Joel Sercel (right) is assisted in demonstrating lunar power tower concept by Texas A&M researchers, Ali Hasnain Khowaja and Muhao Chen.
Credit: Leonard David/Inside Outer Space

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – Moon propellant mining outposts can grow into lunar cities. A futuristic architecture promises to greatly reduce the cost of human exploration and industrialization of Earth’s celestial next-door-neighbor.

Power towers fully deployed.
Credit: TransAstra Corporation/Anthony Longman

“A lunar outpost can evolve into a tourist destination and then a town, and then a city,” reports Joel Sercel of TransAstra Corporation. He presented preliminary results of Phase 1 work supported by the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program’s 2019 Symposium, held here September 24-26.

Power towers

One fresh aspect of Sercel’s lunar-polar propellant mining outpost proposal is how best to get power into dark places…that is, water ice-rich craters that haven’t seen the light of the Sun for ages. His patent-pending suggestion: a deployable, 3-stage packaged “power tower” that has its feet stabilized in permafrost and its head in the Sun perpetually. The tower is topped by a 1.5 megawatt solar panel.

Lunar north pole ice favorability index.
Credit: Kevin Cannon, UCF

How tall the power tower? “It looks like a kilometer is really quite reasonable…able to attain 93 percent continuous illumination,” Sercel said. Lunar power towers are mass efficient and an affordable approach to powering a lunar mining system, solving the power problem at high lunar latitude in many locations, he advised.

Ice favorability index

But where is the water? How to get and store the power? How to get the water?

Sercel points to new work by Kevin Cannon at the University of Central Florida’s (UCF) Center for Lunar and Asteroid Surface Science, a part of NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute housed at UCF.

Cannon has created an “ice favorability index,” places on the Moon that have had the longest exposure to extreme cold and darkness in shadow. At the lunar north pole, Sercel and team mates see both high ice favorability and plentiful solar power availability with modest power tower height requirements in a very unique high altitude glen that has a broad shallow depression located between the craters Whipple and Hinshelwood.

Cutaway of habitats
underneath regolith shielding.
Credit: TransAstra Corporation/Anthony Longman

While too soon to quantify just how much water may be present, “this is a very awesome place,” Sercel said, labeling it perhaps a “New Mesopotamia” – a region of southwest Asia in the Tigris and Euphrates river system that hosted the beginnings of human civilization.

Mining rovers

Coupled to power towers, site location, and regolith-buried habitats, Sercel’s NIAC study also proposes use of Radiant Gas Dynamic (RGD) mining rovers.

These rovers enable water collection without digging over massive areas on the Moon. RGD mining is a new patent pending technology invented by TransAstra to solve the problem of economically and reliably prospecting and extracting large quantities (1,000s of tons per year) of volatile materials from lunar regolith using landed packages of just a few tons each.

The intent of Sercel’s NIAC work is to vastly reduce the cost of establishing and maintaining a sizable lunar polar outpost “that can serve first as a field station for NASA astronauts exploring the Moon, and then as the beachhead for American lunar industrialization, starting with fulfilling commercial plans for a lunar hotel for tourists.”

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