Sometime in the future we are going to witness factory 101 built on the surface of the moon. There will not be a ceremonial stone laying or cutting of a ribbon, just a line of prefabricated modules – for ease of convenience lets envisage them as 20’ container size – dumped in prepared sites from an orbital sky crane type vehicle. Then, suitably suited and booted to survive the lunar surface a pair or maybe three engineers will do the spanner work, connecting the modules via a robust yet lightweight conveyor belt system at one end of which is ‘goods in’ and the other end ‘goods out’.
Between these two points there will need to be, in order, a crusher module, a milling module, and a screening module, and that is just to get the iron ore ready. Initially of course there are iron meteorites on the surface easily accessible for an initial supply. The first module delivery would need to include a pair of lunar dump trucks to go and retrieve fallen siderites but with approximately 5% of all lunar meteorites being iron based the quality of material would be very good from the start. Run the resulting fines through a magnetic separator (another module) and you have the raw material to make iron.
With easy rich pickings Factory 101 could soon be underway. Power would come from solar array with possibly a nuclear component to beef up electrical delivery. At least two modules dedicated to solar energy collection or nuclear energy would need to be added to the list, unpacked and plugged in. Still, there wouldn’t be quarterly bills to pay.
Once the iron has been through the beneficiation process (all that crushing and grinding) it is now ready for the science processor, the bit where iron oxide is transformed into usable iron. This module would be known as the smelter, a power-hungry system where iron oxide (Fe2O3) is sprayed with liquid CO (liquid ‘coke’ in Earth parlance), lunar temperatures making this a convenient step, and the carbothermal reduction process begins.
Transformed from Fe2O3 into Fe3O4, then FeO before arriving at Fe; for the science buffs: 3Fe2O3 + CO 2Fe3O4 + CO2,
2Fe3O4 + CO 3FeO + CO2
FeO + CO Fe + CO2
To speed up the process one would specify three modules, one for each step. A further module would collect the by-product CO2 and, using the energy available, electro catalyse the CO2 into CO and oxygen, the latter for humans and the former fed back into the smelting process.
The net result from (approximately) 10 modules would be a small factory arrangement to convert iron meteorites into iron for use in a 3D print factory. Add 3 modules for the 3D printing and another to deliver a pressurised final assembly hall then it will take a minimum of 13 20’ containers worth of material to be transported to the lunar surface just to get the factory up and running, saying nothing of the needs for the human component of this lunar outpost.
On the basis of this rough, back of envelope calculation, there should be plenty of orders for space deliveries around about 2028. That is forward thinking and it is going to need a degree of control to get it done safely and efficiently within a framework of order everyone understands – hence why humanity will require the Edict.