MOONBASE SURFACE STRUCTURES


Image Courtesy NASA

Landing Pad
Tech Level: 10
Lighted Walkways/Rover Paths
Tech Level: 10
Power Distribution Network
Tech Level: 10
Solar Cell Farm
Tech Level: 10
Modular Nuclear Generator
Tech Level: 10
Automated Science Stations
Tech Level: 10
Supply Depot
Tech Level: 10
Fuel Tower
Tech Level: 10
Antennae Array
Tech Level: 10
Solar Boiler
Tech Level: 11
Vehicle Assembly and Maintenance Facility
Tech Level: 12
Automated Lunar Factory
Tech Level: 13
Electromagnetic Launcher
Tech Level: 13

This article discusses many of the structures that will be necessary for a thriving lunar outpost, outside of the main habitats and manned modules. Even though a manned moonbase is still at least ten to twenty-five years away, putting it technically at Tech Level 12, the technology used to build many of these structures is available today. Hence many of these structures’ Tech Level is less than that of a moonbase itself.

Several of the space powers have committed themselves to the long-range goal of establishing a permanent base on the Moon. Together with "Moonbase Modules," this article is meant to provide readers with a detailed description of all the components that will be necessary to construct, maintain, and expand such an outpost, so they can appreciate the scale such a project would entail.


LANDING PAD
Tech Level: 10

An obvious necessity for any celestial outpost on another world, this is a cleared, level, well-maintained space for spaceships to land, take off, and be attended to. Would have to be outfitted with landing lights, navigational beacons, and other necessities to help guide ships in.


LIGHTED WALKWAYS/ROVER PATHS

Depending on where it is located, a moonbase can be plunged into unbroken darkness for weeks at a time. Lighting often-traversed paths taken by astronauts on EVA duty would be a prudent safety precaution. Just like in street lighting, the light sources would have to be bright enough to illuminate their surroundings without being so bright as to cause glare and night blindness.


POWER DISTRIBUTION NETWORK
Tech Level: 10

Basically the power lines, conduits, transformer stations, and other equipment necessary to carry energy from power production facilities to all parts of the moonbase. Most likely would be mostly underground and marked clearly with lights and/or flags.


SOLAR CELL FARM
Tech Level: 10

A moonbase will need a lot of energy to run, and one of the most practical and readily-available source of power will be solar cell arrays. Unlike with space stations and satellites, weight and size of solar cells on the moon are not a limiting factor. Solar cells arrays can be hundreds, even thousands, of meters across, spread over the lunar surface surrounding the moonbase. These very large, land-based collection of solar cells are sometimes called "farms." Current solar cell technology would allow for very efficient conversion of the unfiltered sunlight on the moon into electrical current, giving a moonbase a potentially potent source for long-range energy needs.

Some spots near the lunar poles receive constant sunlight. Most other locations for a moonbase would have to endure the long lunar night, so enough solar cells would have to laid out for a power surplus to charge the batteries that would last throughout the extended period of darkness. Solar cell would most likely not be a moonbase’s only power source, and would be supplemented by batteries, fuel cells, and nuclear power.


MODULAR NUCLEAR GENERATOR
Tech Level: 10

Basically, this is an advanced nuclear fission reactor that’s fully assembled on Earth and used pretty much as-is once it arrives on the moon. The fission fuel may be launched separately in heavily-reinforced canisters to placate the public that a launch mishap would not inadvertently scatter the toxic material over any inhabited area on Earth.

The moon has no native ecology, and the handling of radioactive fuel and waste there need only concern itself with the safety of the humans in the base. Chances are the reactor would be buried, either put into an excavated pit or covered over in bags filled with lunar dust, as a precaution nonetheless. A nuclear reactor likely wouldn’t be a moonbase’s only source of power. Batteries, fuel cells, and solar cell arrays would also be present to supplement the local power grid.


AUTOMATED SCIENCE STATIONS
Tech Level: 10

One of the primary purposes of the first moonbase will be scientific. Astronauts will likely spend much of their time setting up, tending to, and analyzing data from automated science stations near their base. Types of stations include seismic monitors, deep-drilling stations, automated observatories, solar wind particle counters, geology labs, and more.


SUPPLY DEPOT
Tech Level: 10

Basically, an unpressurized storage facility. It may or may not have provisions so supply life support, but even if so would be kept in vacuum for the majority of the time to conserve on power and air.



