The Moon village

Let’s have a look at the Moon village for this new Space Law article. Almost half a century after being accosted by human beings on July 21, 1969 during the Apollo XI mission, the Moon is in the process of being colonized. The project foresees, according to Bernard Foing, that one thousand people will remain permanently on our natural satellite in the middle of this century. He also imagines the proclamation of a “Republic of the Moon” as early as 2057, just a century after the first Sputnik 1 artificial satellite took off… Space Law is about to be revolutionised.

It is interesting to draw parallels with the colonization of Antarctica. After its discovery, this last terrestrial continent, explored by Dumont d’Urville in 1839, was soon neglected, the expeditions really taking off only in the twentieth century. Thanks to the collaboration of international scientists, a humanistic use of Antarctica has been imagined and implemented. In 1959, one hundred and twenty years after Dumont d’Urville’s trip, an international treaty, guaranteeing freedom of access and research, was signed, whereby the Antarctic legal system can be summed up in two formulas: “freezing land claims” and “functional internationalization based on peaceful use” of this territory. At present, at least one thousand people work there permanently.

Of course, the Moon is an even more inhospitable region for humans, which will have to be preceded by robots, less sensitive to cosmic rays. But the start of a lunar village is given with peaceful objectives, which are above all those of an international scientific community, concerned with more humanism. The club of actors able to send satellites and human beings in outer space has expanded with the arrival, we could almost speak of “intrusion”, of newcomers such as Elon Musk (SpaceX), Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin), China, Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic), CubeSats…

Pr. Bernard Foing is a French scientist at the European Space Agency (ESA), Executive Director of the International Lunar Exploration Working Group (ILEWG), a public forum sponsored by the world’s space agencies to support “international cooperation towards a world strategy for the exploration and utilization of the Moon – our natural satellite” (International Lunar Workshop, June 1994), and was Principal Project Scientist for SMART-1, the first European mission to the Moon. According to him, ESA is developing the concept of a “Moon village” with the objective of a sustainable human presence on the lunar surface to perform multiple activities. Many users are envisaged and this project aims to unite many nations and partners. This program is moving ahead and represents a first choice from a political, programmatic, technical, scientific point of view, and also for operational, economic reasons, and for the generation of inspirations and innovations.

The lunar village builds on previous projects: spaceflights and planetary robotic missions. It is also based on the work of the International Lunar Exploration Working Group (ILEWG) of COSPAR (Committee on Space Research). The ILEWG, created 20 years ago, supported the possibilities of collaboration between the different lunar missions conducted around the world and allowed rich exchanges on future projects. Lunar orbiters have been deployed in fleets for scientific and reconnaissance purposes during the “last international lunar decade”; it started with SMART-1 (a Swedish-designed European Space Agency satellite that orbited around the Moon). It has tested electric solar propulsion to deep space, paving the way for an international flotilla of orbital lunar probes in the last fifteen years.

The international community followed with Kaguya (SELENE or Selenological and Engineering Explore), the Chinese Chang’e missions, Chandrayaan-1, India’s first lunar probe, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), a robotic spacecraft operated by NASA, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), a NASA robotic spacecraft currently orbiting the Moon in an eccentric polar mapping orbit, the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL), an American lunar science mission in NASA’s Discovery Program which used high-quality gravitational field mapping of the Moon to determine its interior structure, and the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, a NASA lunar exploration and technology demonstration mission. De facto, Europe received collaboration opportunities and learned about the robotized village elements on the Moon.

The Moon village discussions are also conducted on the basis of current and short-term planned activities aboard the ISS and also on the basis of previous roadmaps and studies carried out within international groups such as COSPAR, ILEWG, IAF (International Astronautical Federation), International Astronautical Academy (IAA), International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) or various national and regional groups. All this implies new industries in outer space.

The Moon village will be partly the continuation of activities carried out on the International Space Station (ISS). But in addition, in a perspective of wide opening on other countries, on other partners, public and commercial. Intergovernmental funding for the ISS is scheduled until 2024. From 2024 onwards, we can consider manned flights in low Moon orbit on small space stations. For the Moon village, many partners of the ISS are needed but it will also require the help from other countries, developed and developing, always in a spirit of peaceful cooperation between states. Commercial farms that will generate profits are planned. The development of activities outside the strict field of space research, such as artistic activities, are also planned.

