In preparation for the upcoming Artemis missions to the lunar south pole, NASA recently solicited a Request for Information (RFI) from the lunar community to map out its future Lunar Infrastructure Foundational Technologies (LIFT-1) demonstration for developing In-situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) technologies as part of the agency’s ambitious Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative (LSII). The primary goal of LIFT-1, which is being driven by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), is to advance ISRU technologies for extracting oxygen from the lunar regolith, including manufacturing, harnessing, and storing the extracted oxygen for use by future astronauts on the lunar surface. Proposals for LIFT-1 became available to be submitted via NSPIRES on November 6, 2023, with a deadline of December 18, 2023.Continue reading “NASA Wants to Learn to Live Off the Land on the Moon”
Throughout the 20th century, multiple proposals have been made for the crewed exploration of Mars. These include the famed “Mars Project” by Werner von Braun, the “Mars Direct” mission architecture by Robert Zubrin and David Baker, NASA’s Mars Design Reference Mission studies, and SpaceX’s Mars & Beyond plan. By 2033, two space agencies (NASA and the CNSA) plan to commence sending crews and payloads to the Red Planet. These and other space agencies envision building bases there that could eventually lead to permanent settlements and the first “Martians.”
This presents several major challenges, not the least of which have to do with exposure to radiation, extreme temperatures, dust storms, low atmospheric pressure, and lower gravity. However, with the right strategies and technology, these challenges could be turned into opportunities for growth and innovation. In a recent paper, a Leiden University researcher offers a roadmap for a Martian settlement that leverages recent advancements in technology and offers solutions that emphasize sustainability, efficiency, and the well-being of the settlers.Continue reading “A Comprehensive Blueprint for the Settlement of Mars”
Between now and the mid-2030s, multiple space agencies hope to send crewed missions to the Moon. of These plans all involve establishing bases around the Moon’s southern polar region, including the Artemis Base Camp and the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS). These facilities will enable a “sustained program of lunar exploration and development,” according to the NASA Artemis Program mission statement. In all cases, plans for building facilities on the surface call for a process known as In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), where local resources are used as building materials.
This presents a bit of a problem since not all lunar soil (regolith) is well-suited for construction. Much like engineering and construction projects here on Earth, builders need to know what type of soil they are building on and if it can be used to make concrete. In a recent study, planetary scientist Kevin M. Cannon proposed a lunar soil classification scheme for space resource utilization. This could have significant implications for future missions to the Moon, where it would help inform the construction of bases, habitats, and other facilities based on soil type and location.Continue reading “Some Lunar Regolith is Better for Living Off the Land on the Moon”
New technologies utilizing material found in space are constantly popping up, sometimes from smaller companies and sometimes from larger ones. Back in 2020, one of the largest companies of them all announced a technology that could have significant implications for the future lunar exploration missions planned over the next ten years. The European aerospace giant Airbus developed the Regolith to OXYgen and Metals Conversion (ROXY) system.Continue reading “Airbus Developed a System To Extract Oxygen and Metal From Lunar Regolith”
NASA and the China National Space Agency (CNSA) plan to mount the first crewed missions to Mars in the next decade. These will commence with a crew launching in 2033, with follow-up missions launching every 26 months to coincide with Mars and Earth being at the closest point in their orbits. These missions will culminate with the creation of outposts that future astronauts will use, possibly leading to permanent habitats. In recent decades, NASA has conducted design studies and competitions (like the 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge) to investigate possible designs and construction methods.
For instance, in the Mars Design Reference Architecture 5.0, NASA describes a “commuter” architecture based on a “centrally located, monolithic habitat” of lightweight inflatable habitats. However, a new proposal envisions the creation of a base using organisms that extract metals from sand and rock (a process known as biomineralization). Rather than hauling construction materials or prefabricated modules aboard a spaceship, astronauts bound for Mars could bring synthetic bacteria cultures that would allow them to grow their habitats from the Red Planet itself.Continue reading “Instead of Building Structures on Mars, we Could Grow Them With the Help of Bacteria”
In-situ resource utilization is a hot topic these days in space exploration circles, and scientists and engineers have had a great advantage of getting access to new materials from bodies on the solar system that either have never been seen before, such as asteroids or haven’t been visited in decades, such as the moon. Recently, China’s Chang’e 5 brought back the first sample of lunar regolith to Earth in almost 50 years. Using part of that sample, researchers from several Chinese universities have developed an automated system to create rocket fuel and oxygen out of CO2, using the lunar regolith as a catalyst.Continue reading “Researchers Make Rocket Fuel Using Actual Regolith From the Moon”
As Artemis 1 prepares for its maiden launch with the goal of putting astronauts back on the Moon’s surface within the next few years, the next question is how will astronauts live and survive its surface? Will we constantly ferry all the necessary supplies such as water and food from Earth, or could astronauts learn to survive on their own? These are questions that a discipline known as ISRU hopes to answer both now and in the years to come. But what is ISRU, and how will it help advance human space exploration as we begin to slowly venture farther away from the only home we’ve ever known?Continue reading “What is ISRU, and How Will it Help Human Space Exploration?”
Materials science has long taken the lead in space exploration research, and it seems to have been getting even more attention than usual lately. That is especially true for building materials. NASA has funded several new research programs to develop new building materials that can do everything from providing structure to future human habs to landing pads for future reusable rocket missions. Now that second goal is one step closer, thanks to researchers at the University of Delaware.Continue reading “Mars and Moon Dust can be Turned Into Geopolymer Cement. Good Enough for Landing Pads and Other Structures”
Viking’s biochemistry experiments have been among the most hotly debated scientific results of all time. The lander famously collected samples from the Red Planet in 1976, in an experiment called “Label Release.” Scientists watched with bated breath as oxygen was released from the sample after it was subjected to a liquid slurry. They were then left scratching their heads as that oxygen production continued after the sample was sterilized via 160 degree C heat. Scientists now really agree that the oxygen production that Viking noticed was an abiotic process. But that also leads to a potential opportunity as some scientists think we can make oxygen farms out of a system similar to that used on Viking itself.Continue reading “Future Mars Explorers Could be Farming Oxygen From Landscapes Like This”
In situ resource utilization (ISRU) is still a very early science. Therefore, the technology utilized in it could be improved upon. One such technology that created one of the most useful materials for ISRU (oxygen) is MOXIE – the Mars OXygen In-situ Resource Utilization Experiment. A small-scale model of a MOXIE was recently tested on the Perseverance last year. Its primary goal is to create oxygen out of the Martian atmosphere.Continue reading “Mars Explorers are Going to Need air, and Lots of it. Here’s a Technology That Might Help Them Breath Easy”