A Railroad on the Moon?

21st century transportation networks may literally be out of this world. A U.S. government agency has approved the concept of a railroad on the Moon, serving as a hypothetical link to imagined lunar bases that world governments aspire to establish on the natural satellite’s surface within the next decade.

Lunar railroad concept funded by U.S. government

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is funding the development of this rail network concept, proposed by aerospace and defense company Northrop Grumman. The novel idea aligns with DARPA’s LunA-10 framework, a 10-year lunar infrastructure plan with a broadened goal of supporting future human settlements on the Moon. As space agencies around the world scheme to colonize the surface, DARPA’s plan accounts for components necessary to establishing a first-of-its-kind lunar economy.

That is where Northrop Grumman’s concept comes into play: “The envisioned lunar railroad network could transport humans, supplies and resources for commercial ventures across the lunar surface, contributing to a space economy for the United States and international partners,” representatives with the company wrote in a Mar. 19 press release.

With DARPA’s approval, the aerospace company will now work towards building a prototype of a fully operational lunar rail system. Northop Grumman provided a brief outline of the project:

  • Define the interfaces and resources required to build a lunar rail network.
  • Establish a critical list of foreseeable cost, technological and logistical risks.
  • Identify prototypes, demonstrations and analyses of a fully operating lunar rail system’s concept design and architecture.
  • Explore concepts for constructing and operating the system with robotics, including grading and foundation preparation, track placement and alignment, joining and finishing, inspection, maintenance and repair.

DARPA’s Dr. Michael “Orbit” Nayak stated: “A large paradigm shift is coming in the next 10 years for the lunar economy…[LunA-10’s purpose is] 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.”

Northrop Grumman’s press release did not reveal how much funding DARPA will earmark towards the lunar railroad. However, the federal agency provided a ballpark number in an August announcement, stating that selected concepts would receive an award no greater than $1 million.

Northrop Grumman was one of 14 companies chosen by DARPA to participate in LunA-10. The list includes highly-publicized space industry titans, like SpaceX and Blue Origin, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. DARPA did not describe the work that each selected company will do.

Final Thoughts

While the image of space trains weaving between bustling lunar communities seems like the backdrop of a Star Trek episode, this science fiction figment may actually be closer towards reality than one may think.

Both the U.S. and China have programs in place to establish bases on the Moon before the end of the decade. The third mission of NASA’s Artemis program will look to return humans to the lunar surface with a launch date no earlier than September 2026.

Contact one of our team members if you have any questions regarding this topic or any others in domestic logistics.

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