Producing electricity on the moon at night

December 20, 2013, Plataforma SINC, Spain
System for producing electricity on the Moon using reflective mirrors and a thermal engine. Fresnel reflectors (dark blue and grey mirrors) will concentrate solar rays into the elongated collector above. Beneath, there is a tube filled with fluid that transforms into a gas when heated. This heats the thermal mass or reservoir (grey box), which can transfer this heat to a Stirling engine (cross-shaped object) to produce electricity during the long lunar night. The radiator (blue) can heat rovers and crew. The yellow cover is a protector that prevents the heat from rapidly dissipating. / Credit: Blai Climent et al.

Scientists from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and other international collaborators have proposed a system of mirrors, processed lunar soil and a heat engine to provide energy to vehicles and crew during the lunar night. This would preclude the need for batteries and nuclear power sources such as those used by the Chinese rover that recently landed on the moon.

The lunar night lasts approximately 14 days, during which temperatures as low as -150 ºC have been recorded. This complicates vehicle movement and equipment functioning on the , requiring the transport of heavy batteries from Earth or the use of , as exemplified by the Chinese rover Yutu.

Now, a team of researchers from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, along with collaborators from the USA, have studied two options for storing energy on the Moon during the day for use at night. The details have been published in the journal Acta Astronautica, in an article featuring the participation of former NASA administrator, Michael Griffin.

"The first system consists of modifying fragments of regolith or , incorporating elements such as aluminium, for example, such that it becomes a thermal mass," Ricard Gonzalez-Cinca, a physics researcher at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and co-author of the study, explains to SINC.

"When the Sun's rays hit the surface, a system of mirrors reflects the light to the thermal mass, which later," he adds, "can transmit heat during the night to rovers and other lunar equipment."

The second system is similar, but incorporates a more sophisticated series of mirrors and a . The mirrors are Fresnel reflectors, such as those used in some solar energy technologies on Earth, which concentrate solar rays upon a fluid-filled tube.

This heat converts the liquid into a gas, which in turn heats the thermal mass. Afterwards, during the long lunar night, the heat is transferred to a Stirling engine to produce electricity.

"This system is better equipped than the previous model for lunar projects with greater needs, such as a manned mission spending the night on the moon," reports Gonzalez-Cinca.

Starting in 2020, the world's major space agencies, including NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the China National Space Administration, are planning their first manned missions to our satellite. Other countries, such as India and Japan, have also voiced their interest to send their own missions from that date onwards.

Explore further: China's first lunar rover to land on moon Saturday

More information: Blai Climent, Oscar Torroba, Ricard Gonzalez-Cinca, Narayanan Ramachandran, Michael D. Griffin. "Heat storage and electricity generation in the Moon during the lunar night". Acta Astronautica 93: 352-358, January 2014. (Invited paper). DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2013.07.024

Related Stories

Chang'e lunar probe boasts innovative camera pointing system

December 3, 2013

Following the launch of Chang'e-3 lunar probe in Xichang Satellite Launch Centre, the Camera Pointing System jointly developed by researchers of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) and China Academy of Space Technology ...

China moon rover enters lunar orbit

December 6, 2013

China's first lunar rover entered the moon's orbit on Friday, state media reported, a key step towards the vessel's planned landing later this month.

China's flag-bearing rover photographed on moon

December 16, 2013

China hailed its lunar probe mission a success after the country's first moon rover and the landing vehicle that carried it there took photos of each other on the surface, state media reported.

China's moon rover leaves traces on lunar soil

December 15, 2013

China's first moon rover has touched the lunar surface and left deep traces on its loose soil, state media reported Sunday, several hours after the country successfully carried out the world's first soft landing of a space ...

Recommended for you

How massive can neutron stars be?

January 16, 2018

Astrophysicists at Goethe University Frankfurt set a new limit for the maximum mass of neutron stars: They cannot exceed 2.16 solar masses.

Black hole spin cranks-up radio volume

January 12, 2018

Statistical analysis of supermassive black holes suggests that the spin of the black hole may play a role in the generation of powerful high-speed jets blasting radio waves and other radiation across the universe.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (2) Dec 20, 2013
Thanks to the low gravity, and no wind, you could also place the mirrors on top of a very tall tower and get several more days of sunlight. That would also probably help keep them out of the lunar dust.

Heck, it might even be reasonable to build a network of focusing mirrors or lenses to the east and west of your base. You would only need to go part of the way around, and with extremely tall towers, you could extend line of sight quite far.

The only catch to building tall towers on the moon (that I can think of) would be dealing with thermal expansion and contraction, but that shouldn't be too hard to solve.
not rated yet Dec 20, 2013
You could solve thermal expansion and contraction by using beryllium.
5 / 5 (1) Dec 20, 2013
lol, this is green energy on the moon.

I think it might be a better idea to use solar energy during the day to change the regolith into a compound that can be readily broken down. it seems smarter to store the energy in chemical bonds which can then be stored indefinitely without thermal losses associated with extreme temperature differences. these compounds can also then be transported to new sites or banked up like road salt is managed in " shelters".
5 / 5 (1) Dec 21, 2013
The low gravity might allow tall towers, but keep in mind that the moon is not free of quakes.
1 / 5 (4) Dec 23, 2013
5 / 5 (1) Dec 23, 2013
The low gravity might allow tall towers, but keep in mind that the moon is not free of quakes

That's true, but that's also not too hard to engineer around. Additionally, if you keep the structure simple, then it isn't difficult or expensive(relatively speaking) to repair.

Anyway, I'm not a lunar engineer, so I don't want to get bogged down in the details (which I know very little about). My point is really just that engineering on the moon (or any other place radically different than Earth) will allow huge shifts in design paradigm.

Having no wind, no rain, and low gravity is a really big deal. Sure there are other challenges that replace those traditional factors, but form follows function, and lunar construction should develop its own flavor quite different than Earthly structures.

For example, cable trolleys might be extensively used there, even for bulk goods transport, like trains are used here. With no air resistance, transport is way easier.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.