Rockets can help humans explore the solar system in more than one way.
Three companies – Masten Space Systems, Lunar Outpost and Honeybee Robotics – are developing a new system that will use rockets to extract icy water on the moon.
Water ice is believed to be abundant in the polar regions of the moon, especially in the permanently shadowed soils of some craters. NASA officials and exploration advocates say harvesting this resource is critical to establishing a permanent human presence on the Moon, not just because it helps keep astronauts alive. Water ice can break down into its hydrogen and oxygen components, which are the main components of rocket fuel, allowing spacecraft to fill fuel tanks far from the ground.
Related: NASA chooses intuitive machines to conduct ice drilling on the moon
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To stimulate the development of lunar mining technology, NASA recently established the “Ice Breaker” The Moon Challenge “”. The competition will provide up to $500,000 in prizes for the most promising resource collection concepts in the first phase, which will end soon; the winners will be announced on August 13.
MastenLunar OutpostHoneybee Robotics team approved Their rocket mining system throws their hats into the circular challenge, which will use a rocket engine connected to a 1,800-pound (818 kg) Mars rover. When the rover reaches an ice-filled location, the engine enclosed by the dome unfolds and ignites, spraying the lunar soil and gravel into a vacuum-like device to separate the ice particles from the water and store it.
“The system is expected to mine up to 12 craters per day, and each crater can produce 220 pounds [100 kg] of ice,” the representative of Masten wrote in the project description. “This will allow us to recover more than 420,000 kilograms (926,000 pounds) of lunar water each year!” The ice collected by
can also be used to power rocket engines, allowing them to operate on the lunar surface for more than five years, they added.
If NASA finally funds the rocket mining system and the technology makes it to the moon, it is likely to fly on the Masten lunar lander. The company’s first lunar surface mission using the XL1 lander is scheduled to be launched on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in 2023. The mission will bring a variety of commercial payloads and eight NASA experiments to the Antarctic region of the moon.
Lunar Outpost will provide a rover for the rocket mining system, and Honeybee Robotics’ PlanetVac technology will form the core of the ice processing system.