Russia opens talks with NASA and ESA with plans for manned lunar base

Jan 25, 2012 by Tammy Plotner, Universe Today
Multiple images of the International Space Station flying over the Houston area have been combined into one composite image to show the progress of the station as it crossed the face of the moon in the early evening of Jan. 4. (Lauren Harnett)

On January 19, 2012, Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency began talking to the United States and Europe about the stuff dreams are made of... a manned research base on the Moon.

The agency’s chief, Vladimir Popovkin, led off the discussion with officials from NASA and the European Space Agency for a permanent facility. “We don’t want man to just step on the ,” Popovkin told Vesti FM radio station, according to the Ria Novosti news agency. “Today, we know enough about it, we know that there is water in its polar areas … we are now discussing how to begin [the Moon's] exploration with NASA and the European Space Agency.”

But that’s not all. One giant leap for mankind often begins with one small step – or two. In this instance, Russia is planning to launch two unmanned missions to the Moon within the next 8 years. According to Popovkin, the plan is to either set up a stationary base on the lunar surface, or to put a working laboratory into orbit around it.

Don’t shoot these comments down just because they’ve come to light after a recent run of bad luck on behalf of Russia’s current space missions – most notably the doomed Mars probe Phobos-Grunt which crashed back to Earth following a malfunction. According to Fix News, “It was the latest mishap for Roscosmos and came after Russian president Dmitry Medvedev threatened to punish those responsible for previous space failures, which included the loss of satellites and botched launches.”

In the meantime, let’s focus on the positive contributions the Russians have made towards lunar exploration – in particular, the Luna missions which set many milestones. Of these, they were the first to successfully land a craft of the Moon, the first to photograph the far side, the first to achieve a soft landing and send back panoramic, close-up images, the first to become an artificial lunar satellite, the first to deploy rover missions and the first to return lunar soil samples which they shared with the international scientific community.

Explore further: Giant crater in Russia's far north sparks mystery

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2.5 / 5 (24) Jan 25, 2012
I'm all for this. I believe the answer to doing this right is working together as many nations. I for one, hope that private interest in the Moon results from these missions. One small step for man, one giant leap for a lunar basket ball court.

35 foot high slam dunk!!
5 / 5 (8) Jan 25, 2012
A stationary base is probably more cost effective.

1) Resupply from earth would cost about the same if your in orbit or on the surface.

2) You could get water from the surface. This would be complicated if your base was in orbit as you'd have to have some sort of periodic shuttle system to the surface (where'd you get the fuel?)

3) Building the base would be easier on the surface (just need to get a good drill up there and dig down, then spray the walls with something gooey and airtight to take care of microcracks)

4) A subsurface base would also provide vastly better protection from radiation and micrometeorites

5) Setting up large solar panels on the surface is easier than having them in space. (though on the surface you'd need some energy storage for night time. Moon-water to hydrogen comes to mind)
3.2 / 5 (9) Jan 25, 2012
Very ambitious, and yes, now is probably a good time to start talking about something like this.

The first step would need to be getting a navigational system in place. There aren't any radio navigation towers or GPS satellites on the moon, so it's extremely difficult to land within a small area of an intended target. It wouldn't be good to have a base and not be able to make sure you are landing re-supply missions near it but not on top of it.

As for moon water, it's probably not pure water, so we need to know what kind of impurities are in it before we can make a machine to purify it.
2.6 / 5 (5) Jan 25, 2012
Another thing about moon water; the way it is distributed is super important. If it's spread all over the ground like frost, it would be entirely different than if there's a huge glacier.
1.3 / 5 (16) Jan 25, 2012
Another thing about moon water; the way it is distributed is super important. If it's spread all over the ground like frost, it would be entirely different than if there's a huge glacier.


It could be both. Bonded to lunar material (dust) in exposed areas and in a more crystalline form in the permanently shaded areas of some of the moon's larger and deeper craters.

The key to using this water without running out of supply will depend on recycling technology.
4 / 5 (4) Jan 25, 2012
I remeber an article not too long ago about china setting up a moon base. They were going to scout for pre-existing caverns which I thought, from a monetary standpoint would be the way to go....then you would just need the goo, no drill. ( Until phase 2 of course)
2.2 / 5 (10) Jan 25, 2012
here's a good one to puzzle over:

lets say that you have pure water frost on the ground, and it's nice and thick, but it's spread all over the place. How do you get it up? You can't suck it up with a vaccumn because there's no atmosphere. You would have to scoop it up. Then, how do you get it into a container? You can't just heat it up in a vaccumn and melt it. It would just vaporize. You would need to heat it above freezing in a pressurized container and then let it run out the bottom, which it wouldn't want to do because of low gravity and surface tension of water. It might also just soak into the material you scooped up with it. If that's the case, then you have to heat it above boiling in a pressurized container and then have a condenser to collect the vapor. You lose air every time you open the door.

