Northrop Grumman wins DARPA contract for a railway on the Moon

The planned lunar railroad definitely won't look as fanciful as this AI rendering
AI-generated by DALL-E
The planned lunar railroad definitely won't look as fanciful as this AI rendering
AI-generated by DALL-E

In preparation for a permanent human colony on the Moon, DARPA has awarded a contract to Northrop Grumman to develop a lunar railway concept, as part of the 10-year Lunar Architecture (LunA-10) Capability Study.

Running a train on the Moon may seem profoundly silly, but there is some very firm logic behind it. Even as the first astronauts were landing on the Sea of Tranquility in 1969, it was realized that a permanent human presence on Mars would require an infrastructure to maintain it. That includes mines for water ice, nuclear power plants, factories, and railways.

Though many people think the Moon is small, it is, in fact, a very large place with a surface area equivalent to that of Africa. Over such an expanse, even a limited presence would require some sort of a transport system to link various outposts and activities.

Railways, whether tracked or using maglev systems, make considerable sense. Aside from their logistical value, they are a way of handling one of the Moon's major problems – dust. Lunar dust is extremely abrasive and corrosive. Because of the complete lack of water, the static electricity of the dust makes it cling to spacesuits and equipment, making them not only grubby but with a reduced service life. Traveling by train would greatly reduce contact between humans and dust as the former go from place to place.

Another consideration is tracks. Moon buggies could and certainly will be used, but they tear up the lunar surface. On Earth, leaving tracks usually means they'll be gone from rain and erosion in short order. On the Moon, they remain untouched for billions of years. If only for aesthetic reasons, keeping such damage to a minimum would be a good thing.

The new contract covers some of the basics of developing such a railway. Northrop Grumman is tasked with sorting out the interfaces and resources required to build a lunar rail network, make a critical list of foreseeable cost, technological and logistical risks, develop the prototypes to concept design and architecture, and work out how to construct the railway with robots as well as how to deal with the problems of grading the rail line, building its foundations, laying the tracks, and the ongoing matters like inspection, maintenance, and repair.

"This investment in key developmental research keeps our technology at the forefront of next generation solutions," said Chris Adams, vice president and general manager, strategic space systems, Northrop Grumman. "With our proven experience in the integration of complex systems and commercialized autonomous services, we will continue to create lasting change for a sustainable space ecosystem."

Source: Northrop Grumman

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How about Hyperloop without the need for pumps to create a vacuum?
Pierre Collet
The objective of the tunnel is to create vacuum inside it... On the moon, you get it for free, without needing to bore a tunnel...
But on the moon, a tunnel could have another purpose: protecting the trains from the abrasive dust? But would the cost of creating the tunnel overcome the impact of the abrasive dust on the trains?
They'll need to ship wet leaves up to the moon to cover the tracks, as an excuse for when the train is delayed. Oh yeah, and go on strike every 3 weeks.
Hyper loop for a different reason - pre-fab units for easier install. Second - for reverse reason. Provides a pressurized tube for personnel either maintaining or transporting on the train. Also a handy backup in case of emergency evac from a connected facility.

But really with no air to whip up lunar dust, couldn't we eliminate most of the dust problem by careful prep of the railbed? And if the dust is electrically charged can someone explain to me why a simple fix couldn't be reverse charge of the suit or device? Then dust can be removed or not stick in the first place (or greatly reduced)?
Why do we need a railbed? ground covered with dust you don't want to disturb pretty much cries out for some kind of suspended rail system, especially in 1/6G where structural requirements will be less. Maybe even something like a funicular, since cables won't be exposed to oxidation or corrosion.
Do we know for fact that the regolith doesn't compact similar to a dry dirt road, or freshly fallen snow.
Lunar dust has a high negative charge. Why can't we stick van de graaf generators or something that generates a negatively charged field on spacesuit boots & equipment to repel the dust that way? Surely someone thought of this?
Synner - seems like a good idea. But these kinds of breakthroughs won't happen until we have people back on the moon, necessity if the mother of invention.
Should DARPA ever be daft enough to appoint the Brits as build contractor, expect completion by end of the millennium;*
Should DARPA build it and appoint the Brits as the built railway administrators;*
don't forget to lay on provisions for a replacement bus service.

ref Ye *'s above:
Should DARPA be totally bonkers and appoint the Brits to draw up contracts,
expect at least 6 meetings to determine if above ;'s should be ,'s / .'s - etc **
(** Should that be etc. - ?
Ergo 'We need a meeting Claud' - etc / etc.)
Space Jimi
I would think they would to make rails/roads on the moon directly out of the regolit. Maybe using a lens and the sun light to melt the regolith into a wide smooth road way? Especially if they could make the metals in the regolith float to the top or layer some how. Just enough to create a negative charge to counter the static build up. Maybe even use it to capture electric energy?

Of course the extreme temperature differences would require bends and expansion joints. Put the lens/mirrors into Lunar orbit to focus the sunlight to melt the surface. Need a new smooth dust free, landing pad? No problem.

Using concentrated solar light to smelt metals out of regolith is going to be a major activity and building material source without hauling anything from Earth.