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NASA Explores the Moon's Water/Oxygen Deposits 73

Posted by samzenpus
from the not-a-very-big-pool dept.
destinyland writes "NASA's LCross mission will now test whether the moon's hydrogen and oxygen deposits could be converted into air, water, and even fuel. A dramatic crash by the rocket's upper stage will blast 200 tons of moon rock up 10 kilometers from a dark crater — where its constitution can be measured by LCross's instruments. (NASA predicts 'a number of different ways that we'll be able to create water from whatever form of lunar hydrogen we find' on the moon, noting recent missions have already confirmed the presence of oxygen in moon rocks, while the sun delivers a constant stream of hydrogen.) Carrying water to the moon costs $100,000 a kilogram, so these experiments could be a crucial step to getting more people on the moon."
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NASA Explores the Moon's Water/Oxygen Deposits

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  • blog (Score:5, Informative)

    by buchner.johannes (1139593) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @08:14PM (#29210537) Homepage Journal

    The mission has a blog (with feed) [nasa.gov] where they reported an anomaly [nasa.gov] two days ago.

    • by antirelic (1030688) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @09:01PM (#29210959) Journal

      I'm all for space travel (I think this is one of the few useful things a government agency does well), but like many people here have said many times before, we need to do it in ways that make sense and that we can build on. What started out with a quick dabble in LEO was slung shot to a space race to the moon. While some of the technology that came from that competition (mind you, many products were developed outside of the space program and adapted TO the space program where it became famous) has found great uses, the push to the moon did not yield much outside of the international political arena.

      With that said, there has been a correction. The nations of the earth have begun to utilize low earth orbit: satellites (for various uses). This is the number 1 use of LEO. As time goes on and people begin to find ways to exploit LEO there will be more challenges to face (advantages and disadvantages to be gained). This analysis of the moon shows us how far we have come and how far we have to go. The moon is close, and cheapest heavenly body to get to. If we cant put and maintain a base there, how can we expect to exploit asteroids or even attempt to wrestle with landing and take offs on other planets (for example: tag: gettomars).

      Every mistake made provides an opportunity to improve and do it again. Its best we learn (and we will learn many things) trying to land and establish outposts on the moon before we go any further, and this will likely be the case for the next several generations (unless some crazy breakthrough in physics occurs that results in easy and safe departure from the earths surface).

      Go NASA!

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Kamokazi (1080091)

        unless some crazy breakthrough in physics occurs that results in easy and safe departure from the earths surface

        I think that is pretty much the key right there. It takes a tremendous amount of energy, calculation, and resources to life a tiny payload into space. We should be devoting more resources on cheaper and more economical ways to get into orbit...ie space elevators, assisted launch, etc. That makes it much easier to estabilsh space stations and you could construct spacecraft that rely on nuclear-based propulsion and launch them from these stations.

        And then you start colonies in space and on the moon, and ev

        • by Moryath (553296)

          Stepping back to serious land, if we're going to go to Mars, we need to colonize the Moon first, and perhaps actually work on a bit of terraforming (mooniforming? luniforming?) just to see what we can, and can't, make work.

          Besides, if we can get it properly set, then we can send all the old folks to the moon and they can walk around in lightened gravity. Just imagine, our satellite turned into a rest home for the elderly ;)

          • You can't lunaform the moon because it is already moonish. You can't terraform the moon because it can't hold an atmosphere.

          • by Dodder (1410959)
            Yes, serious land, let's get all the old people off the planet! Seriously :)
            • How much would it cost? How long would it take? What segments of society can and would pay for it? What are you smoking? Can I have some?
      • by Dodder (1410959)
        No kidding! I bet they haven't even considered all of the complications of taking off and landing on getto mars.

        "Excuse me. How do I get back into space?"
        "Yo fuck yo mamma!"
        "Thank you. Thank you very much."
        - Clark Griswold, trying to get to Martian Walley World
      • by Teancum (67324)

        I would have to agree with the sentiment of going to the Moon first. We already have the raw technology to get there, and truth be told... nearly everywhere else in the Solar System except for Mars is going to need the kinds of technology that are needed for serious exploration and development of the surface of the Moon.

