VIDEO: NASA'S NEXT LUNAR ROVER IS SET TO DRILL IN SEARCH OF ICEDate: 2017-12-31
It has been decades since humans set foot on the moon, but we could be going back as part of a push into the outer solar system.
Scientists have thought of the moon as a launchpad for deep space missions since NASA confirmed water ice exists in the crater there. It is important before we can set up camp, that we know how much water there is and where it is. That will be the goal of NASA's Resource Prospector, a rover that started getting more attention as its expected launch in the early 2020s.
To the human eye, the moon is simply a crated chunk of lifeless rock, but 2009 satellite studies confirmed ice in the permanent shadows of some craters. If there's water there, there might be more of it hiding beneath the surface. A source of water on the moon could support a manned based (portable water and breathable oxygen) while also serving as a source of hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel.
NASA hopes that the Resource Prospector rover will be the first mining mission on the lunar surface. The vehicle is equipped with a drill and small internal science lab equipped to analyze samples taken from as much as one meter deep. After the samples are extracted, the rover deposits them in the mini-lab, where it heats them to analyze the composition. It will be able to determine if there's water ice under the lunar surface as well as other compounds like ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide.
The best result would be to find large blocks or veins of ice on the moon that could be mined out easily for use in life support or fuel. However small spaces of ice scattered throughout the regolith would be much harder to harvest.
NASA is currently targeting 2022 or 2023 for the launch of the Resource Prospector.