Saturday, December 3, 2016

Colony Expansion

Sketching things rapidly is really helpful for discussion. In the last 3 weeks i've sketched all the main installations of the colony in order to create an overview, and a framework that can be the basis for improvement. There are still a number of undocumented things, nonetheless there is so much more in the colony models i'm having trouble deciding how to explain it. At the same time, the models are such simple sketches, they don't really get across the richness of the ideas unless the viewer fills in a fair bit... Let me see if i can paint this picture for you now with what we have...

Whole Phase 1 colony looking west over the crater rim

The developed area is 2.5 km north-south (1.5 miles), 4.4 km east-west (2.7 miles), and 1.3 km (0.8 miles) top to bottom, plus the things not in the image, which are the space port and the second solar-thermal power installation, each of which are a few kilometers further away. This is the colony known as Cernan's Promise, at the full extent of it's development. Which is to say, this is the full extent that will be modeled as a complete virtual environment. The scale of it makes it hard to show people - it's like showing photos of your vacation. This perhaps can get across this odd threshold i've crossed. To me, this is a place. I built it, i've spent hundreds of hours doing so in its virtual space. And it is still a pale shadow of the far more complex and complete version in my head, as i have not yet been able to create all that. At the moment, i am the sole citizen of Cernan's Promise.

This shot looks north from the south end of the colony. At bottom right is a section of the glass and basalt composite dome over the small crater i call Teacup Crater, which is 300 m across (yards are 10% more, so 330). That dome alone could be an entire blog post. I plan to do a series of such posts, for now suffice to say that real colonization is going to require domes like this, so we might as well dive in. We are modeling the beginning of a Moon civilization here folks. This is the scale that will be involved and we need to adjust to that, let it sink in.

Shown in the bottom left is the first draft of the main version of the rover, which is a slight adaptation of the ATHLETE rover. It can do a lot of the coarse construction work, using a wide variety of attachments that can go on the ends of its legs - JPL designed it that way. This venture involves construction of a complete colony though, so it is going to need a supplemental arm capable of more detailed work, and smaller robots that have little mobility of their own will be delivered by it to work posts it installs, again for the purpose of performing the detailed work. People on Earth and at the polar settlement will operate them.

Behind it is the gantry crane, which is copied from the NIST spider crane. I think it will need to be switched to a square configuration, but it has great advantages as a lunar crane. The platform at its center is currently empty, but will bear a robot that can be moved anywhere within the volume below the triangular frame of the crane, down as far as the cables reach. Here it straddles the width of one of the dugout habitats, to show one way it will be used. It will do the excavation of the dugout and gallery habs. It will also be useful in assembling and erecting large structures like the hangars, mirror troughs, and radiator stations. Many of those are visible in the middle ground of the picture. In the top corner is the hangar of the space port.

This shot looks southeast from the north end of the colony. Most of the hangars are visible from this angle. This colony is an industrial center. After the initial phase of settlement, which is funded by selling permanent residence spots to nations, the economy is based mostly on in-space construction. That allows a great reduction in reliance on Earth for supplies, which is a huge cost savings, and provides income from selling services and goods to Earth that space construction makes possible. The colony builds space stations, space ships, and orbital tethers. That is why there are many very large hangars. Most are just covered spaces so that the interior is free of dust and stays within a narrow temperature range - they hold no atmosphere. The ones with the rounded ends, that don't have the reflective insulation on their roofs, contain an atmosphere about 0.1% that of Earth, so that heat dissipation can occur at the rate needed for production of basalt fiber.

The complement of melt-in-place stations fill the middle ground. Their beds get filled with tamped and leveled powder regolith, then a Fresnel lens scans the length of the bed, melting it to a depth of an inch or so. Just before the material solidifies it is cut into shapes. Those are the construction materials used to build most things shown. The construction method is explained further on the website. It is due for a lot of updating, but basically it is all there. The main papers the concept is based on are part of LPI's Lunar Bases and Space Activities of the 21st Century - James Blacic's Applications of Lunar Glass Structural Components, and Rowley and Neudecker's In-Situ Rock Melting Applied to Lunar Base Construction. It's been plucked from a few other places as well - one of the many things i need to document better. What i'm trying to say is - this has all been thought through. It is only different from other lunar settlement concepts because it assumes a high level of ongoing funding. That assumption naturally leads to new and exciting vistas.

Vistas like this one, from inside one of the tubular habs branching off the lower gallery - the galleries are the long habs descending the slope of the crater wall.

