Robotically surveying lunar craters and mining resources in space for a sustained human presence at the Moon are the goals for NASA’s new Innovative Advanced Concepts program.
“We are pursuing new technologies across our development portfolio that could help make deep space exploration more Earth-independent by utilising resources on the Moon and beyond,” Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, told SFcrowsnest. “These NIAC Phase III selections are a component of that forward-looking research and we hope new insights will help us achieve more firsts in space.”
“This is the first year NASA offered a NIAC Phase III opportunity, and there were many strong proposals,” added Jason Derleth, NIAC program executive. “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 new proposals outline an aerospace architecture, including a mission concept, that’s innovative and could change what’s possible in space.
Robotic Technologies to explore Lunar Pits.
This mission concept, called Skylight, proposes technologies to survey and model lunar craters. This mission would use high-resolution images to create 3D model of craters. The data would be used to determine whether a crater can be explored by human or robotic missions.
The information could also be used to find ice on the Moon, a crucial capability for the sustained surface operations of NASA’s Artemis program.
Mini Bee Prototype Mining Technology.
This mission concept proposes a method of asteroid resource harvesting called optical mining.
Optical mining is an approach for excavating an asteroid and extracting water and other volatiles into an inflatable bag. Called Mini Bee, the mission concept aims to prove optical mining, in conjunction with other innovative spacecraft systems, can be used to obtain propellant in space.
The proposed architecture includes resource prospecting, extraction and delivery.