Science Fiction and Adventure

The Hive, Red Moon, Star Pirates, and Das Bell

Staking a claim to the Moon

The People’s Republic of China has certainly made no secret of its ambitions to be a first rate space power.  This includes manned orbital flights, the first of which occurred on October 15th of 2003, the planned building of space stations and a goal of a manned moon landing before 2020.  While the extension of humanity’s quest for knowledge into space should be a cause for celebration, those member nations of the international space community should view these plans with some concern.  China has not been a participant in the International Space Station and as a nation of over one-billion individuals has an agenda all their own.  The Chinese have gone to great lengths to obtain Western technology and, from their space craft designs, based upon the Russian Soyuz capsule, it would appear they have acquired Russian technology as well.  One of the more curious incidents that should arouse concern was the launch accident that occurred in February of 1996, when a Chinese heavy launch rocket explode twenty-two seconds after lift-off, showering a populated area several miles from the launch site with debris and killing over five hundred people. Interestingly, had this explosion happened slightly later in the rocket’s flight path, recovery of the payload would have been impossible. This rocket was carrying an American made Intelsat with a guidance system that was strictly off limits to the Chinese.  An American team accompanied the satellite to China and was present at the launch.  After the explosion, most of the satellite was recovered except the highly sensitive guidance system.  The American team was barred from the crash site because of “safety concerns”.  There are those in the intelligence community who believe that this was no accident and that the highly sophisticated guidance system was recovered by the Chinese.  This device would give Chinese ICBMs far greater accuracy in hitting their targets with multiple nuclear warheads than was possible with China’s existing technology. Again, in 2006, China’s use of space caused considerable concern with their successful test of a very accurate and destructive anti-satellite weapon.  This device could not only threaten surveillance and communications satellites but large space structures such as the International Space Station and even the Space Shuttle.  This should heighten our level of concern for the future peaceful use of space and China’s plans, especially for the Moon. for like the robber barons of old, that controlled the waterways along Europe’s rivers, collecting huge fees for commerce, China as the dominate entity in space could set the rules for the use of space by the rest of us.

 

The 1967 Treaty of Outer Space provides that no one nation may lay claim to a celestial body, such as the Moon, but as they say, possession is nine tenths of the law and if China, with an aggressive moon landing program decides to claim areas of the Moon for China, there is not much the international community can do about it. The Moon is the ultimate high ground.  Control the Moon and you effectively control the trans-lunar space around the Earth. That is why it is vitally important that the United States and our international partners prevent any such opportunities for the Chinese to impinge or restrict our commercial and economic use of space through any sort of militarization of the Moon.   If the theory that frozen water, left over from comet impacts is really present on the Moon in the perpetual night of the lunar south-pole, then a resource that would rival the discovery of Gold in the 1500’s in the New World would exist. Like the discovery of gold in the 1500s, it would set off national conflicts to own and control this resource.  Having access to frozen water on the Moon would mean a readily available source of oxygen, water of course and hydrogen for rocket fuel, making a moon base the stepping stone to the planets as well as a treasure chest of minerals and chemicals that could easily be refined and sent back to low Earth orbit as processed materials that could then be returned to Earth. If the West and our Russian partners do not want to have our activities in space controlled and we do not wish to be dictated to, then we need to make certain that the Moon is kept open and unimpeded for exploration and commercial commerce.  We need to get back to the Moon and establish a permanent presence. This can be done relatively quickly and economically using mostly existing technology.

 

Getting anything really large into space is very expensive, around $10,000 per pound and getting anything large to the Moon is even worse.  Case in point: the Apollo missions that left with a huge 365 foot tall rocket and returned with a space capsule that you could comfortably park inside your living room. However, we can benefit from a lot of hardware just sitting around that could be put to good use.  This will require a joint effort between the US and Russia or at best we will have to buy or lease Russian hardware,  My plan would involve the use of one or two of the four Salyut Space Stations still in storage at the Baikonur Launch Complex.. A Salyut station is a smaller version of the MIR and can be launched as a complete assembly into Earth orbit. From there a US Space Shuttle could ferry up the engines and fuel in the form of a “space tug” system and attach these to the Salyut. A second Shuttle could carry up a refurbished and updated Lunar Lander, of which several are still available. A lunar lander would be mated to the Salyut with a docking collar. Lastly the return or ferry vehicle, a Soyuz spacecraft would be attached to the space station.  The Salyut would carry a Lunar Habitat, an inflatable structure made of Kevlar materials.  This technology has already been designed and tested by Robert Bigelow or Bigelow Aerospace. His intended uses of these structures are as space stations but the concept and the design could be easily modified for use on the lunar surface. The lunar lander could even carry one of the “Moon Carts” for extended exploration.

