Mars is more often than not in the news these days as the primary focus for future human settlement, having surpassed the moon as everyone’s number one go to in the popular consciousness.
Though the moon might no longer be foremost in everyone’s mind when it comes to space colonisation, it’s still front and centre for a number of space agencies.
NASA, the European Space Agency, Roscosmos, the Indian Space Research Agency and the Chinese National Space Administration are all progressing plans to build everything from an International Lunar Village to an operational moon base on our satellite.
One of the challenges that has confronted these various space agencies as they seek to put a permanent settlement on the moon, has been how do they build the various structures without bankrupting their respective countries?
Taking materials from Earth and launching them to the moon is time consuming and incredibly expensive. Multiple launches would be needed to build anything big enough to house a research facility or even a mining operation, with each of those launches costing millions of dollars.
Now, however, European researchers are wondering if they can use moon dust to build an International Lunar Village.
The entire surface of the moon is covered in regolith (moon dust), which is fairly fine particles of silicate. The regolith covers everything on the surface of the moon to a depth of between four to five meters, going as deep as 15 meters in the Lunar highlands.
European scientists suggest the dust could be used to create bricks using a 3D Printer. These bricks would build roads, launch pads, habitats and other necessary facilities.
Tests are currently planned to see how the regolith will withstand radiation once it is compressed and used as a building material.
The big thing is that Lunar dust is electrostatic because it is constantly bombarded by solar and cosmic radiation. It’s electrostatic nature is what causes it to cling to everything it touches. This could pose a problem and may prevent it from being a common building material, but we’ll know more soon.
The tests won’t actually be done using real moon dust, but an Earth substance that is comparable – volcanic soil. The geology of Earth and Lunar is very similar, and scientists have discovered that remnants of a 45-million-year lava flow near Cologne in Germany closely mirrors moon dust. Using that volcanic dust should give them an accurate idea of whether or not the moon dust will be a viable material.
The tests will not only determine functionality under radioactive extremes, but the actual longevity of any structure built using the material.
So, what about this lunar village?
The image above of a bisected habitat module was created by architectural design and engineering firm Foster+Partners for the European Space Agency. The proposed building looks appropriately futuristic, and a little Space: 1999. Which I love!
The ESA plans to build the village in the southern polar region, where a good deposit of ice water has been discovered.
In a joint effort between the ESA and Roscosmos, the ESA will be sending their PROSPECT (Package for Resource Observation and in-Situ Prospecting for Exploration, Commercial exploitation and Transportation) mission to the moon in 2020 aboard a Russian Luna-27 mission.
This will be the first of a series of planned ESA missions to the moon, that will, the ESA hopes, deposit robot workers to help kick start their colonisation efforts.
This is all exciting news. I do wish NASA were more involved, but perhaps that will happen as the missions draw closer to launch, or perhaps NASA has their own plans that they just aren’t ready to share with us.
To learn more about these exciting initiatives, visit Phys.org, Space.com, and Syfy.com.
I love it when we take one step closer to life off our planet. Let’s face facts and be proactive, Earth is stretched beyond it’s capacity to safely support human life and we need to be reaching for the stars if we hope to have any kind of future.
We’ll keep you up to date on this initiative as more information is released to the public.