The Lunar Railroad

Small, unpressurized excursion vehicles will serve the needs of local transportation for crew and cargo (Figure 6.7). The Lunar Excursion Modules (LEMs) used in the Apollo program served this purpose very well. However, these vehicles had limitations in range, safety, and cargo capacity. They also disturb and accumulate the abrasive lunar dust, which is a hazard for both machines and humans (see

High Energy Aerobraking
Figure 6.9. Earth-Moon transit vehicles. Lunar-made heat shields are attached to the return stage (the spacecraft on the left) for aero-braking into Earth orbit. (Thangavelu/DiMare).

Appendix J). One solution to the need for effective, safe, and high-speed long-distance transportation on the Moon is a railroad system. The "lunar railroad" will greatly facilitate the exploration, development, and human settlement of the Moon.

During the early phases of lunar development, a pathway for the rail system will be surveyed and, after the right of way has been approved by the lunar government (see Chapter 9), the rail bed will be prepared. The lunar regolith that is removed in preparation of the rail bed can be amassed into a berm5 at the side of the railroad to serve as a support for the solar panels and as a sunshield for the rails. The lunar dust that is removed from the rail bed is also a source of solar wind gases and other elements, and it can be processed in-situ by a mobile factory robot.6

After the rail bed has been prepared, lunar-manufactured rails and cross ties will

5 Before the regolith is moved into a berm, high-priority elements such as hydrogen and helium-3 will be recovered.

6 The regolith contains hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and other elements that have been delivered to the Moon by the solar wind, as explained in Chapter 2. The lighter elements will have high value on the Moon because they can be used for life-support systems and for chemical processes such as the production of plastics. The Helium-3 that is recovered will also have a potentially high value as a fuel for future nuclear fusion reactors - both for rocket propulsion and for surface-based power plants.

Each segment is made by melting regolith inside an electric field. Iron particles align themselves in the electric field. When the segment cools, it is a permanent magnet. Each segment will then interlock naturally with the segments in front and behind. Bolts and drilled bolt holes would not be needed.

Each segment is made by melting regolith inside an electric field. Iron particles align themselves in the electric field. When the segment cools, it is a permanent magnet. Each segment will then interlock naturally with the segments in front and behind. Bolts and drilled bolt holes would not be needed.

Figure 6.10. Smart railroad track segments (David McKay, pers. commun., 1994, and Space Resource News, Vol. 4 No. 2, 1995).

be emplaced. A three-car system, consisting of a power cart, a hauling cart, and an erector cart, can be placed on the tracks. Assisted by multipurpose rovers in the beginning, the hauling cart will be loaded with lunar-manufactured track and delivered to the site of construction of the rail line.

Alternatively, the tracks could be made out of sintered basalt instead of metal. A factory-bot could then move along the intended track pathway and build the track segments more-or-less in place (if sufficient basaltic material is in the vicinity). By using sintered basalt, "smart" tracks could be made that lock themselves in place without bolts. This would by done by sintering the regolith in a reducing environment inside a magnetic coil. The reducing environment is needed to convert FeO to Fe (see Figure 6.10).

The tele-operated7 erector cart would then align each rail section and drop it into place, where it naturally aligns itself in relation to the adjacent section. The system will then move forward along the new rail line to lay more track (Figure 6.11).

One of the challenges associated with the lunar environment is thermal expansion and contraction during the lunar day/night cycle. To minimize these thermal stresses, the solar arrays can be placed at the sunward side of the rail bed and thus keep the rails in perpetual shadow.8

At first, the railroad will be a simple two-track rail system, and the trains will be composed of automated and tele-operated cars that have been delivered to the Moon from the Earth. As lunar manufacturing becomes more sophisticated and proficient,

7 The operation of trains will be mostly automated, with little or no need for control by Earth-based tele-operators. For the completion of more complex tasks, a team of tele-operated devices and on-site construction workers may be necessary.

8 To minimize thermal shock on solar panels, resistive heating elements can be added to the electric grid to supply heat to the panels in advance of the lunar sunrise.

Railroad Shock

railroad cars and electric motors will be made on the Moon from lunar materials, and when practicable the railroad will be electrified, deriving its power from the electric grid.

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