Promoting a vision of a network of Solar Power Satellites largely built from Lunar Materials

[Discussion Forum ]by Peter Kokh, President and Dr. Peter Schubert, Director- Draft 3/27/2008

AIM: Adopting A PROJECT ORGANIZING FOCUS for the Moon Society that gives us a prominent profile as “the People who ____”

INTRODUCTION: This document, in the present state, is for internal use of the Moon Society Leadership.
On September 12, 2008, this document was published to the Members Only area of our website, in preparation for our First Annual Membership Meeting to be held Wednesday, September 17th, 2008.

The suggestions made below include items that we can publicize, as part of our public relations efforts.

On March 2, 2008, Director Dr. Peter Schubert challenged Society Leaders to concentrate its focus on efforts that would command respect and grow enthusiasm for Society Projects. His suggestion was that we take the lead in promoting a vision of a network of Solar Power Satellites largely built from Lunar Materials.

What follows is a suggestion by Moon Society president Peter Kokh of how we can break down this proposal into logical action items that we can pursue in order to promote that suggestion. Without reducing the suggestion to a list of action items, to be continually revisited, any proclamation of that goal would be so much empty talk. We need to show that we are using all the resources at our command to advance that vision.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, SLuGS (Seattle Lunar Group Studies), the brainstorming group of the Seattle L5 chapter, with a high percentage of members coming from Boeing, presented their report that 92% of a solar power satellite could be built with materials made from lunar regolith at a weight penalty of only 8%. On March 6th, I contacted the remaining people in this group to ask them to redo the study, considering new information about lunar resources and fresh advances in ideas of how we could process lunar regolith into usable building materials. I will let you know their response as soon as I receive it. With a fresh updated study, the next step is took a hard look at just how “ready” these “lunar appropriate” materials technologies are.

We contacted SLuGS, in the process of picking a new project, and proposed that they redo this study. They thanked us for the suggestion, but have not responded since. Action item 09/12/2008: contact them again.

Research on lunar concrete: This is the only in situ building material research that has continued through the past two decades, thanks to Dr. T. D. Lin

Research on glass fiber / glass matrix composites: No significant research on this technology has been done since Brandt Goldsworthy produced an ice cube size sample which proved to be significantly stronger than steel — back in 1985, I believe.

I (Peter Kokh) have, through the years, been highly critical of SSI’s plan to import lead to drop the melting point of the matrix, when reasonably abundant lunar sodium and potassium could drop that point almost as much. The point is no further research has been done so far as I know.

In the SSI plan, glass composites would be used to make the spars for space frames from which the support structure of an SPS would be made.

In 1988, I proposed a Business Plan by which glass-glass matrix composites technology could be pre-developed by entrepreneurs strictly for the potential profitable terrestrial applications. Meanwhile, this R&D would put a close analog of what we can do on the Moon, “on the shelf.” This process reverses the direction of “spin-off” and is what we have called “spin-up.”

We personally do not have the expertise, or organizing talent, to put together an enterprise team that could undertake such a task. But the proposed terrestrial applications seem very exciting, but that may prove not to be the case once the demonstration work is done. But is not that always the case?

Research on Solar photovoltaic technology: There has been a recent breakthrough on producing solar panels by using abundant lunar ilmenite (an iron-titanium oxide) instead of silicon Photovoltaics or Solar thermal: We not aware of research that confirms which is the best technology to pursue, photovoltaics of solar turbines — “best” being determined by the most power per weight, weight being the principal component of overall cost. It is possible that lunar component sourcing might support one option over the other in away that would reduce the percentage of total mass of an SPS that can be lunar sourced. We don’t know.
We need to know!

Metal Alloy Research: As to alloys, the significant thing is not that the Moon has abundant iron, aluminum, magnesium, and titanium, but that the alloy ingredients we are accustomed to using with each may not be sufficiently available on the Moon.

Steel needs carbon which is scarce on the Moon.
Most aluminum alloys use significant portions of copper which, so far as we know, are present only in parts per billion.


Instead of boasting that:

“The Moon Society is promoting the use lunar materials for construction of solar satellites,”

we should state that:

“The Moon Society is promoting a major acceleration in research as to how lunar materials could be produced that would perform well enough that they could be used to construct the majority of the component mass of a network of Solar Power Satellites at a significant cost advantage over Earth-sourcing.”

We are further working to determine what sort of capital investment would be needed to set up production facilities on the Moon for each candidate building material. The results of this research could point to one direction or another as the most promising avenue for further development. It would also provide one component of the overall cost of lunar sourcing.”


Another component is the determination of how to launch elements of material into space, and get it to GEO.

Now we must be careful not to say that we already know the outcome of such research!
The economics depend very much on
(1) the quantity we will need and
(2) in what amount of time. we will need the items in question.

