Space Miners Want to Blow Up the Moon's Surface to Harvest Water

And it could could happen in the year 2023.
Brad Bergan
A rover descending from Masten's lunar lander.Masten Space Systems / YouTube

We already use rockets to reach the moon, but soon we may use them to mine it for water.

Three companies, including Lunar Outpost, Honeybee Robotics, and Masten Space Systems, are developing a novel system aimed at mining water ice from the moon with rockets, according to a blog post shared on Masten's official website.

And it could happen in the year 2023.

Water ice-mining system could cover 12 moon craters per day

The moon's polar regions are thought to contain the most abundant deposits of water ice, especially in the shadowy bottom of larger craters. If future astronauts can harvest this precious material, we might have a shot at building a permanent human settlement on the moon, according to NASA authorities and space travel enthusiasts. More than keep astronauts alive, mining water ice from the lunar surface will enable us to break it down into hydrogen and oxygen, which are the primary ingredients for rocket fuel. In other words, water ice on the moon could also fuel spacecraft on their way into deep space like a cosmic pit stop.

To drive mining technology forward, NASA issued the "Break the Ice Lunar Challenge," which aims to provide $500,000 to the most enticing resource-harvesting concepts amid the first phase, which will end soon, the winners of which will be announced August 13. One of the first prize-hopefuls is the Masten-Lunar Outpost-Honeybee Robotics group, pushing forward its Rocket Mining System to use a rocket engine equipped on a 1,800-lb (818-kg) rover. Once the rover moves to an area rich in water ice, the engine will activate, firing lunar gravel and dirt into a low-pressure device capable of sifting the ice from the moon rocks. "This system is projected to mine up to 12 craters per day and produce 100 kg (220 lbs) of ice per crater," said representatives of Masten in the blog post.

Multiple nations aim to settle the moon

All water ice retrieved from the moon can also fuel rocket engines, enabling the system to function for more than five years. If this concept surpasses all competitors, the rocket mining system will probably get there via a Masten lunar lander. Masten's first mission to the moon's surface will employ its XL-1 lander, and is slated to launch in 2023 atop SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket. If all goes well, this launch will also lift NASA experiments, in addition to several commercial payloads, to the south polar region of the moon.

Lunar Outpost would design and build the rover for the Rocket Mining System, with Honeybee Robotics employing its PlanetVac technology to extract and move the lunar ice. In short, these are very interesting times for the exploration of space. In addition to NASA and related commercial projects, China and Russia plan to jointly build a permanent settlement on the moon, with the former also recently unveiling long-term plans to do the same on Mars. But we wouldn't call this a space race, not necessarily. There's more to be learned from a spirit of friendly collaboration and mutual support than ever before, in the coming decades.

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