- establishing an initial infrastructure on the Moon -


This page was developed with the assistance of Taylor Abernathy, Principle Civil Engineer, City of Lake Forest.

Roads on Earth can range from dirt roads to freeways. Likewise, on the Moon, initial roads will start from simply compacting the lunar dirt and, with time, develop into major transportation routes handing a large amount of traffic and cargo.

The top surface of the lunar dirt is soft and fluffy. Astronauts have described it as being "squishy". When the Apollo astronauts walked around on the lunar surface they were constantly kicking up the dirt and getting it on their space suits. So, the first, and very useful level of lunar roads would simply to have telerobots drive along the identified path and having rollers which would compact the upper portion of the dirt to make it less likely to kick up dirt when driven over it.

More advanced levels of road development would be to sinter the surface. This mean to have a telerobot which uses microwave energy to cause the upper surface of the dirt to fuse together via heating. The lunar dirt is covered with what is called nanophase iron which makes it easier to heat. However, sintering is very energy intensive and so this level of road would develop much more slowly than the compacted level.

Later roads could be multiple lanes, paves, or even with rails produced from local metals. However, self-driving, robotic trucks driving on compacted lunar roads would work fine for a good while.

With propellant production at the poles, it would be tempting to just bypass any roads and have refueled landers conduct suborbital hops going anywhere on the Moon in about 15 minutes. True. But it would take a whole lot less energy for battery-powered vehicles to drive than the energy involved in electrolysis in order to make the propellant. Also, water consumed for suborbital hops would mostly not be replenished. There's a great amount of water on the Moon but still, we may want to conserve it especially that water near the Peaks of Persistent Illumination (PPIs) at the poles.

A very interesting road-building situation is possible when one takes into account the slow rotation of the Moon. Whereas the Earth rotates every 24 hours on its axis, the Moon always shows its face to the Earth. Therefore, it takes a full month to rotate on its axis. If a telerobot drives west fast enough, it could actually keep the sun at the same point in the sky -- that is, it could remain at the same time of the lunar day.

So, one could imagine a small fleet of telerobots with vibrating, rolling, drums starting at a pole driving pre-defined paths away from the pole. It heads down in the lunar morning and works 24/7 with teleroperators working in shifts on the Earth. When the telerobots compact roadways down to about 45 degrees latitude, they can turn westward and create roads while extending their stay in the lunar day.

If lunar evening starts arriving behind them, they would quickly drive back up north on the very roads that they created. They could then pass over the pole to the morning on the other side of the Moon and begin working there. After the 45 degree latitude road was created, operations creating roads further down toward the equator means that, as lunar evening is coming on, they could simply drive up to the 45 degree latitude road and drive westerly faster than the rotation of the Moon thereby driving into an earlier part of the day. By doing this, they could always remain in the lunar sunlight.

Eventually a whole network of compacted roads could be created thereby giving access to a wide variety of areas of high resources and access to popular exploration and tourism sites. The development of the network could start at the poles but then extend to equatorial areas. It is believe that this network of roads could be developed telerobotically prior to the arrival of large numbers of settlers.


    Hypothetical roadmap at the south lunar pole...     ...and around the Moon.

By having a network of roads that vehicles would stay on rather than driving off road, the landscape could be preserved for future generations.

Starting with the telerobotic compacting of lunar dirt, a network of roads could be developed connecting the sites most likely to be visited by international astronauts and tourists.

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