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The materials found at the surface of the Moon may provide valuable resources to support future exploration missions. This is especially true close to the lunar poles, where extreme cold conditions can trap water ice. These resources could be enabling for sustainable space exploration, but much remains unknown.

The Package for Resource Observation and in-Situ Prospecting for Exploration, Commercial exploitation and Transportation (PROSPECT) is a package to access and assess potential resources on the Moon and to prepare technologies that may be used to extract these resources in the future.

The PROSPECT system concept and its functions. Credit: ESA

PROSPECT's drill (ProSEED) will drill beneath the surface in the South Pole region of the Moon and extract samples, expected to contain water ice and other chemicals that can become trapped at the extremely low temperatures expected; typically -150 °C beneath the surface to lower than -200 °C in some areas.  Samples taken by the drill will then be passed to a chemical laboratory (ProSPA) where they will be heated to extract these cold-trapped volatiles. Thermochemical processes, at temperatures of up to 1000 °C, can then be used to further extract chemical species, including oxygen. This will test processes that could be applied for resource extraction in the future.

Lunar water stability within 1m depth.

The abundance and chemical composition of the extracted chemicals will then be analysed in the ProSPA chemical laboratory . Accurate and precise isotopic measurements of key elemental species such as carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen will provide insight into the origins, evolution, and emplacement processes for these species. The data will indicate the viability of volatiles as resources and provide insights into the origins of volatiles delivered to the Earth-Moon System.

Cold-trapped volatiles at the lunar poles are potential resources for human exploration and provide a record of volatiles in the inner Solar System. However, we do not understand their origins, distribution, abundance, extractability, or the processes that put them in place. PROSPECT aims to support the identification of potential resources, to assess the potential for use of those resources at a given location, and to provide information to help establish their broader distribution across the lunar surface. This investigation is part of a global effort to coordinate prospecting activities at the lunar poles (see:

PROSPECT will operate at the surface of the Moon as part of the Russian-led Luna-27 mission in 2022.

Last Update: 1 September 2019
23-Jun-2024 04:50 UT

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