Why are we go­ing back?

The sci­en­tific and busi­ness cases for re­turn­ing to the Moon

Sky at Night Magazine - - FIELD OF VIEW -

The South Pole crater has been se­lected for exploratio­n by many space play­ers. As ESA’s Di­dier Sch­mitt ex­plains, “We know that it is rich in wa­ter re­sources, which we can hy­drol­yse for pro­pel­lant (as hy­dro­gen) and oxy­gen for the crew. Also, the South Pole has col­lected all the ma­te­rial from the in­te­rior of the Moon when it cooled some 4 bil­lion years ago. Such craters are cold traps that con­tain a fos­sil record of the early So­lar Sys­tem. We can learn a lot about our ori­gins.”

“A key strat­egy to the suc­cess­ful lo­ca­tion of a per­ma­nent base will be in situ re­source util­i­sa­tion (ISRU),” says Ai­dan Cowley, ESA sci­ence ad­vi­sor to fu­ture mis­sions at the As­tro­naut Cen­tre, where he and his team have de­vel­oped a ma­te­rial that sim­u­lates lu­nar re­golith (loose de­posits cov­er­ing solid rock). “We be­gin con­struc­tion of a lu­nar fa­cil­ity later this year, us­ing 600 tonnes of this sim­u­lant, to pre­pare our as­tro­nauts, to test equip­ment and to val­i­date op­er­a­tions on the lu­nar sur­face.”

Of ap­peal to the com­mer­cial sec­tor is the po­ten­tial range of met­als and ma­te­ri­als avail­able at the South Pole, and their re­sale value. While there are some ex­ist­ing treaties in place over who can claim own­er­ship of what be­yond Earth, (Outer Space Treaty 1967, Min­ing Space Act 2015), with so many peo­ple head­ing to­wards the Moon, these rules may re­quire re­clas­si­fi­ca­tion.

A split im­age of Shack­le­ton crater at the lu­nar south pole shows an el­e­va­tion map (left)

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