Future lunar colonies at Shackleton Crater at the Moon’s south pole


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The rim of Shackleton Crater
Click for full image.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team has released a new image of the rim of Shackleton Crater, reduced slightly in resolution to post here on the right. The Moon’s south pole is located on the crater’s rim near the top right of this image. As they note at the link, the interior of Shackleton never gets any sunlight, making it what scientists call a Permanently Shadowed Region (PSR), while a ridgeline running south to de Gerlache Crater gets sunlight 90% of the time.

An elevated ridge runs roughly between Shackleton and de Gerlache craters, and the relatively high elevation of this landscape means that some portions are illuminated up to 90% of the time, but nowhere is permanently illuminated. Future explorers could take advantage of this persistent illumination by setting up solar panels in several closely spaced locations providing nearly constant solar generated electricity.

The proximity to Permanently Shadowed Regions in and around Shackleton crater adds scientific value to this destination, as PSRs are often home to compounds such as water ice that are not found elsewhere on the Moon, but which contain clues to the history of of inner Solar System water and other volatile elements. A nearby, ready source of water-ice would also be of benefit to human surface activities, either as a consumable (air or water) or as spacecraft fuel.

Below is a more detailed map they provide showing this area, with the permanently shadowed regions shaded in blue. The green dot indicates the location of the south pole. The green arrows indicate regions in sunlight in the full image.

The region around Shackleton

Sadly, I expect we are looking at the locations of future Chinese and Indian lunar bases. Though the U.S. has done all the proper legwork to find out the exact locations to build a lunar base at Shackleton, our government has decided we will instead twiddle our thumbs in lunar orbit while other countries use our legwork to land and establish bases on the Moon itself.

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21 comments

  • Ian C.

    The Chinese will produce a lunar Sputnik event and a couple of years later America wins.

  • Ian C: You make a dangerous and what I think is an incorrect assumption, that the United States of today is the same nation that existed in 1957. It is not, not by a long shot.

  • Ian C.

    Let me explain in a rather verbose way. It’s an observation–please don’t ask me to quantify it, it’s a feeling after thinking a lot about it. There’s something special to America that’s absent outside. Most people follow idealized assumptions of how things should work, and when they make “reasonable plans” they have very “reasonable” ideas how resources should be allocated and what timelines to follow and so on. Now when something is a good idea or necessary but it would take a lot of effort to get it going (e.g., change a developed social system with vested interests, overcome lock-in effects, make huge investments etc.), we’ll see a longer period of inaction or half-hearted attempts. There’s a lot of moaning and fruitless calls to action, to the “reasonable” commentator everything is lost because the first three milestones are already missed. And then there’s some specific event, a wake-up call, and after some silence things start to move fast and grow quickly. This American combination of think big, can do, and loosely coordinated efforts gets the show on the road. It will surprise the Chinese (long-term planning and tight control of individual action), the Europeans (pessimism, arrogance, and too much government focus), perhaps it will surprise even the Americans. It will look super “unreasonable” because it doesn’t follow the well-planned scripts of “reasonable” people. It’s chaotic, perhaps wasteful, but it gets the job done eventually.

    Risk capital and ambition in the private sector, the US that will provide the cultural background noise and the legal frameworks to give certainty, protection, and incentives (already doing that and it will get better), and the wake-up call that will create the public support and the spirit that now the time is right to do something about it. Those are the ingredients.

    I really mean it (despite all the problems America has and will have, I’m a keen observer of those as well). It’s not a feel-good, flag-waving, idealizing rhetoric to score good-boy points. Again, it’s an observation and a feeling after years of watching how the “reasonable” Europeans plan something (in industries other than space) and before they know it, America takes over. Not always, but often enough. Let’s see how that American pattern performs against the Chinese. I’m betting on America (I actually do with my business and life choices, so I might be biased here).

    Thoughts on that?

  • Ian C: I truly deeply hope you are correct. I also agree with much of what you say. The U.S. culture is still ingrained with the concepts of chaotic freedom, and it is this aspect that has made the commercial space industry take off.

