Apollo took man to the moon decades ago in a breakthrough flight. NASA intends to repeat the feat in with its Artemis program. It has a more extensive scope than Apollo as it involves collecting moon rocks, golfing, and returning to earth. In a nutshell, Artemis intends to keep a permanent presence of man on the Moon.
But this all would be achieved with resources, namely oxygen.
What sets Artemis apart is its concept of an oxygen pipeline. Dr. Peter A. Curreri is the man behind this concept and the Artemis. However, he is one of the frontline advocates of human spaceflight and has been associated with NASA since 2021 as Chief Science Officer for Lunar Resources, Inc.
The ambitious pipeline project, dubbed the Lunar South Pole Oxygen Pipeline (LSPOP), would connect to NASA’s lunar ice extraction hub at the lunar south pole. Apart from NASA, China and Russia are also eyeing the south pole as it is resource-rich. In addition, huge quantities of ice and other minerals can be found just beneath the Moon’s surface.
Ice available at the south pole plays a crucial role in NASA’s plans. First, for sustaining human presence on the Moon, the ice poses itself as a lucrative option for oxygen as it can be converted into drinking water and oxygen, which can further be used for breathing and rocket fuel.
NASA recently released the following statement on its website, in which Curreri wrote, “currently funded efforts for in-situ oxygen extraction consists of bottling the oxygen in compressed gas tanks or of liquefying and store it in dewars. Either approach requires trucking tanks or dewars to various facilities for use. Moving this oxygen on rovers is more energy intensive than the extraction process. It is thought to be the MOST expensive aspect in obtaining in-situ oxygen for use on the Moon, considering the long distances a resource extraction area will be from a human habitat or liquefaction plant.”
Having said that, the intended oxygen pipeline would be built on the lunar south pole, and SpaceX’s Artemis III will be the first to send man onto the lunar south pole.
In a nutshell, the ice would be stored in a cryogenic vessel and moved around in lunar rovers. The vessels will be transported to the lunar equator as the habitats would require sunlight in the region.
This pipeline would put a huge slash on the cost of transportation of oxygen. Also, it is environmentally friendly as a leak won’t pollute but merge into space; lucky for us, the Moon doesn’t have an atmosphere.
Different types of pipelines would be tested by Lunar resources, starting with a 3-mile-long pipeline. In his statement, Curreri wrote that “our starting concept is for a 5 km pipeline to transport oxygen gas from an oxygen production source, for example, our molten regolith electrolysis (MRE) extraction site or any other source, to an oxygen storage/liquefaction plant near a lunar base.”
If at all NASA gives the nod to go ahead with this ambitious pipeline, it will be manufactured in parts. The likely construction material would be aluminum, which is abundant on the lunar south pole.