How to Design for Moon Town

Designing the machinery and infrastructure of Moon Town to be a compelling representation of our future is a challenging project on which all the rest of Moonwards is based. This page is a resource for those who make that effort, those who we refer to as Makers.  It outlines all the different resources Moon Town has, and how they are used. As Moon Town evolves, this page will also evolve. This is the spirit of ongoing change, exploration, and incremental improvement meant to be the core of Moonwards. 

Principal Reference Works

The cardinal reference works for Moonwards were chosen for two main reasons. First, all are collections of papers created and published by NASA. All NASA works are in the public domain. They are freely available, anyone can access them in full through one of various websites that host copies. Second, they are comprehensive compendiums of everything needed to develop the moon. Unlike more official NASA studies, they are devoted to initial planning for actual settlement and industrial development. We link to hosted versions that have them broken down into individual chapters and the names of individual papers catalogued and linked to. If you use other reference works, please include enough documentation and indexing of that in your submissions for other makers to follow the reasoning and data being used.

Lunar Bases and Space Activities of the 21st Century – Hosted by the Lunar and Planetary Institute. Where referenced it will be indicated by “LBSA-1” and then the chapter number and authors.

The Second Conference on Lunar Bases and Space Activities of the 21st Century – Hosted by the National Space Society Space Library. Where referenced it will be indicated by “LBSA-2” and then the chapter number and authors.

Space Resources Volume 3 – Materials  Hosted by the National Space Society Space Library. Where referenced it will be indicated by “SR3-M” and then the chapter number and authors.for

Project List

These are the pieces of infrastructure for which at least some initial sketch exists in the game or in its supporting material.  Everything needed for an advanced industrial lunar town is of interest. We will be working constantly towards more and better portrayal of all such things. If you would like to propose a project, talk to us about it on Discord on the Maker Area > proposals channel.

  • Melt In Place Printers  
  • Regolith Melters
  • Molten Soil Reactors
  • Nuclear Pod Ship
  • Teacup Experimental Farm
    • Thermal Regulation
    • Soil Production
    • Roof Construction
    • Planter System
  • Radiation Blind Atriums
  • Tube Habitats
  • General Purpose Robot Rover
  • Molten Regolith Electrolysis Equipment
  • Glass Production
    • Making feedstock material for clear glass and structural glass
    • Extruding continuous glass threads for cable and cloth, coating with sizing
    • Casting, rolling out, extruding, blowing, and polishing glass
  • Sapphire and Quartz Production
  • Factory Facilities (template for all industrial production processes)
  • Drilling, Blasting, and Mining System
  • Water Purification Systems
  • Habitat Air Quality Systems

Remember that all portrayals will evolve over time and may even be replaced with better concepts. All models portraying these technologies also need support material: code for player control of them or animations of  them, and a mix of added media explaining them.

Construction Infrastructure

Moon Town is a construction and manufacturing power. It’s the basis of its economy. How its heavy industry infrastructure actually works and was built is one of the things that is subject to ongoing improvement, but however that develops over time, the broad outlines of its capacity will remain the same. And they are huge. 

The Main Factories

The Main Factories are four interconnected hangar-like buildings, and one pressurized factory structure to one side. 

Each of the four vacuum factories is 200 meters long and wide, and 70 meters high at the center of its arched ceiling. The columns and arches of these buildings are extremely strong, allowing almost anything imaginable to be suspended from them – robotic cranes,  cables and scaffolds holding up structures during fabrication, cauldrons of molten substances being moved around as they are emptied into moulds, things like that. The walls of the factories provide insulation from the heat of the sun during the day and hold in heat overnight. The foundations are made of cast basalt. The roof is dotted with giant radiators to which the liquid cooling systems of factory machinery tie in. Around the exterior are elevated tanks that get filled with molten regolith (usually just called lava) throughout the day, which is then piped to various stations in the factories. The feedstock that was melted into the lava was beneficiated to produce three varieties of lava – one that’s nearly pure anorthite, one that’s nearly pure olivine, and one that’s high in KREEP constituents – potassium, phosphorus, and rare earth elements. Volatiles have already been boiled off and collected. A fourth common variety of lava is simply regolith displaced due to construction activities being put to good use. 

