McDonnell Douglas Space Systems Co. in Huntington Beach said it has completed the first phase of a project to develop self-sufficient solar energy applications on the moon as part of an overall effort toward lunar colonization.
In the experiment, researchers used sunlight to melt simulated moon soil into a substance that, upon cooling, formed glass and glass fibers.
With additional processing, the fibers could be used to create composite materials that theoretically could be used to build structures on the moon, according to the research by the space systems unit, ALCOA/Goldsworthy Engineering in Torrance and the Space Studies Institute in Princeton, N.J.
McDonnell Douglas officials said the process could reduce a moon colony’s dependence on supplies from Earth and therefore reduce the cost of such a base, which has been proposed as a long-term goal under President Bush’s Space Exploration Initiative.
The process employed a solar concentrator mirror developed by McDonnell Douglas in the early 1980s to produce electricity for applications on Earth. Now used for the soil processing project, the mirror can focus 75 kilowatts of the sun’s energy to over 10,000 times its normal intensity.
Solar energy is a more efficient energy source on the moon than on the Earth because the absence of an atmosphere would allow 40% more sunlight to reach collectors placed on the lunar surface.
The research team is also studying how solar energy could be used for such applications as oxygen production, road and landing pad preparation, and even the recovery of hydrogen and helium contained in the top layers of the lunar surface.