Space settlement roundup – April.15.2020

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images related to human expansion into the solar system (see also previous space settlement postings):

** NASA hang-out examined the role of civil engineering in developing the initial landing site on Mars: Paving the Road to Mars: Civil Engineering at the Human Landing Site – Feb.2020

Speakers from Bechtel, Kennedy Space Center, Langley Research Center, and NASA Headquarters join HLS2 steering committee co-chairs Paul Niles and Richard (Rick) Davis to discuss the use of Civil Engineering on Mars.

Speakers include:

• Pete Carrato (Bechtel, Fellow Emeritus)
• Rob Mueller (Swamp Works Kennedy Space Center, Senior Technologist/Primary Investigator)
• Michelle Munk (Langley Research Center, EDL System Capability Lead)

Here are the slides: Human Landing Site Hangout – Paving the Road to Mars: Civil Engineering at the Human Landing Site – NASA – Feb.27.2020 (pdf).

** More about building roads and structures on Mars from civil engineer Peter Carrato, who participated in the above hangout, in this recent Planetary Society Radio program: Building Our Future on Mars | The Planetary Society

How will we build the structures, roads and landing pads humans will someday need on Mars? Civil engineer Peter Carrato has been building grand structures on Earth for decades. He says the skills we’ve learned over thousands of years are well-suited for the much more challenging Martian environment.

**  A model for a Martian settlement: Why a business case for Mars settlement is not required – The Space Review

Some people have claimed that a “business case” for profitable interplanetary trade with a Mars settlement, or at least the identification a saleable product for trade, is required before such a settlement can be established or supported by business or government. But there is no reasonable prospect for trade in any significant mass of physical material from a Mars settlement back to Earth in the near future due to the high transport costs. In his recent article in the National Review, “Elon Musk’s Plan to Settle Mars,” Robert Zubrin makes exactly the same point: a business case based on physical trade is not necessary and makes little sense. Later trade and commerce via non-physical goods such as software is probable once a settlement is fully operational. More significant and interesting economic situations will occur on Mars.

A good model for the expenditures needed to found colonies is the Greek and Phoenician expansion all across the Mediterranean and Black Sea areas in the period early in Greek history (before about 600 BC), leading to the founding of one of the greatest trading cities in history, Carthage. The cities who founded each colony did not expect immediate profit, but wanted good places for an expanding population and knew that, once the new cities were established, trade would also become established. Most of the cost was probably in building more ships. When European colonies were first established in the New World by Spain and Portugal, the emphasis was initially on a search for treasure, not production of products. English and Dutch colonies later led the way to commerce across the Atlantic, with tobacco, sugar, and cotton suddenly becoming a major part of world trade.

A look at some of the steps required to create a Mars settlement will help us understand at least a little about Mars settlement economics. For a Mars settlement, motivation and economics are interwoven. It is possible for at least a partial business case to be made for the transport of settlers and the materials they will need to initiate some phase of Mars settlement. This includes the current effort to create a large number of reliable, low cost, and reusable super-heavy boosters and spacecraft, able to take payloads of 100 tons or more of cargo and passengers to Mars and land them at the right location. Part of this development and construction cost will be defrayed by commercial and government uses of the same vehicles, such as placing very heavy payloads in LEO and taking equipment and passengers to and around the Moon.

** A design for a first-generation in-space habitat settlement affordable at launch costs of $300/kg is proposed by Pekka Janhunen of the Finnish Meteorological Institute in Helsinki.:  Shielded Dumbbell L5 Settlement: New in the NSS Space Settlement Journal – National Space Society

We present a two-sphere dumbbell configuration of a rotating settlement at Earth-Moon L5. The two-sphere configuration is chosen to minimize the radiation shielding mass which dominates the mass budget. The settlement has max 20 mSv/year radiation conditions and 1 g artificial gravity. If made for 200 people, it weighs 89000 tonnes and provides 60 square meters of floor space per person.

The radiation shield is made of asteroid rock, augmented by a water layer with 2% of the mass for neutron moderation, and a thin boron-10 layer for capturing the thermalized neutrons. We analyze the propulsion options for moving the material from asteroids to L5. The FFC Cambridge process can be used to extract oxygen from asteroid regolith. The oxygen is then used as Electric Propulsion propellant. One can also find a water-bearing asteroid and use water for the same purpose. If one wants to avoid propellant extraction, one can use a fleet of electric sails. The settlers fund their project by producing and selling new settlements by zero-delay teleoperation in the nearby robotic factory which they own.

The economic case looks promising if LEO launch costs drop below about $300/kg.

I’ll note that SpaceX‘s Starship is aimed at achieving launch costs even below the $300/kg range at high flight rates.

