As many nations plan their own lunar exploration strategies, the best way to survive the lunar night is to give space engineers a cold sweat.
The lunar day/lunar cycle at most locations on the surface includes fourteen Earth days of continuous sunlight followed by fourteen days of continuous darkness and extreme cold.
Due to the lack of a temperate atmosphere, temperatures on the Moon can range from 248 degrees Fahrenheit (120 degrees Celsius) during the day to minus 292 Fahrenheit (minus 180 degrees Celsius) during the night. The permanently shaded regions (PSR) on the Moon can be even cooler, as low as minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 240 degrees Celsius).
Related: Artemis 1: The first step in returning astronauts to the moon
Pros and Cons
All of these pluses and minuses add up to one of the most pressing environmental challenges that future lunar flights will face. Acquiring and acquiring longer and longer human stays—perhaps a permanent position—will mean dominating the Moon’s sinister environment.
In fact, craters in permanently shaded areas are sun-shy spots on the Moon where loads of water ice can be present. These sediments would be ideal for processing into oxygen, water, and even rocket fuel.
Lunar exploration planners lay out what must happen to work successfully on the Moon, particularly at the Moon’s south pole, laden with PSRs and potentially a rich haven for harvesting icy waters.
But here’s the cold truth: It’s not easy.
Read more: Warm, strange lunar craters may be the most pleasant place for astronauts
Basic problem, two branches
Dean Ebler, chief lunar scientist at The Aerospace Corporation, said that surviving at night on the moon is not only a major issue for the location of the moon’s south pole, but for wherever we want to be on the moon for longer than the lunar day.
“I think the basic problem has two branches,” Ebler told Space.com. “Simple survival during the lunar night, and processes during the night, regardless of whether it is a ‘normal’ day-night cycle as if it were anywhere other than the poles, and the variable darkness you get at the poles because of the very low angle of solar tilt.”
For future missions, especially for missions lowered far from polar latitudes, Ebler said, eluding might be the best decision for science operations.
“Don’t do field geology work at night, but it’s probably a good time to do ‘indoor’ activities, such as life sciences, sample analysis and culling, and engineering/maintenance work,” Eppler said. He said these are missions that are often not performed during the day when crew members are engaged in maximizing lunar walks.
Ebler said he’s optimistic about the moon’s night. “I think we’re better equipped to deal with that now than we’ve ever thought about lunar exploration.”
Although surviving a lunar night outside of the polar regions is still a problem, “I think we have that pretty well, and this also applies to the regions of the poles that are shaded by the terrain that exists as the Sun travels through the sky.”
However, when it comes to the poles, Ebler sees a more complex problem. First, there will be significant areas that will be shaded by the terrain long enough that it becomes extremely cold in those locations – PSR is not cold, but not unlike a tropical night.
“Secondly, we’ll have to deal with business problems in any PSR area, or areas that, while not in permanent shade, are still shaded most of the time, long enough to be extremely cold inside,” he said. Ebler. “This is such a big challenge … that I think we will need, for example, a special set of tools that we only use in cold conditions,” he added.
keep warm alive
Dealing with extreme cold shouldn’t be a difficult problem to solve, said Philip Metzger, a planetary scientist at the Florida Space Institute at the University of Central Florida.
“With just a little bit of power and good insulation, the craft could stay warm,” Metzger told Space.com. “The New Horizons spacecraft kept its electronics at room temperature even when it was far from the sun on Pluto.”
The fundamental issue is where can we get energy on the moon?
Radioactive decay sources can be used, for example. Metzger said radiant heaters (RHUs) can be placed on the vehicle at appropriate points. “Without a radioactive source it becomes more difficult, though.”
Metzger envisions a self-contained asset with enough battery capacity to provide “always warm” during the night. “The rover can be plugged in during the night. After sunrise, the original will be recharged. This will take some mass on the moon for adequate storage, but with the launch of new lunar landers, including the SpaceX Starship, this should be easily feasible,” he said.
Good set of assumptions
Noah Petro of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center advised that current data sets yield core temperature data on the Moon. He is a project scientist on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Mission (LRO), which is now orbiting the moon.
“Fortunately, the temperature data we have from the Diviner instrument on the LRO has given us a great range of ambient conditions for what to expect thermally at the poles. From this data set, we know the expected cold temperatures at night and warm temperatures during the day,” he said. Petro.
Regarding the engineering ability to connect the devices, Pietro said, given that the researchers have a good set of assumptions about the environment (temperature, radiation, etc.), he predicts that the case for survival on the Moon could depend on an already mature understanding of environmental conditions. Engineering requirements for working during lunar nights.
Message from Apollo
Looking back at the Apollo era in the 20th century, there are lessons to be learned, said Clive Neal, a lunar exploration expert in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
Neil points out that the Apollo Lunar Experiment Package (ALSEP) consists of scientific instruments built by lunar walkers at the landing site of each of the five Apollo lunar landing missions to land on the moon after Apollo 11; Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left a smaller set of devices called the Apollo Early Science Experiment Package.
However, Neil said the issue is whether solar power is the way to do this? Is battery technology good enough to allow operations during the lunar night?
“For a lot of things, just surviving the night isn’t good enough,” Neil added. “We need to be able to match what was done 50 years ago, in my humble opinion!”
What would it be like to stroll and work on the land of the moon, in the style of Artemis?
In terms of lunar walking suit systems, including boots and gloves and a backpack-like portable life support system, the thermal design issues would be severe, said Epler of the aerospace company.
“For example, say you are standing ankle-deep in a very cold and shaded area, but your legs, torso, etc. are exposed to direct sunlight. You will want to make sure that your boots and clothing items are not freezing with pressure and breaking, making sure that your uppers From the suit system it doesn’t get so hot that the extreme heat stress of the crew members is a big problem,” Eppler said. “It’s a real problem.”
The good news, Epler concludes, is that Artemis’ technicians are trying to come to terms with everything to survive the night.
“That tells me we’ll find solutions at some point,” Ebler said. He concluded, “The point you get in trouble is when people don’t understand or accept the scale of the problem…but I don’t think that’s the case here.”
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