Week 18/2019

Research location moon – for a better life on Earth

Design of the first operational habitat on the moon
Design of the first operational habitat on the moon
Projects on the moon are still pure science fiction. How else would you describe the idea of a village on the celestial body? This is precisely what European aerospace is working on. Over the next 20 years, they want to create a place on the moon called Moon Village, where researchers can live and do research on a permanent basis. The goal, in contrast, is most down to earth: the results will help to improve life at home. Under the project management of Dr. Christiane Heinicke, the Center of Applied Space Technology and Microgravity (ZARM) at the University of Bremen is developing the world's first prototype of an operational station that makes life and research on the moon possible.

Not an easy undertaking

The technical demands in this hostile environment are enormous: the station on the moon must be able to withstand the ultra-high vacuum and temperature fluctuations from -160 °C to +130 °C (-256 °F to +266 °F). It must protect its inhabitants from the dangerous cosmic rays and at the same time enable a self-sufficient life-support and energy supply – for several months or even years. What's more, in order for astronauts to be able to live and work on the station for a long time, it must also offer a space worth living in. Otherwise, there is an increased risk that people there will develop psychological problems.

Research in a new dimension

There are currently about a dozen test stations around the world primarily used to examine the mental state of residents in extremely cramped rooms and to test organizational processes. However, they are not suitable for use outside the Earth. The researcher from Bremen wants to build a station in the MaMBA (Moon and Mars Base Analog) project over the next few years that will make it possible to spend several months on the moon. The focus of the project is on technological implementation, in particular on the interaction of the individual subsystems. The scientific module of the station is currently being developed; among other things, it will enable geological and material scientific investigations to be carried out directly on site. For example, samples of the moon rock will be examined in the laboratory in order to better understand the history of the formation of our satellite.

The lab will be part of an underground habitat on the moon. In total, it consists of five to six connected modules, supplemented by two airlocks through which inhabitants can get outside. Each module serves its own purpose; for example, there is a sleep module and a laboratory module. The modules are cylindrical with rounded corner pieces, measure five meters in diameter and are about six to seven meters high. While the working modules have two stories, leisure modules only have a single story, but with high ceilings. Up to six people will be able to work and live in the habitat.

Insights for life on Earth

The project will provide important insights for life on Earth. For a station on the moon worth living in, similar challenges have to be overcome as on Earth, such as limited resources and self-sufficient energy supply and storage. But under tougher conditions – which in turn will inspire new solutions on Earth.

By mid-2019, the first MaMBA module will be set up as a test version, but technically it will not yet be "moon-ready." Rather, a simulation with a crew is to investigate whether the architecture, the design and the arrangement of the laboratory workstations meet the requirements of the real processes of everyday research. The design of the airlock and the self-sufficient life-support system will be important further expansion steps in the years to come.

Christiane Heinicke heads the MaMBA project at ZARM