A schematic diagram of the dumbbell design of a large space habitat. Credits: Pekka Janhunen via NSS

The full paper – Shielded Dumbbell L5 Settlement – NSS Space Settlement Journal (pdf) – and other reports are available at the NSS Space Settlement Journal website.

* Gateway Foundation releases an update on the design of a first-generation large scale space habitat, which they now call Voyager Station. This video discusses how the development of the SpaceX Starship could benefit the project.

** Overview of the 2019 Mining Space Summit held in Luxembourg: White Paper Focuses On ‘Major Takeaways’ From The 2019 Mining Space Summit – SpaceWatch.Global

The experts agreed that collaboration between terrestrial mining and commercial space will be crucial to the development technology and mission capabilities needed for a viable space resources industry.

Suggestions which might help jump start the collaboration process included a global competition based on the Google Lunar XPRIZE model and the development of ‘dual use’ Earth/space technologies.

Demand for space resources could potentially be driven by offworld outposts, space laboratories, Moon-based facilities and space tourism.

However, early development will require support from governments around the world, with sound legal agreements on ownership of resources and stable markets to sell them.

Governments and their agencies will also play a central role as the primary source of demand for this fledgling market.

The white paper Major Takeaways of the Mining Space Summit 2019 – Luxembourg Space Agency (pdf)

The second Mining Space Summit was a great success, as was the whole Space Resources Week. By attracting more representatives from the terrestrial resources industry, it represents an important step forward towards establishing a meaningful connection between two industrial sectors, terrestrial resources and space resources.

With the attendance of more than 180 experts, we had a significant increase of participants, only limited by the size of the breakout session groups. One important metric was the participant representation -58% from space, including start-ups and global players, and 42% from mining, oil and gas industries, finance,and (non-space) government sectors.

The Summit focused on two challenges that are key in enabling the success of the space resources sector: the viability of their business models and the development of critical technologies and operations.

This summary paper has provided the major results of the discussions, and will help to set the foundation for future work.

The 2019summit was only an intermediate step of a long-term process to identify areas of collaboration between the two industrial sectors.Space Resources Week2020, announced at the end of the ESA ISRU Workshop, will happen between the 5thand 9thOctoberandwill build on these results.

** TransAstra wins a NIAC grant for development of lunar propellant mining architecture: Lunar Polar Propellant Mining Outpost (LPMO) | NASA

The Lunar Polar Mining Outpost (LPMO) (see quad chart graphic) is a breakthrough mission architecture that promises to greatly reduce the cost of human exploration and industrialization of the Moon. LPMO is based on two patent pending inventions that together solve the problem of affordable lunar polar ice mining for propellant production.

“Graphic depiction of the Lunar Polar Propellant Mining Outpost (LPMO) concept.” Credits: Joel Sercel [Click for large image]

The first invention, Sun Flower™ stems from a new insight into lunar topography. We have found multi kilometer landing areas in lunar polar regions on which the surface is likely ice rich regolith in perpetual darkness but with perpetual sunlight available at altitudes of only 100s of meters. In these landing sites, which we found and mapped in our Phase 1 study, deployable reflectors on towers a few hundred meters tall (lightweight and feasible in lunar gravity) can provide nearly continuous solar power.

A large lander, such as the Blue Moon vehicle proposed by Blue Origin or lunar ice mining outpost can sit on mineable ice at ground level in perpetual sunlight provided by lightweight reflectors. A single New Glenn launch can deliver a Sun Flower with over 1 MW of solar arrays, tower, and reflector in an integrated package.

The second enabling innovation for LGMO is Radiant Gas Dynamic (RGD) mining. RGD mining is a new Patent Pending technology invented by TransAstra to solve the problem of economically and reliably prospecting and extracting large quantities (1,000s of tons per year) of volatile materials from lunar regolith using landed packages of just a few tons each….

