Michael Weinhoffer/Senior Reporter
Between April 3 and April 6, the thirty-third Space Symposium was held in Colorado Springs. This event is the largest gathering of space professionals in the world, and although national space issues are the primary focus, international perspectives are invited as well.
On April 4, European Space Agency (ESA) Director General Jan Woerner re-introduced a project that has been in development for several years: the “Moon Village.” Because the Moon Village project is likely the next international collaborative program in outer space, it warrants discussion and open debate among several space agencies.
The Moon Village concept was formally introduced last March by the Director General, and an animated video describing the project can be found on the ESA website.
The Moon Village is a proposed permanent base on the Moon, with several space agencies combining their efforts to make the base sustainable and suitable for humans.
This is the most concrete proposal for a lunar base yet, and the base has a very elegant design. Participating agencies will contribute what they can to their project to create an international habitat.
This is the most concrete proposal for a lunar base yet…
The project will begin by determining the best location for a permanent base on the Moon using current data or new surveying satellites. The south pole of the Moon seems to be the best spot because of the presence of ice water and constant sunlight, which will make the base fully suitable for humans.
Next, an unmanned lunar lander will land on the Moon and robotically deploy the inflatable habitats for the base. Subsequent landers will deliver other supplies before astronauts arrive. Having the base set up before the astronauts’ land is critical so they can get to work right away without worrying about living essentials.
Many lunar rovers will also be sent to the Moon around the same time to start excavating lunar regolith, which includes lunar rocks, soil and dust. The lunar excavators will place many layers of regolith on the exterior of the habitats, so the vital structures are protected from radiation and micrometeoroid impacts. Completely covering all the lunar modules robotically with regolith will take a long time, but it is the best way to protect the astronauts, as the Moon is a much more dangerous environment than the Earth.
Structures may also be 3-D printed by lunar rovers, which would be even a better solution than inflatable structures. It will take years of construction work on the Moon, but the Director General is confident that the project will be successful and serve as a new model of international collaboration in outer space.
At the Space Symposium, the project was supported by the rapidly expanding Chinese National Space Administration, the Russian space agency Roscosmos and the State Space Agency of Ukraine. NASA recently announced the Deep Space Gateway, which is a small space station designed for human trips to Mars. The station will be placed in lunar orbit, and although Mars technology may be tested on the Moon by NASA, the administration has not expressed interest in participating in the Moon Village project.
The Italian space agency, quite surprisingly, does not support the project but has set its eyes on Mars instead.
With the future of the ISS being unclear when federal funding expires after 2024, I think that this Moon Village project is the next appropriate international space program. Space agencies should use the Moon as a gateway to Mars, just like the ISS is a gateway to space.
The project will completely expand our space efforts beyond earth and leave earth’s orbit to private companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Boeing, the Sierra Nevada Corporation, and many more.
There is no current schedule for the project, but hopefully, some work on the Moon will be underway by the mid-2020s.
Although there are currently no lunar backhoes or dump-trucks designed yet, I am confident that the technology will become available in the near-future. I think that this project is more logical than just jumping to Mars like NASA, and it could greatly alter how we use resources in outer space.
Establishing a base on the Moon will be another small step towards going where no man has gone before and will serve as a new model of international cooperation in the peaceful use of outer space for all of humankind.