The Colonies

To settle the Moon you have to find the right place, set up the right transport, and pursue the right business. All of these matters are open questions. Often the best options are ignored because it would be too expensive under current budgets, or there would be too much resistance from people who don’t understand the risks and benefits of the technology involved. Consistent, ongoing high investment changes the possibilities and the best path.

Lalande Crater: Young, Equatorial, Mineral-rich

The first virtual colony being built is a town beside Lalande Crater, population: 20,000. (It isn't the first colony on the timeline though, that's Inukshuk.) It is there because the region has the Moon's highest concentrations of potassium, phosphorus, rare earth elements, and thorium. It also has among the highest levels of titanium and iron. It is on the shore of a lunar 'sea', so the minerals of both the highlands and the basalt seas are close by. Lastly, its sharp, detailed features indicate there is little regolith overlaid on its interior due to the blast debris of later impacts landing on it [1]. Large portions of its lower slopes look to be solid rock just below the surface, and one such place is the long raised shelf 1.5 km below the site of the colony, Cernan's Promise.

The premise is that the most important industry on the Moon will be construction, both for expansion of lunar colonies and for building things to send into space, such as spaceships, space stations, satellites, and orbiting tethers. Income from selling space infrastructure depends on the ability to fabricate large and complex items on industrial scales. Income from selling residence, tours, and broadcasting also depends on large pleasant facilities and habitats being erected. Both things require vast quantities of a variety of minerals, Lalande has top reserves of them all.

That makes it the best place to put the heavy industry that fabricates these things - what it lacks is relatively light and can be brought from the north pole or from asteroids mined in orbit. Its advantageous position at the equator for launch and landing makes it an excellent place for a large space port handling high volumes of cargo. There are also several neat tricks one can do in a young crater to create efficient, pleasant architecture. The big money is going to be at Lalande, so it has the first boom-town.

That boom town is being called Cernan's Promise

I wrongly have said Lalande is a Copernican crater (meaning it was created after Copernicus Crater, which may be as young as 100 million years old) because of its bright ray system and sharp features. In fact according to the standard crater-counting dating method it is about 2.8 billion years old. That still makes it younger than 99% of craters. More on this on the Lalande page.

Click an image to see it on the Lalande Crater page

Interactive 3d models

Click the play arrow to load the 3d models below. Check out the controls at the bottom of the model window - especially the bar to click through the annotations, and the double arrows in the corner to make it full screen.

These models are in development, both in what is in them, and in how it is presented. They go through spurts of changes, which should become more frequent and dramatic with time. Right now they are at a pretty early stage.
This model shows many years of development. How many? Hard to say, that would depend on advancements in robotics more than anything else - since we are taking the money for granted.
This cutaway lets you appreciate the structure and layout of this atrium and sunken hall combination. It is the first full habitat - the first built on-site, not a prefab tube hab made on Earth.
Here is a nerd-session about how the radiation blind works. It's a valuable innovation, as the only other way to have natural light is to put 3.5 meters of solid glass over a living space. Atriums hundreds of meters long later become the first gardens and farms on the Moon.
The gallery habitats are the first ones truly designed for life-long residence. They require more infrastructure to build. They, and the long atriums, are the first expressions of the idea it is better to build at scale.
Lalande City, home to a million people. Well, the beginnings of it. It takes an awful lot of quartz to make that dome, but what you get is pretty snazzy.

Whipple Crater: Water Inside, Eternal Sun Outide

Just a few years ago it was confirmed that in the deep constant shadow of the craters of the Moon's poles there is water. Plus a mix of other substances that were steamed out of the rest of the Moon eons ago - carbon dioxide, ammonia. There seem to be hundreds of millions of tons of it, perhaps billions. There ensued excitement about the new possibilities for settlement this creates - within a small community. Most of the world has already discarded the idea of settling the Moon and wants to press on to Mars, if they favor space settlement at all. We have fogotten the images of lunar bases and towns that were so common during the Apollo days.

That small community noted that right beside those reserves of volatiles (being substances that normally evaporate away into space on the Moon), there are peaks on the crater rims that receive sunlight over 90% of the time. If you can raise solar panels on masts 30 m or so, in the right spots they would get sunlight virtually all the time. So you have solved energy and water, two really big challenges.

Thus most pushes for lunar bases these days focus on the poles. There is even a business model - turn the water into liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, and sell it as fuel for raising satellites, deep space missions, and space stations. Unlike putting a base on Mars, this is a space program we could undertake quickly, it is much safer, and it has practical payoffs here at home - space refeuling would allow much more space exploration.

It has been repeatedly debated whether in this project there should first be a base mining water at a pole, or the first missions should go to Lalande and expand to ice mining from there. The use of nuclear ships reduces the advantage of water at hand for fuel, and the early deployment of tethers reduces it even more. The choice of nuclear generators makes solar power unnecessary. The main business models all focus on early establishment of construction ability, and the construction technique did not seem viable at the poles.

On further investigation, a version of the construction technique planned for Lalande would work with the minerals found in the highlands, where the poles are. That means a large habitat like proposed for Lalande could be made at the chosen polar site: Whipple Crater, 89°N. This allows the early research and development needed for the core business in this paradigm - construction - to be done there. The sale of places for international astronauts is what funds initial development, and for that you need to build lots of large habitats. After that construction for space is added - ships, satellites, space stations. That is the biggest industry the Moon can host. So it is quite significant to have a way to work at the pole on the core business, as well as volatile mining. In that case, the advantage of the machines not needing to deal with night also weighs in favor of going there first.

So, now the idea is that a small settlement is made at Whipple Crater, and then the first crew sends machines to Lalande and makes the next hab. This base is being called Inukshuk, after the piled stone monuments made by Arctic peoples as landmarks. The idea is that during testing of the robotic equipment, the engineers operating them remotely build an Inukshuk. They do it to assess how to use several pieces of equipment jointly for a task, and to check performance of sensory systems by balancing the large stones in the Inukshuk. Then the name sticks.

The early robotic missions would focus on making the hab, not on volatile mining. It is much better for people to be nearby when undertaking something as tricky as extracting volatiles from one of the coldest places in the solar system. Since the focus is developing construction capability, the missions can take more time to perfect and ramp up production of water, carbon dioxide, and ammonia. At first the water that is obtained is only to supplement the fuel supply of the nuclear shuttles. Then it supplies their fuel entirely, and then also the fuel of the pod ship. After that the new colony has more and more freedom to use water for greenhouses. If there is a good market in cislunar space for water as rocket fuel or whatever else, all the better, but there is no particular need for that in this paradigm.

Finally, Whipple starts shipping water, carbon, and ammonia to Lalande in ever larger amounts. Most of the water stays on the Moon, to make ponds, then swimming pools, eventually even small lakes. Some continues to ship to orbit for fuel, or radiation shielding - unless there is no need. By this time asteroids will be mined for water, metals, and carbon and nitrogen too. They may be a better source for needs in open space.

An initial model of a permanent polar habitat. This hab is actually easier to build than the ones at Lalande because the only tension loads that need to be handled are on the ceiling, and that part will be a membrane shipped from Earth.

Orbital colonies - Now we travel the heavens at will

Orbital tethers need asteroids as their stabilizing central mass, and those asteroids are a great place to start a space station.