The race to colonize our solar system and beyond is in full swing. There’s already an agreement between China and the European Space Agency (ESA) to set up a moon station. Intended to team up with private companies, the big agencies obviously have a clear vision for lunar exploration.
NASA and the Trump administration are favoring private, US-based companies like SpaceX and even investment communities focusing on the moon, as well.
Ambitions to achieve and reach milestones before going all in on Mars are driving factors. A lunar station just seems to be the next logical step. The NASA Scope and Subject Category Guide shows a lot of areas that will be exploited and its Space Technology Roadmap comes up with many interesting projects. It could start with the Deep Space Gateway, a new spaceport that orbits the moon, followed by smart robots that not only will build stations on the moon but seem destined to supply the earth with electricity produced on our satellite.
There are already designs for an inflatable greenhouse enabling us to farm on the moon sustainable. In other words, the days on the moon will be packed.
Now a new paper published in the journal New Space clearly states, that NASA is developing a lunar station continuing the work that has already been done with the International Space Station (ISS). Lessons learned from this kind of architecture will be applied to take the next step described as beyond low-earth-orbit (LEO) space development.
Besides the aforementioned scope, this lunar station will serve as a testing ground, hopefully producing new technologies that will serve as a catalyst for later settlements on Mars.
NASA’s Space Portal authors, namely Robert Bruce Pittman, Lynn D Harper, Mark E Newfield and Daniel J Rasky, summarized this aspect in the paper:
“It [Lunar Station] can provide a testing and proving ground for a variety of important advanced technologies and capabilities, including robotics, ISRU, resource depots, deep-space crew habitats, closed-loop life support, in-space propulsion, optical communication, and space-additive manufacturing [further elaborating that] the Lunar Station will give our space program a much-needed logical next step to strengthen its relevance to the US public, its leadership in the international community, and its technical cutting edge.”
The hope is that the station will be fully operational within 5 years and costs are predicted to gobble up roughly $2bn a year. NASA will be supporting a permanent crew of 6 to 10 people, quite similar to the ISS, allowing for wider concerted efforts that also benefit the stakeholder’s commercial activities in addition to the envisioned scientific work.
The paper elaborates further, that:
“The Lunar Station community would jointly develop and share infrastructure as well as separately develop and own specific capabilities […] Activities would range from scientific research and technology development to resource mining and processing and to human exploration of the Moon and even tourism.”
After all the hype and buzz concerning potential Mars missions, this paper might be a disappointment to some. Rest assured, the ultimate goal is still a settlement on Mars and most likely on other moons of our solar system. However, space development is a risky business and our Moon is and always will be the perfect starting point.