I have a group that's building a moon colony. The final end goal is a self-sufficient colony of at least 1 million humans.

They have access to one million metric tons of lift per week at nominal cost. If it matters, this is being done by superheros (flyers, energy producers, etc). Most materials are lifted, boosted toward the moon, then intercepted and landed. Overall this takes four days. Time-sensitive materials can reach the moon in as little as three hours under constant acceleration, but it's roughly ten times less efficient to do it that way.

What resources does the colony need from Earth, and what is the most efficient way to transport those resources? For example, sure we need air - how should we transport it, how do we divide each transport up, etc?

Edit: To clarify on the "way to transport", what I mean is in terms of storage. Assume they've got the mechanics down of getting stuff from point A to point B. But say you're transporting water - should you do it as liquid or ice? Or possibly both? Is it worth super cooling air to a liquid to make things easier, or should you compress it but keep it a gas? If you need to transport animals or plants, what's the best way?

Specifically I'd like to know about the following two scenarios:

  • First year (what do we need initially)
  • After 1-2 years (what do we need while we build toward self-sufficiency)

Average technology is 1990s, but the superheros have access to 2015-equivalent technology because of Spark-type supergeniuses. This is an AU Earth, and they're building it on AU Luna.

If they can get the resources elsewhere in the solar system more efficiently, they will do that instead. Keep in mind that almost everything else is farther away, which effectively reduces the efficiency since it takes longer to get there.

  • $\begingroup$ In 1990s terms it'd cost between $10,000 and $20,000 to get a KG to the moon. For a city of 1 Million to flourish you would need millions of tonnes of resources, unless your super heroes can open warp gates (flying in space isn't exactly plausible..) you will be spending multiples of the world GDP to get even close to your goal of a 1 Million supporting city. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 5:48
  • $\begingroup$ You can't have a self-sufficient Lunar colony of 1 million people. It needs a lot more people than that to maintain a technological base that will enable survival in the Lunar environment. They will either have to import a lot of stuff from Earth that they can't make locally, or they will need more like a billion people. $\endgroup$
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 6:25
  • $\begingroup$ @JustAnotherDotNetDev: As stated, they can get a million tons/week to the moon (and back, if it matters) at basically no cost by using powers. Obviously they need to pay for the materials themselves and for some basic infrastructure, but the actual lift/fuel is all covered. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 13:21
  • $\begingroup$ @MikeScott: I may ask another question about that (minimum # of people for a self-sustaining moon colony). I can see a million being too low, a billion though seems extraordinarily high. That's more than three times the population of the United States. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 14:14
  • $\begingroup$ @DanSmolinske There's a good discussion of the question here: antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/07/insufficient-data.html $\endgroup$
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 17:56

5 Answers 5


Partly what your colony needs will be determined based upon the specifics of what you mean by self-sufficient.

Do you mean "economically" or do you mean "catastrophe strikes the Earth and the colony needs to survive on its own?"

Basic Requirements

Regardless of your definitions the initial requirements will be similar for either type (and those are very well defined by other answers). Basically figure out high mass needs, especially those that do not require special processing, and fill those needs first.

As mentioned in other answers, these will start as things like:

  • Propellant
  • Power
  • Breathable air
  • Potable water
  • Food
  • Productive Soil
  • Radiation shielding
  • Construction materials

The hurdle of providing these things to your new colony is a lot lower if you do a good job of picking a location in which many of these things are readily available without a great deal of processing - and it is why finding water at the Moon's poles is so exciting.

Initial payback

Assuming you want economic self-sufficiency, as the colony becomes self-sufficient in these high-mass colony needs, the colony needs to determine what valuable low-mass things and services it can produce to compete with those provided by Earth.

Initially, these might be:

  1. Servicing satellites
  2. Refueling of satellites
  3. Clearing space junk out of Earth orbit.

Economic Self-sufficiency

As the colony continues to grow and establishes production infrastructure the colony will begin exploring goods and services it can create that are unique or superior to those available on Earth.

These might be:

  1. Astronomical facilities and research facilities (no atmosphere, longer observation baseline)
  2. Other scientific facilities and research (novel environments)
  3. Biomedical research (novel environments)
  4. Drug research (zero gravity is good for growing large protein crystals)
  5. Specialty Electronics (zero gravity and high vacuum -> extra pure materials)
  6. Specialized high value mechanical items (e.g. zero-gravity -> perfect ball bearings)
  7. Novelty items (Moon rocks, etc. for collectors)
  8. Specialized materials (zero-gravity & high vacuum makes especially large and perfect crystal growth possible - or perhaps we'll be able to make true high-temperature superconductors or super-long nanotubes - km instead of mm in length)

3-D Printing

Ultimately, economic self-sufficiency won't be enough for a colony. It'll need to be able to survive without resupply (if necessary).

IMO, this is where 3D printing (and other "additive manufacturing" techniques) are a really exciting development. If you can supply the raw materials many different types items can be created with them as long as you have the design program.

Need a locking mechanism for your airlock? Program the part into your 3D printer, fill the feed bin with the proper materials, and a few hours later, voila: a new airlock mechanism.

Such devices will never replace high volume (& therefore cheap & high speed) manufacturing methods but would be perfect for the needs of a space colony.

So the real requirement would be to have the ability to build those 3D printer devices.

What Else?

I view a population like a pyramid. You need a certain number of people at each level to support developments at higher levels. A space colony (with our current levels of knowledge and technology) will require lots of specialized knowledge and skills to keep going.

In a terrestrial country, it requires a certain population base to maintain a high technology levels. Some city-states side-step the issue by being embedded in a larger country that provides that support base.

