Video Credit: Florida Today

NASA is undertaking a possible rover mission that will hunt for large quantities of water on the lunar surface. NASA’s Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatile Extraction (RESOLVE) project is aimed at developing and testing methods and protocols for in situ resource utilization (ISRU).

Development of the experiment package, initiated in 2005, supported lunar robotic precursor missions that could be flown to the rim or into a permanently shadowed crater with the objective of answering these questions surrounding elevated hydrogen at the lunar poles: What is it? How much is there? How deep or distributed is it?

To do this, a drill takes a core sample at least 1 meter deep, crushes and heats sample segments from the core in an oven, and monitors the amount and type of volatile gases that evolve with a gas chromatograph (GC) as the sample rises in temperature.

RESOLVE also selectively captures both hydrogen gas and water as a secondary method of quantification. A specialized camera that is coupled with a Raman spectrometer allows core samples to be microscopically examined while also determining their mineral composition and possible water content before heating.

Because RESOLVE will also demonstrate capabilities and techniques that might be later used for ISRU, a large multiuse oven is also incorporated that will introduce known quantities of hydrogen at elevated temperatures to demonstrate a method for extracting oxygen from lunar regolith.

Much of this proposed mission stems from LRO’s recent moon-mapping mission, which detected thick pockets of water ice in areas that are never exposed to the sun. Water is essential to produce oxygen to breathe and cool spacecraft and equipment.

“Seventy-five percent or more of the vehicle is propellant. And if I didn’t have to take all of that with me, I can save an awful lot on launch costs. Not having to carry the mass of the water with you everywhere you go is really important. It would reduce the mass and size of our launch vehicles, and thereby drop the cost of the missions,” explained NASA project manager William Larson.

NASA will be conducting field tests in July outside of Hilo, Hawaii, with equipment and concept vehicles that demonstrate how explorers might prospect for resources and make their own oxygen for survival while on other planetary bodies.

At the RESOLVE field campaign in Hawaii, Ames scientists are providing prospecting instrumentation for the field rover (neutron spectrometer and near-infrared spectrometer) and also developing tools and operational concepts for Science Backroom activities.

If a mission is designated, a launch from the Space Coast could happen within the next five or six years.

Posted by: Soderman/NLSI Staff
Source: NASA/Florida Today– http://www.floridatoday.com/article/20120612/SPACE/120612012/NASA-reveals-prototype-new-lunar-rover?odyssey=tab|topnews|text|Home&gcheck=1,&nclick_check=1

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