NASA aims to perform lunar mining trial within 10 years

The US space agency is looking to operate a pilot processing plant for lunar resources by 2032.
Chris Young
The launch of NASA's Artemis I mission.
The launch of NASA's Artemis I mission.

NASA / Bill Ingalls 

NASA's Artemis missions and its upcoming lunar Gateway station project are part of its plans to establish a permanent presence on the Moon.

Key to that will be the extraction of resources from the lunar surface, and NASA has already taken important steps toward mining moon soil by 2032, a scientist said today, June 28, according to a Reuters report.

At the end of the month, the US space agency will perform a key step in its plans by sending a test drill rig to the Moon.

NASA to mine the moon

NASA aims to use its Artemis and Gateway missions as a springboard for the eventual human exploration of Mars. It will also be looking to attract commercial investment in space, and lunar mining is likely to play a key role, according to Gerald Sanders, a rocket scientist at NASA's Johnston Space Center.

Resources that could be mined from the lunar surface include ice water, oxygen, and rare earth metals. Building a mining infrastructure to access these resources will be key to cutting costs for future space missions, Sanders explained.

"We are trying to invest in the exploration phase, understand the resources... to (lower) risk such that external investment makes sense that could lead to development and production," he told a mining conference in Brisbane, according to the Reuters report. "We are literally just scratching the surface," he added.

A 'key step' toward a 'sustainable human presence on the moon'

NASA aims to send a test drill rig to the Moon by the end of this month aboard an Intuitive Machines lander. If all goes according to plan, it hopes to perform a large-scale excavation of lunar soil, also known as regolith, and operate a pilot processing plant in 2032.

The Australian Space Agency is developing a semi-autonomous rover that will extract regolith samples on a NASA mission around the year 2026. The rover will search for lunar soil containing oxygen in the form of oxides. NASA is also developing separate equipment to extract that oxide as oxygen gas on the Moon.

"This ... is a key step towards establishing a sustainable human presence on the moon, as well (as) supporting future missions to Mars," Samuel Webster, an assistant director at the Australian Space Agency said at the same conference.

The first customers for NASA's pilot processing plant will likely be rocket companies that could use the lunar resources for rocket fuel and oxygen.

Recently, US startup Astroforge launched a test satellite into orbit, in order to demonstrate its technology designed for mining near-Earth asteroids. NASA is also on track to send a probe to the asteroid 16 Psyche in October, which some scientists have estimated could contain $700 quintillion in heavy metals.

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