Search This Blog

Friday, 25 March 2016

Just six months of NASA's budget would pay for a lunar base?

There seems to be a lot of deep thought going on about the Moon recently, and the latest is that the New Space journal has published a special edition (edited by Christopher P. McKay and Alexandra Hall of NASA) looking at how much it would cost, and how long it would take, to set up a International Space Station style base on the Moon.

Above: An astronaut working on the exterior of the ISS. Courtesy of NASA.

Their conclusions are..... fairly surprising: Rather than the many tens (often hundreds) of billions often quoted for a Moonbase, the workshop has concluded it might be possible for a total cost in region of $10 billion - that's just over half of NASA's annual budget. What's more, it could be done for that cost as soon as 2022
If this analysis pans out it could have a serious impact on the (seemingly never ending) arguments over NASA's exploration priority's*. As professor Chris McKay put it  ‘‘Wouldn’t there be much less argument over Moon versus Mars if the lunar exploration piece was much cheaper?’’
The papers are free to read, and go into the costs, the site and construction methods, and aims of such a base. One noteworthy conclusion they come to is that the aim of the $10 billion lunar outpost shouldn't just to be a symbol, or a science base: It should aim to start a lunar economy.
Above: A graphic showing an ambitious Japanese idea for a lunar solar power farm. Courtesy of JAXA.
That's not as out there as it sounds: There's already an ongoing economic expansion in space, where satellites of various kinds make use of space as resource in many ways and contribute hundreds of billions every year to the global economy. A lunar economy would be an extension of our existing space economy, embracing what economic opportunities the Moon has to offer. The reports suggest these might include:
These actually match up quite well with existing concepts for expanding our economy in near Earth space, such as the space based solar power ideas that I wrote about earlier this week.

Do I expect to see a lunar base by 2022? No. Although ESA is looking at the idea of a lunar base, it's not on any agency or private groups list of construction projects at present. But these reports demonstrate that some out of the box thinking could make a Lunar base a realistic goal within my lifetime - and that's a good thought.
Above: ESA's plans for a 3D printed 'Lunar Village'.

Elsewhere in the Universe:

The Moon's axis has wandered

To add to the moon's scientific appeal: Results released this week by the Southern Methodist University suggest that the Moon's poles have wandered by up to five degrees since the little world formed. The findings centre around the shape of the ice deposits at the lunar poles, which are oddly elongated.

Above: An SMU video demonstrating the Moon's polar wander.

The Sun may be a baaaad neighbour:

A lot of people know that the Sun can give out storms and solar flares, which can sometimes interfere with radio equipment and cause damage to power grids. But new research  suggests that our Sun could produce superflares: Storms powerful enough to devastate electronics worldwide, and even damage our atmosphere. It may already have produced a small superflare in 775 AD, which left a measurable imprint of radioactive carbon in tree rings.

Above: The Sun spits outs a tounge of plasma.
* By which I mean it will probably make them worse, and lot's of militant Lunatics and Martians will have flame wars all across the internet. But I'm cynical....

No comments:

Post a Comment