Obviously, once we are in very high gear, at maximum output, an O’Neillian scenario of mass drivers, mass catchers, and factories in space might be most efficient. But in the near term, such a grandiose scheme would be so inefficient in terms of output per capital cost as to be science fantasy.

To the extent that components can be uniformly sized, a mass driver makes sense. If we needed two lengths of glass composite spars, for example, we could set the mass driver to first ship one set, then reset the driver to ship the other. Et cetera.

But for a single demonstration SPS built mostly of lunar materials, provided that the capital costs of setting up to produce components on the Moon was not outlandish (and that analysis will undoubtedly favor some materials over others), that may be a good plan. The lunar-sourced SPS need not be full size.

We will not in this instance be demonstrating that power beaming works, but that using lunar materials will not reduce performance appreciably and could reduce overall costs by enough to justify the capital expenditure.

As the old saying goes, garbage in, garbage out. We all believe lunar materials will do the job. But until we have more solid research data, we will persuade only those willing to be convinced.


We are not in a position to do this research on the Moon!

We need to do as much as we can here on Earth, first using pinches of the real stuff from NASA, then using production size amounts of really good lunar simulant of specific types: highland, mare, KREEP.

That means finding researchers who are interested, and then finding a way to fund their research.

For glass composites that means highland simulant for making glass fibers, and mare simulant (which has a lower, but not low enough melting point) for glass matrix, doping the simulant with sodium and/or potassium and playing with the proportions and percentages until we have a formula that produces acceptable performance.

Then we need to come up with a practical (minimum capital equipment mass) way of beneficiating sodium and potassium from lunar regolith. KREEP deposits may be the most promising source. If we can come up with a workable proposal to produce glass composites, then our industrial site needs to consider these three things:

1. A mass driver site should be on the equator. However, we do not need a mass driver to ship demonstration parts only

2. Material source site should be along a mare/highland coast where both suites (highland and mare) of regolith are available AND where such a coastal site intersects the Mare Imbrium rim splashout zone where KREEP deposits are found in usable abundance. At first glance an area west of Eratosthenes and northeast of Copernicus might do, but that is just a first guess. This is the area of KREEP splashout (from the Mare Imbrium formation event) closest to the equator (250-300 miles north). The Mare Imbrium impact was especially deep, releasing these deposits from beneath the crust.

3. Add to the above location goals, an ilmenite rich source for solar panels, if that is the way to go. I’ll have to see if there is an ilmenite-rich area near the proposed location suggested above. Obviously it would be best to collocate all the needed resources as closely as possible. But solar panels could be shipped separately, so long as we are using rockets, not a mass drive
For metal alloys: I had suggested glass composites because that is a technology which makes the least prerequisite technology demands. Other than sintered iron fines, usable metal alloys seem to be much further down the road. Alloys need metallurgical experimentation with alternate alloy ingredients which are reasonably abundant on the Moon. MMM has been calling for such research for two decades. So far as I know, little such research has been done, and if that observation is correct, we continue to spout unsupported beliefs.

An all metal alloy SPS system does make less demands on site location and a north or south polar location may be supportable. The comparative times needed to mature the materials technologies (glass composites vs. metal alloys) must be weighed, along with the technology development costs, and site development costs.
Given these preliminary considerations, here is a possible GAME PLAN

1. Announce our intention to push the needed technologies so that we are talking about near term relatively economic options: Glass Composites, titanium based solar cells, etc.

2. Further work on Solar Power Satellite designs (power collection) so that we get the highest performance for the least weight. That benefits us either way, Earth-sourcing, Lunar-sourcing

3. Continue pushing power beaming technologies, while working to identify and resolve all suggested safety issues. Until we satisfy the worrywarts that this is a technology safe for humans, wildlife, and agriculture, we are going to face major opposition.

4. Identifying possible terrestrial profitable applications and markets for the needed lunar production technologies: glass composites, titanium-based solar cells.

5. Spin-up, not Spin-off: Then we can try to get enterprises begun that will develop and prove these technologies, not necessarily for use on the Moon, but for profits here on Earth near term, but meanwhile which enterprises will be putting the needed technologies and practical production experience on-the-shelf. This “spin-up” process is the reverse of “spin-off” which excites no one other than space enthusiasts out of touch with reality.

6. Implications for choice of site. We need to determine any cost penalties for shipping SPS components to GEO from the poles as opposed from more equatorial lunar locations. We should remain officially neutral on the NASA polar location preference until more is known about the potential downsides.

7. If instead, we support an International Lunar Campus, open to enterprise “partners” (not enterprise “contractors”), we could end up with a more permanent, larger lunar presence at the kind of location where we need to be to manufacture SPS components.


Just saying that the Society favors lunar sourcing, without real convincing demonstration that this is the direction to go, does risk giggle factor reactions.

Showing that we are honestly pushing research to determine whether production and use of lunar building materials is a practical way to go, will command respect, especially if we are alone in doing so. (But we will work to bring the NSS Space Settlement Committee and NSS Solar Power Satellite Committee around to that same position, and then approach the AIAA Space Settlement Committee.)

