NASA has two projects in the making which will potentially be launched in the coming years 2017 and 2018. The purpose of the two missions will be to quantify the water concentrations on the moon: samples will be taken and measured in terms of the hydrogen content…
Harvesting water on the moon
There is almost no resource that man has discovered without wanting to exploit it, be it on Earth or beyond. Finding water reserves on the moon, in particular, has proved to be of great interest for scientists. In the same line of thought, NASA wishes to put the water ice stores found on the moon to good use. Before being able to do so though, it has to first gather enough information about them to later harvest them, if possible.
Paving the way to the moon: missions to find usable resources
The scientists working on the issue have therefore formulated two individual action plans to evaluate the potential of using the resources on the moon, including the water sources: the Lunar Flashlight project and the Resource Prospector Mission.
“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.
The purpose of using the water reserves of the moon
The water could possibly be used as drinking water for astronauts on manned lunar missions.
The water might also be split into hydrogen and oxygen to produce fuels.
This project will most probably be launched in December 2017.
A spacecraft the size of a cereal box will be sent into space. Once it is propelled into space, it would unfold into an 80 m2 solar sail.
Picture illustrating a solar sail
After having grown larger, the spacecraft would then be driven towards the moon, pushed forth by photons flowing from the sun.
After being launched, it will only be after 6 months that Lunar Flashlight will be orbiting the moon. Thereafter, it is expected to measure and map any water deposits in the form of ice in the craters of our satellite.
“We’re going to use it as a mirror,” Cohen said. “We’re going to take the sunlight, bounce it off the solar sail into the permanently shadowed regions, and we’re going to use a passive infrared spectrometer to collect the light from the permanently shadowed regions in wavelengths that are indicative of water frost.”
The Resource Prospector Mission (RPM)
This mission entails sending a rover to inspect the surface of the moon; the aim is to have a closer look.
The rover will have as mission to map concentrations of hydrogen both at the surface and below the surface of the moon in two different spots.
A neutron spectrometer will be used to measure water concentrations up to 1 meter underground, and a near-infrared spectrometer will be used to measure the water levels on the surface.
The rover would also have a drill enabling it to take samples from one-meter deep into the surface. The volatile components found in the samples would then be identified and their quantities measured.