In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) relies on using local resources for sustaining human presence and robotic operation and in turn reducing burden of transporting supplies from the Earth. In a more conventional ISRU approach, feedstock is mined, transported to a processing plant, and valuable resource is extracted. Planetary Volatiles Extraction (PVEx) is an alternative approach that combines mining and extraction into one step and eliminates energy intensive and time consuming “transport” step. We investigated three PVEx approaches: “Sniffer”, Mobile In Situ Water Extraction (MISWE)/Auger, and Corer. All three are drill based, which helps with penetration of frozen material.
We conducted hundreds of tests inside a vacuum chamber using JSC-1a soil simulant. We found that Sniffer does not work very well, because volatiles tend to escape up the soil and into the vacuum. The MISWE came in second in terms of water extraction efficiency and energy conversion efficiency. The Corer turned out to be the best approach in terms of volatiles extraction and energy efficiencies. The Corer also requires less energy to penetrate subsurface than MISWE using full faced auger, rendering it a more efficient approach in terms of drilling.