#104 April 1997
Section 126.96.36.199.104.of the Artemis Data Book
by Peter Kokh
Why take the ice anywhere? Why not build our lunar settlement/outpost where the resources are - at the south pole? Aha! Because that is not where the resources are! Man does not live by water alone, nor by water and sunlight alone. Is Chicago astride Minnesota's Messabi Iron Range? Is Los Angeles on Alaska's north slope? Is Phoenix on a great river?
This overly easy "why not" flows from an underappreciation of the industrial-export opportunities on the Moon. In so far as they rest on raw materials, water is an absolutely essential - yet only auxiliary element. Much greater quantities of iron, aluminum, titanium, magnesium, concrete, glass, glass composites, and ceramics will be involved. We'll need them for building and furnishing the lunar settlements themselves, and for export of the same products to other off-Earth destinations. We'll need them for manufacturing solar power arrays, on the lunar surface, in space, or both. We may need them to support Helium-3 mining operations once/if that energy scenario becomes engineering reality.
Both lunar poles sit in "highland" areas, rich in aluminum, magnesium, and calcium. Oxygen and silicon are locked in the rocks everywhere, but if we want iron and titanium, we'll find them in greater abundance in the "mare" [MAH' ray] areas, the frozen lava sheet "seas". We'll need both suites of materials to make glass composites. Do we take the Mountain (all these other ores) to Mohammed (where the water ice is) or ought Mohammed to seek out the Mountain?
Clearly, it is folly to put a lunar industrial site anywhere but along a mare/highland "coast" strip, where highland and mare suites of materials can be accessed with equal ease. That leaves us with countless options - none of them near a pole. The closest coast to the north pole, that of Mare Frigoris, is some 600 miles away. The closest coasts to the south pole, where ice has been confirmed, those of southern Mare Humoris and Mare Nectaris, are more than twice as far removed. If all we are going to do on the Moon is set up a fuel depot, then the South Pole seems the spot to be. If we are going to do more, we will need a south polar ice-mining town - to play the supporting role. But we have to transport the ice!
We'll find that the tension between polar and more equatorial mare/coastal sites is an extremely pregnant one for lunar development. The simpler solution, then, is clearly not the best one - but that should surprise no one.
We can transport the polar water ice in three forms:
Needing no overland infrastructure but more capital equipment at both ends are mated pairs of mass-drivers and mass catchers flinging and catching mass-equalized balls of purified water ice. Such a system would be considerably less destination-flexible than any other alternative , and would tend to concentrate lunar industrial development without regard to other salient factors, missing many chances to spread settlement and development around the globe.
Suborbital hopper bulk ice carriers would make for more flexibility. They could be powered by all-lunar fuels such as liquid oxygen and iron fines pulled from the regolith soil with a magnet.
Pipelines are infrastructure. They require Rights of Way, topographically logical routing, and periodic pumping stations and branch option T-valves. Roads are a more flexible infrastructure - easier to "T" into, but needing wider Rights of Way. Road and pipeline would likely parallel one another, possibly accompanied by a power transmission line.
Any of these options will establish corridors of clearly "improved" real estate. The investment needed to create them can be amortized from profits in the sale of ice/water/methane and from the sale of in-corridor "improved" frontage properties.
As such, pipeline and road corridors "invite" a Land Grant system that would promote additional development. [See Alan Wasser's article on pages 9-11 in last month's MMM.] For this reason, the Rights of Way granted ought to be overly generous, some miles wide, exact figure to be determined. As other ice fields are brought into production, the mining companies and transshipment companies that serve them would pay fees to "T" into roads and pipelines built to serve the first field to be opened. This would create a strong incentive to accept the extra up front costs (developing and field-testing the necessary equipment) of being the "ice-breaking" pioneer.
These Right of Way corridors are likely serendipitously to provide access to both mining and scenic "areas of opportunity". If nearby areas of especial mineral wealth or spectacular beauty are pre-identified, they may well act as economic "mascons", pulling the proposed transport corridor in question off its most topographically logical route.
"Ice Logistics" will be a critical element in lunar economic development. The form in which mined ice is transported to various lunar markets will play a very important role in the way lunar development unfolds and diversifies as well as in the way human presence is globalized around the Moon. It will co-determine where settlements and outposts are established, even the order in which they are founded, and the rate at which they will grow.
Just as importantly, Ice Logistics is sure to become a central focus of early lunar politics, much as a series of key decisions in urban and rural electrification and electrical power transmission shaped and focused local, state, and national politics in this country during the last part of the nineteenth and the opening decades of the twentieth centuries.
Thus it becomes clear that the ramifications of the existence of economically significant amounts of lunar polar ice - when contrasted to the ramifications of the previous "wisdom" which discounted that possibility - are enormous, in their pyramiding, for the future of the Moon and its place first in a Greater Earth economy, then in a Solar System wide economy.
Suddenly, it is very interesting!
Contents of this issue of Moon Miners' Manifesto