A roving vehicle builds pavement on the moon with In situ resource utilization, an useful technology to build a Lunar Railroad infrastructure on the moon

A Revolutionary Lunar Railroad Will Help Activities On The Moon

Northrop Grumman will be developing a Lunar Railroad to help the future Lunar Economy grow, along with other partners under the DARPA LunA-10 capability study

Northrop Grumman announced on March 19th, 2024, it is developing a concept for a Lunar Railroad. The study falls under the Luna-10 DARPA-funded Capability Study, aimed at developing various solutions and ideas for a successful model of lunar economy.

Over the next 10 years, the scope of the studies ending in 2035, DARPA is focusing on creating a useful network of services, encompassing transportation, communication, energy production, In-Situ Resource Utilization, and many more, to cultivate future commercial and scientific activities on the Moon.

A roving vehicle builds pavement on the moon with In situ resource utilization, an useful technology to build a Lunar Railroad infrastructure on the moon
ICON, another LunA-10 selected company, is working on an ISRU construction system. Credits: ICON Technology Inc.

DARPA’s goal is interoperability, being able to offer these indispensable services to different companies or governments planning an activity on the lunar surface. Instead of developing these tools on their own, each could rely on an already existing network of services, built by the combined work of LunA-10, of which Northrop Grumman is part, along with many other companies.


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A railroad to connect

Northrop Grumman is proposing, as stated in its press release, a lunar railroad network to service both human and cargo transportation. Having such a service built on the lunar surface could vastly diminish the resources needed for operations, and favor collaboration between ventures.

Astronaut James B. Irwin, lunar module pilot, works at the Lunar Roving Vehicle during the first Apollo 15 lunar surface extravehicular activity (EVA) at the Hadley-Apennine landing site. The shadow of the Lunar Module "Falcon" is in the foreground. This view is looking northeast, with Mount Hadley in the background. This photograph was taken by astronaut David R. Scott, commander.
Astronaut James B. Irwin works at the Lunar Roving Vehicle, a first example of transportation on the Moon. Credits: NASA/David R. Scott

In particular, the corporation is analyzing resources and technologies needed to build such infrastructure on the Moon, considering its costs, and of course possible risks. The company will also be looking at prototypes both for the railway, and possible rolling stock.

Maintenance will also be an integral part, and robotic systems will be studied for aid, or the handling altogether of both the construction and operation of the network. The press release mentions robotic aid in common activities of Earth-based railway construction, such as track alignment, joining, and inspection, both for initial construction and repair.

Citing Northrop Grumman’s experience in commercial services and complex systems, Chris Adams, vice president and general manager of the company’s strategic space systems sector, stated the investment in a railroad system will be creating “lasting change for a sustainable space ecosystem”.


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The LunA-10 architecture

While NASA keeps expanding its own Artemis Accords, the 10-Year Lunar Architecture is based on the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, for peaceful international collaboration on the Moon. What DARPA aims to create on the Moon, is a sustainable infrastructure of services that can be supportive of economic activity. As such, the program is only looking at possible monetizable solutions, therefore not encompassing science-only missions with governmental funding.

A concept of a moon village, with infrastructure for life support and power generation.
An example of moon base infrastructure. A Lunar Railroad could connect different outposts. Credits: ESA

The study considers both orbital and surface technologies, with a primary goal of optimizing resource usage, encouraging interoperation, and having an infrastructure for every interested partner to use and share with others. Building a collective cluster of lunar technologies could be a better option than independent commercial operations on the Moon. The agency is leaning on economic development to further human exploration of the solar system, helping in the NASA Moon to Mars strategy.


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Marco Guardabasso

Marco Guardabasso

Aerospace Engineering student with a passion for space, photography and arranging music.

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