But what that means is that the colony will either need to support a huge population, or a lot of work and technological advances will need to be achieved to "dumb down" the knowledge and skill requirements of the colony. So instead of an active closed-loop environmental system that requires human maintenance, we'd have research and develop a passive environmental system that maintains itself (think spaceship Earth).


Except for perishable items, transportation will use the Interplanetary Transportation Network. Such trajectories use much less energy ($\Delta V$) than low-energy Hohmann Orbit transfers but can take decades to complete.

Humans or some other perishable items will at least require Hohmann Orbit Transfers.

  • $\begingroup$ The colony expects that it will need to eventually survive on its own (Earth politics are in a death-spiral that is projected to end in all-out nuclear war). $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 21:38
  • $\begingroup$ And since I can't edit: nice answer, btw. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 21:45

In the short term, you are going to need:

  • food
  • water
  • lots of oxygen cylinders
  • heavy air conditioning and central heating systems

In this stage you are going to set up a colony and live in underground tunnel system where you would be safe from sun's scorching heat and the chilling nights.

In the long term, you would require:

  • breathable atmosphere
  • permanent food source
  • water bodies (oceans, that is. an atmosphere without a large water body would bring horrific tornadoes and vortexes due to temperature difference between night and day)
  • surface residence facilities (homes, to say it simply)
  • a strong magnetic field (to deflect solar electromagnetic pulses)
  • green plants (to start the carbon and oxygen cycles)
  • lots of carbon in the crust (to provide building material for plants)
  • I almost forgot ... an ozone layer too, if you please

The most efficient way of delivery of supplies (but not personnel!) is to first get them to ISS through rockets and then "shoot" then towards moon with a low velocity (3 km/s) cannon in a special, shock proof capsule. Once they enter lunar atmosphere, the capsules open up two layers of parachute to slow down the descent. The empty caps can later be transported back to ISS (and then earth) in batches.

Thanks to Frostfyre for reminding me that I missed that part in my answer.

  • $\begingroup$ Don't forget Nitrogen. Without it, you won't see many plants live. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 7:01
  • $\begingroup$ That's already included in atmosphere ;) $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 8:06
  • $\begingroup$ You are, of course, right... somehow i got distracted by the oxygen cylinders, it seems. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 8:33
  • $\begingroup$ :D :D I was expecting someone to point out the lack of an ozone layer in my answer :p Looks like nobody hit on it and finally I edited my answer and added that B) $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 9:47
  • $\begingroup$ I think you left out the second part of the question: transporting resources. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 12:13

In the first year, start with the basic life needs then move up from there. After the obvious ones, air, water, food production, shelter, and fuel, then move on to heavy equipment. Gas products transport best as liquids. Keeping them cool during transport shouldn't be difficult since the vacuum of space is a fantastic insulator.

The largest long term materials requirement for the moon will be steel.

From Space.com:

The average composition of the lunar surface by weight is roughly 43 percent oxygen, 20 percent silicon, 19 percent magnesium, 10 percent iron, 3 percent calcium, 3 percent aluminum, 0.42 percent chromium, 0.18 percent titanium and 0.12 percent manganese.

My bet is that it is more efficient to produce the steel here on earth then ship it to the Moon for shaping and forming there. Not having to worry about shipping extra oxygen despite the massive transport capabilities would ease the supply chain load.

Supply Requirements after the first year

A self-sustaining Moon colony will need industry and space to house that industry. General industry requires a few things: Materials for tools and end products, expertise to make the tools, expertise to make the end products and the machinery to get all this done.

Ultimately, there's just going to be some stuff that the Moon just can't produce for itself or is just too difficult to produce in a lunar environment. These items will need to be imported from Earth or from orbital facilities around Earth.

Short List of tool categories required for industry:

  • Atmosphere production and maintenance equipment.
  • Mining tools in the form of explosives, ore extractors, and boring machines
  • Cranes in various sizes, strengths and configurations.
  • Thousands to tens of thousands of Lathes of various sizes
  • Presses of various sizes and pressure capabilities
  • "Basic" clean room environments for the creation of electronics.

Atmosphere Production

Many of the the industries we take for granted on Earth require huge quantities of free oxygen on Earth, which free oxygen doesn't exist on Mars except where we make it. Industry will need to be very careful about how much oxygen they produce and consume. It's likely that habitats and industrial areas will have separate oxygen production facilities.

Perhaps the regolith of the lunar crust may be processed into oxygen and feed stock for various industrial processes.

Mining for Minerals and situating Industry

Once mining equipment is dropped to the Moon (gently dropped), it's more efficient to using mining to build habitats and industrial areas than it is to build bubbles on the surface. Subsurface habitats benefit from the radiation attenuation power of rock and a natural leak reducer (compared to a bubble membrane).


This shows an attempt by humans to create a sustainable "biosphere" which would allow for humans to live inside it even if it is in an otherwise barren environment.
The project encountered many unexpected difficulties such as air reacting with one of the building blocks of the biosphere.


Short Term

  • Water
  • Oxygen
  • Food
  • Building Material
  • Computers
  • Spacesuits

Long Term

  • Seeds
  • Constant source of oxygen
  • Constant source of water(Example: Lakes)
  • Paper
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Hi. Welcome to Worldbuilding! We tend to prefer answers with more explanation. In particular, why can't you obtain building materials on the Moon? What do you mean by constant sources? Why not recycle? Why can't you grow your own seeds and paper sources? Or are you saying that they should? $\endgroup$
    – Brythan
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 2:14

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