Space Force to Monitor Beyond Geosynchronous Orbit, Plans for a Lunar Colony

Essay by Eric Worrall

Chinese activity on the Moon may have prompted renewed NASA interest in establishing a permanent foothold on our nearest neighbour.

US Space Force unit to monitor region beyond Earth’s geosynchronous orbit

Team America: Solar System Police

Katyanna Quach Sat 23 Apr 2022  // 00:12 UTC 

The US Space Force has created a unit, the 19th Space Defense Squadron, to monitor activity in the region beyond Earth’s geosynchronous orbit, all the way out to the Moon and yonder.

Commander of the 18th SDS, Lt. Col. Matt Lintker, confirmed the launch of the task force during a panel discussion at the intelligence and defense-focused C4ISRNet conference held virtually this week.

Lintker said the 19th SDS will be in charge of monitoring the area of space further out than our planet’s geosynchronous equatorial orbit, a region officials called “xGEO” space. Space Force is mostly concerned with the operation and defense of its satellites for communications and navigation purposes, but it also keeps an eye on space for any military activity from foreign adversaries and also tracks space junk that could cause a risk to American interests.

Space Force also works closely with NASA, providing airspace security, search and rescue capabilities for the International Space Station crew, and more. In return, NASA conducts scientific research on behalf of the military. As NASA hopes to team up with private corporations to colonize the Moon, Space Force also needs to expand its remit further out into cislunar space to support future missions and capabilities.

Read more:

Chemical rockets are inadequate for establishing a permanent base, they simply don’t have the lifting power to transport large amounts of material to the lunar surface. Nuclear rockets, both nuclear thermal and the more powerful one they don’t talk about, are far more capable.

Last year, NASA announced the development of a nuclear thermal rocket, a reusable launcher far more powerful than a chemical rocket. The USA ground tested a nuclear rocket in the 1970s, which was intended to service a permanent US moon base, but the US nuclear rocket was never launched, and the programme was abandoned.

Russia has been developing nuclear thermal rockets and nuclear powered cruise missiles for at least the last decade, based on an old Soviet programme. While the main focus of today’s programme appears to be on the nuclear powered cruise missile, the technology for a nuclear powered cruise missile and nuclear powered rocket, at least in terms of reactor design, are likely very similar.

Why is NASA and Space Force showing a sudden interest in moon bases, nuclear rockets, and deep space missions?

This is speculative, but given China is starting to show a serious interest in the moon, if Russia supplies the launchers, China could potentially use Russian nuclear launch technology to establish a permanent base on the moon with very little warning. This possibility may be prompting the US government to develop the capability to move quickly, should the need arise.

Update (EW): Nuclear thermal rockets are old technology, there is no doubt they work. The picture below is a US nuclear thermal rocket ground test in 1967.

1 December 1967: The first ground experimental nuclear rocket engine (XE) assembly is shown here in “cold flow” configuration, as it makes a late evening arrival at Engine Test Stand No. 1 at the Nuclear Rocket Development Station in Jackass Flats, Nevada. The US nuclear programme was shelved in the 1970s.
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April 23, 2022 10:11 am

Isn’t NASA using SpaceX rockets?

Reply to  Vuk
April 23, 2022 1:41 pm

Yes, SpaceX just launched 4 crew to the ISS a few weeks back and launching another 4 astronauts to ISS on April 27th. Including 4-5 Starlink launches just this year, and several other launches for others.

But now the Biden Administration FAA is holding up Starship, the newest heavy lift rocket from SpaceX, because of some turtle near the Texas lunch site near Boca Chica Beach. This reusable rocket, when mass produced will have the ability to launch to LEO orbit and beyond more payload than all countries combined with a fleet of 50 reusable Starship rockets. They basically operate on a 1000 tonnes of LNG per launch and land fully intact. No lost 2nd stage as per current Falcon 9 than can launch 25 tonne payload. Runs on natural gas!

Starship will be the world’s most powerful launch vehicle ever developed, with the ability to carry in excess of 100 metric tonnes to Earth orbit and return fully intact to refuel and fly another day. Or send 150 metric tonnes to LEO in a non returnable version that will stay in space, or go to the Moon or Mars.
This would be a very good start than waiting for nuclear rockets. But now Elon Musk is on the wrong side of the Biden Administration with his talk of the ‘Woke Mind Virus’ and his attempted takeover of Twitter. Even though Elon Musk probably the most patriotic African American ever. Just too bad he can’t figure out that CO2 isn’t the control knob for the climate.