 

The Mission: The Salyut awaits its crew in orbit who have been ferried up in a Space Shuttle and travel from the International Space Station in a modified Soyuz Spacecraft. They Dock and prepare the Salyut for launch.  After activating the tug engine, they move out of Earth orbit and, after three days, arrive at the moon, settling into a fifty mile high orbit above the lunar surface.  After selecting the landing area, the inflatable structure is deployed robotically and settles down upon the Moon.  Its systems deploy and inflate the structure and it sits ready for occupancy.  After checking out the systems of the lander, two of the three person Salyut crew board the lander and descend to the lunar surface, using the habitat over a period of several weeks for exploration of the Moon and establishing manufacturing experiments as well as identifying geological resources.

 

After a few weeks, the upper stage of the lander returns to the Salyut and two of the crew return in the Soyuz to the ISS and later to Earth aboard a shuttle or another Soyuz. This leaves one crew member on board the Salyut to await the next crew in about ten days. At the same time, a replacement Soyuz with a fresh crew, this time giving the station in lunar orbit, a complement four individuals, returns to the Salyut with another lunar lander.  While this activity is underway a new lunar lander would be developed and tested that could be reusable over and over again to ferry crew member between the lunar habitat and the Salyut in lunar orbit.  This plan would get us to the Moon at a minimal cost, establish an international presence on the Moon and assure that the global interests of the West and our Russian partners are not held hostage by China down the road.  The only new piece of hardware that requires development is a new reusable lunar lander and this would be necessary anyway if we are serious about establishing a real moon base at some point in the future.

 

I would urge those at NASA as well as our Russian partners and those who are concerned about China’s ultimate goals in the use of space to consider this plan seriously.

 

Chris Berman

 

Accounced in October of 2011:  Russia plans an unmanned mission to the Moon in 2014 to collect frozen water at the lunar south pole.

 

After many years of hiatus, scientists at the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences will resume Russia’s Moon-exploration program with the launch of the Luna-Glob probe in 2014. They have chosen six locations for landing automatic stations, similar to the Lunakhod rovers landed several decades ago.

The Luna-Glob probe was designed for studying the Moon’s Polar Regions after NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter discovered the presence of water ice in polar craters that are constantly in the sun’s shadow. This was a significant discovery because the polar environment is so different from the territories studied by the Russian and American “Luna” and “Apollo” programs.

The pores of the moon’s soil (called lunar regolith) are filled with water. This is similar to the earth’s permafrost and can be described as “lunar permafrost”. The Luna-Glob probe will study its properties using special equipment, which will assess the content of water in the soil. It has a mechanical hand to collect the samples of soil at depths up to two meters. These samples will be analyzed in detail by equipment onboard the probe. The results will help reveal from where water appeared on the Moon and also on the Earth because our planet was originally dry and hot, says the institute’s Igor Mitrofanov.

“Possibly, comets brought water onto the Moon and also the Earth. There are two significant differences between the Earth and Moon. The Earth has a stronger gravitational field and a thick atmosphere. Owing to this the Earth could hold out, water and rivers, lakes and oceans appeared, and later, all this led to the origin of life. The Moon has no atmosphere and has a weak gravitational field. Water on its surface can be only under the conditions of extreme cold,” Igor said.

Water is necessary not only for research purposes. It is an important resource for the exploration of the Moon, which will be most likely started from the poles.

“When question arises about manned expeditions and setting up of lunar stations, water resources should guarantee the station with oxygen and water for day to day use and can be used to produce hydrogen, an excellent fuel for rockets. At present, we are engaged in hydrology surveillance for the exploration of the Moon in the future,” Igor Mitrofanov said.

Luna-Glob will be the first sign of Russia’s return to a comprehensive program to study the Moon. The mission will deploy 4 high speed penetrators, leftover from the cancelled japanese Lunar-A project, as well as a polar probe. The probe will be equipped with a radio beacon, which will help other probes to land on planned areas with great accuracy. Several other missions, including the Luna-Resurs will start creating a robotized base on the Moon. This, on its part, will prepare everything necessary for landing a manned mission.