In large part due to recent discoveries regarding lunar water and other volatiles, the NASA Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) have selected a lunar volatiles prospecting mission for a concept study and potential flight in CY2020. The mission includes a rover-borne payload that (1) can locate surface and near-subsurface volatiles, (2) excavate and analyze samples of the volatile-bearing regolith, and (3) demonstrate the form, extractability and usefulness of the materials.
While it is now understood that lunar water and other volatiles have a much greater extent of distribution, possible forms, and concentrations than previously believed, to fully understand how viable these volatiles are as a resource, the distribution and form needs to be understood at a “human” scale. That is, the “ore body” must be better understood at the scales it would be worked before it can be evaluated as a potential architectural element within any evolvable lunar or Mars campaign. This next step in our evaluation of lunar resources has been captured as a list of Strategic Knowledge Gaps (SKGs). RP is meant to address several key Strategic Knowledge Gaps and provide the next step in evaluating the distribution and form of polar volatiles at scales that may be critical to robotic/human exploration (10s to 1000s of meters).
The Resource Prospector surface segment will be remotely operated at one of these locations based on lighting conditions and terrain navigability. Given the solar illumination and terrain environments in which this lunar mission is being designed, prospecting for sites of interest needs to occur in near real-time. The two instruments which are being used for prospecting are the Neutron Spectrometer System and the NIR Volatile Spectrometer System. Once an area of interest is identified during prospecting the option to map the area in more detail and/or subsurface extraction via drilling is considered. Using the RP drill, the payload can perform a quick assay of drill cuttings for signs if subsurface water/volatiles and/or extract regolith for processing. Processing of the sample will be heated and gases evolved analyzed by a Gas Chromatograph / Mass Spectrometer system. This talk will provide an overview of the RP mission goals and review site analysis and traverse and measurement planning for a study site along the flanks of the north polar crater Erlanger.