Reply to  Earthling2
April 23, 2022 8:54 pm

It probably has more to do with Biden’s masters in Moscow and Beijing don’t want the competition from the US.

Reply to  Earthling2
April 24, 2022 4:03 pm

Is Mitch McConnell the “turtle”?

April 23, 2022 10:24 am

Is it the 18th or 19th SDS? A little bit of proof reading needed.

Tom Gasloli
April 23, 2022 10:46 am

And at the lunar colony the will use fusion power to build flying cars.

Reply to  Eric Worrall
April 23, 2022 2:21 pm

Either way, nuclear produced Tang is bound to be a result.

Reply to  Tom Gasloli
April 23, 2022 8:54 pm

Flying cars without an atmosphere?

Reply to  MarkW
April 24, 2022 8:40 am

Jumping vehicles. Lunar hoppers if you prefer. Low g forces make traction problematic. Momentum hasn’t changed, so you just end up spinning tires and getting stuck.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Rocketscientist
April 24, 2022 11:36 am

“Low g forces make traction problematic . . . you just end up spinning tires and getting stuck.”

So, I guess you’re saying that all those videos and motion picture films of the Apollo Lunar Rovers operating on the Moon (Apollo missions 15, 16, and 17) were just faked on a Hollywood stage or somewhere else?


Richard Page
Reply to  Tom Gasloli
April 24, 2022 8:55 am

Just one favour – ban any Taco Bell franchises on the Lunar Colony, please?

April 23, 2022 10:52 am

Like planning for the last war while totally missing the coming one?

April 23, 2022 10:53 am

I’ve never been involved in these projects, but have been monitoring them. While there is great benefit in interplanetary space, I don’t think the public will be very happy about potential nuclear fallout from ground launched systems.
Currently the fallout from LOX/LH2 (1st stage propellant) is rainwater.

Timo V
Reply to  Rocketscientist
April 23, 2022 1:49 pm

Yes. Nuclear propulsion in atmosphere is definetely NOT OK. And this is from someone obsessed with nuclear explosives. Project Orion is definetely no go on earth.

Reply to  Eric Worrall
April 24, 2022 10:42 am

Ion rockets would be much more efficient and they are also already in use.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  MarkW
April 24, 2022 11:40 am

Ion rocket engines have zero—repeat, ZERO—chance of serving as propulsive engines for launch vehicles.

Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
April 24, 2022 8:37 pm

Same with nuclear thermal propulsive engines.

Reply to  MarkW
April 24, 2022 4:12 pm

Ion thrusters, while extremely efficient, are generally low-thrust.

Not enough “juice” to get something off the ground.

Like comparing a four-cylinder Vega motor to a modern C-8 Corvette engine- the Vega got better mileage, but the ‘Vette can get out of its own way.

Reply to  Rocketscientist
April 24, 2022 4:09 pm

Umm, no. The first stage of just about ANY rocket system uses kerosene, methane, or some other hydrocarbon. The big deal about the Saturn V was the second stage, which used LOX and Liquified H2, for maximum performance, technology being what it was at the time.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Kpar
April 25, 2022 7:08 am

Sorry, Kpar, but not correct.

The current US Delta IV launch vehicle, in all variants, uses LOX/LH2 propellants for its first stage Common Booster Core (CBC). See:

Similarly, the current ESA Arian 5 launch vehicle uses LOX/LH2 propellants for its first stage core. See:

Similary, Japan and China currently use LOX/LH2 propellents in their first stage/booster engines of their launch vehicles, the H-11 and the Long March 5, respectively. See:

April 23, 2022 11:45 am

I remember when man first stepped on the moon, I thought that a lunar base was in the works with subsequent science and industrial advances. Boy, was I wrong.

The whole space race was because the USSR was making advances and we needed to show them up. I thank the Chinese for giving the U.S. the incentive to do what they should have done decades ago.

Reply to  Brad-DXT
April 24, 2022 2:29 am

oh yeah great so uSSa can then “claim space” and keep the mil /ind boys happy?

Reply to  ozspeaksup
April 24, 2022 10:32 am

As every good commie knows, the sole reason the US exists is so the military industrial complex can rule the world.

