#91 December 1995
Section 220.127.116.11.091.of the Artemis Data Book
by Peter Kokh
The first industrial equipment to make landfall on the moon will not be a small pilot demonstration plant to make the first exportable product (oxygen from moon rock, being the popular candidate). Rather it will be equipment needed to set up the lunar outpost properly in the first place. This means equipment to make sintered regolith blocks to use in directly- or indirectly-applied shielding, and possibly solar concentrators and molds to make cast basalt products such as paving blocks for dust control
Any kind of construction and/or industrial activity will require soil handling equipment. IF this equipment is properly engineered, it can, at the same time, providentially separate out iron-rich materials (by passing over the soil being handled with a magnet) and solar-wind-derived gasses and other volatiles adsorbed to the fine soil particles - such as hydrogen, helium, neon, argon, xenon, carbon, and nitrogen (by heating). This process we have dubbed "primage." Every scoopful of regolith we move with cheaper equipment not so designed represents a lost opportunity to set ourselves up for subsequent industrial activity, in a sort of sinful shortsightedness on a par with our current policy of throwing away the space shuttle external tank.
Mark these words: if, through political shortsightedness in a government effort, or through misguided accounting decisions or scheduling impatience in a commercial effort, the first soil moving equipment on the moon is not "equipped to primage," we will have set ourselves in an ever self-deepening rut to nowhere. Impatience always backfires - it's a cosmic law.
If we are providential enough to so set ourselves up, among the first products of hit-the-ground running industries will be bins or bowls, and tankage, in which to keep separate such industrially handy scavenged materials. We may also want to harvest and "embin" the less common differently enriched regolith soils wherever we find them relatively unmixed. These will include (in addition to the common aluminum and calcium enriched highland soils and the iron and titanium enriched mare soils - both handy to a "coastal" site) the so-called KREEP soils from the Mare Imbrium impact splashout enriched in potassium, rare earth elements, and phosphorus; iron-enriched orange soils like that found at Shorty crater; iron and titanium enriched ilmenite soils; material from large crater central peaks, probably representing upthrusts of deep mantle material; and the glassy spherules found everywhere.
We'll want a bulldozer/grader fully equipped to primage, a solar concentrator able to produce various levels of heat, various handy molds, some of them refractory (able to withstand high heat), and sieving and compacting devices. We'll also want a lab capable of testing performance characteristics, and a shop with in which we can "work" these initial crude materials, and "fabricate" them into useful items: building blocks and bricks, paving slabs, bins and other containers, tankage, additional molds, support "tables" for additional imported equipment, etc. As soon as feasible, we will want equipment that will let us tinker with sintered and cast iron and crude glass products.
Yes, we want to set out a ready-to-go-just plug-in oxygen extraction pilot/demonstration module. But if we come truly committed from the outset to a permanent industrial presence, then the oxygen trick, taken alone, buys us little. Oxygen is important enough to share top priority status. Delivered back to LEO for refueling moon-bound ferries, it will lower the cost of importing additional equipment to the moon. But every needed piece of low performance equipment that can be made on the moon in a simple starter industry also cuts down import costs, even more directly, by cutting down appreciably the total accumulative weight of equipment needing to be imported. We need this two-pronged approach. To scorn it, as unworthy of attention, would be, to put it honestly, just plain fatally stupid.
Beyond that, we must always keep in mind, that anything the outpost can make for itself, however crude - as long as it is serviceable, is a potential export to other space locations at a decided cost-advantage over unnecessarily refined alternatives made within, and shipped out of Earth's deep gravity well. This should be the guiding philosophy of lunar industrial diversification aimed at a healthy diversified export trade.
A companion stratagem that will "set us up" better yet is to especially fabricate all equipment that does, and must initially, come up from Earth so that those components which can eventually be replaced by serviceable moon-made parts are made of elements not easily or economically produced on the moon, at least not in the near future, but which will be essential for a healthy diversified industrial operation. For example, tables, tanks, bins, dividers, separators, containers and other packaging materials, etc. should be made of strategic cannibalizable materials such as copper, brass, stainless steel, aluminum alloy, easily reusable simple polymers like polyethylene and polyurethane, etc.
While such "special" manufacturing specifications may make the import item initially more expensive in itself, and perhaps even heavier and therefore more fuel-costly to import, the subsequent advantage to infant lunar industry may very well outweigh these upfront penalties. If we are indeed in this for the long haul, then long term goals must be given priority over short-term budgeting myopia.
To insure that this is the plan we will indeed follow, it is absolutely essential that we first sell ourselves, then others whose support we will need, on the whole "ladder" of a lunar industrial settlement, and not just one innocuous unalarming "rung" at a time. The rung-by-rung sales pitch now in vogue among space-activists is perhaps the single most responsible fatal flaw behind our current going-nowhere space efforts.
Contents of this issue of Moon Miners' Manifesto