the harsh environment of the lunar surface, which is bombarded by radiation and experiences temperature extremes. One lunar day lasts about 29 Earth days, meaning surface locations endure about two straight weeks of daylight followed by two weeks of darkness. 

** Special report Project Moon Base in IEEE Spectrum magazine includes numerous articles and infographics about “preparing to build the first permanent settlement in space”. For example,

** Water may be even more abundant on the Moon than previously indicated:

From David:

The polar regions of Earth’s Moon may contain significantly more water ice than previously thought, according to new research by space scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Shoring up this belief are two decades of observations from telescopes and spacecraft, not of the Moon, but the planet Mercury. What’s been found are glacier-like water ice deposits near Mercury’s poles.

Why, despite their similar surface conditions, does our Moon have so much less ice than Mercury?

“The simple answer is that the Moon has lots of ice — it’s just buried below the surface,” said David Paige, a UCLA professor of planetary science and a co-author of the study.

The study, published July 22 in Nature Geoscience, points to the existence of previously undetected thick ice deposits on the Moon. It was led by Lior Rubanenko, a UCLA graduate student.

** An outline of how to overcome the hurdles to settling the Moon: How to build a moon base – The Conversation

Ultimately we have the technology to make a lunar base viable, but no amount of innovation can completely negate the risks involved. Whether such a base goes ahead or not will depend on this calculation perhaps more than any other. The question is whether we as a society have the stomach for lunar settlement, as well as lunar lettuce, or not.

** A commercial lunar EVA suit may fill a major gap in NASA’s plans for returning astronauts to the Moon :

Collins Aerospace unveiled a prototype of the Next Generation Space Suit system which could be used for excursions on the surface of the Moon. On Thursday, July 25th, a model demonstrated the ease of walking in the suit by trotting around the lobby of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC and climbing up and down a few steps. The company claims that the suit is about half the weight of the original Apollo space suits. It’s supposed to be much more flexible, too, capable of fitting a wide range of body types from small Moon walkers to those well over six feet tall.

Collins Aerospace has a history of building space suits for NASA. The company collaborated with their longtime partner ILC Dover to build both the suits and attached life support systems currently used by astronauts on the International Space Station. Now the two companies want to show NASA that they have something the agency can use for their Moon-bound Artemis program, as well.

Next Generation Space Suit
Next Generation Space Suit system prototype from Collins Aerospace.

I’ll note that besides advanced space suits, there are many technologies (e.g. space tugs, fuel depots, in situ resource utilization systems, etc.)  needed for space settlement that NASA has not developed due to so much of the agency’s funding being diverted to the unneeded SLS rocket and Orion capsule projects. There would have been just as many jobs created to bring these essential in-space infrastructure components into operation as were created by the SLS/Orion jobs program but for a Congressional Swamp Kings a big boondoggle in-hand today is worth far more than dozens of small projects that will pay off richly in the future.

** Astrobotic & CMU to develop MoonRanger, a 13 kilogram autonomous rover to make sophisticated measurements of the lunar surface on missions starting in 2021-2022 time frame: Astrobotic Awarded $5.6 Million NASA Contract to Deliver Autonomous Moon Rover – Astrobotic

The MoonRanger rover enables a new paradigm of exploration autonomy pioneered by Professor Red Whittaker at Carnegie Mellon that is essential for exploring lunar pits, characterizing ice, investigating magnetic swirls, and deploying future mobile instruments on the lunar surface. Modest in size and mass, MoonRanger offers superb mobility at a light weight—ultimately equating to a more affordable flight platform. The rover will be a test platform for autonomy that will usher in a new era of operability in space.

“MoonRanger offers a means to accomplish far-ranging science of significance, and will exhibit an enabling capability on missions to the Moon for NASA and the commercial sector. The autonomy techniques demonstrated by MoonRanger will enable new kinds exploration missions that will ultimately herald in a new era on the Moon,” says Whittaker.

