Lighting up prime real estate on the lunar poles

Speaking of lunar resources, Paul Spudis discusses the LRO South Pole Illumination Map mentioned here earlier: New Light on the Lunar Poles – The Once and Future Moon.

> Permanently lit areas of the Moon are important for future habitation and use of the Moon for two principal reasons. First, these sunlit areas are prime locations for the establishment of solar photovoltaic arrays. The constant sunlight here means continuous generation of electrical power using solar panels. This solves one of the most difficult problems of lunar habitation, survival during the 354-hour lunar night. Prior to the discovery of the quasi-permanently lit areas, we imagined that the only feasible power source to survive this long night was nuclear reactors. Such a power system does not exist and would require several tens of billions of dollars to develop. So sunlit zones allow us to go to the Moon and stay there without this expense and technology development.

The second advantage of a sunlit area is that it is thermally benign. The surface temperatures at the lunar equator and mid-latitudes depend almost entirely upon incident solar illumination and range from less than -150° to over 100° C, a 250° temperature-swing over the course of a day. In contrast, the surface temperature of these quasi-permanent lit areas is nearly constant – a nice, toasty -50° ± 10° C. This simplifies the thermal design of surface habitats and equipment and greatly relieves the energy required for thermal control at an outpost.

The sunlit areas of the poles occur in close proximity to high concentrations of water ice and other volatiles at the poles of the Moon. Their presence indicates the lunar poles are the best places we have found off-planet for human habitation. Constant sunlight, benign temperatures, near the water and a great view – that’s prime real estate.


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