** Several other NIAC awards went to technology projects relevant to space settlement. For example,

  • Fueling a Human Mission to Mars – Caroline Genzale (Georgia Tech Research Corporation):  Development of “a renewable, liquid, storage stable rocket propellant that can be produced and burned on Mars using bioorganisms to perform atmospheric in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). Utilizing 100% ISRU for propellant production, we aim to reduce the Entry Descent Landing (EDL) mass of a crewed mission to Mars by approximately 7 tons. This technology will enable long-term human presence on Mars and beyond because costly propellant deliveries from Earth would be unnecessary. We will genetically engineer organisms to efficiently convert the abundant CO2 in the Martian atmosphere into liquid hydrocarbons suitable for rocket propulsion and other energy needs on Mars.
  • Aqua Factorem: Ultra Low-Energy Lunar Water Extraction – Philip Metzger (University of Central Florida) – To extract water from lunar polar crater floors, this proposal takes “advantage of the processing that the unique lunar geology has already performed. Micrometeoroid bombardment has already broken most solid material in the upper part of the regolith into fine grains. This includes solid material of all compositions, including the ice, which is as hard as granite at PSR temperatures and is therefore essentially another type of rock. These ice grains are intermixed with all the other minerals, so a simple, ultra-low-energy grain-sorting process can extract the ice without phase change. As another benefit it can extract the 1 wt% free metal known to be in lunar soil, again with very little energy. The ice can then be hauled to the chemical processing unit in solid phase and converted into rocket propellant. We estimate the 800 kW power needed for thermal extraction can be reduced to less than 100 watts using the new method. This affects the entire architecture of the mining operation producing extensive economic benefit, which we will quantify in this study.
  • Instant Landing Pads for Artemis Lunar Missions – Matthew Kuhns (Masten Space Systems) – “The Masten in-Flight Alumina Spray Technique (FAST) Landing Pad changes the approach to landing on planetary bodies by mitigating the landing plume effects by creating a landing pad under the lander as it descends onto a surface. This approach uses engineered particles injected into the rocket plume to build up a coating over the regolith at the landing location. The hardened regolith would have greater thermal resistance and ablation resistance to reduce regolith erosion rates and deep cratering. This innovation would enable large and small landers to safely perform transportation to any region on the Moon without major risks posed by engine plume effects.

** Commercial lunar projects by Intuitive Machines and Masten Space receive support from NASA. In 2019, IM was among the first set of companies selected by NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative to carry payloads to the Moon. This week IM announced the launch date for their Nova-C lander and the site where it will touch down: Launch Date and Landing Site Selected For 2021 Moon Mission – Intuitive Machines

Intuitive Machines (IM) engineers selected an area in Oceanus Procellarum near Vallis Schröterias the landing site for its upcoming IM-1 lunar mission with an anticipated launch date in October 2021.

Vallis Schröteri, also known as Schröter’s Valley, is the largest valley on the Moon (comparable in size to the Grand Canyon) and is surrounded by Oceanus Procellarum, the largest lunar maria on the Moon. Oceanus Procellarum, also called the Ocean of Storms, covers over 10 percent of the entire Moon and has a diverse array of geological features. NASA considered a site near Vallis Schröteri for Apollo 18; now, IM is taking up the baton to conduct the initial survey.

Nova-C, the first lander wholly developed by a private company, will deliver commercial cargo and five NASA-provided payloads to the lunar surface. These payloads will conduct scientific research and technology demonstrations as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, in preparation for sending astronauts back to the Moon in 2024.

Intuitive Machine’s Nova-C lunar lander. Credits: Intuitive Machines

Last week, NASA announced the selection of Masten Space (see post here) to

deliver and operate eight payloads – with nine science and technology instruments – to the Moon’s South Pole in 2022, to help lay the foundation for human expeditions to the lunar surface beginning in 2024.

The payloads, which include instruments to assess the composition of the lunar surface, test precision landing technologies, and evaluate the radiation on the Moon, are being delivered under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative as part of the agency’s Artemis program.

Masten’s XL-1 lander will incorporate lessons and technologies derived from the company’s long experience with vertical takeoff and landing rockets. In addition to the NASA payloads, Masten expects to carry payloads from commercial customers.

Scott Manley gives a video report on Masten and the company’s lander:

Find more about the two projects at NOVA-C selects landing site, Masten gains CLPS contracts –

** Xplore awarded USAF grant to study ways to provide navigation services to the cislunar domain, i.e. from Earth to the Moon. Such systems would be similar to the invaluable GPS system used for a wide range of navigation and timing applications on earth: Xplore Receives USAF Award for Innovative Commercial Capabilities Around the Moon – Xplore

Xplore Inc., a commercial space company has announced they have won an Air Force award to study positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) solutions for cislunar space. The award category, for commercial and technical innovations between the Earth and the Moon — is entirely new for the Air Force, which is investigating the capabilities necessary to extend operations beyond geosynchronous orbit to now include cislunar space.

The Xplore plan would involve the company’s Xcraft, a standardized spacecraft platform that can be implemented for a variety of deep space missions:

Navigation considerations have been an integral part of Xplore’s development strategy since the company started rigorously developing its platform and multi-mission Xcraft™ — an ESPA-class space vehicle that will fly missions at destinations from Earth to the Moon, Mars, Venus, Lagrange points, near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) and other locations across the inner solar system. Beyond the more obvious hardware requirements for operating in extreme environments, Xplore will maximize the full value of its orbital assets by designing a PNT architecture that mirrors the accessibility and reliability of GPS for cislunar space. The Xcraft’s ability to operate across these vast distances provides tremendous value to customers in academia, industry, civil space and national security agencies.

An Xcraft at the Moon. Credits: Xplore

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