Should Lunar Orbital Gateway be built? A Debate at the Mars society convention


#1

It’s just packed with detail.

On the one hand yes I agree there is no material difference between people in a station beyond Low Earth Orbit and people in a space ship traveling between the planets so such a thing would be useful for determining the environment and developing protective tech for a crew…

But on the other hand we’ve already sent a whole bunch of craft beyond LEO and know what the environment is like and can reproduce those conditions on the ground for purposes of developing protective tech.

So lets just go to the destination… not just near one.

Another thing which struck me… I’ve been thinking of asteroid mining very much like the oil industry. Go get an asteroid and bring it back to be refined, processed, and then used to manufacture things… water, air, propellant, structures, and electronics… The Moon would be a nice place for such a processing facility… as would Mars. Why? because they aren’t Earth and if you de-orbit something slightly wrong… it’s not that big a deal. But also the waste gases of such processing are beneficial for Mars and a non-concern on the Moon.

But something Dr. Zubrin said about high cost of transport and the result it’s had on mining industry and cities developing around the mine unlike oil rigs has me questioning that idea. My question then becomes how close is close enough to the asteroids for one to build a processing facility? (also how does one smelt something in Zero G? Would you not need a rotating station to have some level of gravity?) Is Moon orbit a good place for such a facility to be built? It’s close to us so we can more easily crew it… It’s far enough from us that slight navigational errors are less likely to result in something big hitting Earth… But is it too far from the asteroids?

Also Lunar Orbital Gateway is not such a processing facility… It almost certainly will not become such a facility… No if such a thing were to be built then private industry is going to build it.

Artificial gravity… We should have had at least some experimental craft testing it in the past few decades… If NASA won’t do it… Some private company will have to do it. Preferably sooner rather than later.


#2

One of the biggest dangers astronauts face in deep space (beyond the protection of Earth’s magnetosphere) are cosmic rays. Cosmic rays are high-energy (ionizing) radiation (x-rays and gamma rays) originating from beyond our solar system. These are very difficult to shield against.

This is a good reason to have a crewed outpost orbiting the moon. It’s beyond the protection of our magnetosphere, yet close enough to bring the crew, or a sick crew member back home in a matter of days … not years as in the case of a mission to Mars.


#3

The recent episode on space law got me thinking about where the law would be the most beneficial and least risky for someone to build a processing facility…

The Moon’s surface has many physical benefits but the law is not conducive to private property… Where as in orbit… the law seems rather clear that your craft belongs to you so by extension… the asteroid you’ve towed and are cutting up to be melted down and separated into its component parts and used to construct new craft… also belongs to you.

This would make an orbital processing facility less risky legally than one on the Moon’s surface… I would further say that it should be in orbit of the Moon for safety. Easier and quicker to get crew to and from it… and if something doesn’t maneuver right… the Moon is a better place for something to impact than Earth…

One concern about an orbital processing facility would be containing debris… every particle of dust or slag cast off from cutting, melting, welding… or other such refining and construction would need to be contained lest we get Kessler syndrome around the Moon.


#4

There are known unknowns (dark matter), and there are unknown unknowns … both are why we explore. The ISS has given us insight into what we did not know during the Apollo era. So much so that if we had pushed beyond the moon with Apollo era technology we would have had to learn how to dispose of deceased humans in space, en mass.

The ISS has given us invaluable knowledge of the human in space, but we need more. The ISS has uncovered many problems we did not know before its inception; for example, the impact of extended exposure to microgravity on the eye.

The lunar outpost will help us learn about the unknown knowns and uncover the unknown unknowns of humans beyond the protection of Earth’s magnetosphere.

Human adaptation to the space environment is what the ISS and the lunar outpost is about. We need to learn how to preserve human life in space and more specifically in deep space. This is to be done step by step … ISS in low Earth orbit well within the Earth’s magnetosphere, then around the Moon beyond the protection of the Earth’s magnetosphere with the lunar outpost.


#5

@JohnnySpacer

I think there are 2 things that need to be a part of any station beyond Earth’s magnetosphere if that is the goal.
Water storage as radiation shielding and Rotation for gravity.

It is time for microgravity to be a thing only experienced briefly during transport to a station and perhaps while conducting maintenance out side such a station.


#6

There’s always the old [not in a disparaging way] ideas of attaching your hab module to the upper stage of your rocket and letting out a tether, taking up the slack and then firing thrusters to begin rotation to generate artificial[?] gravity. I also like the idea I’ve seen from some proposals of a “sleeping module” that rotates, so during rest periods the crews are subjected to 1G, maybe even a little above that [1.2-1.4G], and then work during the day in microgravity - although having only a specific portion of your spacecraft rotating sounds much more difficult to me compared to the upper-stage-tether, but at least Kubrick would appreciate it!

Also radiation is so often handwaved by a vast majority of folks talking about human settlement beyond Earrth that it at least helps you narrow down a constraint to who knows [worried about radiation] and doesn’t know [not worried about radiation] what they’re talking about.


#7

As always data is key. We won’t get that data (for radiation etc) in LEO so we have to go an get it. The Moon seems to be the logical place to go.


#8

As I understand acceleration and gravity are essentially the same thing. Rotating objects create mock gravity via centrifugal force. A spaceship accelerating at say 1g will provide the crew true 1g gravity. Whereas, no matter how large (i.e., diameter) a rotating spaceship or space station is, there will be a coriolis effect. The larger the diameter of the rotating space station the less coriolis effect is noticed by the people in the station; nevertheless it is still there. Some people have very senstive inner ears.

I have no idea how to deal with these problems. Along with the high background radiation of deep space, there is also the problem of prolonged exposure to microgravity. This is why I welcome the so-called Deep Space Gateway.

The Deep Space Gateway is a product of established international relationships and established hardware designed thanks to the ISS. Why not exploit this readily available resource and relationship.


#9

I did the math on this once. To drop the Coriolis force to 5% of body weight at walking speeds at Mars gravity required a tether 1,200,000 meters long. For comparison, for a tether 200 meters long it was about 20%. It’s a very unforgiving problem to engineer away. Most likely, people will just have to get used to it.


#10

we won’t know how much people can stand until we try.

Funding should be transferred from humans in microgravity research to humans in spinning space craft for artificial gravity research.

I’d be happy if they started out with a small spinning section where the sleeping quarters and bathrooms are… That should reduce mitigation efforts needed for working in microgravity the rest of the day.

But we need to make the shift… If NASA wont do it… I think we’re not too far out from private industry doing it themselves. I could see the first couple private space stations being ISS like… but soon after… as the industry grows demand for comfort will drive them to spinning sections. Same for transport to Mars.