Between the multiple space agencies planning to conduct crewed missions to the lunar surface, the many commercial entities who’ve contracted them to assist them, and proposals for lunar bases, the message of the modern space age is clear: We’re going back to the Moon. And this time, we intend to stay! Just like the efforts of the Apollo Era, this entails several challenges, ones that require “the best of our energies and skills.”

These challenges are leading to all sorts of innovative solutions, which recognize the need to leverage lunar resources to provide protection against the environment and see to peoples’ needs. A new proposal made by a team from the International Space University (ISU) has found a novel way to do just that. Their proposal? Use the SpaceX Starship Human Landing System (HLS) as the foundation for a lunar base.

This proposal is the work of a team from multiple universities and scientific institutes across Europe, all of whom are currently attending the International Space Univerity (ISU) in Strasbourg, France. It was also the subject of a presentation that took place at the 72nd International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Dubai this past week (October 25th – 29th, 2021) and is the subject of a proposal paper and an official report (as well as an executive summary).

Illustration of SpaceX Starship human lander design that will carry the first NASA astronauts to the surface of the Moon under the Artemis program. Credits: SpaceX

The project, titled “Solutions for Construction of a Lunar Base,” was the product of a nine-week collaborative study that was part of the ISU’s 2021 Space Studies Program (SSP). This professional development course welcomes postgraduate students and professionals of all disciplines and features a curriculum that includes policy, law, business, humanities, life sciences, engineering, physical sciences, and space applications.

As a starting point, the team considered the design of the SpaceX Lunar Starship, which the company submitted as part of a NASA competition to create a Human Landing System (HLS) for the Artemis Program. This vehicle is essentially a modified version of the Starship reusable space vehicle that Elon Musk hopes to use (along with the Super Heavy booster rocket) to conduct regular flights to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

Like SpaceX’s Starship/Super-Heavy launch system, the Lunar Starship is designed to be fully reusable. In addition to orbital refueling, SpaceX’s lunar mission architecture also calls for the creation of fuel depots on the Moon so the Starship can make the return flight to Earth. For the sake of their project, however, the ISU team proposes using the Starship’s hull as the foundation of their base.

Charlotte Pouwels, a physicist and researcher with Airbus Defence and Space Netherlands, is a member of the ISU’s 2022 Master in Space Studies program (MSS2022). She and her team were inspired to create a concept that would enable the rapid and cost-effective construction of permanent lunar infrastructure while also allowing crews to address the challenges of living and working in the lunar environment.

The ESA lunar base, showing its location within the Shackleton Crater. Credit: SOM/ESA

“Establishing a lunar outpost requires humans to
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