The Technology Transfer and Partnerships Office
Handling of Resources in Space
Description: auger_convey_mock-up_iso

Regolith transport technologies in field test demonstrations (Credit: Kennedy Space Center / Johnson Space Center):
Above – Auger regolith conveying and feed system to reactors

Below – rover-mounted excavator

ROxygen I Oxygen Production Plant with an Inclined Auger RFS being Field Tested on Mauna Kea Volcano in Hawaii (2010)

The discovery and identification of a specific resource in space drives the need to access and acquire it. A specialized set of technologies is being developed as the ones that handle the indigenous resource in its unaltered state and its environment. These technologies are the first to engage the material and start it's processing.

The handling of regolith and mineral materials includes a wide range of activities; drilling into soils and rocks, excavation of loose or compacted soils and icy regolith, transporting, conveying, sorting such materials, as well as mineral enrichment methods. Building on the heritage of terrestrial mining and soil handling technologies, the space technologies must adapt to the very difficult challenges created on the surface of other planets. On Earth, mining and soil handling use heavy machinery to generate the necessary force against rocks, requiring large amounts of power and water. By design, space missions are limited in power and mass because of the constraints of rocket launches from Earth. This constrains the engineers and scientists to design machinery that are highly efficient in power and mass. It also drives them to innovate to achieve the required forces in challenging environments where water is mostly absent in sufficient quantities and under extreme temperature swings that strain the mechanisms.

Gas atmospheres are a very attractive resource for a space mission because they are much more accessible than solid materials. Once found on a planet, its atmosphere can be captured and processed at any location. These capture technologies face the same challenges of limited power and severe pressure and temperature environments as those handling regolith. They also must deal with the chemical nature and reactivity of gas components.

Description: Tunnel boring Machine (US Air Force)

Tunnel Boring Machine used by US Air Force in Nevada.
Source: U.S. Department of Energy