• Mars ISRU demonstrations. Through Mars robotic missions, NASA should explore the potential for utilizing near-surface ice deposits. Likewise, robotic exploration missions to Mars should include capabilities, such as drills and surface geophysical sensors that can determine the amounts of ice and its accessibility to possible future human explorers. Demonstrating the feasibility of propellant production on Mars at an early stage in exploration can influence the later stages of robotic exploration. For example, robotic sample return missions could be made more effective if martian propellants were available.
• Sample return missions to carbonaceous near-Earth asteroids to define their potential for resource extraction and utilization. Prior to such missions, it is important to understand both the composition of the resources and the physical environment in which they exist.
Summary of Enabling Science and Technologies for Space
Resource Extraction, Processing, and Utilization
The following exploration technologies that are important to space resource extraction, processing, and utilization would benefit from near-term R&D.
2020 and Beyond: Required
Lunar Oxygen Extraction System. A lunar oxygen extraction system would replenish life support system consumables and would be a critical first step in local resource utilization for larger-scale uses, such as a propellant production facility. Key supporting technologies should be developed to support an oxygen production system, including technologies to enable excavation, fluid handling, cryogenic transfer, and zero-boiloff cryogenic storage. Research will be required to develop techniques to mitigate environmental challenges (dust, repeated transfers to and from vacuum). A lunar oxygen extraction system will require an integrated research program to develop needed technologies, test them in lunar analog facilities (vacuum, field analog facilities), and conduct robotic demonstration missions to the Moon, potentially as piggy-back experiments on science exploration missions. (T24)
ISRU Capability Planning. Exploration missions should be conducted to the polar regions of the Moon and to Mars to delineate the resources that can be available at potential landing sites in order to properly plan ISRU capability development. The distribution and accessibility of water or hydrogen near the lunar poles and the delineation of ice on Mars as potential resources are important ISRU objectives and should be coordinated with scientific exploration missions to these targets. Water extraction from the lunar polar regolith will require fundamental research on physical properties and flow processes of the water-bearing material at cryogenic temperature. In addition, exploration for resources and development and demonstration of ISRU technology should be incorporated, as feasible, in relevant robotic missions. Two examples are (1) a Mars sample return mission that includes demonstration of the extraction of propellant from the martian atmosphere, and (2) robotic exploration missions to characterize near-Earth asteroids and return samples that would demonstrate their potential resource value. Finally, expansion of technical capabilities such as improved power production and storage and development of in-space propellant depots will improve the potential for utilizing off-Earth resources. Fundamental research is needed to provide a sound basis for how grain size, shape, and composition affect the transfer of cryogenic granular materials into continuous-process systems in reduced gravity and pressurized reactors. The uniqueness of the materials being processed and their low pressure, reduced gravity, and other special conditions will require new predictive physical models. (T25)
This section covers the principal technologies and sciences necessary to plan, develop, deploy, construct, and maintain habitats, rovers, and other engineering systems related to construction on the surface of the Moon or Mars. Surface construction is a challenging task, given the harsh and isolated nature of the lunar and Mars environments, with their great temperature differentials, reduced gravity, partial or no atmospheric pressure, high