Why Mining the Moon for Rocket fuel with AI and Robots aids Mars Exploration

Planning expeditions to the Moon and Mars is longer just a NASA effort.

Billionaires Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Robert Bigelow are all planning to go to Mars. Google’s XPrize US$30 million winners are planning to launch rovers to the Moon to test out their ideas for a future Mars Mission.

But before they can make that journey, they must conquer the Moon first!! This Moon Base will not only be used to test out technologies intended for Mars, but it will also be used as a refueling and resupply station for the Mars Mission.

Moon Base – Earth’s Gravity is heartless as the Moon gravity is better

The US space agency NASA has plans for a Moon-orbiting Space Station. Their Space Station would serve as a refuelling station ground for Mars missions in the early 2030s.

A joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing called the United Launch Alliance, is planning a lunar fueling station for spacecraft. Their plan is to build a lunar fueling station that fits the following criteria.

  • Capable of supporting 1,000 people
  • Self-sufficient in terms of food, water and spare parts
  • Constructed within 30 years
  • Producing Rocket Fuel for Mars Missions

 

Currently all space missions are launched from, Earth. But Earth’s gravitational pull is strong, requiring a rocket to be traveling at 11000 m/s . It has to be designed to carry all the fuel to get to its destination and for the return trip. Fuel is heavy and achieving launch velocity takes tremendous energy.

Refuelling in orbit means more energy from people, cargo or scientific equipment. In space the Earth’s Gravity is less powerful and on the Moon, its 1/6 the gravity of Earth, making it an attractive alternative Base for mining and making rocket fuel as pointed out in my article China’s Jade Rabbit 2 Rover explores the Far Side for future Moon Base.

Using a Moon Base at the Poles powered by Nuclear Reactors, we can process Water in the hydrogen-oxygen propellant that we use in many modern rockets.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite missions have found ice in craters on the Moon’s South Pole. And already, there seems to be evidence of other older material on the Moon from past asteroid collisions as noted in China’s Jade Rabbit finds olivine and pyroxene at the Moon’s South Pole-Aitken Basin.

The Poles are a long shot, though. Like out North and South Poles on Earth, they could be difficult to mine, as the ice is permanently frozen glacial ice in dark craters that may be slightly radioactive.

Vehicles would have to be nuclear powered and the area would have to be illuminated using big space mirrors or mirrors located on the crater rims to provide lighting to do work. Rovers from Google’s Lunar X Prize competition and NASA’s Lunar Resource Prospector, set to launch in 2020, are designed to hunt for good sport to start mining ice to make rocket fuel.

Moon Base and AI – Robotic Moon Bases with AI management

Once we find the best ice reserves are, robots will come into play. These robotic Moon Bases would be run by AI (Artificial Intelligent) and would autonomously:

  • Mine the ice
  • Manufacture liquid propellant
  • Transfer it to passing spacecraft

 

Aside from AI and Robots, there would also be a need for robotic shuttles flown by AI to ferry the fuel.

Once the ice is found by the Robots, other robots would autonomously set up a mining based directed by AI and mine the ice. The mining robots would then carry the ice to another AI-run nuclear powered factory that would process the ice.

Here it would be melted, with the water stored in nearby storage tanks. Then an electrolysis processing plant would split water into hydrogen and oxygen using large solar arrays powering an electrolysis module.

Some of the power from the large solar arrays would be used for melting the ice with the rest being used for the electrolysis of the water into fuel. This hydrogen and oxygen would be stored in large fuel tanks. Being that the lunar surface is already cold, storing liquid oxygen and hydrogen should pose no problem.

NASA is already working on most of the technology needed for a depot like this, including docking and fuel transfer. We anticipate a working depot could be ready in the early 2030s, just in time for the first human missions to Mars.

Then the robotic shuttles would arrive to collect fuel for delivery. They would dock in orbit with newly launched spacecraft thanks to their advanced guidance and navigation systems and refuel these spacecraft in orbit.

Eventually when this process is perfected, the AI can be instructed to build a Gas Station in orbit around the Moon. This orbital Gas Station would be located at an Earth-Moon Lagrangian Point 1 (L1) where the force of Earth’s gravity would exactly equal the force of the Moon’s gravity.

The robotic shuttles would deliver ice directly to the orbiting Gas Station, where it would be processed into rocket fuel. This could provide rocket fuel to fuel ships, the perfect pit stop for a spacecraft heading to Mars or elsewhere or other planets.

These robotic shuttles could also use kinetic rockets, basically rail-gun based slingshots to boost the robotic shuttles with their cargo into orbit. They could perform their function without having to use any of the fuel that they have produced on the ground.

Refueling in Space – Nuclear Powered Rockets with Solar Sails

As for the spacecraft leaving earth, these would be Nuclear powered spacecraft, with Hydrogen-Chemical Rockets being used for interplanetary hops and mining expeditions. Nuclear powered craft would be more power dense than traditional chemical spacecraft.

The nuclear powered spacecraft and its cargo could be towed to the L1 using solar-sails for the rest of the Journey.

This has several advantages:

  • Triple the payload delivery to Mars
  • Delivering more cargo from Earth to Mars with fewer rocket launches
  • Saving billions of dollars
  • Reducing the time to set up a Mars Base

 

Building a Gas Station between Earth and the Moon with missions flown by AI piloted nuclear powered rockets could also reduce costs for missions beyond Mars.

So while AI with their fleet or robots builds out Moon Base and makes the push to Mars using chemical, Nuclear and Solar Rockets, NASA can be freed up to do more scientific research such as search for extraterrestrial life on the Moons of Saturn and Jupiter.

By going Nuclear, Solar Sail and having a L1 Gas Station, it would make the planned Mars Base easily achievable. This would help to more easily escape both Earth’s gravity and dependence on its resources.

This would be the first small step toward the giant leap into making humanity a Level 1 civilization on the Kardashev Scale.

Post Author: Lindsworth

Lindsworth is a Radio Frequency and Generator Maintenance Technician who has a knack for writing about his work, which is in the Telecoms Engineering Field. An inspired writer on themes as diverse as Autonomous Ants simulations, Power from Lightning and the current Tablet Wars.