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NASA Hopes to Test Mining Moon Water for Future Manned Missions

ByBridget MorawskiNOVA NextNOVA Next

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Two proposed missions would scour the moon’s upper crust for deposits of ice that may support moon bases.

We may soon be one sip of water closer to living on the moon, at least if NASA’s plans pan out. The space agency has announced their intention to send two new missions to the moon to analyze and mine pockets of frozen water. The projects, nicknamed Lunar Flashlight and Resource Prospector Mission (RPM), will launch in late 2017 and 2018, respectively.

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moon-south-pole
The lunar poles are thought to harbor massive reserves of ice.

Scientists are seeking to determine if future manned lunar outposts could exploit the deposits as a resource for drinking water. Here’s Mike Wall reporting for Space.com:

“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,” said Lunar Flashlight principal investigator Barbara Cohen, of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Lunar Flashlight will be making approximately 80 rotations around the moon’s atmosphere, hovering a mere 12 miles over the lunar surface. The intent of the mission is to find, measure, and map pockets of ice in darkened craters within and around the lunar poles.

The Lunar Flashlight mission would use a solar sail to carry the spacecraft along its orbital route. According to Cohen, the device would begin to expand upon reaching space, from “the size of a cereal box” into an 860-square foot solar sail. It will take Lunar Flashlight six months to reach the moon and another year to slowly descend to the 12-mile-high research orbit.

LCROSS, an earlier NASA mission that looked for water on the moon, was a relatively low-budget affair.

While Lunar Flashlight will only observe easily accessible deposits of water, RPM will operate on the surface of the moon. The rover will be equipped with drills and other materials to extract samples from 3.3 feet below the moon’s surface. It will chart water concentrations with an on-board neutron spectrometer and a near-infrared spectrometer. It’ll have to work fast, though, as it’s lifespan is expected to be only one week as it crawls from the near side of the moon into permanently dark lunar territory.

Neither the Lunar Flashlight nor RPM projects have been approved by NASA yet, but if they are accepted, the knowledge could bring us closer to greater understanding the moon’s water resources—and what we might be able to do with them should we return.

Two proposed NASA missions would lay more groundwork for manned lunar bases.

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio