Zaptec Plasma Lightning Pulses For Ultracompact Space Mining

Shackleton Energy Company (SEC) and Zaptec sign a Memorandum of Understanding to explore how technologies developed by Zaptec for the oil and gas industry can be utilised in lunar mining.

SEC is focusing on building a supply chain for extraction of water ice and minerals from the surface of the Moon, to convert the resources into fuel.

Shackleton Energy believes that the electronic transformer technology developed by Zaptec for the oil and gas industry can be applied to SEC’s lunar mining plans as it reduces size and mass of equipment, which is a primary goal of SECs strategy.

The cost of operations on the lunar surface is sensitive to the size and mass of equipment, SEC is always on the lookout for novel engineering solutions, especially for power systems and extraction that drive the fundamental design of in-space systems.

A potential solution has been developed by Zaptec, a Norwegian company that originated from the oil and gas industry. Zaptec has developed a patented electronic transformer that enables transformation of high voltages and high currents in very small devices, reducing material usage by a factor of 100. Zaptec’s transformer enables plasma lightning pulses to be generated and controlled in very compact, powerful drilling technology. Plasma drilling technology offers the potential to extract water ice at significantly lower power levels compared with traditional mechanical drilling systems.

“Zaptec´s miniature electronic transformer technology can enable significant mass reduction for space infrastructure”, says Jim Keravala, COO of SEC. “We are constantly looking for technologies that reduce size and power requirements for energy efficient operations in free space and on the Moon. It will also be able to power high-voltage plasma drilling technology, adding to Shackleton’s water and mineral extraction equipment.”

“We are already collaborating with NASA and ESA to develop our core technology for operations on asteroids and drilling on Mars. Adding industrial development on the Moon to our objectives is very inspiring and Shackleton Energy Company is a good match for both our technology and ambitions as a company”, says Brage W. Johansen, CEO of Zaptec. “This working relationship will accelerate our technology’s development; sharing competence, skills and strategies in this way may change the industry”, Johansen concludes.

Zaptec develop and manufacture extremely compact, efficient and lightweight switch mode transformers/power supplies from 0.5 to 22 kW and above, having AC (50/60/400 Hz) or DC output.

The company currently offers three-phase 400 VAC 11 kW and single phase 230 VAC 3.6 kW units for use as isolating transformers in stationary or portable applications.

Zaptec deep drilling system capable of reaching a depth of 2 km, deployed from a SpaceX Dragon-class landed capsule. Astronaut shown for scale (Image Credit: Zaptec). Right: An important goal of deep drilling on Mars will be to reach potential underground aquifers to search for any extant life. Image credit: Mars Institute. (Image Credit: Mars Institute. Background diagram: ESA).

Zaptec currently offer their technology through the following products:

1. Three-phase 400VAC 11 kW class II isolating transformer for stationary use in a wall-box.

2. Single phase 230VAC 3.6 kW class II isolating transformer for portable applications with waterproof housing.

3. HV DC power supply 5kW 20 kV for custom applications. This can be series connected

Zaptec’s technology enables transformers to be made with a wide range of sizes and specifications depending on the application.

Innovations and advantages of the offer

* Low mass, less than 0.7 g/W including water- and shockproof housing and cooling system for 3.6 kW system
* Low volume, less than 206 cm3 for 40kV 5 kW system (excluding driver and housing/cooling)
* Efficient, better than 98% efficiency (excluding power for forced cooling, if needed)


Current use: Onshore and offshore, aviation and space

Potential use: Medical applications, energy transfer systems, high power tools and machines.

Description of Zaptec Space Heritage

The new transformer technology was originally developed to power a plasma channel drill for autonomous exploration drilling in underground formations. Plasma channel drilling is promising technology for drilling on planetary objects including the Moon, Mars and asteroids.

There are billions of tons of water ice on the poles of the Moon. Shackleton Energy plans to extract lunar water ice, turn it into rocket fuel and create fuel stations in Earth’s orbit. Just like on Earth you won’t get far on a single tank of gas, what we can do in space today is straight-jacketed by how much fuel we can bring along from the Earth’s surface. Our fuel stations will change how we do business in space and jump-start a multi-trillion dollar industry.

Nextbigfuture previously reported on Shackleton Energy in 2011, when they had a crowdfunding attempt.

Shackleton Energy claims its lunar ice program will cost less than one-tenth of the Apollo program, generates revenue within 4 years and breaks even within 12 years. They claim they can make moon mining happen with $10 billion.

The Economist magazine had a feature on the moon mining effort and Bill Stone. Dr Stone founded the Shackleton Energy Company (SEC) to process water on the Earth’s Moon into oxygen and hydrogen for rocket fuel. It can cost around $16,000 per kilo to send supplies like fuel into low Earth orbit. Transporting fuel to the Moon would cost at least five times as much, says Jeffrey Hoffman, a space-flight expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is familiar with SEC. The ability to produce fuel in space, he thinks, would slash the cost of missions from placing geostationary satellites to interplanetary travel.”


Stone Aerospace is developing a team of robots to hunt for microbial life on one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa. Putting robots on Europa, some 628m kilometres from Earth, would be relatively straightforward—rovers have been placed successfully on Earth’s Moon and on Mars. And NASA’s Galileo spacecraft has laid the groundwork with reconnaissance flights. If Europa harbours life, it is most likely to be in a dark ocean sealed by an ice cap kilometres thick.

To investigate how to get below that ice cap, a team led by Dr Stone is due to arrive on Alaska’s Matanuska glacier in June to begin testing an ice-penetrating robot. This would disgorge swimming robots, which Stone Aerospace is developing, into Europa’s ocean. One model, DepthX, has been built with $5m from NASA and help from groups including Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Texas, Austin, and Southwest Research Institute, a Texas-based R and D organisation.

Late in 2015 a new NASA-funded Stone Aerospace robot, named ARTEMIS, will swim under Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf to scan for life with a deep-ultraviolet laser that induces fluorescence in microbes. It will also map the shelf’s underside to help calibrate the airborne ice-penetrating radar that NASA’s proposed Europa Clipper mission would use to measure ice thickness as it flies close to the surface. The ice may be tens of kilometres thick in some areas, so identifying the thinnest spots for the penetrator to get through is important. Even then, building the robot will be the most technologically daunting aspect, says Bart Hogan, Stone Aerospace’s chief engineer.

SOURCES – Shackleton Energy, Economist magazine