Lunar ISRU

I’m glad to see that Blue Origin is making some breakthroughs in some areas. This implies (among other things) that solar power satellites could be partially constructed from lunar materials. The question is whether it makes economic sense compared to low-cost launch from Earth.

[Afternoon update]

[Tuesday-morning update]

Here’s the story from Eric Berger.

26 thoughts on “Lunar ISRU”

  1. On the Moon, you don’t need rockets to launch cargo. Just need a catapult. You could launch 20 million tons a year with a catapult.

  2. The Navy has perfected and utilized small modular reactors for decades(526 reactor cores and counting). Why waste all that time lifting or manufacturing solar panels(not to mention the maintenance) when you can loft a single power plant to the moon on a single Starship, more likely two or three Starships. The Bechtel A1B has a thermal power of 700 MW. It provides heat and electricity. Solar farms on the moon produce only electricity.

    1. Why not both? Reactors can power the panel factories until they can be self-sustaining. Then the reactors can be moved to a new site.

      1. My personal opinion is that solar panels on orbit or on a planetary surface are inefficient and redundant when you have small modular nuclear reactors available. Nuclear reactors have the side benefit of producing plenty of heat. Heat is a valuable commodity in the frigid cold of space or during the two weeks of lunar night.

      2. Gonna be a long cold night on the moon with only solar for power.
        Unless you have huge batteries and low power draw. Not a great way to get a lot of work done.

      1. It would have to radiate the heat.

        But a molten salt reactor would make more sense as they wouldn’t need a thick pressure vessel. Unfortunately none of them are sitting on a shelf, so you might as well add 20 years to their lunar timeline.

        1. Two meters down, the subsurface temperature of the moon is estimated to be -30 degrees celsius. You could run the coolant underground during the lunar day, overland at night. You could make a pretty cool Sterling engine, as well, given the wide variation between subsurface and lunar day and lunar night.

        2. …so you might as well add 20 years to their lunar timeline.
          Well, seems to me, that if we got started on space-based molten salt reactors right away we’d be on the correct time-line for just-in-time cargo delivery via SLS. *snicker*

  3. “The question is whether it makes economic sense compared to low-cost launch from Earth.”

    It makes sense if the moon has significant economy and from this economic level, use economic of scale.

    It doesn’t make economic sense, to do SPS to create an economy on the Moon.

    So if the Moon has market of 1 million ton of rocket fuel per year, the moon begins to have enough of a economy to consider it.
    Moon does have to make a million tons of rocket per year, first, before it makes SPS, but that seems faster path towards it- it could happen with 10 years.
    Whereas settlements on Mars happenning within 10 years could be considered far less likely.
    But if have 10,000 or more people on Mars and there is some lunar water mining, one could consider space power satellites for Earth, or Mars.
    I tend to think Mars will have SPS slightly before Earth does.
    But we don’t know if the Moon or Mars has mineable water.
    But it seems the main reason for US to explore the Moon and Mars is to get SPS.

      1. If living in Venus high orbits, you don’t need SPS.
        Mars settlements will use Venus orbit.
        Space rock mining will use Venus orbit, if Mars is using Venus orbit.
        Mars [or Moon or space rocks] could sell water to Venus high orbit.
        Using Venus orbit, makes humans, a spacefaring civilization.

  4. Living on Venus surface/sky is a small scale type thing- could have a military purpose, could have tourism and mining.
    But if people living in Venus high orbits, they terraform
    or could call it, mine Venus. If want to call it mining, I talking about global mining- cooling Venus could be a way to mine the planet Venus.
    And such terraforming/mining has basically zero costs- one just block sunlight from reaching Venus or use the sunlight which would reaching the planet.
    Or human activity in Venus orbit, causes it.
    So if making 1 billion tonnes of LOX per year in Venus orbit, people could worry, you are cooling Venus.

    People could worry about this. People worry we going warm Earth, and everyone knows Earth is in an Ice Age.
    And there might life in Venus atmosphere- so not a wild thing to say, people worry that the furnace Venus planet could cool.

  5. someone [Jax] said phobos and deimos oil rigs have been sold. In chat at Starbase live.

    I googled & didn’t see anything to confirm it

    1. I think solution is change ocean area, so it doesn’t have waves. And do this with very large and cheap breakwater water.
      The Starship is not big enough, but it’s in the direction
      of cheap enough. Have hull of Starship first stage, cap both ends, fill it water, if want to be fancy, freshwater water. Sink it, until it’s 1 foot above waterline and have pressurized by 10 psig. And put broadside to waves.
      Waves will break over it and you won’t have waves on the other side it.
      Now make it bigger, 20 meter in diameter, and fill with freshwater which will cause buoyancy in seawater, pressurize to 10 psi, and have float less than 1 meter above the waterline.
      That will create good surfing waves and cause wave to break, and not waves in leeward side of it.
      And it’s mobile, it can be towed, though it’s quite massive, but not a lot more massive than the typical ocean going ships.
      How does it work? It doesn’t bounce as much as typical ships do and waves go over. It should cheaper than ships and make more and make them fast.

  6. Stable, reliable power and heat will make life possible. Get people there, provide them power for heat, cooling, and hydroponics, and lunar life will be possible.
    Solar is neither stable nor reliable. Wind turbines lack a certain capability, so we are back to thermal sources of power.
    Stirling engines using the expected temperature difference above and below the lunar surface are intermittent.
    The nuclear power sources on the voyager aircraft launched in the late 1970’s are still producing reliable power.
    Nuclear sources can be hardened against the hazards that solar panels cannot.
    Seems simple to me. Not easy. But simple.

    1. “Thorium is found across a large expanse of the moon’s Near
      Side with concentrations of 10-20 parts per million”

      “Nuclear Power from Lunar ISRU”, juniperpublishers dot com.

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