As we venture farther from Earth on missions to the Moon and beyond, the development of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) technology is crucial. To support this mission, a team from Redwire participated in the Break the Ice Lunar Challenge, NASA’s newest Centennial Challenge focusing on the development of technologies and system architectures for excavating and transporting lunar resources to support a sustained human presence on the Moon.
In August, the Redwire team won first place and was awarded $125,000 for their design. Accessing lunar water is a crucial capability for astronauts during long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars, as they will have limited access to terrestrial resources and will require the ability to harness resources in situ.
Break the Ice presented the opportunity to mature a design architecture for mining lunar regolith and extracting water to enable sustainable surface operations. For Phase I, teams designed a system architecture for a hypothetical Mission Scenario that took place in and around a region near the lunar South Pole. Teams needed to excavate icy regolith at the excavation site, extract water from that icy regolith using the NASA water extraction plant or their own method, and deliver that water to the delivery site.
Redwire’s winning system includes a Lunar Regolith Excavator (L-Rex) to excavate large amounts of icy regolith and a versatile, low-mass transportation rover called Lunar Transporter (L-Tran) responsible for deploying the excavator and delivering regolith and ice.
Evaluated and scored by a NASA-convened panel of experts on how it would perform in extreme conditions, Redwire’s system concept was recognized for its simplicity, low mass, and low energy use. Redwire’s solution uses just two rovers to perform all the necessary functions to mine and deliver 27,642 kg of water to NASA over 365 days. The rovers require minimal hardware development, resulting in a system that is feasible to be deployed during the Artemis years. The rovers are also extensible to other types of lunar operation, making the concept relevant for all types of lunar infrastructure development. With its heritage in space hardware development and history of innovative mission design, Redwire is uniquely positioned to develop such a system for near-term operations.
If initiated, Phase 2 of the challenge is expected to focus on designing and building excavation hardware components or systems that would be tested in simulated lunar conditions.
The Redwire team included individuals from across the company with diverse professional backgrounds. The challenge not only presented them with a unique opportunity to advance ISRU development, but to also engage with each other in a setting different from their daily project work. Redwire’s participation reflects a growing company culture of collaborative R&D activity, where employees from across the company can collectively work to solve complex challenges and ideate on best practices to form those solutions.
A Shared Mission
Break the Ice was an opportunity for Redwire to advance one of the long-term goals of ISRU, lunar water extraction. Through its advancement of in-space manufacturing capabilities, Redwire is currently developing other ISRU technology to accelerate humanity’s expansion into space that would enable the use of lunar regolith as building material on the lunar surface with Redwire Regolith Print (RRP). RRP has the ability to additively manufacture with a regolith simulant and polymer composite in microgravity.
Learn more about Redwire’s ISRU technology development here.