Mining water and metallic from the moon concurrently

In Situ Resource Use (ISRU) is growing in popularity as space exploration increasingly focuses on landing on the surface of other bodies in the solar system. ISRU focuses on making things needed to support the exploration mission out of materials that are easily accessible at the location to be explored. Much like how European explorers in the New World were able to build canoes from the wood they found there.

Recently, the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) began to examine various ISRU projects more closely as part of its Phase I Fellows program. One of the selected projects, led by Amelia Grieg at the University of Texas, El Paso, is a mining technique that allows explorers to simultaneously dig up water, metal and other useful materials.

UT video over ISRU.

Most ISRU programs focus on the use of water, as used in many exploration efforts. However, these schemes typically discard the remainder of the material that is collected to collect the water. The focus of the proposed new system is on the use of a novel type of mining to extract both water and any additional materials that could be ingested as part of the water degradation process.

This mining process uses a novel technique called ablative arc mining. In this iteration, arc mining creates an electric arc across two electrodes that breaks down any material it came into contact with into ionized particles. These ionized particles are then guided over a series of electric fields into trapping chambers that house other ions of a similar type.

Isaac Arthur video about some details of mining on the moon.
Photo credit: Isaac Arthur YouTube Channel

The concept of using electricity instead of thermal ablation offers much higher particle throughput so that the degradation process can be much faster. It does, however, require a significant source of electricity to be able to create an arc in the almost non-existent lunar atmosphere. Such a system would have to be moderately bulky, but that’s not necessarily a disqualifier for an all-in-one metal and water removal system.

A lunar mining facility harvests oxygen from the resource-rich volcanic soil of the eastern Mare Serenitatis.
Photo credit: NASA / Pat Rawlings

As part of the NIAC program, Dr. Grieg and her team focus on defining a system that can extract 10,000 kg of water per year. However, such a system would have to be compared to alternative mining systems, and Dr. Grieg plans to do just that.

Alien mining, regardless of location, will hopefully prove to be a trillion dollar industry at some point. With technologies like this ablative arc mining concept, NASA continues to support them on their way to reality.

Learn more:
NASA – Ablative Arc Mining for In-Situ Resource Utilization
Black Range Minerals – Ablation Mining Technology
UT – Practical Ideas for Farming on the Moon and Mars

Mission statement:
Graphic showing the ablative arc mining process
Photo credit: Amelia Grieg

Like this:

To like Loading…

Comments are closed.