NASA is eying the Moon's south polar region as a possible site for future outposts. The location has many advantages; for one thing, there is evidence of water frozen in deep dark south polar craters. Water can be split into oxygen to breathe and hydrogen to burn as rocket fuel--or astronauts could simply drink it.
NASA's lunar architects are also looking for what they call "peaks of eternal light" -polar mountains where the sun never sets, which might be a perfect settings for a solar power station.
Energy specialists point out that we need alternatives to fossil
fuels. They give several reasons. There are environmental problems with
burning carbon. Perhaps most important, increasing the standard of
living in developing nations requires a huge increase in the supply of
Earth-bound Solar power has often been touted as a solution to the world's energy problems. The problems however are that any given place on Earth is dark half the time. Clouds and dust reduce the amount of solar energy by another 50%, and, except near the equator, the low angle of sunlight causes loss to the air, cutting the amount of energy by yet another 50%. All those reductions amount to eight times less solar energy reaching Earth's surface than arrives from the Sun.
The obvious alternative is to harness the Sun's energy in space. The idea of space power systems has been around since the late 1960s. Although new technology makes it more attractive, the biggest and most obvious obstacle is the cost of launching sophisticated technology into orbit.
David Criswell of the University of Houston has been arguing for
years that all the resources we need are in place on the Moon. It just
takes some manufacturing facilities to produce the needed parts to
collect the solar power.
Criswell proposes building solar power stations on the right and left sides of the Earth-facing side of the Moon to ensures a continuous supply of power to the earth. Solar cells would collect sunlight and transmit the energy to microwave transmitters, which would beam the energy to Earth, where it would be received by other antennas on the ground. Criswell says that the trick is to make the solar cells and antennas on the Moon.
Alex Ignatiev, Criswell's colleague at the University of Houston, and an expert in materials science, has designed a robotic solar-cell maker that would roll over the lunar surface, leaving a trail of solar cells behind. As the surface passed beneath the rover, concentrated sunlight would melt the surface and would cool quickly to make a smooth, glassy surface. Another system would extract silicon from the lunar soil by a vaporization process and deposit it in thin films on the glass surface. Depositing thin films requires a strong vacuum, provided naturally by the lunar atmosphere which has a pressure about a trillionth that of the Earth.
The result would be an extensive network of solar cells covering a large area with solar cells.
Posted by Casey Kazan.
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