In-Situ Resource Extraction
Mankind is beginning to explore beyond Low Earth Orbit (the International Space Station is an example of a spacecraft in low earth orbit). Until now, we have always had to include all of the resources, such as water and fuel that will be needed on a mission in the spacecraft when we launch from Earth. When a mission is launched from the Earth, the majority of energy is expended just breaking through the Earth’s atmosphere and the heavier the vehicle, the more energy consumed. It is very expensive to launch each ounce of resources needed. To use a very simple analogy, consider the value of 1 litre of water on Earth. That same 1 litre on the International Space Station (ISS) is worth approximately $25,000 when the cost of transport is factored in. On the Moon – $250,000. On Mars – much, much more. As we explore further and further from earth, it will become even more important that we find ways to extract the resources we need at our destination and not rely on carrying everything from earth.
For resources like water; we are in luck. Ice has been detected on both poles of the Moon, and on Mars. People ask “Why do you need water in space?” The answer is threefold. One, water supports life as a drinking source. Two, by breaking it down, it supplies oxygen to breathe. Lastly, by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, you can create the most powerful propellant known to man.
NASA has had a mission – Resource Prospector Mission (RPM) – on its mission list since 2000. They recognize that in-situ resource extraction is critical for space exploration. Because Canada has a rich heritage and considerable expertise in mining and because Canadian companies, including Neptec and Sudbury’s Deltion, have developed technology that could be used to extract resources on the moon or Mars, NASA has invited Canada (through the Canadian Space Agency) to participate in the mission by providing a drilling system. Canada has not yet decided whether it will participate.
With the provision of drill technology, Canada can continue to enjoy its position as the preeminent mining jurisdiction on Earth, while securing a leadership role in space mining for the future.
For more information on NASA’s Resource Prospector mission, click here.