Colaprete, Anthony - Resource Prospector: A lunar volatiles prospecting and ISRU demonstration mission

Over the last decade, a wealth of new observations of the moon has demonstrated a lunar water system dramatically more complex and rich than was deduced following the Apollo era. A variety of observations have indicated several possible reservoirs of water and other volatiles.  These volatiles, and in particular water, have the potential to be a valuable or enabling resource for future exploration.  NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) is supporting the development of the Resource Prospector Mission (RPM) to explore the distribution and concentration of lunar volatiles prospecting and to demonstrate In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU). The mission includes the RESOLVE (Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen & Lunar Volatile Extraction) payload, a NASA developed rover, and a lander will most likely be a contributed element by an international partner or the Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (CATALYST) initiative.  The RESOLVE payload is designed to: (1) locate near-subsurface volatiles, (2) excavate and analyze samples of the volatile-bearing regolith, and (3) demonstrate the form, extractability and usefulness of the materials.  RPM is being designed with thought given to its extensibility to resource prospecting and ISRU on other airless bodies and Mars.

Temperature models and orbital data suggest near surface volatile concentrations may exist at briefly lit lunar polar locations outside persistently shadowed regions.  A solar-powered lunar rover could be remotely operated at some of these locations for the 4-15 days of expected sunlight at relatively low cost. Given the rather short duration for which this lunar mission is being designed, prospecting for sites of interest needs to occur near real-time, making this much different than a Mars rover mission.  To help map and locate potential water/ice and hydrogen-bearing compounds, RESOLVE incorporates two analytical instruments:  neutron and near infrared (NIR) spectrometers.  The neutron spectrometer will be used to sense hydrogen down to concentrations as low as 0.5WT% to a depth of approximately 80 cm.  The NIR spectrometer, which includes its own light source, will look at surface reflectance for signatures of bound H2O/OH and general mineralogy and can be used in concert with a camera and drilling auger.  Once an area of interest is identified by the neutron and/or NIR spectrometers, the option to capture drill cuttings is considered.  The auger drill can excavate samples to a depth of 100 cm. Captured samples are analyzed for volatile content using an oven to heat the sample and a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer/NIR spectrometer system to determine composition and amount.  An ISRU demonstration of hydrogen reduction is also planned, which has the ability to extract oxygen from iron oxide in the lunar regolith to produce water.  This process provides an alternative resource capability to polar volatiles

This presentation will describe the Resource Prospector mission, the payload and measurements, and concept of operations.