NASA Invests In Long-Term Stay On Moon And Asteroid Mining


Illustration of the Skylight mission concept, a 2019 NIAC Phase III.

William Whittaker, Carnegie Mellon University

NASA has expressed plans to return to the moon in the next decade and this time we might be there to stay.

The space agency is looking to have a more permanent presence in space and possibly on the moon’s landing itself. The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program is working on developing new technologies that will help mankind survive the temperatures and atmosphere of the moon.

The project is coming from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, which provides financial backing to proposals of theoretical ideas. Each project is at the most advanced stage of development NIAC has offered to date, Phase III, and will receive up to $2 million to outline the mission concept, according to a statement released by NASA.

“This is the first year NASA offered a NIAC Phase III opportunity, and there were many strong proposals,” Jason Derleth, NIAC program executive, said in the statement. “We selected two proposals because we think both of the technologies could positively impact the industry. We are excited that these technology concepts could help humanity explore space in new ways.”

The first proposal comes from Robotic professor, William Whittaker, from Carnegie Mellon University for a program called Skylight to develop accurate modeling of craters on the surface of the moon. Currently, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has been mapping the moon for the past decade, but with the proposed technology it would use high-resolution cameras on a rover to create full 3D models of craters.

With these models, it can help determine which craters are best suited for human exploration and which ones would be more suitable to send rovers instead. The system could also identify ice in the shadows. NASA has expressed the need to explore more into the ice that lives on the moon’s surface because water is such a valuable resource for future human settlements and would reduce what astronauts need to bring from Earth.

The other proposal is for the mining of asteroids in space. In a project known as “Mini Bee” created by Joel Sercel, founder and CEO of TransAstra Corpthey, they are going to explore using solar to power their mining operations. The method is called optical mining and will concentrate sunlight onto the asteroid, wearing away the surface and any generated debris, and be eventually collected in an inflatable bag to be taken back for research purposes.

At the moment, these technologies are just in a proposal and will need time to test. The hope is to land on the moon by 2024 and collect information from these that will help with plans for the missions to Mars.

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