“This latest NASA award to develop MoonRanger for a mission to the Moon is another example of how Astrobotic is the world leader in lunar logistics. Our lander and rover capabilities are designed to deliver our customers to the Moon and allow them to carry out meaningful, low-cost activities for science, exploration and commerce,” says John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic. MoonRanger joins Polaris and CubeRover as an additional offering that extends Astrobotic’s mobility as a service to customers across the world.

** Mining of M-type asteroid 16 Psyche could drastically lower the cost of many precious metals: The Golden Asteroid That Could Make Everyone On Earth A Billionaire |

Whether it was the Big Bang, Midas or God himself, we don’t really need to unlock the mystery of the origins of gold when we’ve already identified an asteroid worth $700 quintillion in precious heavy metals.

If anything launches this metals mining space race, it will be this asteroid–Psyche 16, taking up residence between Mars and Jupiter and carrying around enough heavy metals to net every single person on the planet close to a trillion dollars.

The massive quantities of gold, iron and nickel contained in this asteroid are mind-blowing. The discovery has been made. Now, it’s a question of proving it up.

As often pointed out in response to such articles, “massive quantities” going into the market would result in big drops in the prices of such metals. However, that is exactly the process that enriches our economies and raises our standard of living. The introduction of the Hall–Héroult process in the 1800s, for example, converted aluminum from an expensive precious metal into a low cost material that enabled innumerable technologies such as airliners and rust free siding.

It is important to remember than lowering the price of something is the same as giving out non-expiring gift cards that permanently discount the price of that thing.

** Spin tables to counteract zero gravity health effects: Artificial gravity breaks free from science fiction – University of Colorado Boulder

Ultimately, spacecraft on long distance voyages and in-space habitats will rotate to provide “spin gravity” that will eliminate the bad effects of zero gravity. In the meantime, however, daily high-g sessions on a spin table or similar compact rotating system may be sufficient to maintain good health.

This Colorado project investigated how to acclimate users to higher and higher spin rates without getting nauseous.

The team began by recruiting a group of volunteers and tested them on the centrifuge across 10 sessions.

But unlike most earlier studies, the CU Boulder researchers took things slow. They first spun their subjects at just one rotation per minute, and only increased the speed once each recruit was no longer experiencing the cross-coupled illusion.

“I present at a conference and everyone says, ‘she’s the one who spins people and makes them sick,’” Bretl said. “But we try to avoid instances of motion sickness because the whole point of our research is to make it tolerable.”

The personalized approach worked. By the end of 10th session, the study subjects were all spinning comfortably, without feeling any illusion, at an average speed of about 17 rotations per minute. That’s much faster than any previous research had been able to achieve. The group reported its results in June in the Journal of Vestibular Research.

** Domes of silica aerogel could make for comfortable environments for Mars settlements: A material way to make Mars habitable | Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

The researchers suggest that regions of the Martian surface could be made habitable with a material — silica aerogel — that mimics Earth’s atmospheric greenhouse effect. Through modeling and experiments, the researchers show that a two to three-centimeter-thick shield of silica aerogel could transmit enough visible light for photosynthesis, block hazardous ultraviolet radiation, and raise temperatures underneath permanently above the melting point of water, all without the need for any internal heat source.

More details in Enabling Martian habitability with silica aerogel via the solid-state greenhouse effect | Nature Astronomy

… Specifically, we demonstrate via experiments and modelling that under Martian environmental conditions, a 2–3 cm-thick layer of silica aerogel will simultaneously transmit sufficient visible light for photosynthesis, block hazardous ultraviolet radiation and raise temperatures underneath it permanently to above the melting point of water, without the need for any internal heat source. Placing silica aerogel shields over sufficiently ice-rich regions of the Martian surface could therefore allow photosynthetic life to survive there with minimal subsequent intervention. This regional approach to making Mars habitable is much more achievable than global atmospheric modification. In addition, it can be developed systematically, starting from minimal resources, and can be further tested in extreme environments on Earth today.


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