Lunar Analog Research Station
Research & Demonstration Goals

by Peter Kokh and Moon Society Advisor David A. Dunlop

First printed in Moon Miners' Manifesto #195, May 2006

ABSTRACT: Both because humans have already been on the Moon, but not on Mars, and because NASA is actively planning an outpost on the Moon while a Mars outpost remains over the horizon, the "Research & Demonstration Goals" of Mars and Lunar Analog Research Programs are not the same. The value of humans on the Moon proven in the Apollo program, there is no need to demonstrate geological methods and tools. Lunar analog programs need to concentrate instead on technologies needed to extend human presence beyond a first limited outpost. For a lunar analog research program, these efforts are primary (though not exhausting the possibilities):


First let's clear the ground by pointing out that the goals of a Mars Analog Research Station are not necessarily the same as those of a Lunar counterpart, and vice versa.

For Mars advocates, the goal to be defended, the feasibility to be demonstrated, is that humans and robots together can explore Mars much more effectively and thoroughly than robots alone. Mars advocates are trying to get the nation (and, hopefully, international partners) to commit to the manned exploration of Mars. Settlement, while a dream of most, is a goal well over the horizon.

In contrast, Lunar Advocates are operating with a given national commitment to a "permanent" manned outpost on the Moon, whatever "permanent" means.

We have many times pointed out that any outpost remains tentative until there is a permanent civilian population on the Moon raising its own successors, and supporting its own domestic needs as well as earning credits towards imports by products and services based on local, i.e. lunar resources.

We have already had humans on the Moon exploring limited areas. Manned exploration is not something whose feasibility we still need to demonstrate. Thus our goals go beyond those of Mars advocates.


Demonstrating Maximum Use of Teleoperations

Our long term goal is to ensure the creation of a viable lunar frontier where people of many walks of life can work, play, and raise families, supporting themselves by the production of export goods and services. To the point, there is one thing in common with all "new frontiers" in the early stages of establishment.

There is always more work to be done, than people to do it.

Our best opportunity to make sure that precious man-hours are most economically spent is to identify and demonstrate operations that can be effectively performed by personnel on Earth, "teleoperating" at far lower costs per hour. The Moon has the advantage of being only one and a fraction light-seconds from Earth, a manageable time delay.

Site preparation (grading, leveling, removal of boulders, trenching, etc.) and shielding emplacement are two obvious areas where teleoperators working on Earth should be able to get the job done, leaving crews on the Moon for other things, not so easily "farmed out." But we need to determine the best equipment to be sent to the Moon for teleoperators to control with under 3 seconds time delay.

What other operations can be so farmed out? Here lies a whole world of things that can be tested at a lunar analog station. Every operation that can be done remotely, extends the productivity of those on location that much more. Advance scout rovers could be teleoperated; mining equipment, manufacturing equipment, agricultural tasks, perhaps even road construction. Let's find out!


Demonstrating Dayspan/Nightspan Power Generation

An outpost needs power, of course, but NASA is not currently committed to demonstrating a system to store power for use during nightspan. Instead, the agency seems committed to demonstrating that the need to do so is unnecessary, because the outpost will be at the South Pole, where allegedly sunlight is available all the time.

If we are going to bring the whole lunar globe into the realm of a Greater Earth-Moon Economy, we have to be able to set up shop wherever resources and other assets demand that we do so, not just at one of the poles. And that means demonstrating a Dayspan/Nightspan power system. Indeed, we should demonstrate several systems, not only for backup, but so that the technology can pick the winners.

The options are several. A small nuclear power plant is, however, something totally out of reach financially for a privately supported Lunar Analog Station here on Earth. But that doesn't really matter, because outposts and settle-ment will come in all sizes, while "nukes" may come only in one size, and at high expense, a non versatile solution.


Hydrogen/Oxygen Systems: Fuel Cells

Excess dayspan solar power could be used to electrolyze graywater and water in reserves into hydrogen and oxygen which can be recombined in a fuel cell to produce both power and potable water. Fuel cells could also be fed by hydrogen scavenged from solar wind volatiles by heating regolith soil being moved in the process of road construction, materials processing, site grading and excavation, and import of regolith into pressurized farm areas for use as soil. Fresh oxygen can be extracted from the regolith by several well understood and demonstrated processes. Harvesting hydrogen and extracting oxygen would be dayspan activities.


Hydrogen/Silicon Systems:
Silane-fueled Generators, Vehicles, and Appliances

Another entirely different possibility should be explored. Carbon is scarce on the Moon, much more so than hydrogen. Thus methane is not a fuel option. But Silane, SiH4, a silicon analog of carbon-based methane, may be.

Silane could be called a "hydrogen extender," in as much as silicon, being much more common on the Moon than hydrogen, is used to stretch the total power output of a given amount of hydrogen. Silane has been proposed as a lunar appropriate rocket fuel.

