June 2017 Astronautics

How to build a Moon base cheaply

Alexander Mayboroda AVANTA-Consulting, Russia

With interests in establishing a base on the Moon on the rise again, while some look at how to get there, others look at how to stay there – for the long term. Alexander Mayboroda, an advocate for space colonisation, guides us through the technological challenges faced by those hoping to establish a base on the Moon and ways to get around the spiralling cost associated with such an endeavour.

Almost half a century has passed since man first visited the Moon. However, most projects for creating humanity’s outpost on the Moon never made it past the drawing board due to their expensive implementation. In a 2009 study, the Center for Strategic and International Studies suggested a lunar base would cost $35 billion to construct and $7.35 billion a year to maintain. It is clear therefore that until the cost of space access is lowered the situation with building a base on the Moon is unlikely to change.

Considering the current level of rocket and other space technology development, it is more profitable to create industrial facilities on asteroids compared to the Moon. Private companies that have declared plans to mine platinoids and rare metals outside of Earth are looking at asteroids first. There is far less interest in business plans to mine resources on the Moon. At the same time, it takes a week to get to the Moon and back, whereas visiting an NEA group asteroid takes years. From an investment point of view, due to the possibility of quick equipment depreciation, mining on the Moon is potentially more lucrative than mining an asteroid.

Aside from providing a stunning backdrop to the night sky that has wowed humanity for thousands of years, the Moon has many valuable resources; just like an asteroid, it is home to metals that are rare on Earth and both uranium and platinum-based metals can be found there. It is somewhat macabre, but it can also be thought of as an asteroid cemetery of sorts, as for billions of years, asteroids that contained metals have bombarded the Moon’s surface. Essentially there is no real need to chase asteroids and waste years on a lengthy trip, it’s enough to simply look under the regolith surface of the Moon for metal asteroid fragments – and in order to do that a base is needed.

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