        As far as being close by, that is all that much more of a rationale for going first to the Moon. If there is any kind of emergency for somebody on the Moon, it will be by far and away easi

    • by RockDoctor (15477)

      where they reported an anomaly [nasa.gov] two days ago.

      In Tycho?
      I know ; I'll RTFA now.)

  • Get well soon (Score:5, Informative)

    by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @08:15PM (#29210549) Homepage Journal

    LCROSS had some issues last weekend [spaceflightnow.com] which caused it to lose a good portion of its fuel. The mission is down to the wire and may not make it. If it does, it will be because of the skill and dedication of the NASA team.

    The data they collect from the impact, from LRO, earth and space telescopes and LCROSS itself, will provide the missing piece of the puzzle for Lunar ISRU. Up until now, the promise of ice on the Moon has been a distant "yeah, we'll do that one day" proposition, but with this data NASA will finally be able to do study on what kinda of equipment will be required to process the ice and produce potable water, oxygen and rocket fuel (most likely methane) and that will drive the design of Lunar exploration systems.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by R3d M3rcury (871886)

      [...] what kinda of equipment will be required to process the ice and produce potable water, oxygen and rocket fuel [...]

      One interesting thing mentioned in the article is that they can already produce oxygen from lunar minerals. The sun is sending a nice stream of hydrogen via the solar winds. This can be combined to produce potable water without having to process any ice whatsoever.

      The question is whether it would "better" to melt the ice and filter it into something drinkable or to make the water from hydrogen and oxygen.

      • Re:Get well soon (Score:4, Insightful)

        by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @09:23PM (#29211099) Homepage Journal

        That's true, but there's a consensus that processing ice will be much easier than processing regolith.. the question remains, is it really ice? And how pure is it? Is it mixed with regolith? Even in those worst situations it'll likely still be easier to purify dirty snow than melt regolith in solar furnaces. The important thing is, different materials require different strategies and that means different equipment.. they have to design everything and be 95% sure it'll work before sending it up.

        On the other hand, virtually no-one is talking about scouting for high purity metals (say, from asteroid impacts) and the ease at which processing those ores would be compared to processing common regolith. It's not that the payoff is less, it's just that this kind of far off vision is stigmatized and if you want to keep getting funding you have to reign in your enthusiasm.
         

      • Re:Get well soon (Score:4, Informative)

        by Rei (128717) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @10:07PM (#29211419) Homepage

        The thing is, so far, we haven't found ice. Or any relevant quantities of hydrogen in any form. The concept of harvesting hydrogen from the solar wind seems silly; the solar wind at 1AU averages about 4 atoms per cubic centimeter. At an average 350km/s speed, this means a collector could gather no more than 0.7 milligrams per square meter per year. At 100% efficiency with no celestial shielding of the solar wind of any kind and with a heliostat. And not all of that would be hydrogen.

        • by khallow (566160)

          Or any relevant quantities of hydrogen in any form.

          Yes, we have. Other missions have detected hydrogen. As I understand it, if it's distributed throughout the regolith, then it'll be difficult to harvest, but if it's concentrated as ice, then it won't be difficult to harvest. In other words, we don't know how it's concentrated and hence how difficult it'll be to extract.

          The concept of harvesting hydrogen from the solar wind seems silly; the solar wind at 1AU averages about 4 atoms per cubic centimeter. At an average 350km/s speed, this means a collector could gather no more than 0.7 milligrams per square meter per year. At 100% efficiency with no celestial shielding of the solar wind of any kind and with a heliostat. And not all of that would be hydrogen.

          As I recall, about three quarters of the solar wind is hydrogen. The other quarter is virtually all helium, which is also useful. Whether harvesting roughly a quarter kilogram (halved for lu

          • by Rei (128717)

            Yes, we have. Other missions have detected hydrogen.

            Cite. The Apollo astronauts' samples yield hydrogen in ppb quantities. Lunar Prospector suggested there might be some at the poles, but subsequent followup attempts to find water or any other hydrogen-bearing minerals have come up [parabolicarc.com] empty [moondaily.com].

            As I understand it, if it's distributed throughout the regolith

            Yes. In *ppb quantities*. Completely impractical to extract.

