Moon: Concept city design with artificial gravity
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Scientists have revealed two prospective sites for the “International Lunar Research Station”, the international moonbase that Russia and China are looking to establish by 2035. Both locations — the Amundsen and Malapert craters — have the potential to contain water ice and allow astronomers to fulfil key scientific investigations. The moonbase, the two nations’ space agencies have said, will be used to undertake scientific research and explore the lunar surface.
In their study, geoscientist Dr Teng Hu of the Chinese University of Geosciences in Beijing and his colleagues evaluated prospective sites for the research station based on various scientific mission criteria.
The Moon’s poles are of particular interest for future lunar missions, the team explained, thanks to their permanently shadowed regions — regions where, as the name suggests, sunlight doesn’t reach the bottom of deep craters.
Because of this, these regions are capable of maintaining very low temperatures, and preserve water in the form of water ice.
As water ice could be broken down into its oxygen and hydrogen components — and provide both life-sustaining air and potential fuel — permanently shadowed regions offer both a resource and an important target for scientific study.
The lunar south pole, the team noted, has more and larger permanently shadowed regions than its northern counterpart — alongside more permanently illuminated regions which could be used, for example, for the construction of solar panels to power a moon base.
The researchers said: “We examined potential south polar sites for the International Lunar Research Station while considering two critical aspects for technical and scientific success”
These factors, they explained, were “engineering constraints for the safe landing and establishment of the station, and sites where major scientific questions can be addressed.”
Accordingly, the team assessed potential base sites based on their permanently shadowed regions, temperatures, hydrogen abundance, water ice exposure and diversity of other scientific investigation targets, as well as their illumination and terrain characteristics.
The team wrote: “A comprehensive view was taken that the Amundsen and Malapert craters could satisfy both the scientific and engineering constraints for site selection.”
The two craters, the team note, have different scientific exploration values.
They explained: “Within the Amundsen region, there are no surface water ice exposures that directly indicate the presence of water ice, but their hydrogen abundance ranges from 100 to 120 parts per million.
“The permanently shadowed regions are also present on the floor of the Amundsen crater, and the temperature in these regions is below 110 kelvin [-261F].
“Therefore, rover entry into the permanently shadowed regions in the Amundsen area to access the presence of water ice through long-term geological drilling is possible.”
In contrast, the team added, “the permanently shadowed regions in the Malapert region have surface water ice exposures. Therefore, water ice can be explored in these regions.”
Alongside this, the Malapert region is at the edge of the South Pole–Aitken basin — the largest and oldest-known impact basin on the Moon’s surface.
Given this, the team said, work in the Malapert basin “has the possibility of obtaining South Pole–Aitken basin ejecta”.
Roscosmos, — the Russian state space organisation — and the China National Space Administration (CNSA) have already unveiled their roadmap for the development of their moonbase.
This strategy was revealed back in June last year at the Global Space Exploration Conference 2021, which was held in St Petersburg, Russia.
Prior to the completion of the moonbase, Russia and China are planning two missions between 2026 and 2030 to test technologies for both landing on the Moon and delivering cargo to its surface, as well as collecting lunar soil samples and transporting them back to Earth.
The two nations are also looking to develop infrastructure both in lunar orbit and on the Moon’s surface between 2031 and 2035.
These installations will include communications systems, power facilities, research equipment and more.
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The roadmap also proposes the creation of a number of lunar rovers that will conduct research, explore the Moon’s surface and service the fixed infrastructure.
One rover, it is understood, will move not on wheels but via a hopping motion, allowing it to traverse a wider range of lunar terrains.
Back in September this year, Mr Borisov had said that “projects of this kind alone, even by such countries as Russia, are difficult to implement from the financial point of view of having all the necessary competencies.”
“Such projects require the widest possible international cooperation”, he said at the Russian Society of Knowledge’s Federal Education Marathon.
Roscosmos has previously said that key to the Russo-Chinese project to build a lunar station will be the equality of the two partners — and that it was the absence of such a balance that prompted Russia to withdraw from the American Lunar Gateway space station project.
Russian collaboration with other nations in the space arena has been damaged by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine early last year — with the European Space Agency notably having suspended collaboration with Roscosmos on the ExoMars mission.
Roscosmos deputy head for international cooperation, Sergei Savelyev, has said that the collaboration between Russia and China would not exclude the participation of private firms in the lunar station project.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Planetary and Space Science.
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