    At the same time, I as a historian watch trends. In fact, the main focus of most of my historical work is the study of how societies change. (See especially Leaving Earth.) The change in the U.S. since the 1960s has not been good.

  • Max

    SpaceX have come from nowhere and in only a few years climbed to the top without the backing of the entire countries tax system. He is a wild card that is still full of surprises.
    Jeff Bezos is scrambling to catch up but has the financial resources to do so.
    China has a well laid out plan but the bureaucracy half of the technocracy is hindering it. They are struggling to get this problem under control but the trade war is not helping them. The Chinese leader once said; when a patient is sick, the doctor knows where to cut and how to fix the problem. It’s not so easy when you’re operating on yourself.
    You resist making the necessary cuts because you know it’s going to hurt.
    There is a window of opportunity that a private Corporation may set up a maned base in this location while governments are still filling out the paperwork.

    Being on the rim of this crater in permanent sunlight is a great advantage for heat and power production.
    Solar panels on earth lose 1% of their capacity for power production per year.
    In orbit, when the space station was new, its solar arrays produced 220 kilowatts of power. By 2028, (30 years) Boeing predicts they will only generate 160 kilowatts.
    Outside the protective magnetic field, solar panels in full ionizing radiation will corrode quickly, as much as 5% in one solar storm.
    The sunlight is 250°F which is sufficient to convert a liquid into a gas to drive a turbine generator. The gas could then be diverted into the habitat/greenhouse for warmth as it condenses back into a liquid. (Reflective mirrors can be arranged for additional heat). This will allow all available energy produced by the turbine generator to be used for other life support and construction purposes. Longer life, higher reliability from off-the-shelf parts.

  • wodun

    SpaceX and BO are both relying on government to one degree or another. Anyone doing anything on the Moon, other than a stunt, will also be working with government.

    The problem I see is that people suggest some janky engineering solution, that is very creative and also quite possible, but that is four or five steps away from what needs to be done right now. There is no consensus on what could or should be done immediately and proposals that are more mundane and less grandiose are attacked by the space cadet community as not being flashy enough.

    Getting back is not as important as what we do when we get there, just as how someone gets to space is less important than what they do in space.

    On Sputnik moments: Everyone is happy with their local government as long as the trash gets picked up and the potholes aren’t out of control. When this changes, people start paying attention. Is returning to the Moon as important as trash pickups? Probably not to a lot of people. This is why it is important for NASA to enable industry to do more on its own. Doing this doesn’t fit in with many people’s view of what NASA should be doing.

  • Cotour

    Ian C. : “There’s something special to America that’s absent outside.”.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Constitution

    The Constitution is what lies at the foundation and structures the special nature of America that you are unable to identify.

    This is a unique concept of history, time, place and the courage of a certain group of men (and women) of vision to implement it. A unique set of documents that recognizes the nature of man and his relationship to the abuse of power as it relates to governance.

    Very simple, very effective, very unique.

  • Cotour

    PS: The combination of Capitalism and the Constitution is the power house that allows for the kind of progress that America emanates. Capitalism constrained and channeled by “proper” regulation is a powerful tool of progress and freedom.

    Unbridled and unconstrained Capitalism as with unbridled and unconstrained Communism are equally just as deadly.

  • Cotour

    To my point, China.

    https://youtu.be/k_RTJGW3k2o Very interesting report 8min.

    Command economy V Demand economy.

    Communism V Capitalism when Capitalism is also allied with the American Constitution has no chance of prevailing unless they can cheat and steal. And that is exactly what is under way. The Chinese MUST cheat and steal and oppress and control their people, freedom does not really exist in China.

    And without a true measure of freedom for the people of China it can never achieve its stated goals. And there in lies China’s conundrum and paradox.

