The objective of Phase I is to mature RocketM prototype hardware designs through two iterations of excavation tests which will demonstrate the effectiveness of the systems icy regolith excavation capability. Ice will be harvested from depths beyond 1m and transported out of the mining dome to simulate transfer to the processing portion of the system. Repeated firings of the rocket engine to excavate, break up, and transport the regolith will be performed to demonstrate the low maintenance capabilities and the ability to transport regolith with minimal melting of the ice. The current system design is based on tested heritage systems such as Masten’s 100 lbf rocket, PSI tests, Aqua Factorem, PlanetVac, and Lunar Outpost rovers.
The RocketM system surpasses the required technical objectives, with the ability to extract 270,000 kg of refined ice in 225 of operation during a calendar year at a rate of 100+ kg/hr. All non-ice particles are sorted and returned to the surface so only ice is included in the delivery to the extraction plant. It can operate in PSR’s, scale steep slopes and harvest its own energy through ice mining, electrolysis, and fuel cells. It generates its own rocket propellants through electrolysis as well.
Rocket Mining provides direct benefit to NASA objectives and significant mission infusion potential. The capability to efficiently mine lunar resources for water will help enable NASA’s sustained presence on the moon and in deep space, Gateway, and Mars. The water and volatiles mined may be usable as consumables for life support systems and astronaut use. Enough water will be available so that it may be used for radiation shielding at Gateway.
Non-NASA customers for lunar water or propellant include ULA, which has committed to purchase water either on the lunar surface or in LEO. Additional customers would include SpaceX, which has public plans to go to Mars. With the 200-300% cost savings provided by acquiring water and propellant in earth orbit compared to launching multiple refueling missions.