In the near future: Lunar space gas station

04 Oct 2023

Several leading countries have now openly presented their plans for bases on the Moon. One of the leading reasons is Newton’s laws: the Moon is a much more suitable place for launching rockets than the Earth.

Let’s talk gravity

Due to the much lower gravity (17% of the Earth’s), and the absence of air resistance, fuel consumption would be much lower and the design of the aircraft itself would change. Even the mighty Saturn V that carried the astronauts to the Moon was 85% fuel, 13% was the rocket itself and only 2% of the mass was the spacecraft with the astronauts in it.

Even today, the situation is no better – Starship, Elon Musk’s monstrosity that will carry between 100 and 150 tons of cargo into low Earth orbit must weigh around 5,000 tons. Of those 5,000 tons, about 4,600 tons must be fuel.

On the other hand, research that will be relevant on the Moon in the coming years and decades has as its task primarily the examination of the possibility of exploiting ice water, from which liquid hydrogen and oxygen would be obtained by splitting them, which are certainly used as rocket fuel.

If the technology to produce rocket fuel on the Moon were to be developed, it would become both a gas station and the home port of numerous spacecraft built on Earth.

What is so interesting there?

The amount of energy that a rocket needs to climb from the Earth to a height of 250 km (low Earth orbit) is three times greater than the energy needed to go from that height to the Moon.

At the same time, it takes twice as much energy to reach that height as to reach Mars from there. Paradoxically, the biggest and most serious obstacle to space exploration is getting out of Earth’s orbit.

The Moon would be a much better starting point for travel to the outer solar system than Mars, even though Mars is significantly closer.

In particular, Mars is 75 million kilometers closer to the asteroid belt than the Moon, but 40% more energy would be used if the journey starts from Mars and not from the Moon.

This is not the only advantage

The Moon is an ideal position for setting up telescopes, especially those that work in the radio spectrum.

By mounting them on the side of the Moon that faces the opposite of the Earth, all the noise and interference due to the abundance of radio signals that we produce on Earth would be eliminated.

Not only radio astronomy would gain a lot, but also optical and infrared. At the lunar poles there are craters that do not receive sunlight and have temperatures that go below -200 degrees Celsius. It is an ideal environment for infrared astronomy.

For example, the James Webb telescope uses a large sun shield to lower the temperature below -200 degrees. On the Moon, this could be for free. The Moon’s weak gravity would allow the construction of much larger telescopes, their physical dimensions could be much larger than on Earth. And detecting gravitational waves would be much easier on a quiet Moon than on our Earth, which has a lot more vibrations.