  • J Fincannon

    Max,
    There is no permanent sunlight on the Moon. As to 5% reduction of solar power due to some solar storm, solar arrays are shielded using coverglass. Also, I would have to check but I am not aware of any geostationary solar arrays degrading 5% due to a solar storm. These things are hard to predict though. You design something to a practical extent, not for every possibility.

    Sunlight is 250F? Not sure what this is from. At the Poles it is more like 230K. Unless you are concentrating it, then it can be anything.

  • I should add that the article I linked to, and the quote that I included in my post, stated very clearly that this terrain is only “illuminated up to 90% of the time.”

    I wish people would read things before commenting.

  • J Fincannon

    Hi Bob!
    I am glad they mentioned the limited light. I hear way too much “peaks of eternal light” from some people! It makes a big difference. One thing I thought was an issue with the article was that they thought they could connect the sites with good illumination. The problem is that these sites would have to be pretty far apart to make a difference. But then you have to have heavy power cable to electrically connect them. It just pays to use the mass to store the energy in batteries or regenerative fuel cells rather than use mass for long cable. The sites have to be far apart because the same stuff (Malapert and nearby mountains) is blocking all these sites.

  • Ian C.

    Cotour, I’m not denying the role of the Constitution, it enables individual action and prevents/mitigates abuse of power. But I’m talking about a specific cultural trait that needs to be present. European countries aren’t unfree, but they don’t produce similar results. The Constitution was inspiration for other countries and they didn’t produce similar results. We could transplant the Constitution to Europe (or China) and still would get mostly European (or Chinese) results. And when we replace the American population with people that ignore or reject the Constitution/culture, we’d cease to get American results. That’s just an assumption, but I’m pretty sure of it.

    The Constitution and the culture need to be lived by enough people with sufficient access to (all kinds of) resources. The Constitution allows but doesn’t force people to act on their own, aim high, take risks. This cultural (and perhaps personality) trait needs to exist and have momentum (scale is important!) and reproduce itself by being practiced and passed down to the next generation and also attract outside talent to America.
    If you lose that trait, it’s gone (for a long time, perhaps for good). It would be hard to restart, the required activation energy is high. Take all those attempts outside the US to replicate Silicon Valley: investment-friendly regulations and taxation, startup ecosystem, STEM-focused universities. But it’s usually an empty “cargo cult” (sometimes down to the stereotypical kicker table) because it lacks the culture, scale, and traction. And Silicon Valley embodies just a limited part of American culture, perhaps not even the most important one, and when they try to replicate it they don’t get even that right. Outside the US exist islands of chaotic freedom, but they’re isolated, have only a few people and lack capital, their surrounding cultures are a barrier, and they stay small.

    That’s how I interpret my observations and research. As a foreigner I certainly won’t lecture you about America and I’m curious what I might be missing. Is the Constitution (plus capitalism) sufficient? Is that the recipe to make the world more American?

    Regarding China, we shouldn’t underestimate them. Did the same with Japan decades ago. After copying and taking advantage of the West came the phase when they started innovating on their own. And while China has a lot of interesting problems, we shouldn’t dismiss their efforts, their ambitions and self-image (return to the natural state as world leader), and their latent lust for revenge.

    To return to the original topic, I don’t worry about America’s ability to establish lunar bases. The Chinese will do it, too. The Europeans will mostly act as suppliers and will try to join the Americans and Chinese as junior partners. Same for the Russians and Indians, perhaps the Japanese as well.

  • mike shupp

    Ian C. —

    As does Mr. Zimmerman, I like the image you paint of American responsiveness and dynamism but feel some qualms.

    The first is that much American behavior can be explained by the nation’s sheer size and number of people. The USA is about the size of the European subcontinent, after all, just a bit smaller than China, 20% larger than Australia. It’s the world’s third most populous nation, dwarfed only by China and India. Much of its economic and political history may be explained by noting that most of its residents have very limited contact with other nations’ governments, other languages, other cultural traditions. It’s been good for the country, good for individuals, that Americans can travel across great distances without requiring government permission every few hundred miles, without trading their currency for another, without switching from democracy to monarchy or capitalism to socials at each state border, to move from Boston to Los Angeles without needing to change from right lane to left when driving or even to switch breakfast cereals. Similarly,
    American industrialists have had the benefit of large continent-spanning markets — how would railroads and Thomas Edison have fared if each of several dozen states had insisted on its own arbitrary gauge of track and power distribution standards?

