The Technology Transfer and Partnerships Office
Extraction Of Resources In Space
Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatile Extraction

This lunar crater image from the M3
mapper shows water-rich minerals in blue. (Image credit: NASA/Brown University)

In the same way that explorers of our own planet have relied on finding what they needed to survive in the unknown environment they traversed, a deep space mission must view its environment as a set of resources to be exploited. Space resources come in many states of matter and energy; from vacuum and rarefied atmospheres to dense soils and regoliths and from the thermal energy of solar radiation to the magnetic fields of planets.

Many resources are extremely valuable to support the life of human crews or to expand the capability of the mission to repair or replace critical components at location without calling for a life-saving resupply from Earth. Oxygen, water, and inert gases are examples of high value resources for life support. Metals, pure or alloyed, glass, ceramics and simple hydrocarbons are sought after to fabricate new parts or complete repairs.

Extraction technologies are developed to transform resources of high value that are often found buried in planetary regolith or chemically bound in complex minerals or in gas mixtures in atmospheres. The molecules and elements of interest must be extracted from their indigenous form by processes adapted for their surrounding environment.

Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatile Extraction

Deposits of ice of water and carbon
dioxide in the South polar cap of Mars have been identified by European Space Agency's OMEGA instrument on board ESA's Mars Express. (Image credit: ESA - DLR - FU Berlin)