NASA has announced its intention to send a mobile robot, the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) to the Moon’s southern pole to identify the location and concentration of water ice in the region.
“The key to living on the Moon is water — the same as here on Earth,” said Daniel Andrews, project manager of the VIPER mission, reports Forbes. “Since the confirmation of lunar water-ice ten years ago, the question now is if the Moon could really contain the amount of resources we need to live off-world.”
Moon water also would make Mars missions more affordable, Mars enthusiasts contend.“Creating space fuel depots would allow spacecraft to travel much farther and allow missions and satellites to sustain operations,” says Karen Panetta, IEEE Fellow, Dean for Graduate Education, Tufts University. “Rather than transporting water into space in heavy loads on rockets, the goal is to extract it (mine it) from the moon and asteroids.”
A refresher: How to get rocket fuel from water. Use electric current (from solar panels or other sources) in a process known as hydrolysis to break down water molecules into oxygen and hdyrogen. The two gasses, when recombined and ignited, will give out the energy they absorbed during the splitting process. The combustion of gases will drive the rocket forward.
There is plenty of water on Earth, but to break free of the planet’s gravity well takes tremendous energy and expense. The supposition is that it would be cheaper to mine water on the Moo with autonomous robots.
Water mining on the Moon, however, will require creation of specialized new industry around on developing reliable autonomous mining techniques for docking, drilling, detecting and repairing equipment. “The robots will use artificial intelligence to gather information and communicate among each other what they learn, so each robot doesn’t have to relearn everything from scratch, but rather, just upgrade their knowledge and data models,” says Panetta.