    Much of our individual character as a nation, I’m trying to suggest, may be explained by historical accident, by our size rather than some special excellence. (Not all of course — our rapid population growth and our mixture of immigrants have also shaped our existence.)

    BUT. Looking forward, it’s hard to see this uniqueness continuing, or at least continuing so happily. We can be taken back by unexpected events, as shown by Pearl Harbor and Sputnik, and there’s no guarantee that future adversaries or circumstances will give us so much time to gather our strength and form a national resolve. We are entering an era in which possible opponents are of unprecedented size with economic and technological strengths approaching our own, in which struggles for international standing are shaped by stealth and subtlety unimagined a few decades ago.

    And our political leadership is not performing adequately. Mr. Zimmerman and I seem to agree on that as well, though we have different diagnoses and prescriptions for the ailments.

  • Cotour

    When you look at the fundamentals the only conclusion that you can come to is that the time and place and the religious and political conditions that existed at America’s germination point combined with Capitalism and its relative isolation is exactly what has made America America and so unique.

    The seeking of religious freedom, the oppression of a tyrant King, oppressive and confiscatory taxation and the lessons of history related to governance and abuse of power combined with a kind of man (And women) that understood through their education the history and nature of tyranny that they live within.

    Imagine the founding of a system of governance that enshrines the citizens fundamental right to be armed for the express purpose to oppose the government and take their rights and their government back, not if but WHEN the peoples rights and their government became usurped and corrupted. Now that is progressive! Would that happen today? Unlikely.

    When you follow the string it leads to the foundation and from there everything springs and sits upon it. Can it be replicated today? Possibly not. And that is why America must be maintained as the leader of the world, warts and all.

    Is it perfect? No, but its the best that has ever been conceived and implemented IMO. That is why you can see the founding of America IMO as a kind of function of Providence. (And I am not a religious person.)

    Providence: “God conceived as the power sustaining and guiding human destiny”

    Take a look at the unique men that had to have come together and fashion the foundation at that time and place given the conditions that existed. Look at the philosophers and economists that they studied. Coincidence? Synchronicity? Providence?

    Is Trump’s presidency an extension of that unique birth?

    Could this happen today given the existence of the internet and the ability to spy on all, combined with high powered weapons???????

    Something to think about.

    The answer to your question IMO exists, but you are just looking deep enough to see it.

  • Cotour

    On George Washington and Providence : Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington, by George Washington Parke Custis, Edited by Benson J. Lossing

    Fifteen years after this battle Washington and Dr. Craik, his intimate friend from his boyhood to his death, were traveling on an expedition to the western country, for the purpose of exploring wild lands. While near the junction of the Great Kanawha and Ohio Rivers a company of Indians came to them with an interpreter, at the head of whom was an aged and venerable chief.

    The Chief recalls:

    “Our rifles were leveled, rifles which, but for him, knew not how to miss – ’twas all in vain, a power mightier far than we, shielded him from harm. He cannot die in battle. I am old, and soon shall be gathered to the great council fire of my fathers in the land of shades, but ere I go, there is something bids me speak in the voice of prophecy.

    Listen! The Great Spirit protects that man, and guides his destinies — he will become the chief of nations, and a people yet unborn will hail him as the founder of a mighty empire.”

    Prophetic, no? Can that happen again today resulting in an even better system given the correct circumstances? I do not know, I can not imagine a simpler system that recognizes the nature of man related to the abuse of power.

    So therefore you must appreciate and preserve what is unique. And all this ends up in a discussion about bases and colonies on the moon. How appropriate.

  • Edward

    Ian C. wrote: “The Chinese will produce a lunar Sputnik event and a couple of years later America wins.