I had some time ago asked Dr. Robert Zubrin if the adiabatic process (occurring without loss or gain of heat) to be used in making methane from the Martian atmosphere could be applied to production of silane on the Moon. He answered in the affirmative. That leaves us with the belief that this is a direction worth pursuing.

First we could demonstrate methods of producing Silane from regolith. Engineering competitions at the College- University level are an option worth pursuing.

Then, by similar competitions, we could seek to demonstrate silane-fueled generators, silane-fueled vehicles, and silane-fueled appliances.

The Silane would be produced during dayspan in quantities sufficient to fuel appliances and vehicles at all times, and generators during nightspan. Silane-fueled generators could also be used at all times at small construction camps and other temporary installations where it makes no sense to deploy a large scale solar (or nuke) power system.


Continuing productivity through the nightspan
by use of "change of pace" task sequencing

Few things need demonstration as much as the ability of pioneers to survive the two week long lunar night. Here on Earth, alternating fortnights of full daylight and total darkness (except for Earthlight and starlight) within a warehouse or arena with blacked out windows and total lighting control. But we can come close at an outdoor Habitation structure such as the Mars desert Research Station, by having the crew active for two weeks during local daylight hours, then shift to a schedule offset by 12 hours, awake and active only during the local Utah night. The portholes and windows could be blacked out, or uncovered, as needed to create the right atmosphere inside. Crews would go outside only during daylight, and nighttime hours alternately over a four week cycle.

We might learn more from week 1 dayspan, weeks 2 and 3 nightspan, week 4 dayspan. That way two transitions, from abundant power to rationed power, and from rationed power back to abundant power could be modeled. If we could only afford to rent the MDRS facility for two weeks, we could operate on a 4 day light, 7 day dark, 3 day light schedule, telescoping the lunar cycle into half the time.

In such a light/darkness regime, crew members could experiment with the management of operation tasks to suit the greater amount of power available during the two "daylight" weeks, and the lesser amount available during the two "nighttime" weeks. Various tasks could be separated or precipitated out into energy-intensive ones to be executed during the light period and energy-light and perhaps labor-intensive tasks to be taken care of during the night period. Some operations will lend themselves to such a sequential execution, others may not. It will be a learning experience.

Meanwhile, we can demonstrate power generation during the dayspan period by use of photovoltaics, and solar concentrators, and other means. During this period, excess available energy would be used to electrolyze graywater, as suggested above. For backup to fuel cells, we could develop and improve silane-fueled generators, furnaces, ranges, refrigerators, and rovers.

For more on the topic of dayspan-nightspan task sequencing, confer these back articles:

MMM #7 July, 1987 "Powerco"
- reprinted in MMM Classics #1, pp. 21-22

MMM #43,March,1991 "Dayspan," "Nightspan"
- reprinted in MMM Classics #5, pp. 10-12

MMM Classics Pdf files are freely downloadable at either:


Modeling "Modular Biospherics"
1. Modules for expansion

Expansion of our outpost(s) is(are) can not reasonably be supported by the prohibitively expensive import of habitat modules and connectors manufactured on Earth. With so astronomically expensive a cost pre square foot of usable space, the governing constraint will be to jam pack each unit with equipment, reducing crew quarters and recreation space to "sardine can" cubbyholes, and making many desirable activities much too expensive to support.

The next step would be to bring in inflatable structures packed uninflated and compacted for the ride to the Moon in constraining payload bays and farings, then finish outfitting them on location. These could be spheres, cylinders, or torus-shaped volumes. The latter provides a stable "no-roll" level footprint and the greatest volume to height ratio, making shielding easier. While inflatables designed for use in low Earth orbit must have foot-thick membranes to protect against puncture from orbital debris, inflatables designed to be covered with shielding on the Moon would need only a much thinner membrane, meaning that inflated, they could provide significantly more volume (with perhaps ten times the membrane surface area) than similar LEO-destined inflatables, when both are to be transported in the same size payload bay or faring. The real challenge of inflatables is to design interior systems that can be quickly and easily deployed, once the structure is inflated. Again, college level design competitions may prove useful in coming up with elegant solutions.

The real breakthrough, however, will be the achievement of the capacity to manufacture modules and module components locally on the Moon with made-on-Luna building materials: metal alloys, glass fiber reinforced concrete, glass-glass composites. The price of new space will be reduced drastically. The outpost will grow module by module, along with the crew - the population.


2. Making each module of the growing structure,
also a Module of the growing biosphere

Meanwhile, we will have to grow the biosphere that supports the complex. The simplest and most elegant way to do this is to equip every lived-in, worked-in, played-in, learned-in module with a Wolverton* type toilet system that flushes sideways through the bathroom wall to water a row of platers beginning with water plants, swamp plants, marsh plants, bog plants and then soil plants. By the time the black water leaves the module, it is 95% pretreated, vastly reducing the load on a central water recycling system.

