Building the Future: Collaborative Lunar Landing Pad Infrastructure and Its Role in Accessible Space Exploration- Part I

Thesis: A cooperative lunar landing pad is possible through collaboration and leveraging of historical design factors

Cooperation is a vital element in the shared success of multi-planetary civilization. On the Moon, the sheer amount of scarcity of resources for energy, infrastructure, and development makes it necessary to release our focus on the vertical integration model and rely on the array of ventures growing in hopes of a lunar economy. Shared resources allow for efficient use of payload transport and energy, ultimately reducing the already sky-high overhead required for bringing infrastructure to the Moon. There are models which have demonstrated that cooperation of a single infrastructure is possible with proper guidelines and policies in place, as has been demonstrated on Earth. A landing pad is a singular example of how this collaboration will be necessary, and it is foundational in enabling a lunar inhabitation to grow.

To explore this topic, we should start with the first rule of real estate: location, location, location. 

Several factors determine the ideal location for a lunar lander. The availability of ice formation, which can be converted into Hydrogen, can be found in regions with permanent shadows. These areas are generally 100 K with little fluctuation in temperature. Nearby, there must be peaks of eternal light, meaning there are regions which have constant sunlight. The availability of sunlight is ideal for energy generation, especially as lunar outposts become of focus for several world space agencies. Additionally, the constant exposure to sunlight allows for a low-temperature variability, which reduces design complexity. 

While the equator of the Moon fluctuates between 123K to 373K throughout a day, the lunar poles have been shown to contain these necessary regions of permanent shadows and peaks of eternal light. The north and south poles of the Moon were characterized by NASA through the Clementine Mission, launched on January 25, 1994, and the Lunar Prospector Mission, on January 7, 1998. 

There are multiple landing sites which have been deemed as an ideal landing location for countries like the US, China, India, and Japan. The Chandrayaan-3 mission and IM-1 mission landed on the South Pole of the Moon. The Shackleton crater is near the lunar south pole, which provides eternal light and is also believed to host valuable resources such as water ice. It is also a potential Lunar Outpost for Artemis-III and Chang’e-7 in 2026. Four regions on the rim of Peary Crater were constantly illuminated for an entire lunar day in summer. These lit regions are also close to several permanently shadowed areas and both lie within a zone of enhanced hydrogen measured by the Lunar Prospector and Clementine missions.

The strategic importance of available resources for missions will likely mean that there are a limited number of suitable landing sites on the lunar surface. The number of suitable sites could be further reduced by current activities damaging the integrity of sites due to the associated particle ejection that happens from landing and take-off. The limited number of suitable landing sites may present several challenges as the level of activity on the Moon increases. For instance, it could lead to competition among nation-states to secure specific sites, eventually becoming an access barrier for newer space-faring nations. Rather than seeing this as a constraint for future missions, it presents a real opportunity for cooperation, whereby a collective approach could be taken to develop shared landing pads, reducing the burden on each actor to identify and secure their own site. There are also potential benefits from a cooperative approach in reducing the cost burden of construction via greater economies of scale.

An image of the Shackleton Crater on the Llnar South Pole

Mosaic created by LROC (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) and ShadowCam teams with images provided by NASA/KARI/ASU

There are a variety of potential methods for constructing a landing pad to optimize cost efficiency, energy, and material usage. The ideal methodology requires minimal transportation of goods from Earth and utilizing as many materials from the Moon as possible, primarily Regolith. This lunar rock is a prime candidate for feedstock building materials due to the nanophase iron particles contained in a glass patina which coats the grains. This material can be laser sintered, baked into pavers, or infused with polymers, a broad variety of costs and benefits are associated with each of these manufacturing methods. One study suggests that the cost of constructing a landing pad may vary from $130 million to $548 million depending on the associated transportation cost. Given the variable costs and competing methods for construction, it presents another opportunity for actors to pool their resources and knowledge together so that larger economies of scale could be leveraged for a potential landing pad. In addition, there are likely to be several components to a landing pad, such as dust containment shield, fuelling services and other hard infrastructure that is necessary for lunar missions. A cooperative approach would allow actors to focus on their specific area of expertise, as opposed to needing to build all aspects of the landing, reducing the cost burden on each individual actor. 

The mechanism for development on the Moon will require teamwork. Collaboration. An undertaking of this size will require a cislunar economy with multiple stakeholders bringing a piece to the table. Luna-10 stands out as a shining example of a variety of otherwise competing companies coming together to develop a strategy for lunar exploration. This endeavour includes major space-industry leaders such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Northrup Grumman alongside innovative developers like ICON, Helios, and Honeybee Robotics. The Department of Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) selected these companies to develop key infrastructure for fueling, transportation, paving, and RF transmission. Do these components sound familiar? 

Well pack your bags and call your ride-share service three hours early, because we’re headed to the airport—specifically airport design per FAA standards.

PART II coming soon...!