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US Military Plans to Build Factories on the Moon

DARPA's hope is to build large and sturdy lunar structures without being hindered by how much rockets can carry up to space.

US Military Plans to Build Factories on the Moon
Artist's illustration of structures built in space DARPA

As the space race is at full speed, measures have to keep up. One part of the race is colonizing space in places like the Moon and Mars. In order to do so, though, we have to build big infrastructures in space, but launching and carrying these heavy loads on rockets is expensive and restricted.

So the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) set up a new program last week called the Novel Orbital and Moon Manufacturing, Materials and Mass-efficient Design (NOM4D). The point of the program is to pioneer technologies for off-earth manufacturing and production that are capable of building large-scale space and lunar structures. 

Teams can listen in on a DARPA Proposer's webinar on February 26 to get further information about the project. 

Proposers will have to put forward ideas for new materials, manufacturing technologies, and new mass-efficient designs capable of functioning and being built-in space.

Bill Carter, program manager at DARPA's Defense Sciences Office said that "Manufacturing off-earth maximizes mass efficiency and at the same time could serve to enhance stability, agility, and adaptability for a variety of space systems."

How feasible it would be to build on the moon

The concept of building on the moon for lunar colonization and exploration is not a new one. A study called Project Horizon appeared as early as 1959 of how feasible building a military base on the moon would be, with the plan of sending 12 soldiers to live there and safeguard the moon by 1966. However, the project was put to rest by the then President Eisenhower.

With lunar temperatures jumping between 127 and -173 degrees Celcius (260 and -343 degrees Fahrenheit) depending on whether you're in the shade or not, it's clear to see how lunar-specific materials and structures would have to be built to withstand such changes. 

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Another point to make is that given one lunar day is approximately 29 Earth ones — meaning two weeks of sunshine would be followed by two weeks of darkness — solar power is another issue. 

These are only two of the many challenges proposers for DARPA's new program have to take into consideration when putting forward ideas for lunar structures and manufacturing. And DARPA isn't the only agency looking for ideas, ESA, Blue Origin, and Airbus Defense and Space teamed together in 2019 to launch a non-profit with the same goal of building in space, called The Moon Race.

And in terms of cost, back in 2016 MarketWatch estimated that reaching the moon costs between $7 billion to 13 billion, with an extra $28 billion to $57 billion for the construction of the structures and bases in space. With all that said and done, given one U.S. aircraft carrier costs approximately $13 billion, such space structures may not break the bank all that much.

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