A robotic rover system that blasts through moon rocks to reach ice is being developed.
The Rocket Mining System, by California-based Masten Space Systems, would mine ice on the lunar surface using controlled rocket blasts.
The company say they will make it possible to extract and utilise extra-terrestrial resources, such as water, methane, and rare-Earth metals.
"These resources can be used not only for fuel and power, but they also open the door to new commercial applications and technology innovations that can help preserve our resources on Earth," they explain. "Usable as drinking water, rocket fuel, and other vital resources, lunar ice extraction is critical to maintain a sustained presence on the Moon and allow future missions to Mars and beyond. It can also be used in conjunction with other volatiles found in lunar regolith, such as oxygen and methane, to support energy, construction, and manufacturing needs."
The small, low mass system, including the rocket fuel, engine, collapsible dome, and storage containers, can be attached to a rover and delivered to the Moon on Masten's lunar landers. The system is projected to mine up to 12 craters per day and produce 100 kg of ice per crater.
"That would allow us to recover more than 420,000 kg of lunar water per year," say Masten.
Masten have teamed up with Honeybee Robotics and Lunar Outpost to design the new Rocket Mining System that can rapidly extract frozen volatiles from the Moon. This method disrupts lunar soil with a series of rocket plumes that fluidize ice regolith by exposing it to direct convective heating.
It utilises a 100 lbf rocket engine under a pressurized dome to enable deep cratering more than 2 meters below the lunar surface.
During this process, ejecta from multiple rocket firings blasts up into the dome and gets funnelled through a vacuum-like system that separates ice particles from the remaining dust and transports it into storage containers.
"As one of the first commercial companies sending a lunar lander to the Moon, Masten is in a unique position to deploy this system. We've been testing plume surface interactions with our reusable rockets and engine test stands for more than a decade," add Masten.
The Rocket Mining System works has been developed for NASA's Break the Ice Challenge, of which Phase 1 winners will be announced August 2021.