Panaromic views like this are alright when they are of the ground. Very little particle radiation backscatters from the ground - that is what cosmic radiation is, particles, that is the long term danger. EM radiation - gamma, x-ray, alpha, and beta - can be blocked with a few inches of glass doped with a dense element like platinum. Yes, platinum. By this time asteroids are regularly arriving in orbit to be mined, platinum would be a cheaper and better metal to use for radiation-blocking glass than the lead that is used today on Earth. Bulk production of clear glass is a high priority, too. If you manage that, then you can do this:

Yeah, the image doesn't really do it justice, but that is a glass dome over all of Lalande Crater. 22 km across. The blue towers are 75 m wide. Not only do they distribute the load of holding down the dome against the strain of the atmosphere inside, they are buildings. Each one can house thousands of people. Sure, you need to develop the infrastructure to fabricate enough glass for a dome at least 5 m thick over all of this. But the payoff doesn't need to be explained, the outlay doesn't need to be justified. If we could do this, we would. Even if it meant a lot less of our disposable income went to other non-essentials like fashion, treat foods, sport events, booze and cigarettes. If we could do something like this, we'd be willing to let go of a few things like that. Like we were willing to do during World War II, but for a much healthier pay-off. That is the premise of this project. If the vision can be painted clearly enough, if the path can be explained completely enough, the will to pursue it will appear. And even if it doesn't, it will be a great vehicle for pondering where we are going, and why.

Don't kid yourself. It is outlandish now, but the ability to do this could appear much faster than we expect. If robots that can work with little direction are developed, we'd only need to send a few and it would snowball. It is the kind of thing that can suddenly be upon you, changing the world while you are still deciding if you think it's a good idea. This is a great time to work on a vision that can ensure the future is positive.


  1. The Moon is suddenly hot again, I gather from the NASA transition team and talks. It makes your growing model more relevant, congratulations! I feel optimistic that astronauts will jump around on the Moon again within a decade. I hope you can bring your ideas about your "handsome crater" in Lalaland to a wider audience. Crewed Lunar missions will be great public and popular happenings now that we have internet and these kinds of visualization techniques.

    Would you feel like making a parallel design of how Lunar exploration might realistically actually start out now, from the first landing to the first permanent Lunar base and such industry you suggest here? As with NASA's selection of landing sites for Mars rovers, I suppose that NASA's options for Moon exploration will be publicly discussed too. One might build these kind of models of them and project future development based on such initial plans. It could seriously help popularize the Moon.

    Doctor Moon, eh, I mean Dr. Paul Spudis has some newish thinking about Moon exploration. He of course still favors the poles:

  2. Hi Kap. Yes, i am hopeful about a change of vision. But, we'll see. It is so easy to get confident too soon in this scene.

    I have been working away on setting up the models, website, and documentation needed to attract a wide audience. It has become rather frustrating that for all the work, there remains little visible change. Everything takes much longer than i think, mostly because i am doing all of it for the first time. I guess that makes it just a little like space exploration itself. I believe this needs to be done with great care, great attention to detail and conviction. It is taking time for me to feel it has the foundation it needs before aggressively broadcasting it. It should be ready just in time to really take advantage of this new attention. Cross your fingers for me.

    As for the rest of what you say, sir, you have pushed my buttons and i am compelled to write a new blog entry in response. After i'd written several paragraphs i realized this and moved them over to a draft. Please stand by, and cheers.

  3. I used some primitive 3D imaging software a bit like this several years ago, and I recognize that it is a black hole time consumer. Any new feature maybe meant to save the user's time, ends up consuming more time because new things can be done with it, and that is irresistible. It's written in da book that God created the world in six days. That is the first obvious lie in the Bible. If He exists he is still working on it, that's why He created infinity. There is no finishing it. After having rested a while, and realizing that the rest is good, on the 8th day He created hourly wage.

    As long as one enjoys what one is doing it isn't really a cost. If a Lunar exploration program actually takes off now (I'm maybe too optimistic about that), you here have a foot in the door to the potentially huge popular hype that will surround it during the next decade. Your concept could evolve to something much more interesting and interactive than that Mars TV series running now.

    Could it be possible to use this world with Virtual Reality gears? Imagine playing a kind of Pokemon Go on the VR-Moon. I think you should span your wings with this and see how far you can fly. At least if there will really be a Moon fever in a few years. There's so much pent up demand for experiencing the Moon.

  4. Ain't it the truth. It is so hard to judge what is good enough and move on. There is still so much i need to learn. But good things are happening. I am trying to finish labeling new models posted on Sketchfab - . Then i can add them to the website and blog about them. The website gets an overhaul soon. I am undertaking consultations, armed with models that properly show the current work. Things will get much better.

    VR is one possibility. The project needs to be taken up by people who can develop that. My goal is to provide the framework.