Moon mining challenge opens new doors
Lunar Outpost enters ROCKET-M into latest NASA challenge Metal Tech News – June 30, 2021
Last updated 7/10/2022 at 3:23pm
Colorado-based aviation and aerospace company, Lunar Outpost, famed for its $1 sale of moon rocks to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, is now participating in NASA's Break the Ice Lunar Challenge by harvesting space ice on the surface of the Moon.
As part of a joint entry with Masten Space Systems and Honeybee Robotics, Lunar Outpost has designed "a system architecture to excavate icy regolith and deliver acquired resources in extreme lunar conditions."
The team's entry focuses on the development of the Resource Ore Concentrator using a Kinetic Energy Targeted Mining (ROCKET-M) system and features Lunar Outpost's Heavy In-situ Propellant Production Off-world Rover (HIPPO).
"Mobility is a key component of lunar infrastructure," said Forrest Meyen, chief strategy officer of Lunar Outpost. "The development of ROCKET-M presented an opportunity for us to scale our flight-ready rovers to carry a very unique and groundbreaking ISRU payload." He added that, "very little can happen on the moon without reliable surface transportation."
Lunar Outpost's HIPPO Rover is able to extract and transport 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of ice at a time and will host a 100 pound-force rocket engine, developed by Masten, under a pressurized dome able to blast craters more than two meters below the lunar surface.
Ice displaced by the rocket blast will be drawn up into the dome and funneled through a vacuum-like system, developed by Honeybee, that will separate ice particles from other ejecta and transport it into storage containers.
It is projected that ROCKET-M will be able to mine up to 12 craters per day and produce 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of ice per crater, which amounts to more than 420,000 kg (about 111,000 gallons) of water per year.
As the current costs of transporting payloads from Earth into space – upwards of US$1,500 per kg (2.2 lb) – the ability to dig up local resources for fuel, water, air, and building materials will be essential to the success of future human missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
As we've seen from popular sci-fi shows like "The Expanse," water is and always will be the most important resource to humanity's survival, especially in the unforgiving void of space.
Now, with the potential to sustain a means of gathering this valuable resource, Lunar Outpost will attempt to set another precedent with the first makings of a supply chain for space exploration and habitation.
Lunar Outpost designed its HIPPO Rover to optimize mining efficiency, power and handle the extreme thermal environment of the permanently shadowed regions of the moon where water-ice is believed to remain from events that occurred in the early days of our solar system. Despite being a dust-tolerant workhorse, the rover's top speed of 3.45 kilometers per hour (2.14 miles per hour) makes it blistering fast for an autonomous rover.
"Speed matters when the resources need to be repeatedly delivered over three kilometers from the extraction site," said Pete Wilson, systems engineer at Lunar Outpost. "The drivetrain required significant engineering effort to balance speed, torque, power, mass, and the ability to traverse the challenging lunar craters."
This challenge represents an important opportunity for Lunar Outpost, but more importantly, a history making moment of pushing the boundaries of space exploration for humankind, by providing one of the key resources necessary for a space economy to thrive and humanity to one day live throughout the galaxy.