Reply to  Brad-DXT
April 24, 2022 4:15 pm

The biggest mistake that Nixon made (or could have made!) was to end the Apollo program.

He WAS able to “balance the budget”. For one year.

Bruce Cobb
April 23, 2022 11:55 am

If China gets there first, then boom, there goes the neighborhood.

Reply to  Bruce Cobb
April 23, 2022 8:48 pm

No, there will be noodle shops and street vendors in every other crater.

Spam, Tang, and noodles. It’s all good.

The only technical problem I see is getting little space helmets to fit tightly on the chickens. Until then, it’s Spam all the way down.

April 23, 2022 12:10 pm

“Why is NASA and Space Force showing a sudden interest in moon bases, nuclear rockets, and deep space missions?
This is speculative, but given China is starting to show a serious interest in the moon, if Russia supplies the launchers, China could potentially use Russian nuclear launch technology to establish a permanent base on the moon with very little warning. This possibility may be prompting the US government to develop the capability to move quickly, should the need arise.”

Nuclear rockets wouldn’t make a good lunar lander.
Nuclear rockets for first stage rocket leaving the Earth surface seems unlikely.
An Nuclear Orion [a first stage rocket] is a completely different topic.
I would say Space Force “can’t do anything about that”. It has been wondered whether
China would develop Nuclear Orion. And one might say, Russia is not crazy enough to
consider it. Or Russia has always had to the option, and hasn’t taken it. US has “studied it” and has rejected it. The reason US or Russia won’t do it, is it’s a political problem.
China seems to not care about “political problems” and therefore why people consider it’s possible for China to consider it.
But it seems everything China does regarding the Moon is a political thing, so, using Nuclear Orion for something to do with the Moon seems to be self defeating.

But most space cadets might like China trying to launch a Nuclear Orion. If they do, it’s unlikely US or Russia would make this same mistake. And it seems China trying to do this and without having any accidents [which could bring down the China regime] is not likely,
Or China powering it’s entire economy with nuclear powerplants – is easier and safer, and way more economical.

Reply to  Eric Worrall
April 24, 2022 2:31 am

well ussa didnt give a rats about the pacific nuke fallout and the poms gave zero worries re using aus mainland to play
and then ze fwench…
at least russia kept theirs at home!

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  gbaikie
April 24, 2022 11:43 am

There is NO Russian nuclear launch technology.

Rather, there is idle speculation about the possibility of future Russian nuclear launch technology.

J Mac
April 23, 2022 12:16 pm

Be prepared. We must secure the high ground… or someone else will.

Richard Page
Reply to  J Mac
April 24, 2022 9:01 am

Ultimately that’ll be Pluto and the other outer system dwarf planet’s – you go secure them, we’ll go after the others!

Gordon A. Dressler
April 23, 2022 1:54 pm

Sure, sure, “nuclear rockets just around the corner”. Let’s no longer be concerned about (a) the potential radiation hazards associated with a catastrophic launch vehicle failure on the launch pad or inside Earth’s atmosphere, or (b) the simple fact that nuclear reactor mass together with propellant mass for a Moon trip-capable launch vehicle will very likely weigh more than conventional chemical rockets and associated propellant mass.

I note that the theoretical calculations of the increase in rocket engine deliverable Isp from passing gaseous hydrogen through a nuclear reactor are just that . . . theoretical. When the engineering limitations of the maximum gas temperatures that can be contained within high pressure chambers (2,000 to 5,000 psi for launch vehicle booster engines delivering around 1 to 1.5 million pounds SL thrust each) are taken into account, the theoretical mass savings disappear with the result that chemical propulsion is very likely more mass-efficient overall for a first-stage rocket due to terrible mass penalties associated with (a) carrying only low density LH2 propellant, and (b) the actual mass of a viable, flight-capable nuclear reactor and its shielding.

Nuclear shielding? Oh, yeah, if the nuclear powered launch vehicle is targeted to carry people to the Moon, they will need shielding from the intense radiation emitted from a nuclear reactor that is operating only some 300 or so feet away from them, even if their exposure time is limited to only 2-3 minutes during first stage operation. LH2 is not good at shielding reactor radiation due to its very low density. Also, one would like to avoid irradiating the launch pad and associated equipment/infrastructure with neutrons emitted by the flight reactor, to the extent that such neutron radiation can cause formerly inert materials to then become radioactive themselves.

And what, anyone think something like magnetic confinement of superheated H/H2 plasma is achievable at light weight in nuclear fission reactor heat exchangers/exhaust nozzles? . . . please go visit the latest in tokamak-style plasma confinement technology . . . you know, the nuclear fusion experiments going on in 3-5 story high lab buildings.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Eric Worrall
April 23, 2022 7:55 pm

“The technology works.”

To be specific, the technology of using a nuclear fission reactor to heat hydrogen gas that can then be expelled through a de Laval nozzle to produce rocket thrust has been demonstrated, but the technology associated with flying of such a rocket engine in any size on a launch vehicle has NOT been shown to work, at least not in the United States.
“Although more than ten reactors of varying power output have been built and tested, as of 2021, no nuclear thermal rocket has flown.” — source: [with this sentence referenced to Earth To Mars In 100 Days? The Power Of Nuclear Rockets, Cain, Fraser (3 July 2019).

“Russia is already operating experimental nuclear rockets and jets.”

There are reports that Russia is developing a cruise missile, the 9M730 Burevestnik, with NATO name SSC-X-9 Skyfall, that uses a small nuclear reactor to provide propulsion, and Russia has apparently successfully ground tested the nuclear engine to be used in this missile. However, there are various, conflicting reports on whether or not such nuclear propulsion has been successfully demonstrated in a flight cruise missile, and whether the 9M730 Burevestnik nuclear reactor engine acts in pure rocket mode, in turbojet mode, or in scramjet mode.
However, a nuclear reactor sized to power a cruise missile is worlds apart from a NTR engine sized for a massive launch vehicle, especially since the latter cannot use ambient air as the working fluid.

“The USA performed full scale rocket ground tests starting in 1967, the engine worked perfectly.”

I’n not sure which engine you are referring to here . . . there were several different versions tested from 1967 through 1973, when the NTR development effort ended in the US.
“Tested engines included Kiwi, Phoebus, NRX/EST, NRX/XE, Pewee, Pewee 2, and the Nuclear Furnace . . .
“The KIWI B series . . . On the initial firings, immense heat and vibration cracked the fuel bundles. The graphite materials used in the reactor’s construction were resistant to high temperatures but eroded under the stream of superheated hydrogen, a reducing agent . . .The fuel bundle erosion and cracking problems were improved but never completely solved . . .
NERVA NRX (Nuclear Rocket Experimental) . . . The last NRX firing lost 17 kg (38 lb) of nuclear fuel in 2 hours of testing . . .”
— source of above quotes in this paragraph:

I guess I read the Wikipedia source a bit different than you do.

Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
April 23, 2022 5:46 pm

It’s clear from your comment you’ve definitely been taught to fear anything nuclear. You also seem to know the limitations of nuclear propulsion and that there is only one way to engineer such an engine.

I’m retired now, but I still remember the old engineers I worked with at McDonell Douglas and Boeing. Computers in cars will not improve their operating efficiency. First stage rockets that would return and land would not be effective as a space launcher. Lasers can’t be used as a weapon. Radio phones are only for the wealthy as the spectrum is too limiting for the masses. Computers will never be small enough for private use. Picture phones would never be practical. The list goes on – mostly booster and satellite stories.

See where I’m going?

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  ex-KaliforniaKook
April 23, 2022 7:56 pm

Yes, thanks for the memories.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  ex-KaliforniaKook
April 24, 2022 7:47 am


BTW, I think it is fair to say that most people in Japan have now been taught to fear “anything nuclear” as a result of multiple reactor containment explosions and reactor core meltdowns that occurred at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, followed by forced evacuation from a large area around that site.

“Because of concerns over possible radiation exposure, government officials established a 30-km (18-mile) no-fly zone around the facility, and a land area of 20-km (12.5-mile) radius around the plant—which covered nearly 600 square km (approximately 232 square miles)—was evacuated.”
— source:

And this follows the “teachings” to fear anything nuclear that happened in countries of the former Soviet Union, particularly in Ukraine, when the Chernobyl nuclear reactor No. 4 exploded and suffered a core meltdown.
The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (aka the “30-Kilometer Zone”)
“. . .is an officially designated exclusion zone around the site of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster . . . The Exclusion Zone covers an area of approximately 2,600 km2 (1,000 sq mi) in Ukraine immediately surrounding the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant where radioactive contamination is highest and public access and habitation are restricted. Other areas of compulsory resettlement and voluntary relocation not part of the restricted Exclusion Zone exist in the surrounding areas and throughout Ukraine . . . Today, the Exclusion Zone is one of the most radioactively contaminated areas in the world . . .”
— source:

Finally, your statement that I “. . . seem to know the limitations of nuclear propulsion and that there is only one way to engineer such an engine” is based on what, exactly?