    If America wins, it will be through the commercial sector, not through NASA.

    A big difference between the United States today and the U.S. of 1957 is that we are not in a cold war with anyone. A Sputnik moment would have to challenge our technological capabilities, and we are much more secure in our ability now than back then.

    In 1957, many of the countries that were rebuilt at U.S. expense, after WWII, were beginning to out-compete the U.S. in several ways. Also, we had different priorities, back then, and what was important to us was different. As seen by the U.S. population, Soviet rockets always worked, because their engineers were better than ours, while our rockets always blew up, because our engineers always botched it. The reality was that the secretive Soviets did not announce their failures (e.g. the Nedelin catastrophe), but the open U.S. displayed them for all to see.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Te_3gfOoh8c (3 minutes)

    NASA was formed out of the NACA, whose primary job was to assure continued American leadership in aeronautics. NASA is still trying to recover from almost a decade of having a primary mission of making Muslims feel good about themselves and their complete lack of scientific and engineering achievement. This explains NASA’s recent lack of ability to make the big projects come close to meeting schedules or being well managed, resulting in runaway price tags. SLS, JWST, and WFIRST come to mind.

    Having commercial space achieving great things would be preferred to government doing them. It shows that free market capitalism is the way to go, not government-run programs that only meet the needs of government. When we let government run things, all we get is what the government wants, not what we want. When We the People run things through our wallets, free market capitalists deliver what we want, and this is how our lives have improved so much over the past two centuries (the rich of Jane Austin’s time didn’t have it this good).

    The Constitution was inspiration for other countries and they didn’t produce similar results.

    A major difference is that other countries’s leaders did not give up their power. The U.S. Constitution is written with limited government and assumes that people have natural, or God given, rights. The other countries are run as though it is the government that grants people their rights, which is why Canada and Australia have rescinded their promises of freedom of speech. Ask Mark Steyn about saying the wrong thing in either of these countries, and he will give you an earful.

    Thus, different results.

    Even the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights has Article 29, part 3: “These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.” This allows the UN to withdraw, at will, the rights that it believes it has bestowed to us. In the U.S., our rights are our own and cannot be withdrawn, which is why we still have the right to free speech and to protect ourselves. Otherwise the U.S. would already have done to us what other countries have done to their people.

    A people who are free from government tyranny are free. A people who are not so free from tyranny are not free. Liberty requires eternal vigilance — and a well written constitution.

    wodun wrote: “Getting back is not as important as what we do when we get there

    Except that if we don’t get back there, what we do there does not happen at all.

  • Max

    J Fincannon said;
    “Max, There is no permanent sunlight on the Moon.”

    This is correct, although the rim crater receives sunlight 90% of the time. I was assuming there would be a tower erected in the weather less, wind less, low gravity of the moon that will rise above all shadows. A panel array that will track the sun slowly rotating. The height of a rocket ship, landing on the rim, may be enough height to do the job. The spent fuel tanks could be used as living quarters or storage tanks for what is melted from the depths of the crater. Eventually, this will be the location of one of the largest lunar colonies. Not just because of the sunlight, it’s a excellent location for an over sized optical telescope and thermal infrared telescope.

    You said;
    “As to 5% reduction of solar power due to some solar storm, solar arrays are shielded using coverglass. Also, I would have to check but I am not aware of any geostationary solar arrays degrading 5% due to a solar storm. These things are hard to predict though. You design something to a practical extent, not for every possibility.”

    Again you are correct, I could not find where I read this. Bad memory or theoretical damage to a mercury mission direct hit of X class flare? Damage is 2% from one storm.

