Monday, October 25, 2010

Destination: Moon

From Lunar Networks: Lunar Pioneer Online
The definitive confirmation of water (and a host of exotic resources) at Cabeus, and elsewhere on the Moon, caps off a watershed moment of historic lunar exploration, all long after the Apollo era. New frontiersmen and women are taking a belated, second look at the inevitability of the Moon. And far from having already "been there" and "done that," - beginning with the humble Lunar Prospector and renewed by the political fallout following the Columbia accident, the Moon has yet again become a destination in its own right [Lunar Pioneer].

Interesting speculation are following publication of peer-reviewed studies of the LCROSS impact continues to grow. An example follows that will probably interest to LP Partners.

Yeoman Jack Kennedy of Spaceports, in an energetic column appearing in the Charlottesville Daily Progress, writes:
"The American private sector is not sitting out the next race to the moon; it is creating it. The first privately owned and operated lunar rover will be a new benchmark for free enterprise and capitalism. In the next quarter-of-a-century, we will come know a two-world system.

"While the more narrow-minded among us may consider it all sheer lunacy, the reach for the moon by foreign governments and the American private sector is a technology-driver for those of us remaining firmly on earth. The economic benefits derived from the Apollo era are staggering when cast in measure of cost accounting benefits derived and now taken for granted in telecommunications, navigation, weather prediction, health care and a host of other science and technology endeavors.

"We shall soon see the American Internet technology leaders engaging the private space development paradigm with similar vigor, innovation and creativity as witnessed in the creation of companies like PayPal, Amazon and a multitude of computer software firms."

- Back to the Moon, October 25, 2010
Kennedy, along with others, has also raised our long-anticipated question of who has rights to the Moon's resources.

President Obama, in one of his first official acts, unilaterally ended American tourism to the forbidden continent of Antarctica. And because the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 places responsibility for space-related activities by a signatory nation's citizens squarely in the hands of their respective governments (regardless where such activities may take place) can access to the Moon be blocked even to science? The answer is yes.

What role can profit play in using the Moon's resources, for any purpose? Could a new treaty, more favorable to capitalism, even be conceived at a time when Libya and even Iran sit on the United Nations Human Rights Commission?

When President Obama and, more importantly, a Congress controlled by super-majorities of his Party began eliminating the legacy for his predecessor by ending the Constellation brand name the result has really been only to defund a single significant program under development, disregarding the kinds of boosters America might need "in the pipeline." In fact, if the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the other precursor lunar robotics become the sole legacy of the Vision for Space Exploration proponents already have reason to be proud.

Lost in the fuss over boosters and architecture was Altair, the simple ability to safely land depart from the lunar surface, regardless of what such a vehicle might eventually have looked like.

The "either/or," zero-sum idea of "Moon or Mars" is a false issue. Its only natural Lunar Pioneer has welcomed the notion of private access to orbit, but no mention has yet been officially offered about similar access to the Moon's surface.

Even when Constellation's development was still in high gear the Space Studies Board of the National Academies spelled out the case for exploring the Moon systematically by precursor robotics "prior to extended human activity," to better understand lessons to be learned while the Moon remains relatively "pristine." But the Board also anticipated events rapidly catching up with such a need (regardless of American timetables).

Another story today from China's Peoples Daily reminds us of what might seem only minimally important to many, that is until China's increasing reluctance to part with its near monopoly of certain rare earths, essential to much of the world future economy, is taken into account:
"The Chang'e II, China's second lunar probe, conducted an imaging tests of its CCD camera yesterday and it will track down and enter into an orbit around the moon of 100 kilometers by 15 kilometers on Tuesday by an enhanced thrust from the launch vehicle.

"After the third image tests, the Chang'e II will enter into and image the Rainbow Bay, the landing area for the satellite.

"The imaging tests of the CCD camera aboard the satellite started yesterday in the early morning. It ceaselessly conducted the work of interruption and restoration of power supply and flew around the moon every two hours, according to Zhang Bo, chief designer of the Beijing Institute of Tracking and Communication Technology.

"The three imaging tests are just preparations for the imaging of the Rainbow Bay, said Zhang.

"Yesterday's imaging tests show the camera works well and Chang'e II is still running around an orbit of 100 kilometers by 100 kilometers."

Liang Jun, People's Daily Online
Lost in translation, of course, is that "the satellite" China intends to land is not Chang'e-2,but Chang'e-3, and then not before 2013.

Why has the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) decided upon Sinus Iridum, their "Rainbow Bay" as a future landing target candidate?

Officials say the half crescent bay on the northwest edge of the Iridium basin is only one possible target. China space-watchers might want to trace out other areas where Chang'e-2 will swing closer to the Moon at perilune, along this same middle latitude before and after the Moon's rotation brings "Rainbow Bay" within range of its improved optics.

It seems to be an exceptionally flat place, known for low reflectivity in Earth-based radar. It is surrounded by, but not really a significant part of, the Procellarum KREEP terrain, recognized for an unusual combination of potassium, rare earths and phosphorus, nor is Rainbow Bay really part of the broader area on the Moon's Near side known for high relative abundance of nearly every kind of metallic oxide and thorium.

Courtesy of the venerable Astrogeology section of the United States Geological Survey (USGS), three context views of the Sinus Iridum venue (small Red dot), all Mercator projections (1/2 degree per pixel). At top, the Moon in "natural color" from the Ultraviolet-Visible Light (UVVIS) survey from Clementine (1994), and at middle and bottom the relative elemental abundance of thorium and, at bottom, oxygen from surveys by Lunar Prospector (1998-1999). Iron oxide (mapped elsewhere) is thought to be a good marker for the highest probable presence of helium-3. Though Sinus Iridum is clearly of morphological interest, it is not particularly rich in thorium and less rich in oxygen (and oxides) than most Near side basalt-filled areas on the Moon [USGS].

