Living off the land- Lunar water is key

By Gary Michael Church

Op-ed | Living off the land: Lunar water is key to crewed space exploration

“These unlit regions within craters, referred to as permanently shadowed regions, or PSRs, are now known to host vast quantities of water ice that have been lying in perfect isolation for hundreds of millions of years. Although an exceedingly difficult number to quantify, it is commonly believed that the quantity of water in these PSRs exceeds 100 million tons.”

Unfortunately, the author also made reference to Helium 3, which automatically inspires  readers who have any technical knowledge concerning the energy industry to conspiracy-theory-eye-roll. As I commented for several years on Dr. Spudis’ blog, the Moon is not likely to become any kind of functioning human colony. The problem is the only way to live on low gravity bodies without suffering debilitation is by way of “sleeper trains” providing artificial Earth gravity. These circular underground trains do not seem practical for any sizeable population. Not a great environment to raise children in unless built on a immense scale and in that case Habitats in space are far superior for several reasons.

In my view the Moon is a factory site. Whether sleeper trains could keep the workforce healthy or they would have to periodically go up to Low Lunar Orbit (LLO) space stations to rehabilitate is one question. If there is only a few hundred million tons of water on the Moon it is not going to last forever and would serve to establish facilities, probably in giant lava tubes, after which small icy bodies would be mined in the asteroid belt and the water transported to the lunar factory sites. The next question is what will these factories on the Moon manufacture? I think…Flying Saucers. I will explain that later.

The first piece of necessary hardware is Super Heavy Lift Vehicle (SHLV) double hulled wet workshops (“Fat Workshops”) launched from Earth. These would be filled with lunar water using robot landers and then pairs with tethers spun to provide near-sea-level-radiation-one-G (NSLR1G) crew compartments. A production pipeline will send these crew compartments first to frozen Low Lunar Orbits (LLO) as a prelude to humans returning to the surface of the Moon. Or, more accurately, to below the surface- as lava tube radiation sanctuaries are the likely destination. Some method of either excavating and using regolith and/or covering small craters might work but really large lava tubes are the ideal.

Once LLO is populated with space stations the next place to send them is Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO). Water shielded GEO telecom platforms are the answer to a myriad of problems. The smallsat constellations NewSpace is presently pursuing are only going to make those problems an order of magnitude worse and are a terrible mistake. Once a ring of these human-crewed telecom stations are in place then comes a fleet of Lunar Cyclers. In reality it might be more practical to simply do both if the pipeline produces large numbers. Whether humans will launch from Earth to a GEO platform, and then ride some conveyance to intercept a Cycler, or launch on straight intercept missions- is another question.

After the LLO stations, GEO telecom platforms, and the Lunar Cycler fleet, the next step is “true” spaceships. The true spaceship will be capable of multi-year missions to the gas and ice giants. The main challenge in building these spaceships are the “engines” which are of two types; hard discs and soft parachute-like “spinnakers.” The alloy disc becomes more efficient as it gets larger in diameter, and while they could be sent up in “slices” by SHLVs, a disc large enough to be very efficient would mass in the thousands of tons. These discs are the first item on the list to be manufactured on the Moon.

Multi-thousand ton alloy flying saucers forged in underground lunar factories are going to take awhile, and the second type of nuclear pulse engine, the spinnaker, can be put into service immediately. Though not as efficient or able to accelerate as much mass as discs, spinnakers do not first require decades to build a lunar industrial base. The discs will also be used to lift immense masses from the surface of the Moon. After the pipeline of crew compartments and the first discs comes the second major item from lunar factories: Space Solar Power components. Powering planet Earth with solar power beamed down from space is likely the only practical solution to global warming. Along with the energy industry the nuclear industry will relocate to the Moon. U-233 transmuted from lunar thorium will be used in Nuclear Pulse Propulsion systems.

Gerard K. O’Neill made mention of planet Earth heating up due to the burning of fossil fuels in the 70’s and considered it yet one more reason to pursue Space Solar Power. O’Neill saw Space Solar Power as the economic engine to ultimately enable migration from Earth to space colonies, which brings us to the main “product” to be manufactured using lunar resources: hollow artificial “child” moons. Bernal Spheres. These miles-in-diameter spinning habitats are why space is so absolutely important to the survival of humankind. With beam propulsion they can be accelerated to a percentage of the speed of light and sent on centuries long journeys to other stars.

The same Space Solar Power infrastructure that will serve as the economic engine enabling the construction of Bernal Spheres will also enable beam propulsion and at last fleets of jetliners to space carrying millions of passengers every year will ride microwave beams across the cislunar sea. As the next century approaches the population of Earth will begin to decrease and Bernal Spheres will lead and trail our planet in solar orbit. In the next century the Space Solar Power infrastructure will eventually generate enough energy for the first “slow boats” to be sent on their way to other star systems. How freezing people, artificial intellects (“Artilects”), or more likely “Quartilects”, as quantum computers evolve, and black hole starships, will play a part are great subjects for speculation.

