Space Colonization Technology Ideas

Colonizing the Moon

The moon, our ever present and eternal neighbor in space, is an astral body that has captured the attention of humanity for millennia. Mankind first visited the moon in 1969 and the last time we were on the moon was in 1972. Since then we haven’t travelled beyond low earth orbit but this has not stopped man from eyeing big goals. Currently there are efforts to colonize both Mars and the Moon. This is a discussion of potential ideas for space exploration, colonization and technological developments that will simultaneously help us terrestrials. In order to brainstorm we first need to consider some difficulties that might be encountered when colonizing the Moon and Mars. Due to the complexity of the system as a whole and the Authors ignorance this article will by necessity be limited in scope.

Difficulty 1 – Energy on a moon or planet

Let’s face it no matter what planet or point in space we (humanity) ultimately decide to colonize energy will be something necessary to keep things running. In open space energy can be obtained from solar collection (which can occur constantly). This means that in near sun orbits electric generation is not very problematic. However, if the colony is moved further from the sun or placed on a planet or moon then the system becomes more complicated. Consider that a heavy atmosphere may prevent solar radiation from reaching the earth or a slow rotation of the planet may cause lengthy nights requiring non-solar solutions. Non-solar solutions could be a long power grid or nuclear but such projects require substantial infrastructure development (though some work is being conducted on micro nuclear reactors, which may make nuclear a viable option). I propose some existing technologies as candidates to be developed into potential space colony energy solutions.

Organic Batteries

Recently this year California scientists have published research focusing on utilizing mushrooms as a part of batteries. If this technology can be expanded to essentially grow a portion of batteries (either in flight or on arrival) then the weight and shipping space for transporting batteries can be greatly reduced. This has an additional benefit since the mushrooms are decomposers and can be utilized to recycle waste thus allowing for greater efficiency of resources in space as well.

Citation: Campbell, B. et al.Bio-Derived, Binderless, Hierarchically Porous Carbon Anodes for Li-ion Batteries.Sci. Rep. 5, 14575; doi: 10.1038/srep14575 (2015).

Larger Batteries

It may be necessary to cope with longer periods of darkness, like on Earth’s moon where night is two weeks. A second kind of potential battery would be a gravity battery. It may be possible to use modern materials to create a very tall storage container or utilize a deep crater; the preferred technology would be dependant on the gravity of the specific planet or moon. A body with a higher gravity would require a smaller elevation change while a body with lower gravity would require a much greater elevation change. During the day energy can be used to move mass to the higher elevation storage and at night it can be released to the lower elevation and this energy can be converted into electric. This is exactly what the Raccoon Mountain Pumped-Storage Plant just outside of Chattanooga, TN has been doing since 1978. There are a variety of modifications that can be made to the system, such as utilizing sand instead of water (obviously durability of parts would be impacted with sand), or bricks, alternatively the system could be powered off of solar steam.

Solar Steam

This is probably my favorite idea because it involves nano-particles, steam electric generation, distillation, and hydroelectric generation from a reservoir style battery. Essentially you create steam directly and efficiently utilizing carbon or gold plated nano-particles (the original research utilized silicon if I recall, I would seek to modify the core to a magnetic material to allow easy separation of the catalytic nanoparticles). The steam intensity would be increased because the Moon’s atmosphere is lower than earths which would allow more energy to penetrate and reach the steam generator. A large Fresnel lens, or reflective mirrors could be utilized as a solar concentrator to allow higher pressure steam. This steam could then be piped to a steam turbine which would generate electricity from the steam and then the pipes would go underground (at the bottom of a mountain) and after the prescribed length the pipes would emerge at the top of the mountain where the cooled steam would condense into water.

Interestingly this could generate electricity while moving water to a higher elevation (greater potential energy) and purifying the water (this could dual purpose for desalination on earth to provide electric generation and salt (to sell) and distilled water). Once in the reservoir the water would collect until night when the distilled water would be released, through pipes to turbines, and generate electricity. If you would like a more detailed explanation please see: http://asolutionaday.com/environmental/martian-combination-plant/

Neumann, O., Urban, A. S., Day, J., Lal, S., Nordlander, P., & Halas, N. J. (2012). Solar vapor generation enabled by nanoparticles. Acs Nano7(1), 42-49.

Difficulty 2 – Food on a moon or planet

Non-Photosynthetic Fungi

Mushrooms are nutritious (http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/3050/2) and delicious and their use goes well beyond just batteries. They are edible and can be grown with minimal photosynthetic requirements. Additionally, they come in many flavors Laetiporus sulphureus, is a potential chicken substitute or Hericium erinaceus which can be cooked to a seafood like texture and a crab like flavor. There are thousands of potentially useful mushrooms for space application and dozens (maybe hundreds) of choice edibles. The opportunity to research and take specific ones that maximize use in space should be thoroughly examined. There are some examples of lichens (a fungus/plant dual organism) that are capable of surviving in very harsh conditions and they may even be capable of surviving on Mars.  They provide many nutrients not easily obtainable from plant based products this makes them a great supplement to a space diet. This is partially due to fungus being more closely related to cows and fish than they are to plants.

Space Goats

Yup….I said it…  “Space Goats” … Goats can produce milk which is an excellent source of nutrition. Additionally the excess (non-dairy) goats can be slaughtered to produce meat for the astronauts. This operation is not sun dependant (though a reliable food source would be necessary for the goats during the night). The biggest advantage of goats is that they require about 1/6’th the area that cows require and this reduced space requirement can allow a viable population in a much smaller space. An even lower space animal would be chickens which produce eggs. The bio-waste from these animals could be converted into soil creating a complete system. The goat field could double as a solar generation facility modern research has determined that pastures of grazing animals with shade yields more milk of equal quality. Thus some sort of shade would need to be provided, either trees or solar panels or something else that would be productive.

Difficulty 3 – Building supplies on a moon or planet

Insulation and Building Materials

Not to keep pushing for fungus in space but there is a company called Ecovative they produce Myco Board, Myco Foam and other products. Myco Board is essentially a fungal building material that remains stable for long lengths of time (as long as it stays dry, not a problem in space).  Myco Foam is a grown insulation which can replace Styrofoam and other products and again be grown at the destination which allows more flexibility for transporting the product from Earth to the colony.

Bio-Luminescence

This one is admittedly a long shot but there are mushrooms that naturally produce light (other organisms as well but mushrooms are stationary). If we started a breeding program which focused on selectively breeding the mushrooms that produced the most light then over time the mushrooms might produce enough light to reduce the night time electrical needs of a colony. On earth these could be sold as novelty space mushrooms or specialty lighting (high electric cost areas such as California might be all to happy to replace conventional lighting with mushroom lighting in the name of saving money and conservation) to help recover a portion of the development costs. Geneticist consultation might be warranted to see how difficult it would be to identify the genes responsible for the bio-luminescence and insert them in more desirable edible species then begin the breeding program.