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

Building on Part-I of the blog, we delve deeper into landing pad infrastructure, drawing inspiration from Earth's airports and seaports and outlining key design principles, emphasizing safety, efficiency, and standardization.

Airports involve a careful balance of efficiency, safety, and convenience while fostering an environment where multiple competing airlines must cooperate. Regulations such as AC150/5300-13B, published by the FAA, dictate the federal standards for geometric layout and engineering that ensure aircraft can land, load, and depart in a safe and timely fashion. Airports are designed around the concept of a “Critical Aircraft”  an example of the most demanding type or grouping of aircraft which will be in regular use of the facility. Over time, this aircraft could change and planning for future potential aircraft is a major consideration when choosing this exemplary aircraft. On the Moon, the Artemis missions and SpaceX Starship are examples of super-heavy rockets expected to land on the Moon with a regular cadence. Setting these launch vehicles as the enveloping example allows for a pad to be built for the wide variety of launch vehicles from all origins on Earth. 

Once a Critical Aircraft has been chosen, next in the airport design process would be the concept of Design Precedence. Safety standards, which take precedence over lower-priority operational objectives. These standards could be reflected in the design of a lunar lander such as:

  1. Safety areas - a zone surrounding the pad to prevent the impact of high-velocity projectile, as documented in Jeffery Montes’s research, Pad for Humanity: Lunar Spaceports as Critical Shared Infrastructure

  2. Object/Obstacle-free areas - Clear areas which will allow spacecraft to land without collision

  3. Terminal Instrument Procedures (TERPS) surfaces - Monitoring and inspection hardware for confirming safe zones

  4. Separation standards  - Dictating separation distance between space vehicles 

Standards such as those regulated by the FAA provide a foundation for the safe coordination of aircraft arriving and departing throughout the US, and the FAA encourages it as a framework for other nations seeking to develop their own port layouts. Taking a step back, and perhaps sailing across the seas, one can look at guidance around Japanese ports regarding performance standards and requirements. 

Japan’s manufacturing and efficiency standards are heavily utilized in the US, with the Toyota Production System created by Taichi Ohno as being a key manufacturing methodology keen on mitigating wasted resources and time. 

Taking a closer look at the performance required of Japanese Seaports, the hierarchy stands as the following: 

Serviceability < Restorability < Safety. 

Serviceability - performance that enables use without inconvenience 

Recoverability - Performance that enables continuous use with repairs in a range that is technically feasible and economically reasonable 

Safety - Performance that secures the safety of human life, the structural response is to be such that the extent of damage is not fatal to the facility. 

By breaking down the variety of design factors in a lunar landing location, they can be categorized according to the type of action they depart on the landing pad: 

By combining performance requirements with the dominating actions, we start to create a hierarchy of design requirements for a lunar landing pad accepting a multitude of incoming and outgoing vehicles. Through this design concept, if serviceability is possible on the lunar pad itself, it can be assumed that safety and recoverability are also secured. Whereas performance requirements for accidental actions might be applicable to only safety devices themselves and not the entire facility, a lunar pad example being that all blast shields shall be serviceable and therefore restorable and safe. 

In order to avoid future interoperability challenges it will be imperative for cooperation and dialogue between lunar actors to ensure alignment on standards and design requirements. This should reduce wastage within the innovation process, as operators can focus on developing services based on agreed standards. Overall, it will ensure a minimum viable service for those expected to leverage these lunar landing pads. 

Due to the high amount of resources which will be necessary for machines and materials to be brought to the Moon, there will be a natural scarcity that exists in the building of a lunar civilization. In the effort to quickly innovate and develop on the Moon, scarcity of access can only serve to slow down this pace. The many design considerations of location, utilities, and infrastructure contribute to the complexity of what it means to create a useful port of entry and exit.  Leveraging the strengths of those who specialize in building each of these components will enable this effort. In fact, it will be necessary to lean on their expertise for a rapid innovation of this scale. Considering these complexities, as well as the unique topography of the Moon, it can be stated that lunar landing pads are a necessary first step in the cis-lunar economy and ideal landing sites will be high in demand. Meaning, those who have access to the capital to build such a large infrastructure will be the first ones to stake claim to these locations. Enabling a lunar landing pad with standard and shared infrastructure ensures that all space-faring nations have a shot at creating a presence of their humanity outside of Earth's atmosphere.