In my view black hole starships, using small singularity engines, are the most likely method by which humankind will colonize the galaxy. Before the mind-boggling energies required to creates such engines are available, I suspect god-like artificial intelligence may make other technologies we now believe impossible, or cannot imagine, a possibility. Artilects and star travel aside, it is freezing people that is most likely just around the corner. A successful technique freezing people without damage, thus saving them from death by injury, disease, or old age, would be the most significant event in history. Or…an artificial super-intelligence capable of solving all of humankinds problems regarding mortality and star travel might be the other possible future.

We will see. First we start with the ice on the Moon.



Published by billgamesh

Revivable Cryopreservation Advocate

10 thoughts on “Living off the land- Lunar water is key

  1. What do you think of this: the possibility of mining carbonaceous asteroids that have a lower ΔV to reach (and return) than the Moon, so we can provide water in space even more cheaply? Just as launches from the Moon require less energy than launches from Earth, there are hundreds of asteroids where the same is true vis-à-vis the Moon.


    1. The Moon is where you want to start. Not the asteroid belt. I think it is a stupid idea right now. Not so stupid when (and if) the ice on the Moon runs out. There may be far more ice than is expected. Don’t try and start an argument because I am not going to do it- I will just not approve your replies. For the first “true” spaceships on voyages to the outer solar system there is the option of ISRU on icy bodies to fill the slugs attached to nuclear pulse units (bombs). I commented on this technique on Dr. Spudis’ blog some years ago. There is even the option of using up the cosmic ray water shield in this fashion when returning to a Lunar Cycler or other orbit and a subsequent immediate rendezvous to replenish that shield. I told you what I think as you asked now let’s move on.


  2. I’m not arguing, and I wasn’t referring to the asteroid belt, but the near-Earth asteroids. There are some thousands of them – anything that can reach or land on the Moon could reach many hundreds of them as well. We didn’t know much about them in O’Neill’s day, but that isn’t a reason to ignore them when they’d be a good source of volatiles that the Moon just doesn’t have.


    1. It is more likely there ARE volatiles in subsurface comet ice on the Moon than not. So your “just doesn’t have” is one more example of that NewSpace Kool-Aid you have been guzzling. As for NEO’s, there are only a dozen ERO (Easily Recoverable Objects) known and they are all around 60 feet in diameter. Maybe you can’t find a reason to ignore that but I can.


  3. You misunderstand me. I’m not saying the Moon has no volatiles at all, only that it isn’t a good source of them – meaning, enough to satisfy a population of billions for millennia. I’m curious where you’re getting only a dozen; is it the paper ‘Easily Retrievable Objects Among the NEO Population’? Their criterion for ERO is less than 500 m/s, which is well under the ΔV required for transit to LLO and then landing (which comes out to be roughly 6,000 m/s). I’m getting my information from Asteroid Mining 101, which says there are roughly 2,200 currently known NEAs that are easier to access than the Moon, with at least 200 of those being 1 kilometer or larger in diameter.

    If it turns out that the Moon does have a large hitherto unknown source of nitrates, organics, salts, phosphates, sulfur, and carbonates, that would be excellent. I am in favor of deploying as many prospectors and rovers to the Moon as we can afford to find all the useful resources that we can. That being said, there is no law or reason that says we can’t mine the Moon for what it has in abundance – silicon, oxygen, aluminum, titanium, iron, magnesium, and so on – and mine the asteroids that we can reach for the same or less ΔV at the same time. O’Neill himself wrote of eventually abandoning lunar mines for asteroid mining exclusively, especially as humanity’s habitats began ranging farther from Earth.


    1. No, I did not “misunderstand” Hug; those NEAs are not easier to access if you are already on the Moon. See how that works? If the volatiles have to be transported from icy bodies then that is what will happen, but the Moon is the first source to explore and exploit. I know exactly what you are trying to do by arguing for everything except the Moon. NewSpace proponents have been going by that playbook for years. It is stupid and part of their obvious scam but you will keep going back to it because that is what your gang does.


  4. What? I want to do both lunar and asteroid mining – as I said, the Moon has a lot of useful raw materials in abundance. I even listed them. Where is that arguing against exploiting the Moon? I’ll say it again: we can and should do *both*. As for easier to access: we’re starting from Earth’s surface, not from the surface of the Moon. Yes, certainly, if we were starting from the lunar surface it would be nonsense to then go to the asteroids for things we can already find on the Moon, but we aren’t. And space colonies won’t care where their resources come from so long as it’s for a price they can afford.


    1. “-if we were starting from the lunar surface it would be nonsense- but we aren’t.”

      It is nonsense because we will be starting from the lunar surface.

      What you are arguing for is transparently stupid. It has nothing to do with what is affordable.


  5. How can we start from the lunar surface when we have nothing operational there now? Why be slavishly devoted to one and only one approach? O’Neill wrote with great favor toward asteroid mining, so are you really going to claim that’s transparently stupid because it isn’t precisely what you want? Didn’t you work for the military? Have you forgotten how rarely we get exactly what we want? Why are you so unwilling to compromise and admit anyone else might have a grasp on what’s practical and valuable?


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