DARPA wants interoperability standard for Moon living

Less lunacy? LunA-10 is seeking designs for 'optimized and integrated lunar infrastructure'

In DARPA's view, if we're going to live on the Moon, we need to rethink our technological paradigm. The research agency has thus launched its latest project to develop "an optimized and integrated lunar infrastructure" – for peaceful purposes, of course.

The 10-Year Lunar Architecture, or LunA-10 project, is seeking ideas to support a future model of lunar infrastructure that integrates various bits of essential technology into scalable, shareable, interoperable systems.

The study, which is now soliciting ideas and is scheduled to run for seven months, will develop multi-mission systems like, for example, a wireless power station that can also provide communications and navigation through its beams, said DARPA Strategic Technology Office program manager Michael Nayak.

"For 65 years, DARPA has pioneered and de-risked technologies vital to civil space advancement," Nayak said. "LunA-10 continues this rich legacy by identifying and accelerating key technologies that may be used by government and the commercial space industry, and ultimately to catalyze economic vibrancy on the Moon."

DARPA describes a number of industries that are key to lunar life and could have technology integrated into the shared LunA-10 infrastructure, including construction, mining, medicine, sciences, communications, and others. For the sake of this project DARPA said it's focusing on three areas that it sees as cornerstones toward the development of any other lunar industries: transit/mobility, energy, and communications.

More specifically, DARPA said it's looking at the logistics of moving people and stuff around on the surface of the Moon, as well as from the Moon to lunar orbit. For energy projects, DARPA is looking for ways to integrate wireless power beaming into other tech, but is not examining nuclear fission on the lunar surface. Communications technology included in the project addresses lunar surface communications, surface to lunar orbit and to/from Earth. 

"LunA-10 aims to facilitate the fusing and co-optimization of as many infrastructure sectors as possible, into key nodes that can be scaled up in the future," DARPA said. In other words, DARPA wants to create a Moon tech interoperability standard that the world is welcome to get on board with too, thank you very much.

DARPA said it sees LunA-10 as a way to "galvanize the setup of a future civil lunar framework" now before disparate technological interests end up putting lunar explorers in the same position we're currently in, where "each lunar lander or activity must organically support all required resources."

The agency isn't shying away from the fact the mission will be difficult, though. DARPA said key factors remain unclear in widespread development of an economy on the Moon, like performance and persistence of hardware in the harsh lunar environment, how to reach critical mass required to make a lunar economy self-sustaining and dealing with weight restrictions and costs to launch from Earth. Those issues would need to be addressed in any successful LunA-10 projects, DARPA said, but will be topics of continued discussion.

Abstracts for project proposals need to be in by September 6, with the program officially kicking off in November. LunA-10 will wrap up in June next year, at which point the agency said it plans to make final analytical frameworks available to the public for use by other lunar projects and to "create monetizable lunar infrastructure services implemented by commercial companies for various lunar users."

If you're wondering what sort of monetizable foundation DARPA has in mind, think the internet, said Nayak. "Just like DARPA's foundational node of ARPANET grew into the sprawling web of the internet, LunA-10 is looking for those connective nodes to support a thriving commercial economy on the Moon."

DARPA wants LunA-10 technology, if successful, to be deployable on the Moon by 2035, 10 years after the planned landing of Artemis III, which is scheduled to return humans to the lunar surface in 2025. ®

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