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American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

    2017-2018 Undergraduate Team Space Design – Robotic Lunar Crater Resource Prospecting

    Robotic Lunar Crater Resource Prospecting

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    Schedule

    • Letter of Intent submitted via online submission site – 10 February 2018 (11:59 p.m. Eastern Time)
    • Proposal submitted via online submission site – 10 May 2018 (11:59 p.m. Eastern Time)
    • Announcement of Winners (via email) – 31 August 2018 (11:59 pm Eastern Time)

     

    Background
    NASA is designing crewed exploration missions to beyond low-Earth orbit destinations. These missions utilize an incremental buildup of technologies and elements starting in cis-lunar space, continuing to Near-Earth Asteroids followed by the Martian moons, and finishing on the surface of Mars. Any campaign of crewed exploration missions requires large quantities of resources to enable the crew to successfully live and explore away from Earth. These resources can either be delivered from Earth to in-space aggregation locations with existing or emerging launch systems, or they can be extracted from other celestial bodies. The most coveted resource to support crewed exploration missions is water.

    Water covers approximately 70% of the Earth’s surface and is the most important resource to sustaining life. Many NASA science missions to other planetary bodies have an explicit goal of searching for water. For crewed missions, water is the cornerstone of the environmental control and life support system for the crew. In addition, water can be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen molecules to provide propellant for the propulsion systems. The discovery and utilization of water from in-situ locations could potentially increase the performance and reduce the cost of exploration missions, relative to reliance on delivery from Earth.

    The second phase in NASA's exploration plan is to establish systems in the cis-lunar "Proving Ground." Cis-lunar space will be utilized for exploration element aggregation and will serve as a gateway to exploration destinations. This makes the Moon an excellent potential location for in-situ resource collection in support of exploration missions. Several lunar probes, including Japan's Kaguya[1], India's Chandrayaan[2], and NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter[3], have shown evidence of water on the lunar surface. The highest concentration of water is likely to be in the polar regions and in deep impact craters; these areas are subjected to less solar heating that would otherwise vaporize the water. Prior to designing an in-situ resource utilization system, robotic missions are needed to evaluate the quantity and accessibility of water on the Moon.

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