The millions of tons of ice water discovered by the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission is considered to be the most valuable resource on the moon. Extracting this water ice from Lunar regolith would require a very high thermal energy input and inversely, capturing this water vapor in the near-vacuum environment also requires significant cooling capacity. Therefore, it is necessary to develop a robust thermal management system (TMS) for future Lunar Ice Mining Rovers that are powered by radioisotopes. Advanced Cooling Technologies, Inc. (ACT), in collaboration with Honeybee Robotics (HBR), proposes to develop a thermal management system that can strategically use the waste heat of nuclear power sources to sublimate water vapor from icy-soil on the moon and use the Lunar environment temperature as the heat sink to refreeze the sublimated vapor within the cold trap container. This minimizes the required electric energy for both ice extraction and vapor collection, with a lower system mass and footprint. In Phase I, ACT/HBR team will perform a detailed trade study and design multiple thermal components of TMS including a waste heat-based thermal coring drill and a heat pipe radiator cold trap tank. A proof-of-concept prototype will be developed and tested in Phase I. A preliminary full-system that can potentially meet NASA’s mining requirement will be designed and evaluated for the mining efficiency, system mass/volume and power consumption (both electrical and thermal).
The thermal management technology for nuclear-based Lunar Ice Mining vehicle can immediately benefit Lunar In-situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) to acquire water on the moon. Water can be further processed to product Oxygen for life support and/or converted into LH2 and LO2 for spacecraft and satellite refueling. The thermal corer technology can be used to extract water on other planetary bodies such as Mars and Asteroids. Another potential NASA application will be the exploration of Ocean Worlds.
The nature of the power source (radioisotope) that the proposed thermal management technology may reduce its potential for use in non-NASA applications. However, the thermal coring drill may be useful for subsurface exploration and resource in Antarctic and/or Arctic regions.