The Moon village has the ambition to serve several purposes, including peaceful international cooperation, planetary science, Earth monitoring, astronomy and cosmology, basic research, life sciences, resource usage, manned spaceflight, economic development, and technological innovation in multiple areas. It should be the catalyst for new alliances between the public and private entities, including non-space industries. Scientific research that was conducted aboard the ISS in conditions of partial gravity will be carried out; local resources, such as ice and minerals, will also be used. In addition, the Moon village should be a strong source of new inspiration, human capacity building and workforce development. Moreover, what a wonderful educational tool for the younger generations.

From now on, two very concrete preparatory projects are emerging: the Orion capsule associated with an ESA module and the Luna 27, a planned lunar lander mission – led by the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) with the collaboration of the European Space Agency (ESA) – to send a lander to an area on the far side of the Moon. The Orion capsule and the ESA service module that propels Orion to the Moon (with propulsion, energy, cargo and technologies in the continuity of the ATV Automatic Transfer Vehicle to ISS) are prepared for a mission launch EM-1 exploration in automatic mode in 2020, then with four astronauts for EM-2 in 2023, for a mission of eight to twenty-one days. These projects have fallen behind, especially in the financing and development of Orion and the heavy launcher SLS. Luna 27’s objective is to survey minerals, volatile substances and lunar ice in the permanently shaded polar areas, and to explore the potential use of these resources.

NASA Deep Space Gateway Project, a real space station in orbit around the Moon, sometimes referred to as the “Stargate”, has changed names several times and the gateway is now called Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G). If funded, the “bridge” will be developed, maintained and used in collaboration with commercial and international partners to serve as a base for robotized and crewed lunar surface missions and for travel to Mars. The initial concept for the LOP-G is still evolving and includes at least the following component modules: a power and propulsion element, and a Cislunar Habitation Module (I-HAB).

In order to overcome the problems of exposure to solar radiation and cosmic radiation, micrometeorites and extreme temperatures, rigid modules will be built as a beginning, then inflatable structures with protection using regolith and ice will be deployed. Some of the sensitive facilities might also be buried. A refuge and warning system will be needed to monitor solar flares and mass ejections. Antidotes limiting the effects of radiations might also be developed. Finally, a rigorous policy selection of future astronauts will be imposed.

Concerning the resources available on the lunar soil, such as water, helium-3, oxygen, silicon, iron, aluminium, titanium, chromium… some of these elements could be extracted and used. On the Moon, the ice could cover the permanently shaded areas over an area of ​​sixteen thousand kilometres square. The ice mass available in situ is therefore estimated at several billion tonnes, a resource that can be used on site and can be exported for orbital savings. Helium-3 can be extracted, but in very small quantities at each operation. It will therefore take a long time to arrive at the quantities needed for it to be used in a nuclear fusion reactor. Plus, it requires temperatures and confinements much more difficult than for ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor). Oxygen can be extracted from the lunar soil: it will be used for the “life support” of astronauts and also as oxidant for rockets. Glasses and silicates are intended for use by the industry. The materials available on the lunar floor can naturally be extracted and used for the construction of the Moon village.

Also, setting up a future lunar base could be made much simpler by using a 3D printer to build it from local materials. The base might first unfolded from a tubular module that can be easily transported by rocket. An inflatable dome would then extends from one end of this cylinder to provide a support structure for construction. Layers of regolith would then built up over the dome by a robot-operated 3D printer to create a protective shell. Today, ground simulation exercises are conducted in the Volcanic Eifel, near Cologne (Germany). Simulations are also conducted in Hawaii (for the construction of a terrestrial volcanic base), in Poland, Iceland and the Canary Islands.

The Moon village will rely on both automatic robotics and human participation structures to conduct operations on the Moon’s surface for multiple purposes on an open architecture basis. The Moon conquest started with automatic orbital probes whose operations are preprogramed weeks and days in advance. The future of Moon’s exploration is planned operations but also remotely controlled operations with visual feedback. With humans in low Moon orbit, direct supervision of surface robots will be organised. There will also be an opportunity to collect samples and bring them back to Earth with the astronauts. In the long term, humans on the Moon will be able to work with robots, maintain them, repair them, adapt them and monitor herds of autonomous robots like shepherds.

The main steps of the Moon village might be the following: first a Robotic Lunar Village (2022), then humans in lunar orbit (2024), and finally, humans permanently (2030). Moon cities might then appear and why not, maybe a Republic of the Moon by the end of the twenty-first century? This will surely be a new stimulating environment for jurists, lawyers and judges. This initiative should anyway bring together all communities (in all disciplines, nations, industries, partners, individuals) and could put the Moon at the top of the political, scientific, technological, public and societal agenda for the twenty-first century.