I only cited a few of the known limitations of NTRs that have been published and experimentally verified by others, and I did not offer any proposal for how I would design and build a NTR for use in a launch vehicle as I clearly think no such thing is feasible.

Tom Abbott
April 24, 2022 4:24 am

From the article: “Chemical rockets are inadequate for establishing a permanent base, they simply don’t have the lifting power to transport large amounts of material to the lunar surface.”

That’s not true.

And there are ways of getting around high transportation costs such as using Lunar water in the mix. That way, heavy-lift vehicles don’t have to launch cargo all the way to the Moon. Instead, they launch the cargo to low-Earth orbit, and then the water-powered orbital transfer vehicle transfers the cargo to the Moon.

Reply to  Tom Abbott
April 24, 2022 5:13 am

50-60 years ago we were experimenting with blasting projectiles to near space from New Mexico, Alaska and Barbados with simple very large cannons. Just think what we could do now with electromagnetic rail gun launches, just lobbing 2 ton projectiles of ice bullets into LEO orbit, where that water could be manufactured into rocket fuel (Hydrogen and Oxygen) through high efficiency solar electrical already in orbit just electrolysing that water into rocket fuel. Same for the Moon or Mars, to orbit. Not only ice, but aluminum ingots and anything else not subject to high G’s. Having low cost water in LEO space would go a long way to solving all kinds of problems, including 12 foot thick ice hulls that would block radiation, or absorb micro meteorites.

“Project HARP, short for High Altitude Research Project, was a joint venture of the United States Department of Defense and Canada’s Department of National Defense created with the goal of studying ballistics of re-entry vehicles and collecting upper atmospheric data for research. Unlike conventional space launching methods that rely on rockets, HARP instead used very large guns to fire projectiles into the atmosphere at extremely high speeds.”

“A 16-inch HARP gun operated by the U.S. Army’s Ballistic Research Laboratory (now called the  US Army Research laboratory at Yuma Proving Ground currently holds the world record for the highest altitude (180 km) a gun-fired projectile has achieved.”

Bob Smith
Reply to  Earthling2
April 24, 2022 8:59 am

A common misconception – altitude does not equate to orbital insertion. Drastically different energy (delta v) requirements.

Reply to  Bob Smith
April 24, 2022 9:39 am

No, of course not. Just like Bozo’s tourist rocket goes straight up, and comes straight down. Not technically in orbit, although reached the height definition of space.

You would need to gain the altitude and forward velocity to stay in orbit, or in this case, the projectile would have to exit the planet’s surface at 11.2 km/s, or Mach 33, or about 24,000 mph.

So our hypothetical ice bullet projectile would need to leave the launcher a fair bit faster to make up for the few seconds of travel through the lower atmosphere for friction losses. But if the correct speed was reached, could insert into LEO this payload in about 90-100 seconds. Maybe need an attached rocket booster to achieve the correct orbit. Even launching from one of the higher mountains in the Andes near the equator would help with both altitude and the faster planet rotation speed at the equator.

The Moon, of course, would be much lower and could even be very low altitude since no atmosphere. Similar for Mars, but would need to be clear of the thin Martian atmosphere. But the ideal launching site for Mars should be Olympus Mons, at 25 km high above the mean average planetary surface.

I am surprised no one has taken this kind of launch seriously for inanimate objects not subject to gravitational crushing from the high G forces.

Reply to  Earthling2
April 24, 2022 10:37 am

Think of what happens when a object going near orbital velocities hits the very thin air of the upper atmosphere.
Now think of a similar object going three or 4 times faster than orbital velocity punching through the thousands times thicker atmosphere down near sea level.

Any object that you try to launch into orbit by this method would vaporize before it could get to the upper atmosphere, much less all the way to orbit.