Perhaps, along with areas in Africa and the Americas, the always forward-thinking Chinese are looking to secure resources on the Moon. Then again, perhaps the methodical Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) is simply learning the delicate skill of orbital targeting in their stated ambition of shortly landing Chang'e-3 on a wide and flat target.

Nevertheless, premature speculation about the PRC's lunar intentions, based on their present and more obvious strategic priorities, is just starting to run high:
Rare metals on the Moon have yet to spark modern Moon race

Minyanville Daily Feed
Cory Bortnicker October 25, 2010

China’s abundance of rare earth metals has been the talk of the town, as of late. And for good reason. They’ve got about 90% of the Earth’s supply of compounds like Neodymium, Dysprosium, Cerium and thus, can dole them out as they wish while the rest of the world squirms, begs, and barters.

But thanks to a little known science called “astronomy,” there could be an alternative locale for mining rare Earth metals…the moon.

The AFP reports that researchers at Brown University have analyzed particles of lunar dust and found a “surprisingly rich mixture that, in addition to the silver, included water and compounds like hydroxyl, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ammonia, and free sodium.”

Brown geologist Peter Schultz said “This place looks like it's a treasure chest of elements, of compounds that have been released all over the Moon.”


And the best news? The US has serious plans to launch extensive missions to the moon! Er…actually, scratch that. Not the US. We mean China.

On October 11th, President Obama signed the NASA Authorization Act 2010, effectively ending the Constellation program, which aimed to return humans to the Moon.

Meanwhile, on October 1st, the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) launched its Chang E 2 lunar probe, the second lunar orbiter launched in three years. In 2004, the Chinese government authorized a three-stage robotic lunar exploration that will:

Stage 1: Orbiters will circle the moon and collect data.

Stage 2: Robotic probes will land on the lunar surface to collect and analyze lunar samples and transmit the data back to Earth.

Stage 3: After landing on the moon, the robotic probe will return to Earth with a set of moon rocks and soil sample.

NASA’s behind-the-times approach isn’t lost on NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who recently traveled to China for talks about cooperative spaceflight.

As you can imagine, lawmakers are less than thrilled.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), who is on the subcommittee that oversees NASA’s budget, wrote “It should go without saying that NASA has no business cooperating with the Chinese regime on human spaceflight. China is taking an increasingly aggressive posture globally, and their interests rarely intersect with ours."

POSITION: No positions in stocks mentioned."
These seem like wild speculations now, based in part on outdated science, yet thinking in this manner about the Moon, as a destination rather than as mere stepping stone, has begun once again, some writing driven by agendas based upon thinking pretty far afield from the expansion of a human permanent presence beyond the confines of our single planet, the one the dinosaurs too late discovered a sitting target.

A very recent study has also appeared speculating that "soot" from an eventual 1,000 suborbital tours by the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo (supposedly using only one particular rocket design during that entire extended period) would result in more so-called "global warming" than would result from all of the world's civil aviation.

With the confirmation of a tally of elements uncovered at Cabeus comes chatter about a need to understand the "pristine" lunar exosphere, as well as the Moon's long record of the Solar System's history, before any extended human activity on the Moon.

The landing site of Apollo 16, for a variety of reasons, is among the Fifty priority Constellation program Regions of Interest. At one time believed to have proved out as a mistaken choicethe Cayley Plain between North and South Ray craters, in the shadow of the Descartes formation has become a standard for calibrating remote sensors, on board Japan's Kaguya, for example. Artifacts of the Young & Duke expedition are invaluable as a long-duration exposure facility (LDEF). Based on studies of the similar, though secondary purposes for landing Apollo 12 near Surveyor 3 in 1969, the authors in 2008 recommended any future approach here "low and from a distance" - quite different than the notion pictured above. For a wallpaper-sized view (1920 x 1100), click HERE [Lunar Pioneer].

Thankfully, no tie into the world's ecosystem and food chain, no fauna or flora, has yet been discovered on the Moon or the "temporary" status of Antarctica set up more than fifty years ago might eventually set the economic salvation available from the Moon in a tragic and unnecessary limbo. Those who favor ignoring the Moon in hope of moving on to Mars - a place far more likely to harbor life - should pay close attention.

Love of humanity, among humans, is not universal.

Even setting aside the possible future harvesting of helium-3 for a clean fusion power, we are facing a simple harsh reality. For the human race to continue its present technological and economic growth - for the world at large to enjoy even the most basic kind of lifestyle now enjoyed in the United States, for example, beyond 2050 we will very likely need what the Moon has to offer.

There is no reason why both the learning of the lessons that the Moon has to offer while enriching our species in the process cannot go hand in hand - unless, of course, some are simply unwilling to simply step out of the way. If that should eventually prove impossible, there is another and more traditional kind of extended human activity to settle the issue, though such methods might also serve to unnecessarily delay the fulfillment of both these noble purposes.


Anonymous said...

Interesting article.

It would be even better if you gave credits for using an image of DanSteph's Delta Glider Mark IV and Dr Martin Schweiger's Orbiter Space Flight Simulator.

Joel Raupe said...

Asking around the bungalow, there is general agreement. The artist definitely used Orbiter and the Delta IV add-on, is what I am hearing. Thanks...