The technology needed for mining water ice on the moon and converting it into fuel is pretty straight forward. Various groups are already making the actual needed hardware. Paragon Space Development and Giner are already making key pieces of what is needed. If we are making large amounts of fuel on the moon then we are massively lowering the cost of all missions in space. The cost of anything from higher earth orbit and beyond becomes several times cheaper.
After the D-day invasion, the Allies made a temporary port. We need to move beyond thinking science missions to working on logistics and supply chains.
Processing Water into Fuel
After water is extracted from the Permanently Shadowed Regions (PSR) of the Moon, it is processed to purify and electrolyze the water into hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O2). Paragon Space Development Corporation (Paragon) and its partner Giner, Inc. (Giner) are developing the ISRU-derived water purification and Hydrogen Oxygen Production (IHOP) subsystem through a recently awarded NASA Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships-2 (NextSTEP)-2 Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) contract. Paragon’s Ionomer-membrane Water Processing (IWP) technology is optimized to perform primary water purification for this ISRU application. The purified water receives final polishing and is then electrolyzed using a Giner static feed water electrolyzer to produce H2 and O2 propellant.
The Systems Analysis of the Moon Mine Has Been Performed by Metzger
The best estimate of lunar PSR (Permanently Shadowed Region) water ice content comes from the LCROSS mission at 5.5wt% ice, while other estimates put the ice content at 10wt% and the most pessimistic estimates put it at 1wt%. This suggests that the thermal mining process should be situated at a location with more than 4wt% ice. Recent re-analysis of mission data found areas with over 30% ice. At 30% ice, the power needed to sublimate icy regolith material is 33% less than the power needed at 4% ice and is only 10% greater than the power needed to sublimate pure ice.
There should be plenty of spots where we can mine lunar ice at the polar regions using about 370 kilowatts of power to produce 2450 tons per year. This would make 1640 tons of propellant per year.
At 30% ice, we can mine an area of about 2.5 acres a year to get 1640 tons of propellant per year.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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