The US government seems serious about developing a lunar economy

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The permanently shadowed craters at the lunar poles are an area of ​​interest for the resources they could harbor.
Enlarge / The permanently shadowed craters at the lunar poles are an area of ​​interest for the resources they could harbor.

For the first time, the United States is getting serious about fostering an economy on the Moon.

NASA, of course, is developing the Artemis program to return humans to the Moon. As part of this initiative, NASA seeks to promote a lunar economy in which the space agency is not the only client.

Easier said than done. A large number of conditions must be met for a lunar economy to thrive. There must be something there that can be sold, whether it be resources, a unique environment for scientific research, low-gravity manufacturing, tourism, or another source of value. Reliable transportation to the Moon must be available. And there needs to be a host of services, such as power and communications for machines and people on the lunar surface. So yes, it is a lot.

In recent months, an American defense organization, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has stepped in to help. This is important because DARPA is a key supporter of emerging technologies with a track record of success. (DARPA, for example, purchased the first Falcon 1 rocket launch from SpaceX.) Last year, the defense agency announced it was launching a study, moon-10to understand how best to facilitate a thriving lunar economy by 2035.

In December, DARPA announced that it was working with 14 different companies under LunA-10, including major space players like Northrop Grumman and SpaceX, as well as non-space companies like Nokia. These companies are evaluating how services such as power and communications could be established on the Moon and are due to submit a final report in June.

However, things move faster than that. The DARPA program director overseeing these activities, Maj. Michael “Orbit” Nayak, published a paper earlier this month based on what he learned from these studies that began just a few months ago.

“Based on the technical work and development carried out within the framework of the LunA-10 study, I have identified six scenarios in which, if revolutionary improvements can be made to the technology, I assess that a direct acceleration of the establishment of a lunar economy”. Nayak said in the newspaper.

Seeking industrial innovation

Last Thursday, building on ideas elucidated in Nayak’s article, DARPA issued a “Request for Information” on technological capabilities that could expand lunar exploration and commerce. This federal request It’s an interesting read and suggests that Nayak and DARPA have thought things through.

Here is a brief summary of each of the six areas of interest:

Central heating and cooling: The lunar day-night cycle means that much of the lunar surface is in darkness for 14 days and in light for 14 days. This creates thermal challenges, as the surface becomes very cold during the lunar night and quite warm during the lunar day. Just as an HVAC system provides heating and cooling services to multiple offices in a skyscraper, a thermal center on the Moon could provide similar services to a variety of users so they don’t have to bring them with them. “In this new paradigm, users would bring only minimal thermal equipment to the Moon, connect to a thermal center, and pay for heat generated/rejected in dollars per kilowatt, analogous to power utilities on Earth and an enabler. fundamental to the lunar economy,” the newspaper states.

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