This stream of lava goes to three main production activities –

  •  the production of metals and oxygen, principally using molten regolith electrolysis,  Schubert dust roasters, or solar furnace carbothermal processing.
  • the production of glass. Clear glass is produced with straight anorthite lava, or olivine lava after it has gone through electrolysis to remove its iron content, both possibly with potassium oxide or sodium oxide added to lower working temperature. Structural glass production uses mostly the lava made from regolith excavated during construction, or occasionally slag from other processes.
  • production of sapphire, quartz, and single crystal metal boules.

The pressurized factory houses processes better done in an atmosphere. It contains a thin argon atmosphere. Principally it produces glass fibers and fiber products such as cables, cloth, mats, and optical fiber. In these cases, the atmosphere carries away heat, allowing fibers drawn from molten reservoirs to cool enough to harden before being wound onto a spool.

Fabrication materials made here:

  • powders of all kinds for use in precision 3D printers – both glass and metal
  • rods, cable, panels, pipes, beams, wire, bearings, and other basic forms. These are mostly glass (clear or opaque), and sometimes metal, quartz, or sapphire
  • silicone products
  • fiberglass cables, cloth, mats, and optical fiber
  • cast or 3D printed complex shapes
  • permanent magnets
 
A wide range of simple machines and components are also made here in quantity in a range of sizes. Some of that is incorporated into larger equipment and structures, some is exported as is for use in assembly operations in orbit. Locally produced machines use aluminum for wiring, glass and ceramics for electrical insulators, and a mix of woven fiberglass and silicone for flexible insulating sheaths around wires where needed. 
  • pumps, motors, actuators, turbines, lights, radiators, batteries, sensors, etc.
  • hinges, joints, springs, gears, latches, etc.
  • circuit boards and simple electrical components like resistors and capacitors 

Other Manufacturing infrastructure

Currently there exists a few initial models of manufacturing infrastructure, each of which is examined on its own page. 

  • Molten Soil Reactors – processing ilmenite into iron, oxygen, and titanium dioxide
  • Melt in Place Printers – creating large, simple, shallow shapes by fusing regolith
  • Regolith Melters – melting very large quantities of regolith and minerals, and collecting volatiles that boil off the molten mix

Materials Resources

Better to take advantage of what is cheap and plentiful,  right? By this time in our future, the cost of importing what is needed isn’t a problem, if it’s justified. Even if you need a lot of expensive imported stuff, that’s fine as long as you are making something really awesome that’s worth the money. But that isn’t the place to start. First try to use what is fast, plentiful and cheap, which is all this stuff:

