Credit: International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG)

The European Space Agency (ESA) and Russia are working together to investigate the Moon’s resources – specifically water ice and other volatiles at the lunar poles.

Called the Package for Resource Observation and in-Situ Prospecting for Exploration, Commercial exploitation and Transportation (PROSPECT), this package will access and assess potential resources on the Moon and to prepare technologies that may be used to extract these resources in the future.

Credit: ESA

PROSPECT is a lunar drilling and sample analysis package provided by ESA to Russia’s Luna 27 mission, designed to operate at the surface of the Moon in 2022 – 2023, according to ESA. PROSPECT will enter its detailed design (Phase C) at the start of 2019.

ESA on August 10 released an Announcement of Opportunity, open to scientists working in ESA member states, for membership in the PROSPECT science team.

Credit: ESA

The Luna 27 mission is being orchestrated by the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, a lander expected to touch down at the Moon’s South Pole–Aitken basin, an unexplored area on the far side of the Moon.

Drill, laboratory

As a package of gear, PROSPECT’s drill is called ProSEED. It will drill beneath the surface in the South Pole region of the Moon and extract samples, expected to contain water ice and other chemicals that can become trapped at the extremely low temperatures expected; typically -150 °C beneath the surface to lower than -200 °C in some areas.

Credit: ESA

Samples taken by the drill will then be passed to a chemical laboratory dubbed ProSPA. Once lunar specimens are in the lab they will be heated to extract cold-trapped volatiles. Thermochemical processes, at temperatures of up to 1000 °C, can then be used to further extract chemical species, including oxygen. This will test processes that could be applied for resource extraction in the future.

Extractability?

Cold-trapped volatiles at the lunar poles are potential resources for human exploration and provide a record of volatiles in the inner Solar System. However, we do not understand their origins, distribution, abundance, extractability, or the processes that put volatiles in place within the Earth-Moon system.

Credit: ESA

A volatile is a substance that changes readily from solid or liquid to a vapor.

Global effort

This investigation is part of a global effort to coordinate prospecting activities at the lunar poles where extreme cold conditions can trap water ice. Space exploration planners see these resources as enabling sustainable space exploration, but much remains unknown.

Luna 27 is part of a grander roster of Moon orbiters, landers, rovers and return sample spacecraft provided by Russia’s Roscosmos.

Reportedly, Luna 25 is planned to be launched very soon, perhaps next year. ESA’s contribution to Luna 25 includes PILOT-D, a demonstrator terrain relative navigation system that acts as a precursor to PILOT, which is the navigation and hazard detection and avoidance system included on Luna 27. Also in the works, Luna 26 in 2022, Luna 27 in 2022-2023, Luna 28 in 2024, and Lunas 29-31 in 2026.

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Griffith Observatory Event