Reply to  MarkW
April 24, 2022 11:42 am

The HARP gun in Barbados achieved the highest altitude record so far with a vertical projectile reaching 180 km (112 miles) so right at the edge of space. But no forward momentum as was fired vertically. And if fired horizontally, would have that much more atmospheric friction.

The muzzle velocity was 2,164 m/s (7100 ft/s) and 15,000 G’s, so almost 5,000 MPH. Fairly impressive for 1966.

Hitler was working on this in 1944/45 as the V3 weapon that would have bombarded London if it became operational. British Intelligence discovered in early 1945 and destroyed it before it began firing.

Interesting back story to this was that the same Canadian (Gerald Bull) who developed HARP for the USA/Can Govt’s in the 1960’s signed onto Project Babylon for Saddam Hussein in 1988, to build these ‘cannons’ to bombard Israel with projectiles from 750 miles away. He was assassinated as some might recall in 1990 by Mossad in Berlin, and then the Gulf War in 1991 had all these giant cannons destroyed.

This tech would definitely work on the Moon with an electromagnetic rail gun launcher. On Earth, the dense atmosphere presents a problem for sure, but is it insurmountable?

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Earthling2
April 24, 2022 11:56 am

. . . and the main reason that we would need rail gun launches of lunar orbiting satellites/payloads from the Moon’s surface would be?

Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
April 24, 2022 12:11 pm

To launch all the Debbie Downers back to the Good Earth.

Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
April 24, 2022 8:43 pm

Because it would be the cheapest way, by far, to get such objects into orbit.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  MarkW
April 25, 2022 7:35 am

I seriously doubt that.

1) There would be the cost of designing and manufacturing, and the subsequent transportation from Earth, of all the components needed to build the lunar rail gun.

2) There would be the labor cost of site preparation and assembly of the components for the rail gun, all under space vacuum as exists at the lunar surface.

3) There would be similar material, transportation and lunar surface labor costs associated with the solar PV cells, chemical power plant, or nuclear power plant and associated energy storage device(s)— chemical batteries, super-capacitors, or flywheels—needed to store the total energy need for the impulse required for the rail gun launch.

4) There is the insurmountable problem that the laws of orbital mechanics say that, in the absence of any other added impulse or disturbance forces acting an an object in a gravitation field (with a velocity not exceeding escape velocity) the object will return to the same point in its orbit after the time of the period of the orbit has elapsed. That is, achieving any orbit around the Moon of any rail gun-launched payload will require that such payload have an on-board propulsion system and GNC system to provide post-launch thrust in along a specific vector.

Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
April 25, 2022 11:56 am

1) Building thousands of rockets would be easier?

2) You would need site preparation in order to build the factories to build all the rockets, not to mention preparing the fuel. I suspect the total amount of real estate needed would be a lot less for a rail gun.

3) Still a lot less than the amount of land and material needed to build rockets.

4) So put a small rocket on it to give it that post launch push.
Still cheaper than using rockets to do all of the lifting.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  MarkW
April 25, 2022 12:33 pm

Why are thousand of rockets required?

In other words, what is the specific need to place “thousands” of payloads into orbit around the Moon? If they are to depart orbiting the Moon, say, to go to Mars, each “paylond” will need its own on-board propulsion system . . . and that won’t be a rail gun.

Therefore, no matter how you cut it, you would very likely end up building “thousands of rocket propulsion systems” even assuming rail gun launches from the lunar surface.

And please don’t advance the argument that one BIG mothership is going to drop deep down into the Moon’s gravity well, collect the thousands of orbiting payloads, and then boost back out of the Moon’s gravity well to subsequently go to Mars. Considering the many ΔV increments that would be needed by the mothership to rendezvous with the orbiting “payloads” to bring them on board, I cannot think of a more inefficient method of transporting water or any other material/product back to Earth or even to Mars.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
April 25, 2022 5:18 am

Launching lunar water into orbit would facilitate the development of the Earth/Moon/Mars system.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Tom Abbott
April 25, 2022 7:50 am

The logic fails me: How is it better (i.e., facilitated) to have a payload destined for Mars to essentially leave the gravity well of Earth, only the enter the gravity well of the Moon to land on its surface or go into low lunar orbit, only to then have leave the gravity well of the Moon to head out to Mars?