            As I recall, about three quarters of the solar wind is hydrogen. The other quarter is virtually

            • by Rei (128717)

              I'm sorry; I misspoke. 100'x100' would be a quarter *gram* per year. A quarter kilogram per year would take a 1km by 1km collector. Again, assuming your mythical 100% efficiency/no night/no interference/heliostat setup.

              It's just not realistic.

              • by khallow (566160)
                I'm sorry, but I was referring to collectors of that size. Sure it's unrealistic now. Doesn't mean it'll be unrealistic later. I can see ways that would be very mass efficient. For example, an elevated grid of charged wire. You could have a small negative voltage region in the middle of a several hundred kilometer across positive voltage region. I bet the solar wind density could be increased by a number of orders of magnitude, if you did that. A harvesting efficiency of 1% across a 100 by 100 kilometer gri
                • by Rei (128717)

                  Right. Build a grid the size of Connecticut to get 50 pounds of hydrogen -- not enough to get a model rocket off the lunar surface. FYI, your suggestion wouldn't work because solar wind isn't unform energy. The perfect correction for one energy particle would just scatter a particle of different energy.

                  No, craters and crevices will not increase solar wind density.

                  It's just a stupid idea.

                  • by khallow (566160)

                    Right. Build a grid the size of Connecticut to get 50 pounds of hydrogen -- not enough to get a model rocket off the lunar surface.

                    It scales. The Moon is a lot bigger than Connecticut.

                    FYI, your suggestion wouldn't work because solar wind isn't unform energy. The perfect correction for one energy particle would just scatter a particle of different energy.

                    Perfect correction? I'm just interested in capturing positively charged ions (most of the solar wind is ions as I understand it). As long as the grid is electrically neutral at a distance, it will work on anything positively charged. There's no need to "tune" it to a particular energy.

                    No, craters and crevices will not increase solar wind density.

                    Boy, I'm tempted to toss in a hypocritical "cite?" remark here. But you seem pretty knowledgeable on the solar wind. You can find out for yourself whether you are right or w

                    • by Rei (128717)

                      Right. Build a grid the size of Connecticut to get 50 pounds of hydrogen -- not enough to get a model rocket off the lunar surface.

                      It scales. The Moon is a lot bigger than Connecticut.

                      It absolutely does not scale. Even if it was just sparsely scattered wires and towers, that would way more than the hydrogen it could harvest in a hundred thousand years.

                      Perfect correction? I'm just interested in capturing positively charged ions (most of the solar wind is ions as I understand it). As long as the grid is elec

                    • by khallow (566160)

                      It absolutely does not scale. Even if it was just sparsely scattered wires and towers, that would way more than the hydrogen it could harvest in a hundred thousand years.

                      The Moon has a radius of roughly 1700 km. That means an effective cross-section area of a bit over 9 million square km. Even at 1% efficiency, that's be 18 tons of hydrogen per year. At 100% efficiency that'd be 1800 tons a year. Not exciting, but you could still run a large civilization (with efficient recycling of hydrogen).

                      Wrong. Picture rolling an iron ball past a magnet at a hundred miles an hour. Now picturing rolling an iron ball past the same magnet at 1 mile an hour. Do you really think the balls will get deflected by the same amount? Solar wind isn't a single energy level; it's a broad range. Your idea is to try and concentrate solar wind into smaller collectors via an electrostatic grid. That would only work if the particles were uniform energy, which they're not.

                      Two observations to make here. First, you can tune the grid to the energy level with the largest population. Besides it doesn't have to be perfectly tuned in order to successfully defl

            • by khallow (566160)

              Cite. The Apollo astronauts' samples yield hydrogen in ppb quantities. Lunar Prospector suggested there might be some at the poles, but subsequent followup attempts to find water or any other hydrogen-bearing minerals have come up empty.

              You've done my work for me. Lunar prospector. The single study you cite has two problems. First, the model it uses for crust rigidity in the presence of water could be wrong. Second, it doesn't say anything about the presence of hydrates. It merely claims to demonstrate that there isn't liquid water present which is a much weaker claim.

              Yes. In *ppb quantities*. Completely impractical to extract.

              Again this depends on the distribution of hydrogen. Just because it is ppb in some places, doesn't mean it is in those concentrations everywhere else on the Moon too.

              For what, making your voice sound funny? The main use for helium in rocketry is as a pressurant, but on the moon, there are much better approaches than that.

