NASA and Lunar Mining & Construction Activities and Plans
CIM Toronto 2009
Kurt Sackstede, William Larson,
The Space Exploration Policy enacted by the US Congress in 2005 calls for the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to implement a sustained and affordable human and robotic program to explore the solar system and beyond; Extend human presence across the solar system, starting with a human return to the Moon by the year 2020, in preparation for human exploration of Mars and other destinations; Develop the innovative technologies, knowledge, and infrastructures both to explore and to support decisions about the destinations for human exploration; and Promote international and commercial participation in exploration to further U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests. In 2006, NASA released the Lunar Architecture Study, which proposed establishing a lunar Outpost on the Moon with international participation to extend human presence beyond Earth’s orbit, pursue scientific activities, use the Moon to prepare for future human missions to Mars, and expand Earth’s economic sphere. The establishment of sustained human presence on the Moon for science and exploration combines the design, integration, and operation challenges experienced from both the short Apollo lunar missions and the build-up and sustained crew operations of the International Space Station (ISS). Apollo experience reminds developers and mission planners that hardware must operate under extremely harsh environmental and abrasive conditions and every kilogram of mass and payload must be critical to achieve the mission’s objectives due to the difficulty and cost of reaching the lunar surface. Experience from the ISS reminds developers and mission planners that integration of all hardware must be designed and planned from the start of the program, operations and evolution of capabilities on a continuous basis are important, and long-term life-cycle costs and logistical needs are equally or more important than minimizing early development and test costs. Overarching all of this is the need to implement efforts that are sustainable and affordable. One area NASA is developing that can significantly change how systems required for sustained human presence are designed and integrated, as well as potentially break our reliance on Earth supplied logistics, is In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU). ISRU, also known “living off the land”, involves the extraction and processing of local resources into useful products. In particular, the ability to make propellants, life support consumables, fuel cell reagents, and radiation shielding can significantly reduce the cost, mass, and risk of sustained human activities beyond Earth. Also, the ability to modify the lunar landscape for safer landing, transfer of payloads from the lander an outpost, dust generation mitigation, and infrastructure placement and buildup are also extremely important for long-term lunar operations. While extra-terrestrial excavation, material handling and processing, and site preparation and construction may be new to NASA and other space agencies, there is extensive terrestrial hardware and commercial experience that can be leveraged. This paper will provide an overview of current NASA activities in lunar ISRU mining and construction and how terrestrial experience in these areas are important to achieving the goal of affordable and sustainable human exploration.