Separately, I’ve heard it argued that, well, we can “learn so much” from having practical, operational experience from developing infrastructure in the Moon’s environment. To this, I can only reply that again the logic fails me because the “lunar environment”, including its dust and low water content but excluding the difference in surface gravity, can today be simulated quite well in large vacuum chambers with associated environmental control technology that can be constructed right here on Earth.

Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
April 25, 2022 11:57 am

There is a lot of water on the moon. Why do you assume that the water would be coming from the earth?

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  MarkW
April 25, 2022 12:37 pm

Caution: strawman argument!

Wherever did I state, or even imply, that water (for use on the Moon) would be coming from Earth?

Reply to  Earthling2
April 24, 2022 8:42 pm

The key there is it was totally vertical, so the initial velocity was only a tiny fraction of the velocity that would have been needed to get an object into orbit. Additionally, by shooting straight up, you are able to get the object out of the thick lower atmosphere quickly. To get something into orbit you are going to have to launch at a much lower angle, this means the object stays in the lower atmosphere for a much longer time.

THis creates two problems, it means much more energy is lost to drag, so the initial velocity has to be much higher, also the amount of heating from atmospheric friction is orders of magnitude greater.

Yes, the problems of launching into orbit using a canon or rail gun from the earth’s surface are insurmountable.

Reply to  MarkW
April 25, 2022 2:45 pm

Yes, it may be insurmountable with our current technology from our planet with such a thick atmosphere and a deep gravity well, and why it currently isn’t done. Although I think future generations will figure that out. An example might be a long, 24″ diameter 40 foot long ‘arrow’ filled with ice with a nose cone able to withstand frictional heating that is launched at a 45 degree angle perhaps at a lower velocity to avoid the atmospheric shock and heating. Out of mountain top near the equator at 15,000 feet from a deep bored out tunnel into the mountain.

It has a solid thruster attached that kicks in at 40 miles altitude to gain further altitude and ensure the final vector in orbit is correct and take the entire water filled ‘tube’ of ice to orbit along with the rocket thruster than can be utilized for future space rockets.

Doesn’t hurt to banter all these topics around, including Gordon’s skeptical view, which is healthy to consider everything that could go wrong. Good to be skeptical, and I would have been skeptical 25 years ago about landing an upright near empty Falcon 9.

In any event, developing the tech for the Moon doesn’t involve any of Earth’s challenges, and wlll be a thing someday. Perhaps to bring back Helium 3 as a fuel for Fusion. In 30 years, as usual.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Earthling2
April 24, 2022 9:28 am

All Harp projectiles were fired in nearly vertical trajectories . . . none ever came close to achieving orbital trajectories, which would have required 5-6 times more launch energy to achieve an orbital trajectory within altitude range of 200-400 above Earth’s surface . . . and to do this would require the payload itself to have the means of turning its momentum vector from ~ vertical at launch to mostly horizontal upon achieving Earth orbit.

I need not go into the details of needing protection against aero-thermal heating of a gun-launched projectile due to its hypersonic flight through the atmosphere, nor to how one might create a functional payload that would survive the 15,000 g accelerations associated with the Harp cannon launches.

Using a rail-gun, instead of cannon, to launch projectiles from Earth’s surface into a orbit around the planet will have the same physical/engineering limitations, although the launch g-levels might possibly reduced to “only” thousands of g’s.

As to your statement “Just think what we could do now with electromagnetic rail gun launches, just lobbing 2 ton projectiles of ice bullets into LEO orbit . . .”, an unshielded ice bullet would melt and breakup during its hypersonic flight through the atmosphere, and even assuming this did not happen the bullet would only be placed on a suborbital trajectory by dint of having received just a single impulse.

Finally, even if “ice bullets” could be launched into orbit around Earth, they would rather rapidly sublimate away due to the combination of incident solar radiation and the high vacuum of space.

Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
April 24, 2022 10:10 am

I think we could put the water/ice in a shielded ‘bullet’ canister that would stop any ‘unshielded’ ice from melting. And stop the whole thing from melting the canister before reaching orbit. LOL

I suppose that this isn’t being done might prove some of your points why it isn’t being done. But from a pure engineering function, should be able to be easily calculated what would be needed for all the fine details that don’t get writen up in a short hypothetical thought experiment.