    “[7] SEP (Solar energetic particle) events also cause displacement damage in electronic components, whereby atoms are knocked out of the crystal lattice leading to defects, charge trapping, and reduced gain in transistors. This is particularly important for solar arrays and leads to a degradation of solar array power over the lifetime of the satellite. For example, solar array power may degrade by 1%–2% per year depending on the type of solar cells [Brekke, 2004], whereas one large SEP event can cause 2% power loss [Odenwald and Green, 2007] in modern GaAs/Ge solar arrays. The total ionizing dose from all space radiation, electrons, and ions also affects the efficiency of surface materials such as solar array coatings, thermal control, and electronic components especially charged coupled devices.”
    https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/swe.20023

    As for the cover glass, popular science talks about the problems there. Here is the complete quote from their website on space station solar panels;

    Weak Points
    With the constant addition of new science experiments on the ISS, the station’s solar panels are going to need to collect more energy than ever. Unfortunately, they’re looking a little haggard after their 15 years in orbit. Space radiation blackens the transparent glass over the solar cells, blocking some sunlight from entering, and every now and then small bits of space debris take out a string of solar cells.

    When the space station was new, its solar arrays produced 220 kilowatts of power. By 2028, Boeing predicts they will only generate 160 kilowatts.
    “We think we can get to 2028,” says Cothran, “but it’s something that we’ll have address.”
    Even if the solar panels crap out, it wouldn’t necessarily mean the end of the ISS. Boeing has an idea to overlay the old panels with newer, more efficient cells, should the need arise.

    you said;
    “Sunlight is 250F? Not sure what this is from. At the Poles it is more like 230K. Unless you are concentrating it, then it can be anything.”

    230K is the average temperature of the moon (-50F)
    At the equator, 88K (-300F) in the shadow 394K (250°F) in sunlight.
    (Similar temperatures on the ISS)
    We don’t yet have accurate readings in the polar location other than the permanently shadowed crater bottom is measured as cold as Pluto. (Near-400F)

    An interesting related subject.
    Transmission of power to earth with laser beams?
    https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/15/china-plans-a-solar-power-play-in-space-that-nasa-abandoned-long-ago.html

  • pzatchok

    As for power on the Moon.

    Other than politics whats to stop someone from using a closed cycle nuclear powered steam turbine generator on the Moon?
    Something pretty much like we use on attack subs.

    More that enough power for anything we would need on the Moon for the next 25 years.

  • J Fincannon

    Max,
    >I was assuming there would be a tower erected in the weather less, wind less, low gravity of the moon that will rise above all shadows. A panel array that will track the sun slowly rotating. The height of a rocket ship, landing on the rim, may be enough height to do the job.

    No, this is not the case. Only if you raised a tower 3-4 km high could you clear the shadows cast from mountains >200 km away, especially in the Malapert region. A rocket ship would be 10 m high which is nice because it clears local obstacles, but it provides only 90% average illumination per year.

    >Bad memory or theoretical damage to a mercury mission direct hit of X class flare? Damage is 2% from one storm.

    This is something that solar array designers have to design for. It is separate from the electronics boxes, which at least can be shielded with some metal. The solar arrays are shielded with “glass” sheets. The thicker they are the better the shielding, but then they are heavier. A mass optimum is to accept degradation but a lighter solar panel rather than minimize degradation and have a too heavy panel. Thin flexible Solar arrays are so light, it doesn’t matter if you make them bigger to accommodate unpredictable solar events. Also, operational workarounds can limit exposure (turning them edge on to the Sun, running on batteries during the “event”).

    >We don’t yet have accurate readings in the polar location other than the permanently shadowed crater bottom is measured as cold as Pluto. (Near-400F)

    What? We have LRO’s Diviner sensors gathering temperature data over the polar and the rest of the lunar surface. Please use this tool to examine the data images.
    https://quickmap.lroc.asu.edu/
    The detailed datasets are available at https://ode.rsl.wustl.edu/moon/indextools.aspx?displaypage=lrodiviner

    About nuclear on the Moon, lets see how Kilopower does. Although nuclear is excellent, it has issues of security and safety perception.

  • Ian C.

    Cotour, mike, Edward — Thanks for the input, something for me to think about. Many good points. I’d like to follow up on this in a later discussion. Cheers.

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