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Optimal Locations for Lunar Settlements and Industrial Facilities

Ambrose, William A.; Cutright, Bruce L.; Beike, Dieter

The Moon has a variety of regions for potential human settlement. Lunar facilities should be strategically located to maximize access to resources and to efficiently transfer material from mining sites to the primary Moon base, involving minimal delta-v costs. Resources include water-ice, volatiles (hydrogen and nitrogen), nuclear materials (helium-3, thorium, and uranium), rare earth elements (REEs), and metals including titanium and iron. An important factor is the duration of insolation (sunlight), where solar-power facilities could be constructed in polar areas with near- constant illumination. Polar areas are cited as optimal sites for lunar settlement, owing to the presence of elevated areas (crater rims) that experience near-constant insolation, ideal for solar power. Polar areas also contain water-ice deposits in permanently shadowed cold traps within crater floors. Nearside equatorial areas are possible sites for lunar settlements, as they are readily accessible from non-polar, low lunar orbits (LLO). Many of these areas contain titanium-bearing basalts, REEs, thorium in silicic domes, as well as regolith-bound hydrogen and helium-3. Nearside limb regions could take advantage of line-of-sight communications with Earth and also could be near a farside radio telescope away from Earth- radio interference. However, regolith hydrogen in limb areas is limited to restricted mare basalts. The lunar farside contains even fewer mare areas than nearside limb areas. The lunar farside also has no line-of-sight communication potential with Earth, although a relay satellite in the L2 Lagrangian point could overcome this disadvantage. The optimal location, therefore, is not a single area, but is defined by the needs of the location. If constant communication is required and power generation from non-solar sources is possible, the nearside equatorial regions can be considered optimal. Conversely, if proximity to water-ice deposits and constant solar exposure is necessary, then only a polar location meets these criteria. Ideally, advances in efficient orbital communications satellites would remove communication as a limiting criterion. Expected advances in lightweight fission or fusion power plants, or in beamed power systems could remove remaining limiting criteria, and allow scientific goals to be the primary consideration, with the entire lunar surface being considered in choosing a location for a permanent settlement.


AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90163©2013AAPG 2013 Annual Convention and Exhibition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, May 19-22, 2013