              Helium h

      • Re:Get well soon (Score:4, Informative)

        by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @11:35PM (#29212039) Homepage

        One interesting thing mentioned in the article is that they can already produce oxygen from lunar minerals. The sun is sending a nice stream of hydrogen via the solar winds. This can be combined to produce potable water without having to process any ice whatsoever.

        Keep in mind that the "steady stream of hydrogen" amounts to a few pounds a year scattered across the entire lunar surface. Worse yet, AIUI, it doesn't stay on the surface long - it out gasses.

    • I was thinking about that over the last few days (saw this monday). It seems to me that we really need to get the microsats going just for communication. It would be useful to get a network going around the moon and perhaps around mars. If we just do the moon first, we can use the experience for Mars. Yeah, I know. It was planned for Mars, but W's admin killed it. But the microsats could do this job NICELY for the moon. The same network could be used by Lunar prize.
      • by QuantumG (50515) *

        The worst job microsats can perform is communication. To do communication well you need big (read: heavy) antennas. What we *need* around the Moon is a TDRSS. The ones we have in GEO are some of the biggest satellites ever launched. It's said that the entire shuttle program was justified by the launch of just the TDRSS and they've been milking it ever since.

        • While you need one to relay lots of info to earth, not all the sats have to be heavy carriers; Think of little home routers vs the large routers that are used at ISPs. What is needed INITIALLY is a simple network that can send moderate (ok small) amounts of data that would allow several other sats to send information via these relays. Something like marscom [usna.edu] would make sense, combined with ONE TDRSS like system located at earth-moon L1. Keep in mind that since we have so few sats there and for relatively sh
  • .. till we get "save the moon" morons.
  • by Linker3000 (626634) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @08:20PM (#29210585) Journal

    "Carrying water to the moon costs $100,000 a kilogram"

    Yes, that's what happens when you fly to the moon with Ryanair and buy your water onboard.

  • Costs? (Score:3, Funny)

    by hardburn (141468) <hardburn@wumpus- ... OWnet minus city> on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @08:25PM (#29210637)

    What costs more to get to the moon? A kg of water, or a kg of feathers?

    • Re:Costs? (Score:5, Funny)

      by jfdawes (254678) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @08:39PM (#29210749)

      Given that feathers are much less dense than water, everything else being equal it would cost more to get the feathers there since they enclosure required to contain them would be larger than the enclosure required to contain water.

      Things not being equal, feathers are far more compressible than water so you could perhaps increase their density substantially.

      You don't specify what condition you want the feathers in. It might be possible to just glue them to the outside of the craft, in which case there are no associated container requirements whereas the water must still be contained. In this case it's going to cost more to get the water there.

      On the other hand, if the water was already in orbit it would be as ice, in which case you might be able to just glue a chunk of that to the outside of the craft.

      If we're gluing random chunks of stuff to the outside of spaceships, it's probably going to come down to how much friction each material causes and what loss of material each substance would undergo due to space friction.

      HTH

    • by cbhacking (979169)

      Also, for those who have trouble remembering their metric units and conversions, a kilo of water (at room temperature) is 1 liter (1000 cm3) - slightly more than a quart. With serious rationing, humans can live on as little as 3 or so liters a day, but in your everyday life you probably use at least 50 (and that's if you shower quickly and use low-volume toilets).

      This is why recycling water is so vital on spacecraft and space stations, and is also part of why being able to extract water is nearly essential

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ceoyoyo (59147)

        "With serious rationing, humans can live on as little as 3 or so liters a day"

        On sea kayaking trips, where there isn't any fresh water, we usually bring about two litres a day, and that leaves a comfortable safety factor. That doesn't include showering, but it IS perfectly possible to have a sponge bath in less than half a litre, and people used to get along perfectly well having VERY infrequent baths.

        The recommended daily intake of drinking water is around 1-2 L/day for women and 2-3 L/day for men. With

      • "but in your everyday life you probably use at least 50 (and that's if you shower quickly and use low-volume toilets)"

        It's probably quite a bit more than 50L per person. Here in Melbourne Australia we have strict laws on water use due to the "permenant drought", ( eg: no washing of cars, no sprinklers/garden hoses ). The govt have a public awareness campaign to try and get everyone to limit their use to 155L/day of mains supply by taking 3 minute showers, using the half flush button, etc.
  • Sweet... (Score:2, Funny)

    by secretplans (1489863)

    We're bombing the moon now.

