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Lunar Convoys As An Option For A Return To The Moon

add water and people and presto you have a functioning lunar world
by William H. Knuth
Madison - Mar 02, 2004
The scientific community now believes there is water on the Moon. To some, this suggests a grand opportunity, and so it can be. However, the Moon's water, if there, is thought to be located near the poles, in deep, permanently-shadowed craters, as ice that is possibly buried, or at least mixed with lunar regolith. Special equipment will be needed to mine this enabling resource. A practical way to go after the lunar water is with the resources of a lunar colony.

An on-site team can carry out the work to install and operate the water mining system in a relatively short time. It would take decades of robotic equipment development just to get started otherwise, and our real lunar colony aspirations would languish.

The colony's productivity and survivability will clearly benefit from water in abundance, so we need to take ample water with the colonists when they go, even though they will have a high priority on learning to obtain long term water supplies from the lunar ice reservoirs. This avenue of thought leads to consideration of plans on how best to return people to the Moon. Some say it is far too expensive and far too risky. But is it?

Here's how it might be done. Christopher Columbus knew that it was safer to attempt a long voyage across uncharted oceans by taking a convoy of ships. If one ship faltered, or fell off the edge of the world, there were still two ships left to attempt recovery of the sailors from the lost ship, possibly still accomplish the voyage, and to make the homeward journey.

During the WW-II, supply ships went in convoys, which included escort by fighting ships. By using ships of different types and functions to deal with the various mission needs, safety was enhanced and massive cargo deliveries were made to our Allies on a regular basis. Some ships were lost as were some lives, but often many sailors were recovered and the objectives of the convoys were achieved.

This is highly analogous to the suggestion that we convene lunar ship convoys for return to the Moon. One can readily foresee a lunar convoy of ten ships for example. The ships would be assembled in orbit at a space depot. Propellants would be generated at a nearby water (ice) storage depot made up of upper stage propellant tanks as well as payload containers, boosted by large water tankers.

There solar energy is being continually harvested to produce LOX and LH2 by water electrolysis. Ammonia and hydrogen peroxide would also be stored in their frozen states at the depot. Frozen storage minimizes slosh and leakage issues and the solid phase of hydrogen peroxide may permit safe storage without degradation.

The transition from the frozen state to useable liquids may also provide convenient heat sink capability for the depot. These two propellants are a complementary addition to the water storage. They provide additional sources of energy, nitrogen and the ability to formulate other propellants as well as to produce air-like gas mixtures for shirtsleeve working environments on the depots and in the convoy craft. The ammonia may also be used as a convenient refrigerant.

The large orbiting space depot complex would be made possible by industrial launch vehicles, capable of placing payloads of 200-400 tons in stable parking orbits at costs of on the order of $500/lb. These launchers, proven at modest risk during the water delivery flights to the depot, would bring the ship sections to the depot for final assembly and preparation for the regular round trips to the Moon. Conceptual designs of these large launchers have been prepared by this writer and others such as Robert Truax, and proposals presented for their engineering study.

All ships would have manned compartments, and each can serve as Lunar return craft. Six ships are cargo ships. One is wholly a tanker ship and carries the main water supply. Two others carry reserve water supplies, in addition to the return trip propellants. The three remaining cargo ships carry the necessary equipment for habitat emplacement, and colony necessities.

Four ships are crew carriers. These four ships each have the on-board ability, in the form of ascent stages, to exit the lunar surface and rendezvous with ships still in lunar orbit. The convoy makes the transit to the Moon and enters a lunar parking orbit. The order of descent to the surface on the first trip is selected to assure safe passage home by all crew members if there is an unplanned event in the progress of the work. First the water tanker lands, stabilizes and powers up its systems, demonstrating functionality.

Next the crew carriers descend one by one. Each one stabilizes and interconnects to the water tanker, before another ship descends. Finally, all four crew ships are on the surface, and interconnected via the water tanker node. The two propellant tankers are also manned but remain in orbit. They can be called down for emergency support, but primarily they are to be used to ferry the return ships back to Earth.

