A Gas Station in Space Could Allow Us to Reach Other Worlds

Five students at Caltech Space Challenge present their idea on the benefits of such a station. They proposed their designs what a lunar launch and supply station for deep space missions.

A Gas Station in Space Could Allow Us to Reach Other Worlds
Image credit: Pixabay

It has been almost 45 years that a human set foot on the moon. Every year, students from a wide range of backgrounds are invited to Caltech Space Challenge, formed into two teams, and given a mission design problem. This gives students an opportunity to work with experienced professionals in academia, industry, and national laboratories.

This year’s directive was to design a launch and supply gas station on the Moon to support missions into deep space. Five students involved in this challenge present their idea on the benefits of such a station.

According to them, the presence of a lunar refueling station would decrease the energy needed to leave Earth’s atmosphere. They proposed their designs what a lunar launch and supply station for deep space missions. Launching with just enough to fuel to get to a lunar gas station with a weaker gravitational pull and then heading on to Mars from there would save both time and money.

They explained, “Currently, all space missions are driving from the earth. But, the earth gravitational force is too strong. To escape Earth’s gravity, a rocket has to be traveling 11 kilometers a second – 25,000 miles per hour.”

For every rocket, while leaving earth’s gravity needs to carry all the fuel it will ever use to get to its destination and, if needed, back again. But the fuel is heavy and requires lots of energy while moving at high speed.

Students said, “If we could refuel in orbit, that launch energy could lift more people or cargo or scientific equipment into orbit. Then the spacecraft could refuel in space, where Earth’s gravity is less powerful.”

The students propose using three types of rovers on the Moon: 1. Prospector, 2. Constructor, and 3. Miner. The prospector would seek out ice, the constructor would build a launch pad and roads, and the Miner would collect ice and deliver it to storage tanks connected to electrolysis processing plants, which would transform it into usable energy. Then, the fuel the fuel would be transported to a location in a stable orbit between the Earth and the Moon where spacecraft could refuel.

The gas station in space would deliver ice directly to the orbiting fuel depot, where it would be processed into fuel and where rockets heading to Mars or elsewhere could dock to top up.

NASA is already working on most of the technology needed for a depot like this, including docking and fuel transfer. But, it should be located in a stable orbit relatively near both the Earth and the moon.

Similarly, the race to get people to Mars has been heating up in recent years. Elon Musk, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and NASA have all stated their intentions, and stopping by the Moon first plays a big part in many of these efforts. Even Stephen Hawking had said, ” we only have another hundred years or so on Earth, and right now, Mars is the closest thing we have to a backup plan.”