    Did someone say something about fuel?

    Operation Spock and Awe.

  • At first look at the article, I wondered how people would respond to the United States bombing the moon. Then a more careful reading highlighted that we are in fact not "bombing" the moon, to which I immediately thought, "wait, what do you mean we're not bombing the moon? Why the hell not?!"

    Maybe that'll just have to be saved for a future mission.
  • Looks like it's going to be one of the first planet-crackers...what could possibly go wrong?
  • by rbanffy (584143) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @10:40PM (#29211621) Homepage Journal

    An interesting effect of not having water readily available on the moon could be the development of missions to icy moons to get the water required for a moon (or Mars) colony. The Moon is going to be important if we plan to be a space-faring civilization as it's the closest place to Earth that has the raw materials to build spacecraft coupled to a very rocket-friendly gravity well. I am not sure about fuels (nuclear fuels), but the rest looks promising.

    There are many nice places to collect water ice in the outer solar system and once you have a full tank of water collected you can use it as propellant in a nuclear-thermal rocket to get back to the Moon with still plenty left. It would be a bitch to do it with a fully automated and autonomous spacecraft, but, at least, it's conceivable. And even building the spacecraft itself should not be that hard if we can remission Ares-V (more likely an Ares XXVIII, considering the timeframes involved) main tanks for ferrying water back from out there. The spacecrafts would end-up being small when compared to their tanks.

  • Sigh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ShooterNeo (555040) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @10:40PM (#29211623)

    What are they thinking?

    Before they can think about a moon base, maybe they should fix the problem of getting into orbit in the first place. Right now, the current implementation is not a solution. $10,000 or so a kilogram is stupidly expensive. It costs many millions of dollars to blast just one astronaut into space.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by QuantumG (50515) *

      It costs so much because its a government program. The design decisions that made the shuttle, and are now pushing the design of Constellation, were not about technology, they were about which congressional district the components would be manufactured in, how many government employees would be laid off, etc. Under those constraints I'm surprised NASA ever gets anything to fly.

  • I drove a car around on it.. Hit a golf ball. What else can you do with it?

  • by 4181 (551316)

    Carrying water to the moon costs $100,000 a kilogram

    So that's why they invented Tang!

  • I read the book, "The Martian Way" [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Martian_Way], which discusses capturing floating ice crystals and bringing them to a planet (Mars).
    I was watching an episode of "The Universe", which stated that the vast majority of water on Earth comes from captured meteoroids. Light planets (Mars) lose their water because hydrogen evaporates off into space.
  • Shipping hydrogen to the moon is only 11% of the cost.
    Water contains two hydrogen for one oxygen, but oxygen is 16 times heavier then hydrogen, you require 8 times the weight in oxygen vs hydrogen to create water.
    If you can't find cheap hydrogen on the moon you can bring some with you, it's nice and compressible, to make h2o at 11% of the shipping cost less equipment ;)
  • ....we're just water junkies - strung out on a nervous high reaching an all time low.....(Bowie)
  • Am I the only one that's read "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress"?
    • by Churla (936633)

      Note the tags on the story.

      It was also the first thing I thought.. "Sure, they can make water, but how long until they can transmute the naturally occurring minerals into other substances to lessen the reliance on the evil overlords on Earth?"

  • I know being able to do something is cool, but do we really have to try and colonize the moon?
    What is the point, I mean really, do we have no more room here?
    I would say spend more on refurbishing the deserts in south african continent first,
    and make them plush with greens and livable, before spending soooo much into THIS project.

    Having a moon colony is cool, and might be a sort of fail safe should any big asteroid impact Earth, that our society lives on, but
    we would have colonized a moon, the possibility of

  • We are talking about shipping cargo to space, not people. G-forces are not an issue. CERN's Large Hadron Collider moves atoms at close to the speed of light, use the same magnetic principles to accelerate a container and launch it into space. The trick is then catching the object. It wouldn't work for anything living, because they'd be crushed under the forces, but for materials like water it wouldn't be an issue. You could even possibly launch satellites in this manner.

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