FUEL TOWER
Tech Level: 10

A tower used to store the fuel used by spacecraft for local excursions and to return to Earth. Like in similar towers on Earth, the liquid fuel would be kept elevated to help create pressure in feed lines. Fuel towers could also double as water towers for life support needs.


ANTENNA ARRAY
Tech Level: 10

Typical radio towers and masts may be used to facilitate local communication, but to talk to ships and satellites in orbit as well as send messages to Earth, large communication dishes will need to be set up. These may be set away for the rest of the base, in order to ensure that local radio traffic and machinery does not interfere too much with transmissions.

The Antenna Array would also contain radar and other sensors the moonbase would require.


SOLAR BOILER
Tech Level: 11

An alternative way of generating power on the moon is to use what basically amounts to a very advanced steam turbine system. Large, gimbaled mirrors concentrate sunlight on an enclosed chamber containing water, superheating the liquid within into steam. This steam is channeled to drive electrical turbines. The steam is then driven into pipes and chambers that are in permanent shadow on the surface. In the vacuum conditions on the moon, temperatures in shadow can easily plummet to hundreds of degrees below zero. The steam quickly recondenses into water, and then is pumped back to the mirror focal point in a closed-cycle system.

Solar Boiler systems require many moving parts as well as a complicated plumbing system that will often be under high pressure, making it one of the more maintenance-heavy means of supplying power in space. However, it has the capability of generating large amounts of electricity more quickly than solar cells, and has the advantage of not requiring or generating potentially toxic radioactive material like a nuclear reactor.


VEHICLE ASSEMBLY AND MAINTENANCE FACILITY
Tech Level: 12

Once a moonbase is fully established and active, the personnel will need the means to travel over its surface comfortably and quickly. At first, most vehicles would be shipped to the Moon after already being fully assembled on Earth. However, as more personnel are stationed on the moon and the need for vehicles increases, vehicles will instead be shipped in much more compact modular kits to be assembled on-site.

The vehicle assembly and maintenance facility will build and maintain vehicles that are designed to be used by human personnel but would be too big for a pressurized motorpool module. Most of the assembly would probably be done by robot or teleoperated ROV, though pressure-suited humans would occasionally have to lend a hand. Inflatable domes and hangars (see the Moonbase Modules article), which would allow shirt-sleeved human mechanics to do the assembly and maintenance, may be used if life support supplies are not an issue.


AUTOMATED LUNAR FACTORY
Tech Level: 13

A fabrication or mineral processing facility that’s exposed to vacuum and is designed to operate with a minimum of human supervision. For large ore processing on the moonbase, where hundreds or even thousands of tons of materials may be handled everyday, such facilities will be a necessity. Most of the on-the-spot tasks would be handled by industrial robots, while teleoperated ROVs would do most of the work that would otherwise require a human. Types of automated factories would include regolith processing plants, solar array production facilities, water ice extraction, He3 extraction and processing, and others.


ELECTROMAGNETIC LAUNCHER
Tech Level: 13

Also called a mass driver.

Once all that ore is processed, how do you get it back to Earth or Earth Orbit cheaply and efficiently? Loading dozens of rocket flights a day with what could be hundreds of tons of material is imminently impractical and uneconomical.

The solution is to use an electromagnetic launching rail. The moon’s gravity is much less than Earth’s, and whipping a payload along an elevated magnetic levitation track would be enough to obtain lunar escape velocity. There is no wind resistance in the vacuum conditions on the moon, allowing for no practical upper limit on the initial launch velocity.

A payload would be loaded onto a small, cheap propulsion chassis, which would then be loaded onto a broad launch cradle on an elevated track. The launch cradle would never actually touch the track, as it would be propelled along by magnetic levitation, similar to some passenger trains on Earth. The payload is accelerated along the entire length of the track, then is flung into space once it achieves escape velocity.

Once in lunar orbit or beyond, the payload uses the cheap rocket motors on its propulsion chassis to maneuver into a trajectory that can take it to its intended destination. Depending on its exact target, it may take days or weeks to get there, but the Electromagnetic Launcher would be providing a large volume of launches everyday, ensuring a steady stream of supply.

Advanced Electromagnetic Launchers may use coilgun technology instead of a magnetically levitated launch cradle. Railgun technology, because of its rail wear issues, would be a poor choice for such a high-volume launch venture.


Article added 2006

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