Specialists at Russia’s Academy of Cosmonautics have announced that they have designed a modular system for delivering a nuclear reactor to the moon, where it would be used to run a permanent settlement.
According to the Pravda news agency, work on a base could begin sometime between 2030 and 2035.
China is one of the only nations currently setting its sights on the moon. While space budgets in the US and Russia have shrunk since the heyday of the Space Race, China is ramping up its spending– Wu Weiren, China’s lunar head designer
The development is the latest in a number of announcements outlining Russia’s plans to land on the Moon – a feat that eluded it in the Cold War space race of the sixties and seventies.
Igor Barmin, the president of the academy, told TASS news agency that Russia had considered all aspects of building a lunar base.
"The main structure will consist of both inflatable and transformer modules," he said. "We’ve arrived at the conclusion that all of the modules to be delivered to the Moon should be high factory readiness ones. And they are to contain a nuclear power source."
The Russian space agency is reportedly considering sending small payloads into orbit around the Earth. These then would be collected together and towed to the Moon.
A new space race
Barmin added that the European Space Agency (ESA) and Roskosmos had already begun work on designing a series of missions to the Moon in the 2020s to probe the difficulties of constructing settlements.
A Volga-Dneper Airlines Antonov-124 delivers cargo to Russia’s Kazakhstan space station (Roscosmos)
In particular, Russia and the EU have discussed siting any future base on the south pole of the Moon, where there may be significant quantities of water, which would cut the cost of living in a lunar settlement.
Scouting missions are planned by 2020, and will probably concentrate on the Aitken basin, shown in the cool blue area the infrared Nasa photograph, above.
A video of these plans can be seen here.
The US is also interested in extra-terrestrial colonisation, and has been discussing the practicalities and purposes of siting bases on the Moon and Mars, and which should be tackled first.
China is also planning lunar construction, although it has stated that its main goal is to accomplish a manned landing on Mars by 2020. Last month, Wu Weiren, the head designer of its lunar missions, gave an interview to the BBC in which he said China would investigate the far side of the moon before landing men there.
He said: "China is one of the only nations currently setting its sights on the moon. While space budgets in the US and Russia have shrunk since the heyday of the Space Race, China is ramping up its spending."
Alongside governments, a number of private companies are moving off-world. A private Russian company called Lin Industrial caused a stir last year with its plans to build a $9.3bn Moon base by 2030. It said it would transport the necessary material using 13 heavy rocket lifts.
A design for a permanent moon base by Foster + Partners for the European Space Agency
Solar power, 3D printing, robotics and advanced composite materials would be employed to deal with the challenges of operating in a vacuum at extreme temperatures.
Various objectives of moon settlement have been articulated by Japanese contractor Obayashi, which has floated speculative plans to build a "space elevator".
It says the purposes of a moon community would include mining, low-gravity manufacturing, scientific experiments, adventure tourism and the convenience of having a staging post outside the Earth’s gravitational field.
One particular element that may interest mining companies is helium 3, an isotope of the element that does not exist on Earth, and which may be needed to construct the containment vessels of nuclear fusion reactors.
A discussion of this idea, conducted by the ESA, can be accessed here.