Here's how we can extract water on the Moon.
The American company Masten Space Systems has presented a plan for the extraction of ice on the Moon in the framework of the corresponding NASA competition. The company’s engineers suggested using a rover with a jet engine for this, which will lift the soil and suck it in, and then separate the water ice from the suspension.
In the coming years, the United States, China, and Russia are planning to begin active programs to explore the moon, including landing people, as well as the construction of a lunar base.
The first missions will use only resources from the Earth, but a large-scale exploration of the Moon will require frequent and expensive supply missions, so space agencies and private companies are working to create technologies for extracting useful resources from the lunar soil.
Everything you need to know about how we can extract ice and water directly on the Moon
1. The main goal of the developers of future lunar missions is water ice, which, according to recent research, is located right on the surface in the polar regions of the moon. Water can be used both to support the life of astronauts (in its original form and in the form of oxygen obtained by electrolysis of water) and to create an oxygen-hydrogen fuel pair for jet engines.
2. At the end of 2020, NASA launched a competition to create technologies for extracting water from ice on the Moon and demonstrate their work. The competition area will be located 11 kilometers from the South Pole and divided into two areas: landing and production areas.
3. The vehicles of the participants in the competition will have to land in the landing area of 98 thousand square meters. In the landing area, NASA will locate a 10-kilowatt power plant that participants can use. Apparently, we are talking about a nuclear reactor, which the agency successfully tested in 2018. NASA will also provide the ability to deliver energy from the reactor at a distance of up to four kilometers, but it is not yet clear how.
4. A production zone will be located 3.27 kilometers from the landing zone, and NASA will install an apparatus for extracting water from regolith 200 meters from it. At the same time, participants can also use their apparatus for processing regolith.
5. After processing in one way or another, the participants’ devices will have to deliver the received water to the landing area. In total, each team will have to deliver 10 tons of water.
6. Masten Space Systems teamed up with Honeybee Robotics and Lunar Outpost to develop an original water extraction method through a competition. The team’s mission will consist of two vehicles: a lander with an ice melter and water storage tanks, and a rover that will extract this ice. After landing, the eight-wheeled rover will exit the lander and travel to the mining area.
7. To extract ice from the surface of the Moon, a jet engine with folding nozzle walls will be installed in the center, which will be lowered to the ground in order to create a conditionally sealed chamber. After that, the device will activate the engine with pulses of half a second, during which the lunar soil will rise into the air. The developers plan to create pits with a depth of two meters.
8. After the soil is lifted by the jet stream, the rover will suck the resulting suspension into the fractionation apparatus. It uses several separation methods: magnetic, electrostatic, inertial (cyclonic design), and condensation. As a result, the rover will collect ice and gases from the jet engine, and the separated soil particles will be ejected immediately at the mining site on the Moon.
9. The company notes that the rover’s design performance far exceeds NASA’s requirements. It will be able to make three holes in four mining sectors per day. In each pit, the developers plan to extract 100 kilograms of ice. Thus, for a year of operation, this will allow the extraction of 426 tons of water.
10. This is not the first unusual lunar mission proposed by Masten Space Systems. Last year, its engineers developed a method to instantly create a landing site on the lunar surface: to do this, they proposed adding melting elements to the exhaust from a nozzle that would solidify on the surface and form a solid surface on the free-flowing regolith.
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• Ackerman, E. (n.d.). Rocket Mining System Could Blast Ice from Lunar Craters. IEEE Spectrum: Technology, Engineering, and Science News.
• Harbaugh, J. (2020, November 17). NASA Challenge Seeks Innovations to Excavate Moon Resources. NASA.
• Masten Space Systems. (2021, June 18). Break the Ice: Masten designs Rocket Mining System to extract lunar water. Masten Space Systems.