The Resource Prospector (RP) is an In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) technology demonstration mission being developed by the NASA Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate’s (HEOMD) within the Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) Division. The mission will demonstrate volatiles prospecting and extraction from lunar regolith to validate an ISRU capability. The mission will address key Strategic Knowledge Gaps (SKGs) for robotic and human exploration to the Moon, Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs), and ultimately Mars, as well as meet the strategic goals of the Global Exploration Roadmap (GER), offered by the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG).
Overview: RP will provide knowledge to inform the selection of future mission destinations, support the development of exploration systems, and reduce the risk associated with human exploration. Expanding human presence beyond low-Earth orbit to asteroids and Mars will require the maximum possible use of local materials, so-called in-situ resources. The moon presents a unique destination to conduct robotic investigations that advance ISRU capabilities, as well as providing significant exploration and science value. Lunar regolith contains useful resources such as water, Oxygen, silicon, and light metals, like aluminum and titanium. Oxygen can be harvested from the trapped water in the regolith for life support (breathable air), or be used to create rocket propellant (oxidizer). Regolith can be used to protect against radiation exposure, be processed into solar cells, or used to manufacture construction materials such as bricks and glass. RP will characterize the constituents and distribution of water and other volatiles at the poles of the Moon, enabling innovative uses of local resources, in addition to validating ISRU capabilities. This capability will be valuable as a potential resource to harvest in support of missions to near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) and Mars.
In order to reduce risk and explore system designs, the RP project attempted a two-fold approaches to development as it looked towards flight. Flight planning continued by defining requirements, interface definitions and developing partnerships, but we also used FY2015 to define, develop, build and test an earth-terrestrial prototype rover and payload system – a mission-in-a-year. This terrestrial prototype, called “RP15”, was built to both inform the system design, and to be a partnership advocacy tool for this unique mission. Currently RP is continuing to reduce overall mission risk with component prototyping, testing and mission design (e.g., concept of operations and traverse planning). This presentation will review recent RP efforts, current status and plans.