Furthermore, it will be showing that we are working, not just spouting a “cult litany” of “ungrounded” beliefs.


Our personal reason to push the University of Luna Project was principally to push “spin-up” research into needed lunar technologies, principally in the area of in situ (Latin for English “on site” or “on location”)  materials.

Director David A.  Dunlop has a larger, wider vision of the University’s goals and focus and is especially excited about the prospects for student and entrepreneurial involvement. But these involvements are the means to the end, and perhaps a secondary end in itself.

Predevelopment of needed technologies are the more significant end goal. If we get students involved, and increase the level of public support thereby, but do not succeed in getting any of the needed research done, then in my book, the University Project will be a failure.

You should all know that the University of Luna Project, while getting a lot of “that’s a great idea!” reactions, has not picked up any support from the people, the agencies, the universities, the corporations who could get it off paper. Dave is looking for an agency or university to adopt it.

Another proposed activity of the Society is to deploy its own Lunar Analog Research Station which would be radically different in both physical structure and in its research goals form the Mars Society’s Analog Research Program. It is conceivable that some of the research proposed above could be done at, or field-tested at, such a facility. More likely research and demonstration sites are corporate and university labs and testing facilities. It is too early to see how such a proposed connection would play out. But demonstration of technologies needed for lunar settlement are a primary focus of the proposed Analog facility.


In short, the proposed “game plan/focus” dovetails neatly with the direction the Society has been moving in the past few years. I suggest that we work collectively to improve this proposed Game Plan, and that we develop it into a concise White Paper to be published and promoted widely.

In itself, this promotion effort will advance one of the major goals of the Strategic Plan: increasing our name recognition and public profile.

If we can get NSS aboard that would be most helpful. But there are benefits in pursuing it alone as well.

The next step would be to brainstorm how we can attract researchers to resume research that has been stalled for over 20 years, because no one has cared to adopt “orphaned”research projects.


We do not need to settle arguments over Global Warming in order to show that Solar Power Satellites are needed. The National Space Security Office argument is that an SPS network is needed for energy security and independence.

Peter Schubert is right. We need solar power satellites regardless of the outcome of this Global Warming debate. Energy independence is at stake, and ground-based green-energy efforts are only slowing down the accelerating growth of the problem.

This is important because of the wide difference of opinion among Society leaders on this issue. We must not let an impassioned debate deter us from action needed regardless of the outcome. Continued population growth, combined with the priority of underdeveloped countries to catch up, are raising energy demands much faster than the rate of increase in green energy production, completely overwhelming these efforts. It is becoming increasingly difficult to be optimistic about our future and the future of our descendants.

The Planet Earth & Space Conference Proposal

Dr. Schubert first identified an opportunity for us to apply for EPA funds for a conference on “Climate Change” remediation measures, and, with enthusiastic NSS support and engagement, put together a specific proposal dubbed the “Planet Earth and Space Conference.” Our proposal was not among the two (out of 17 proposals submitted) chosen for round 1 funding. We will try again in the January 2009 selection round.

This conference, which has already been cosponsored by one environmental group, and by one “bridge” group, The Earth and Space Foundation, would bring together two constituencies, driven by different cultures, but both focused on preserving Earth for future generations.

The conference will address individual and local here & now approaches as well as long term space-based measures. We would show how development of some technologies needed in space will help here on Earth. If this conference goes forward, and is successful to the point where we want to do this every other year, that will be a big feather in our cap, promotion wise.

This conference would include a focus on potential benefits here and now of predevelopment of some of the technologies listed above, as well as of biological life support and biosphere sustainability technologies.


1.Write SLuGS again to see if they are still willing to update the 20 year old SLuGs study that showed that 92% of a solar power satellite can be constructed from lunar materials at only an 8% increased mass penalty. There have been new ideas of how to design solar power satellites to get the most power for less mass. And lunar materials science has made some, but not enough progress in the past 15-20 years.

2. Continue to look for ways to promote fresh, continuing research on candidate Lunar building materials, or of close terrestrial analogs, possibly driven by the prospect of finding profitable terrestrial applications of these technologies.

3. Work to promote student/university involvement as well as entrepreneur/corporate
labs involvement.

4. Find corporate sponsors (in terms of motivating prizes) for design competitions and
engineering challenges that will push this effort forward.

5. Begin a determined effort to advertise these goals in the relevant Industry Trade
Journals and Professional Societies as a way not only to pursue these goals but to
recruit expertise into the Society.

6. Broadcast this Game Plan widely, and minor and major progress along the way.


We welcome your close examination of all the various aspects of this proposal, and your suggestions to improve it, and make it a more effective guide to future Society projects and efforts.

Please address your comments to – and put “Moon Society Game Plan” in the subject line of your letter.

Thank you in advance

Peter Kokh
President, The Moon Society