  • Power – By this time space solar installations are huge sophisticated things pumping out ridiculous amounts of power. Most were built by lunar companies, so use of it is even cheaper for lunar projects those companies are interested in, than it is for the folks back home on Earth. Use as much as you want and don’t bat an eye. 
  • Robotics and AI – By leaning very heavily on robotics and AI, great manufacturing ability was built up in just a few decades. The age has arrived when robot factories are built and operated by other robots. The components of robots that were imported from Earth in the past are now recycled so carefully (thanks to robotic precision) that less than 5% of a new robot is imported materials. Projects don’t worry about worker safety because human workers are never present except under very specific, rare scenarios. They don’t worry about pollution because if something can’t be recycled somehow, just throwing it in a lined pit will contain it for many millennia, no sweat. Only critical systems need to be designed so they can be repaired by a human, in case some extraordinarily weird situation meant no robots were available to do that. 
  • Heat and Cold – While slow heat dissipation in a vacuum and protection from cold at night are issues that must be engineered for, they are also resources that can be used. The deep cold of night can be stockpiled for use as cold sinks. One concept for the town is the use of iceboxes – containers of water brought out and placed on the surface at sundown, then brought back in before dawn.   A heat sink field  has been considered, in which low-value slag is dumped in an ever expanding mass that has channels in it through which coolant pipes run. Great insulation blankets protect it from the sun during the day, and at night it is uncovered and exposed to the deep freeze of space. Insulation blankets composed of several layers of cloth coated with aluminum or silver very efficiently hold down temperature change, for cheap. Piling powder regolith over things is also a super easy way of limiting heat movement to a minimum. 
  • Lunar Glass – A variety of glass materials are made in great quantity. They are devoid of the tiny flaws universally present in Earth-made glass due to the presence of water. They can be expected to be much stronger than glass on Earth and be a very useful material that is quick and cheap to make. See LBSA-1 in part of chapter 7, a paper by James Blacic on the subject of Applications of Lunar Glass Structural Components. For purposes of this project, we are going to assume the approximated values for the main properties of this glass, as shown in the image below, are accurate. They are taken from the linked paper and were considered conservative by the author. Thus it can be used in place of metal in many applications, and be far easier and cheaper to make. Of special note – just below the spot in the article where this chart appears is a brief discussion of lunar fiberglass for tension elements, as fabric, cable, and elements of composite materials.  Suitable properties for such cable should also be estimated and adopted as the assumed parameters for the purposes of Moonwards. 
Click to see full size
  • Iron – Processing of ilmenite to produce oxygen and iron was one of the first large scale undertakings of the town.  (See the paper Lunar Oxygen Production from Ilmenite, by Gibson and Knudsen, in Chapter 8 of LBSA-1). Ilmenite is a common mineral in the vicinity of Lalande Crater.  It is still processed at industrial scale and the iron produced is the cheapest of the metals available. 
  • Sapphire and quartz – This is a lunar specialty. The town can make complex shapes up to a few meters across. Some simple shapes can be much larger. The process takes anorthite (CaAl2Si2O8) and refines out the aluminum and silicon. Then it recombines each metal with oxygen to get the pure alumina feedstock needed for sapphire, and the silica needed for quartz. Then the unearthly quality of its single-crystal growth processes is harnessed for the rest – exquisite implementations of vacuum vapor deposition, the Czochralski method, the Bridgeman-Stockbarger method, and variants all their own.
  •  Other major regolith elements –  The common constituents of the regolith are refined out in industrial quantities. The list of elements that are obtained, in descending order of abundance, goes like this:
    • Silicon
    • Aluminum
    • Calcium
    • Magnesium
    • Titanium
    • Sodium
  • KREEP elements – Mapping of lunar minerals shows Lalande Crater to have among the highest concentrations of thorium on the moon, suggesting that the presence of the other constituents of KREEP terrain (potassium, rare earth elements, and phosphorus) are also present in high concentrations. (See pg 17 here.) The concentration of rare earth elements seems to be around 0.4% in the bulk dirt overlay in and around the crater. Since the spike in detected thorium is centered right bang on the crater itself, and the satellite that mapped it could only detect things at very coarse resolution, it would be strange indeed if digging under the dirt in the boulders and bedrock of the crater floor didn’t reveal much higher concentrations in spots. This ore is the town’s principal source of
    • Potassium
    • Phosphorus
    • Yttrium
    • Elements for rare-earth magnets 
    • Thorium oxide
    • Strontium
    • Barium
  • Other metals and elements – After other processing, byproducts or residue is processed again, yielding sufficient quantities of the following materials that import of them is minimal, if at all:
    • Sulfur
    • Chromium
    • Nickel
    • Cobalt
  • Oxygen – Oxygen is a byproduct of every process that yields any other element. This is one reason rocket propulsion has been optimized to be mostly oxygen by mass – 95% or more in the nuclear rockets that do most transport, achieved by using it in an afterburner system that combines it with the super-hot hydrogen exiting from the nuclear thermal engine (the LANTR design, by Borowski)

Resources that must be recycled

Thanks to the constellation of skyhooks in orbit around the moon, and now some around Earth as well, and the fleet of nuclear thermal rockets owned by the moon, the volume of traffic coming and going from Moon Town is what you would expect from a booming port whose economy is based on exports. Moon Town receives on the order of 100.000 metric tons of goods every month, and only a few percent of that is food and other goods for the town’s population.  Generally even more goes out. Even so, there are some materials that are so critical to so much, that they are required to be recycled as efficiently as possible. Moon Town also avoids exporting them in finished goods, usually arranging to have components made with these materials added at stations in orbit that fabricate such things themselves using supplies mined from asteroids or delivered from Earth.

This list includes anything composed of a significant quantity of a few key elements – hydrogen, carbon, or nitrogen.