People need to eat. It’s just simply part of being within the ecosystem on Earth. When we voyage off Earth, as in an airplane ride or a visit to the International Space Station, then we bring our foods with us. And any waste gets carried along to re-enter into the Earth’s system when we land.
Not so if we want to put a colony on the Moon. On the Moon there’s no ecosystem. Nor is there any medium like flowing water or blowing atmosphere with which to transfer chemicals and energy from one life form to another. On the Moon or any other non-Earth location, people must bring along their own, artificial system.
And if we decide that we don’t like the system on Earth then we can even use the same concept here. Just as Seven-Eleven Japan has decided to do. Which may be a boon to space enthusiasts. But what does it say about the Earth ecosystem?
Energy is the most critical of commodities whether on Earth or on the Moon. Humans eat to obtain energy to power their bodies. Humans release stores of energy to power their technology. One of the most amazing, controlled releases of energy occurs whenever we launch platforms into space.
Living on the Moon will require great amounts of energy. In comparison, consider the International Space Stations. Its solar arrays provide about 100kW of power. That ‘s a lot. While solar arrays will certainly provide some power on the Moon, they need to always be aimed at the Sun. And be dust free. This may not always be practicable. We have other, higher density power sources. For example, NASA is developing KRUSTY. This little fission reactor could provide 10kW of baseline power for up to 10 years. One or more KRUSTY reactors could provide local power for locations on the Moon or even remote locations on the Earth. These sources of controlled energy could make the lives of humans on the Moon very resourceful.
For those interested in a little history, check out the TOPAZ reactor for a different, Soviet design.
In any case, remember the human need for energy. It is critical to our bodies and our technology. On the Moon we will be relying upon machines for recirculating air, growing plants, and cleaning water. And the machines like us, won’t function without energy. So we have to have an assured source of controlled energy. Before we set foot back upon the Moon.
Most people pay little heed to breathing. We draw air in and we exhale air out on a regular basis. We understand that our bodies use some of the oxygen that comes in and that some carbon dioxide goes out. While this vague notion is sufficient for life on Earth, it’s far too vague for establishing life on another world. Such as the Moon.
Recently Airbus completed their Advanced Closed Loop System (ACLS) that Japan will later rocket up to the International Space Station (ISS). The ACLS converts ‘waste’ carbon dioxide from breathing and ‘waste’ hydrogen into breathable oxygen and drinkable water. A main benefit of this system is to reduce the demand for water on the ISS. Thus making life on-board much more self-sufficient. And less reliant upon the people of Earth. Who continue to provide over 400 litres of water each year to the ISS.
For any infrastructure development, like for a lunar colony, both the construction cost and the carrying cost must be factored. Consider that in 2018 the ISS flight manifest lists 18 launches. As the ISS is mostly complete then these flights represent the carrying costs. Estimate that each launch cost is $100M. Over $1.8B annually! Thus if new technology can reduce the number of launches by one then it represents a reduction in the annual carrying cost of at least $100M. Which partly explains why people aren’t living on the Moon. Yet. And, why funding is the most critical parameter.
Infrastructure aids us in our daily tasks. Usually we think of roads, rail lines and air ports when thinking of aids. Now, space is also getting aids. The European Space Agency has begun a Space Data Highway or European Data Relay System (EDRS). This infrastructure serves to transfer data to and from the Earth to locations high above the earth: like a geosynchronous satellite, the ISS or maybe an orbiter about Mars. Aside from demonstrating the advancing demands we are placing with our activities in space, this infrastructure demonstrates two other very practical feats.
1) The Space Data Highway uses lasers to transmit the data. Though NASA demonstrated this principal by sending data to the Moon and back, the EDRS relays between two satellites and between a satellite and the Earth. Seems simple but just imagine the accuracy needed to maintain a beam of light pointed at a dot that’s 45 000km away! And then keeping the pot of light upon the dot while the satellites changes shape due to thermal flexing. They did it. And the result is a delivery of 1800 Mbit/sec data.
2) The Space Data Highway is funded as a public partner partnership (PPP). Presently two satellites relay data from Europe to and from space. For a planned 15 years. So take the expected data rate, the lifetime and the amortization of the design and development and you can determine the data relay charges. And there are more satellites on the way for the EDRS constellation.
The EDRS enables data sources such as the Copernicus system to download data in near real time to Europe. They also aid space systems by reducing the data demand being placed upon the existing infrastructure, principally the ground stations.
And this EDRS infrastructure is in place through a PPP. Where else can you see PPP emplacing infrastructure?