Lately, I’ve been doing some thinking on what I would do if I had money to burn. There’s a long list of things I’d do that could be done with a million dollars or so. But I started thinking what if I had a billion to burn. And I figured that one thing I’d do would be to privately fund a robotic lunar program. I am a big supporter of humans returning to the moon to stay, and if I had the money what could I do to help further that goal. This is what I came up with.
This is the ideal
program, but I’m not sure if a private citizen would be able to do part of
it. I’ll get to that. This program would consist of three types of
landers (I’ll call them A, B, and C) all landing in the same area. There’d be four or five As, as many or more
Bs, and one C. The Bs – and probably the
Cs – would all be identical, but the As might have some slight design differences. In the super ideal program, we’d just keep
building these and sending new sets to do science at various locations on the
So what science
would be done? The A Landers would land
and scoop up a large amount of regolith.
It would then mix this with some binding agent and 3D print a …
brick. Well, three bricks. This first set would probably be the solid
bricks we’re used to, but later sets would probably contain voids to minimize the
material needed. And there could be sets
with raw regolith, and another set where the regolith is ground to make the
particles more uniform. Further A Landers
could have some other processing element, or would use a different binding
agent. I don’t know exactly how much
mass could be landed, but each A Lander may only be able to print a dozen or so
A B Lander would
land nearby and two bricks from each set would be loaded into a return
capsule. This would be launched back to
Earth where scientists could study the bricks.
The reason you’d want at least two of each type is so you could do
destructive testing on one of them. Depending
on how reliable the return capsule is, you might want to only put one brick
from a set in each. And depending on how
much mass can be returned, you could also send plain regolith or rock samples
back to Earth.
How would these
bricks be loaded into the return capsule?
That’s the job of the C Landers, which would be rovers. Ideally, these would be RTG powered, but I
don’t know if a private citizen could buy an RTG, so these rovers might need to
be done in a partnership with NASA. Besides
loading the bricks, these rovers could do their own research. But the reason they need to be RTG powered is
so that they can survive for long periods of time so that they check up on the
bricks that are left on the moon. These would
be left out and the rover would come by once a month or so and take photos to
see how they are standing up to the lunar day/night cycle. I see the four or five A Landers all landing
within ten kilometers of each other. Once
the rover works out a path between all of them, it could just drive
itself. Or, I guess it could move the
remaining bricks all to one location and just come back to it after doing its
other explorations. I suppose you could
even make a D lander that would just bring more binding agent the rover could
take to refill the A Landers.
The more you think
about it, the more ways there are to do things.
But why do this? Even with
gigantic, reusable rockets, it will still costs a lot of money to launch stuff
off Earth and land it on the moon. A
lander that prints a structure using regolith will be able to make a larger
structure than would have fit on whatever rocket launched that lander. Yes, the first lunar base will have
structures built on Earth, but the fastest, easiest, and cheapest way to expand
that base will be with lunar bricks. And
while some have made bricks on Earth using simulated lunar regolith, nobody has
built bricks on the moon to see how they stand up. Maybe after a dozen day/night cycles the
unprocessed regolith bricks start to flake, which would be good to know before we
start building a base from them.