Moon miners especially were jubilant this week when scientists announced they found strong evidence of the existence of water ice on the moon’s surface. There is much more ice than we thought, and now we know exactly where he is. This can significantly simplify the extraction of water in the future.
Long before this discovery, scientists tried to find any water that could hide on the surface of the moon. This is a resource that will be incredibly valuable for future long-term missions on the moon, since water is necessary for life here on Earth. It can be processed into a lunar habitat or use for drinking or bathing. Also, it would be possible to grow plants needed to power future lunar inhabitants.
Perhaps the biggest and direct application to lunar water is rocket fuel. The main components of water — hydrogen and oxygen — the two most important material of which make the fuel for missiles. And if you make rocket fuel from water on the moon, it would be great to save on conducting ambitious missions in space. At the moment, rockets that leave the Earth have to carry all the fuel that they need with them. But using lunar ice for rocket could be refueled while in space, and to reach more distant places for less money.
Is water better than oil?
“The idea is to create sort of a supply chain that was started outside of the Earth, for certain products — in particular, water as a component of fuel — it was much easier to move through space from one body to another,” says Julie Brisset, a researcher of the Institute of Space Florida.
To deliver something into space is always expensive. If you want your companion broke away from earth’s gravity, you need a lot of fuel to orbit. In fact, most of the weight borne by the rocket at launch, the spent on fuel. And the deeper into space you go, the more you need fuel. More energy is needed to break away from the attraction of the planet. Therefore missions to deep space are becoming more expensive because the rocket needs a big and need a lot of fuel.
But what if instead of having to take fuel on the Ground, you could fill the tank with fuel that you already have in space? Then the mission into deep space would be as commonplace as trips from one city to another. “Just imagine that you had to go from Denver, and on the way there were no gas stations and you had to carry with them as much gasoline to new York,” says George Sowers, Professor Colorado school of mines and former Vice President of United Launch Alliance. “Are you sure you don’t get lucky all this in the car. Will have to take the trailer.” That is why the idea of a lunar development so excites the mind. Water on the moon could be mined, to be split into rocket fuel and carry either in lunar or low earth orbit. The rockets do not need to be large to carry all the fuel with you. They could just dock with the fuel station and refuel for long journeys.
The transport of fuel from the moon to other places in space will be much cheaper than transportation from Earth. On the moon one-sixth of Earth’s gravity, and therefore need less energy to break away from the surface. Not so long ago Sauers conducted an analysis of the transportation cost of lunar fuel to different locations in space. Shipping lunar water into low earth orbit, for example, is cheaper than sending it from Earth, although our planet is closer. “If you’re going to use the fuel in low earth orbit, the savings would be 20-30 percent, if you use lunar fuel, instead of the earth,” says Sauers.
Scientists fantasize about making moon water to rocket fuel, for several decades, since there is evidence about the suitability of the lunar poles for the development of ice. In 1994, a joint study by NASA and the us military called Clementine showed that water exists in craters at the lunar poles. These places never see the light of the Sun and never reach temperatures above -250 degrees Fahrenheit. Several missions to the moon since then have confirmed that water can be in these places. In 2009, NASA dropped the spacecraft LCROSS into the crater at the lunar South pole to see which materials would throwing a punch. It was found that the emission was 5% water.
However, published this week in PNAS, the study shows that some areas of the moon can be drowned in water. Scientists from the University of Hawaii and brown University analyzed data collected by the Indian machine “Chandrayaan-1”, who went to the moon in 2008. Using one of the tools they were able to identify some areas of ice on the moon, measuring the reflectivity of water. They also viewed these locations in the infrared and determined that the water took the form of ice, not liquid or vapor. They not only confirmed that water ice is present on the surface of the moon, but that some areas on earth are 20-30 percent of the ice. Depending on how deep the ice goes beneath the surface, it would be possible to identify the place of production of components for rocket fuel.
“We don’t need to get everything at once,” said Phil Metzger, a planetary physicist from the University of Central Florida. “We need some places of high concentration to have sufficient water to meet all the needs of space transportation over the next 30 years.”
The fuel depot in low-earth orbit opens up new possibilities for missions in space. For example, it would be possible to build a space tug, a rocket that is in space, refueling again and again, and takes the satellites to the desired destination. Now the satellites that are displayed in a high orbit, spend from six months to a year to slowly climb higher with the help of onboard engines. During this time they can’t do their work and bring no money. But with the space tug, the satellites could be deployed to lower orbits with small rockets, and then use a space tug to deliver the satellites to the desired orbit in just a few days. This would save the operators of the satellite money: they would not have to launch a large rocket to deliver its cargo to space, and they would have more time to work with his companion.
So yeah, lunar water as fuel is great, but to start its production will not be easy. First, you need to conduct extensive exploration. Thanks to the PNAS study, the scientists essentially created a map showing where to find the juiciest areas with water ice at the lunar poles. The next step will be to send landing modules and lunar Rovers to search for the best sites. Scientists do not yet know in what form the ice is in the form of slush mixed with ice, or in the form of solid blocks mixed with other surface material. “We know how to design the equipment to extract it. We just don’t know what equipment to use,” says Metzger.
One idea is to dig the lunar soil with an excavator, which sends the material to the processor. The processor separates the ice from the mold in the heating process and breaks down the water into basic components with the help of electricity. Part of the resulting fuel is then used to run the rest of the water from the moon on the vehicle at the fuel depot.
Of course, all this will be expensive. “It all comes down to cost analysis,” says Metzger. “Cheaper to run rocket fuel from Earth, or cheaper to launch equipment into space once, and then maintain this equipment and use it to achieve rocket fuel in space?”. Based on the analysis conducted by Metzger, Brisset and Towercom, they came to the conclusion that for investment in mining on the moon will take ten years to yield a profit. But as moon mining is a risky business, perhaps, venture capitalists do not want to actively participate in this matter.
That is why the team suggests that NASA should participate in the partial financing of the early developments in the field of mining. Thus, commercial investors are more likely to cooperate with a reputable Agency which will incur a part of expenses.
NASA will not provide service to the investors: the space Agency has suggested that each year may require up to 100 metric tons of fuel to refuel the vehicles, leaving the lunar surface from the base. If everything is to run with the Land, will need about 3.5 billion dollars a year. Savings through the creation of a lunar fuel will make missions to the moon and Mars cheaper. “A mission to Mars would be cheaper and everything we do outside of the Earth, too,” says Sauers. For example, the use of the moon for refueling rockets would reduce the cost of flying to the moon from the Earth three times, said Sauers. This is important given that NASA is going to conduct a mission involving humans on the moon again.
“For many years I have said that water is the oil of the cosmos,” says Sauers and adds: “If the plans of NASA to establish a permanent human settlement on the moon, the first thing you need to do NASA, is to build a production facility for fuel”.
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