Architecture for a Mobile Lunar Base Using Lunar Materials

January 16, 2006

Authors: David Smitherman, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center; Vinay Dayal, Iowa State University; Daniel Dunn, Undergraduate Student Research Program, NASA Marshal Space Flight Center.

Abstract: During the summers of 2004, and 2005, several studies were conducted in the Future Concepts Office at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) with assistance from summer faculty and student program participants to develop concepts and architectures for mobile lunar habitats. This work included conceptual designs for a launch architecture derived from existing expendable launch systems; a lunar walker based on existing technology for the robotics; compatible hardware from the International Space Station (ISS) program for pressurized modules; and lunar resources utilization for environmental shielding. This paper provides a brief summary of some of the key findings from these studies, and identifies areas for future work that could lead to more robust lunar exploration architectures in the future. In conclusion, it is recommended that future exploration missions consider reusable depot / transfer vehicles, robotic walking technology for lunar exploration, and lunar resources utilization for environmental shielding of surface habitats.

Introduction: A renewed interest in space exploration is evidenced by the Administration’s direction to NASA to complete the space station, lead in a return to the Moon, and eventually human exploration beyond the Earth / Moon system including Mars and other destinations. The mission architecture described in this paper is designed specifically to address an approach to exploration that can be expanded incrementally to involve the commercial sector, accommodate international participation, and put in place systems that can provide safe environments for long-term human occupation of habitats on the lunar surface without time-limiting concerns for radiation exposure. The basic concept behind this mobile lunar base, sometimes referred to as Hab-Bots (Cohen, 2003; Mankins, 2001; Smitherman, 2005), is that these modules reside inside a protective shelter covered with several meters of regolith until exploration of that area is completed, and then undock and move to a new site where another shelter has been constructed. In each case, the crew arrives after the mobile habitats are in place, and then depart while the mobile habitat modules move to the next exploration site where a shelter has been robotically constructed. The primary objective of this paper is to show how an overall mission architecture with transportation systems supported by depots, mobile surface systems, and shelters can create a more reusable, and thus sustainable infrastructure for ongoing exploration missions of the moon and eventually more distant destinations.

Mission Architecture: The first group of launches in this mission architecture will deliver to the moon all the materials and equipment required to construct a lunar shelter. The shelters will be permanent constructions covered in about 2 to 3 meters of lunar regolith, and open at the ends for the insertion of mobile lunar habitat modules. Figure 1 provides a notional view of how the shelter would be delivered and constructed on the moon. Yet to be determined is the amount of human interaction required, which means some systems will be autonomous, and some operated robotically by humans in a remote location. The goal is to have no humans on the surface until after the shelter is completed.

Figure 1. Mission Architecture Concept for Shelter Delivery.

This scenario assumes existing expendable launch vehicles (ELV) will be utilized to launch all assets into low Earth orbit (LEO) for assembly of a delivery vehicle. Payloads include a transfer vehicle (D/T-1), two Landers, and the Shelter / Excavator Module (S/E) which contains the prefabricated form for the shelter and an excavator vehicle for covering the form with lunar regolith. The Landers are walkers equipped with robotic manipulators designed to assist with the deployment of the form for the shelter construction. These are reusable systems that will be discussed again later in the paper. The transfer vehicle is also reusable. The delivery configuration for D/T-1 from LEO to low Lunar orbit (LLO) is a high thrust mode, and the return configuration shows solar arrays deployed using electric propulsion for a slow but efficient low thrust return back to LEO for refueling.

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