They have the return trip propellants, and have retained an important increment of velocity for the trip home. The small lunar ascent stages will rendezvous with them, dock, and make the return trip together. Once again in Earth orbit, the ships will rendezvous with the space depot for crew transfer and refueling. Regular trips will become routine, and the lunar colony will grow and thrive to become our first state on the Moon.

Some may view such plans as incredibly expensive, indeed prohibitively so. However, one may consider what we have been doing in the past three or four decades. If we consider the future value of money for the space technology investments we made since we were last on the Moon, on programs such as Space Shuttle, NASP, STAS, NLV, ASLV, HLV, HLLV, Shuttle-C, NGLT, ALS, 2nd Gen, 3rd Gen, etc., as well as the monies we have spent on the X-33 and other limited-productivity ventures, we would see that we could have easily funded a program such as outlined here.

NASA's budget has been relatively stable for some years around $12B-$14B+ annually. In 10 years with no interest added, that amounts to over $120 Billion. Extend that to the 24 years since say just 1980, and add compound interest at 4%, the amount exceeds a staggering $500 Billion . And for which we have to show: space access that costs in excess of $10,000/lb to LEO, an aging shuttle fleet, a hard-to-get-to space station, and a readiness to abandon the Hubble space telescope.

And this does not take into account what the DoD has spent on space technology pursuits, annual dollar amounts that actually exceed NASA's budget, and should have also had major spin-off benefits to the Nation's space program. If we continue for another 20 years in the modes we are now pursuing , we will still be sitting here, having spent well over a trillion dollars on space and still be stuck here on Earth.

We indeed can support the startup cost of lunar colony development. And for such a case, the growing lunar enterprise would be structured to become a profitable economic venture from space tourism, space manufacturing, weightless, and low gravity habitats, hospitals, resorts, hospices, and the like as well as universities, and as a scientific and technical base for eventual excursions to our neighbor planets.

The technology would support development of profitable Earth-orbiting space depots for satellite servicing, and other space operations such as manned weather observation stations, and production of advanced materials and chemicals not feasible on Earth, or that are not environmentally allowable. It would also support asteroid mining, and asteroid mapping to prevent the possible catastrophic entry of an oversized asteroid into the Earth's atmosphere.

At some future time, (not too distant) energy needs on Earth will outgrow our terrestrial energy supplies and the sale of lunar-mined Helium-3 to Earth for low cost energy raw material could potentially be another economic growth area. The technology resulting from this national program would have obvious technology benefits for national security.

The program should be structured to take financial advantage of such technology benefits, so that we guide a portion of the defense and national security spending to increase the scope that we can contemplate for the Moon colony venture. The lunar enterprise will spark a technology renaissance such as we have not seen since the industrial revolution early in the 20th century, except this time on a much higher technical level.

This venture will produce a major economic boost to the nation; spark a new period of technical interest and excitement in the nation's young generations, and can become a national unifying source of common great goals, and national solidarity.

I say, yes! Let's go to the Moon. Let's go now. Let's use the technologies, know how, and resources we have today, and go the Moon. Really go! Not in timid, tiny steps with toys, but with abundant resources, firm resolve, keen foresight, and national daring, and the pioneering spirit that has brought America to our place as technology leaders in the world, and has given us a nation under God with moral fortitude and boundless courage.

Today we have the best technology that has ever existed in the history of the world, and we can invent more as we need it. We are able to design, build, and emplace manned depots in near-Earth space. From there we can go to the Moon. And from the Moon, Mars is a far shorter technical (and financial) step. Come on. Let's go! Those who hold back should answer the questions: If not now, when? If not us, who?

William H. Knuth is Chief Engineer with Orbital Technologies Corporation of Madison, Wisconsin. He can be contacted via SpaceDaily -

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SMART-1 Ion Engine Switched Off and Commissioning Begins
Paris (ESA) Feb 09, 2004
The spacecraft is now in its 207th orbit, in good status and with all functions performing nominally. As in previous weeks, the ion drive has only generated thrust around the perigee point to fine-tune the altitude of the apogee point. This strategy has produced a noticeable increase in apogee height, see plot below, which is necessary to minimize the duration of eclipse periods that will occur during March.

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