NASA scientists are developing two different missions to assess and learn how to exploit the ice on the moon as well as other lunar resources. The Lunar Flashlight and the Resource Prospector Missions are scheduled for launch in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
Statements from NASA researcher
“If you’re going to have humans on the moon and you need water for drinking, breathing, rocket fuel, anything you want, it’s much, much cheaper to live off the land than it is to bring everything with you,” explained Lunar Flashlight principal investigator Barbara Cohen, based at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
That’s why it’s important to “understand the inventory of volatiles across the whole moon and their purity, and their accessibility in particular,” Cohen continued to explain during a presentation at the NASA Exploration Science Forum earlier this summer, a conference organized by the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.
NASA’s mining water on the moon missions
Lunar Flashlight — Lunar Flashlight is scheduled to launch in December 2017 as the first test flight of NASA’s new Space Launch System megarocket together with a number of other scientific payloads.
Lunar Flashlight is a CubeSat mission, so the body of the spacecraft is tiny, close to the size of a cereal box. The probe becomes much larger after deployment in space, as it unfurls its 860-square-foot (80 square meters) solar sail.
The mission calls for the craft to fly to the moon in a wide route, propelled by solar power. The Lunar Flashlight would enter a moon orbit six months after launching, and then spend another year gradually working its way to a close orbit 12 miles from the moon’s surface.
The craft is scheduled to make 80 passes around the moon at a low altitude, measuring and mapping deposits of water ice in dark craters near the lunar poles.
Resource Prospector Mission — The Resource Prospector Mission (RPM) will send a rover onto the lunar surface to get a up-close look at moon ice.
The current plan is to land the rover at a polar site, and proceed to map surface and subsurface concentrations of hydrogen at different locations. RPM will be equipped with a neutron spectrometer to analyze water concentrations up to 3.3 feet underground as well as a near-infrared spectrometer for surface observations.
When traveling through permananently shadowed areas of the moon, the lunar rover will rely on batteries. Researchers say the rover will probably have an operational lifetime of around a week on the lunar surface. Much like Lunar Flashlight, RPM is designed to lay the groundwork for future exploitation of lunar water ice, ie, mining water on the moon..