That starts to become a complicated process. Heavy equipment, lots of moving parts, big temp/pressure changes in the equipment, and a long way to Lowes to get a replacement bolt
2.1 / 5 (7) Jan 25, 2012
The key to using this water without running out of supply will depend on recycling technology.

The key might be figuring out how to harvest it in the first place and getting all that heavy equipment to the surface of the moon. If it takes a bunch of heavy and complicated equipment to harvest the water, plus replacement parts and such, then it's probably easier to just transport water from Earth and recycle that. We already use recycled water on the ISS. replacement filters are fairly easy to transport.

Unless there's a lot of water there, and you actually have a need for large amounts of water, it's probably easier to bring your own. A base in a permanently sunny place at the poles would probably be better than a base in a permanently dark place anyway. Working in a permanently dark place presents its own problems too.
2.8 / 5 (4) Jan 25, 2012
Don't forget He-3 on Moon for nuclear fusion.
1 / 5 (2) Jan 25, 2012
Be ready for the solar minimum i geuss.
2.3 / 5 (6) Jan 25, 2012
Actually, on the day time side of the moon, you coudl use a direct solar boiler and condenser for seperating out the water from other materials. It would be a closed system and need only two or three valves. This assumes actual H20 as ice or inclusions in rocks or dust.

More complicated is baking hydrogen and oxygen out of rocks to form H20...
1.8 / 5 (4) Jan 26, 2012
Actually, on the day time side of the moon,

the day time side of the moon? You mean the apx 15 day time period when any given side of the moon is in daylight, which is followed by apx 15 days of darkness?

The only permanently sunny places on the moon are at its poles (except when Earth gets in the way, of course). If you could find a crater that is permanently shaded right next to a place that's permanently sunny, you could use that to aid you in heat exchange processes, but once again, you're talking about big complex machinery that would need to be maintained in a harsh environment.

As I said above, you still need to physically scoop up the material and place it in a sealed container before you can extract any water for use.
2.4 / 5 (5) Jan 26, 2012
It would be a closed system and need only two or three valves

That's absurd. You can't possibly know what kind of system is needed until you know what the water is like. If it's mixed with regolith you need to seperate it. If it's contaminated with stuff like sulfur, arsenic, lead, calcium, nitrogen, carbon, etc. you need to treat it in various ways to decontaminate it. You might need to run moon water through 50 steps to get it into a usable form. It might require multiple steps of distilation and refining, as well as chemical treatments and multiple steps of filtrations to remove condensate at different stages of refining. What you say is only vaguely possible if the water is sitting on the surface in great piles of pure h2o, and even then, I doubt it could be that simple.
1.8 / 5 (5) Jan 26, 2012
Another unknown:

Where is the water? We know it's in permanently shaded craters. What does the topography there look like? Do you need to build a road before you can get to it? Would you need to make tunnells or a bridge? Clear large boulders out of the way? The parts of the moon we have landed on in the past were chosen because they are relatively flat and free of debris. The water might not be in such a friendly place. The moon has terrain as rough as the rocky mountains or the grand canyon, we just haven't visited any of those places yet. With no weathering, the rough parts can be very rough. If your water is sitting on a ledge 200 feet up on the side of a crater wall, how do you get to it? Is it worth it?

Any claims about what might be possible are complete science fiction, until someone actually sends a probe and surveys the water locations and takes a sample of it too.
5 / 5 (1) Jan 26, 2012
One of the very best sites to explore first is at Malapert Mountain, near the South Pole. Sunshine there is nearly permanent (9.5 earth days max shadow), and the temperatures are more moderate than at the equator. Nearby Cabeus crater, where LCROSS impacted, is suspected of containing ice, maybe in a hoarfrost formation, possibly several meters deep. So far, the amount of water discovered on the moon could supply a space shuttle flight every day for 200 years. However, all of the concerns GSwift7 mentions are true, except perhaps one. The equipment doesn't necessarily have to be massive. If it is, you need massive ships to land the stuff. If reduced in size, existing ships can handle it. Teleoperated equipment can do the task, but being smaller, it will take longer. That isn't a problem if it would take years longer before the big rocket is available. During those years, smaller machines could make significant progress.
5 / 5 (1) Jan 29, 2012
Don't forget He-3 on Moon for nuclear fusion.

Let's get that working on Earth before we count them chickens.