The HARP gun did put instruments and beacons, including balloons in their payload to measure the upper atmosphere, since that was what the first part of the project was all about, to gain more knowledge on the upper atmosphere. So the G forces didn’t wreck those. The plan had been to see if they could actually do orbital insertions back in the 1960’s, but then the whole project got cancelled in 1967.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Earthling2
April 25, 2022 5:26 am

“Just think what we could do now with electromagnetic rail gun launches, just lobbing 2 ton projectiles of ice bullets into LEO orbit, where that water could be manufactured into rocket fuel (Hydrogen and Oxygen) through high efficiency solar electrical already in orbit just electrolysing that water into rocket fuel.”

We wouldn’t necessarily have to go to even that much effort. Water can be turned into steam and used to drive a vehicle in space.

This is the “Flying Tea Kettle” method. At least one company is currently developing such a vehicle for use as an orbital transfer vehicle in space.

Water is VERY useful in space. It can be used to drive a vehicle, and used as radiation protection, and you can drink it, or separate out the oxygen and breath the oxygen. Good stuff!

The U.S. needs to get to the Moon on a permanent basis, preferably in the most favorable locations for lunar water, before the Chicoms declare the Moon Chinese territory.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Tom Abbott
April 25, 2022 8:01 am

The most favorable locations for water existing on the Moon are in permanently shadowed craters at the lunar poles . . . unfortunately for mankind, these locations and adjacent surfaces are where the Moon receives solar energy just barely above the local horizon, resulting in the coldest average lunar surface temperatures.

Makes the environmental control problem for long-term human habitation that much more difficult,

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Tom Abbott
April 24, 2022 8:50 am


Please explain the basic technology employed in a “water-powered orbital transfer vehicle”.

In particular, the source of energy that is used to create create rocket thrust in space vacuum.

Richard Page
Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
April 24, 2022 9:10 am

There was a proposal aired in the early 80’s (I think) for a water powered rocket – basically a continuous laser beam fired at the rocket would superheat water, which would then be directed through nozzles to provide thrust. I don’t think they ever answered the problem of a laser that could actually do what they wanted, although it would give a whole new meaning to a ‘beam riding projectile’.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Richard Page
April 24, 2022 12:06 pm

Speaking of outlandish proposals, there have also been proposals aired since the early 80’s to have interstellar spaceships that are propelled solely by momentum exchange from the reflected light beams of super-massive lasers based on Earth’s surface or the Moon’s surface.

Richard Page
Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
April 24, 2022 12:28 pm

I thought that was like an enhanced solar sailer – using lasers as well as the solar wind to power a ship? There have been some weird and wonderful ideas proposed over the years!

Reply to  Richard Page
April 24, 2022 8:44 pm

I remember reading a science fiction short novel quite a few years ago, where they used a laser to launch things into Earth orbit.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
April 25, 2022 5:56 am

Gordon, here are a few examples of using water to push spacecraft around.

I couldn’t find the reference to the company that is currently building a water-powered orbital transfer vehicle, after about 30 minutes of looking. If I run across it, later, I will post it.

Below is another interesting innovation that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen right on the spacecraft and then uses them to power the spacecraft.

Water-Powered Engines Offer Satellite MobilityOriginally published in 2020

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Tom Abbott
April 25, 2022 8:08 am

Sorry, Tom, but there is this needed correction to your first sentence (in bold):

“Gordon, here are a few examples of ideas for using water to push spacecraft around.”

As to the idea of dissociating water into hydrogen and oxygen and then combusting those two products to produce thrust, this concept has been around for decades and always fails because it runs up against the Second Law of Thermodynamics as relates to entropy increase in any process.

Reply to  Tom Abbott
April 24, 2022 9:50 pm

Sciency fiction:

Electromagnetic perpetual engines, can not provide escape velocity or safe Moon flight per payload, without significant extra boost from a Nuclear Reactor.

Just simply fiction… hold your guns, please.



Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  whiten
April 25, 2022 8:11 am

Exactly . . . no need to read beyond “perpetual engines”.

Scotty Bee
April 24, 2022 1:13 pm

Kirk Sorensen looked at NTR SSTO a few years ago and found it lacking.

April 24, 2022 4:04 pm

Well! It’s AFT!

But aren’t they more worried about Transgender rights?

April 25, 2022 1:38 am

When the evil Connolley went to antarctica, all he seems to have done is to edit Wakopaedia. What is the point sending them to the moon, where the only difference is the delay?

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