* To learn more about the Wolverton System, check out:

These "principles of modular biospherics" are something worth modeling and demonstrating at a Lunar Analog Research Station. Such a system will go well beyond whatever system NASA uses to refresh air and water in a fixed size outpost, and thus demonstrate the technologies needed for expansion of an outpost into a real settlement.

The modules would need to pipe in sunlight or alternately, banks of grow lamps. (The pathways provided for sunlight could be used by light from intensely bright external sulfur lamps during nightspan.) The plants within each module would largely refresh air within, and fill the interior with the greens of vegetation and the color of flowers: fresh air, greenery, color - not an add-on but an integrally designed feature of each module.

In such a system, the biosphere grows one module at a time. The settlement's physical plant does not outgrow the biosphere's capacity because the two are one and the same. Not just the major modules that comprise living, working, and recreation space, but also the connecting passageways and "streets" should do their share by hosting plant rows along their sides. We must always keep in mind that it is not a case of humans playing host to house plants, but of vegetation playing host to humans, enabling our survival!

We could build our Analog Station with a mix of hard hull modules, inflatable modules, and modules made of materials we should be able to process on the Moon. Perhaps the core operations would be in the hard hull starter units:

The above modules could be directly interconnected or connected via passageways, as the needs for isolation or of juxtaposition dictates.

This basic 7 unit complex contrasts with the all-in-one approach illustrated by FMARS and MDRS. The Lunar Analog Station, by beginning as a modular complex, would be set to grow in like fashion. Additional modules could be added for recreation and sports, arts & crafts space, and areas for experiments with processing and materials. The complex would begin to look like a self-sufficient commune.

All units would house vegetation. This would be in addition to the Greenhouse, itself modular, which could grow as success, food demand, and the desire for more variety increases. A Greenhouse area could host a picnic corner, a get away reading spot, a biocrafts area, and so on.

Thus a Lunar Analog Station would not be a weak "me too" operation, but one with rather ambitious goals that go well beyond what the Mars Society is attempting to do. It is only fair to point out, however, that The Mars Foundation is moving in that direction also. This group is attempting to identify all the technologies needed to transition an outpost into a permanent settlement on Mars, and dreams of building a prototype Mars settlement somewhere on Earth.


Other things worth demonstrating
at a Lunar Analog Research Station

Evolution of the Analog Complex with regular "Updating Makeovers" as new technologies are demonstrated

Of necessity, the initial complex modules will be built with available terrestrial materials. However, right from the outset, floors could be finished with cast basalt tiles made in Czechoslovakia and marketed in the US out of West Virginia. We could also start out with interior walls constructed not of 2"x4" wood studs and drywall (as is the case at MDRS and FMARS), but of steel studs and Duroc cement board. Not only would that be closer to what we might end up doing on the Moon, it would be a fireproof solution.

As we demonstrate new materials technologies, we could then replace more and more of the original materials, furniture and furnishings used in the station with those analogous to what we might be able to produce on the Moon. In this manner, the quality of the "simulation" would keep increasing - proof that we are learning things worthwhile!


A Lunar Analog Station as a Part of a larger Project

A Lunar Analog Research Station is but one part of a grander dream of the Moon Society, called Project LETO {Lunar Exploration and Tourist Organization] which would involve a major tourist and educational center. It is my opinion that the research facility should not be included in such a complex but located separately in an appropriate isolated landscape. However, a twin facility at the tourist center, evolving (expanding and upgrading) in step, would be available for regular tours. It would have monitors at each location to show web cam views of what is currently going on in the real research station.

The Mars Society relies on publicity for its analog stations to increase public support and funding. But a sister complex open to tours with a peep hole into the actual one, if located in a high tourist traffic area such as Las Vegas or Orlando, would greatly increase public exposure, public enthusiasm, and, equally if not as important, a steady flow of donations and new members.


What's Next for the Moon Society-NSS collaboration?
Another Crew at MDRS? Moving somewhere else?

We can do some of these things suggested above at the Mars Desert Research Station in the 2007 Field Season - for example, a first modeling of operations through a complete lunar dayspan/nightspan cycle.

However, the demonstration of a modular biospherics expansion architecture, as it involves the facilities themselves, would necessitate an independent operation on a separate site. It would be foolish to make major capital investments in a facility not our own, and from which we planned to move. Further, there is no reason to believe that the Mars Society would approve any such expansion plans. If we want to do these things, we must find another site and deploy a fresh habitat complex of a friendlier design.

As for a new site for our new modular complex, locating it in a "lava sheet, lava tube area" would be optimum for silane and/or fuel cell based utilities, cast basalt operations and other materials processing and manufacturing operations we want to demonstrate. It will take some time both to identify a new site and acquire access and use.

It would take more time, and money, to deploy our desired complex. However, we could start with a mockup complex of rented or purchased used old camping trailers, replacing them one at a time with new construction. This is a plan that would involve the minimum interruption in annual simulation exercises, a plan that would maintain momentum.

We can do this! But not without donations! We are still $1250 shy of full funding for this year's effort! <MMM>