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Resource Prospector Receives Advanced Exploration Systems Innovation Award
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Resource Prospector Receives Advanced Exploration Systems Innovation Award

The Resource Prospector (RP) team has received the Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) Innovation Award at the mid-year review at Stennis Space Center. The award recognizes NASA AES innovations that have significant potential to reduce cost, improve safety, and increase the performance capabilities of human space exploration missions. It also rewards the AES workforce for demonstrating ingenuity, determination, resilience, and teamwork in successfully developing these innovations.

Two awards were given out, with RP receiving the highest number of votes from AES Staff and Center point of contacts from around the Agency. This award specifically applauded the team’s achievement with the RP15 activity from concept to build and test, to simulated lunar operations with the Distributed Operations Test, proving a novel way to train and prepare a team for a flight mission.

In 2015, the RP mission was in Pre-Phase-A development, was maturing fundamental technologies, flight concept planning, requirements, and interfaces definition. In addition, the team had been reducing future flight mission risk and further maturing flight system designs by building “RP15.” Dubbed a “mission-in-a-year,” the RP15 prototype rover and payload system was developed in just 12 months, fully capable of prospecting, drilling, and processing materials here on Earth, similar to how RP plans to operate on the Moon.

RP is designed to prospect the lunar surface, create maps of the nature and distribution of volatiles, and even demonstrate processing while on the lunar surface. RP15 enabled early testing of some of these important capabilities required to execute the RP flight mission.

In 2015:

  • The RP15 terrestrial rover cruised over surfaces and slopes analogous to the expected lunar polar regions its flight counterpart will encounter. Although Earth’s force of gravity is six times greater than that of the moon, the RP15 field tests were designed to be very similar to the lunar experience.
  • The RP15 team introduced varying degrees of fidelity, including utilizing lunar regolith simulant and doping the regolith with known volatile concentrations in order to validate that the RP system could properly make relevant measurements.
  • A prototype drill subsystem was included in the RP15 Payload, enabling the rover to perform actual drilling operations. This level of fidelity will enable testing procedures and methods for drilling and capturing cuttings from the drill bit.
  • The RP15 drill acquired samples from as deep as 0.75m, and delivered materials into a sample handling system. The samples were then deposited into the Oxygen and Volatile Extraction Node (OVEN), an important subsystem of the RP payload. OVEN evolves the sample’s volatiles by heating the regolith in a sealed chamber and extracting oxygen and hydrogen from the regolith sample. The OVEN heated the regolith samples to liberate the volatiles for measurement.
  • The Lunar Advanced Volatile Analysis (LAVA) is another important payload subsystem that analyzed the effluent gas/vapor from the OVEN subsystem using a Gas Chromatograph (GC) and Mass Spectrometer (MS) subsystem.
  • In addition to the development and testing of the prototype rover and payload system capabilities, RP15 provided a unique opportunity to validate core mission operations concepts, including waypoint driving with a highly distributed team and maturing mission operation tools through actual use.
  • With the completion of RP15 field tests in August 2015, the RP team had conceptualized, designed, fabricated, and integrated a prototype rover system, setting the stage for extensive testing in 2016, further reducing risk and gaining knowledge leading up to flight.
For additional detail on 2015 activities, see: Resource Prospector 2015 Field Testing Complete

BACKGROUND: Resource Prospector aims to be the first mining expedition on another world. Using a suite of instruments to locate elements from a lunar southern polar region, the planned rover is designed to excavate volatiles such as hydrogen, oxygen, and water from the Moon. Building on the findings of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) missions that proved the existence of water on the Moon, Resource Prospector plans to take the next step to harvest those resources.

For additional information on the mission, see: Resource Prospector

NASA PROGRAM FUNDING: Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) Division, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD)

TI TEAM: Rick Alena, Howard Cannon, Robert Carvalho, Matt Deans, Lorenzo Fluckiger, Terry Fong, Sarah Groves Hobart, Rusty Hunt, Craig Pires, John Schreiner, Mark Shirley, and Jay Trimble

POINT OF CONTACT: Howard Cannon, howard.n.cannon@nasa.gov

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