International News

Extractive know-how sought for lunar missions

CSIRO executive director and former European Space Agency (ESA) chairman Dr Dave Williams commissioned Space: A Roadmap for unlocking future growth opportunities for Australia that was unveiled last month.

“Clearly CSIRO is not going to do the whole thing,” Dr Williams told Quarry. “We had discussions primarily towards forming partnerships with particular skills within Australia.”

The roadmap proposes the opportunities for Australian technology in support of the lunar habitat concept, whereby humankind colonises and mines the moon.

Williams said he commissioned the roadmap for CSIRO to raise a framework of ideas for what Australia could do in space in the short- and long–term future.

In-situ resource utilisation

Under the sub-heading “Short- to long-term potential industry developments and opportunities for Australia”, the roadmap talks about in-situ resource utilisation – ie identifying and using local resources at the exploration destination to reduce space freight cost and the logistical complexity involved in bringing required materials from Earth.

{{quote-A:R-W:275-I:2-Q:“We did a study and found something similar to titanium oxide. We can reduce it down to titanium or its equivalent, if you want to do additive printing on the one hand and oxygen for breathing on the other.” -who:Dr Dave Williams, CSIRO Executive Director}}Under the long-term (10-plus years) goals, the document maps out in-space manufacturing, including 3D printing with local materials including metals and glass.

It also outlines how in-situ resource extraction and utilisation would be achieved – through semi-autonomous 3D printers operated alongside “human-in-the-loop excavation systems that [would] transform raw lunar regolith into building structures”.

According to the roadmap, the lunar soil is rich in silica that can be formed into iron-rich glass for working surfaces and as lining and protective structures for underground habitats.

Williams said geological studies of the moon suggest specific materials can be extracted for 3D printing and assembly processes.

“When I was in the UK, we did a study and found something similar to titanium oxide,” Williams said. “We can reduce it down to titanium or its equivalent, if you want to do additive printing on the one hand and oxygen for breathing on the other.”

He said oxygen, water, food and everything else needed at that end had to be planned for and there were two ways of doing it.

“One is to take everything with you and the other is to explore areas of the moon to produce them in-situ,” he said.

“What is clear is the cost of taking things to the moon is very, very high, but if you do have to take things [there] you take materials that can be adjusted for printing and a variety of purposes,” he said.

“The objective is really to take specific things that can be adjusted for 3D printing. Additive printing certainly has a role to play in building things on the moon,” he added.

Australian expertise

The extractive industry in Australia has already been exposed to techniques of printing spare parts for machines to save time on ordering and waiting for them from overseas destinations. The use of drones and GPS technology in exploration is also used in the industry.

In its discussion of autonomous systems, the roadmap raises the prospect of robotic missions and “teleoperation for lunar missions including resource extraction” as long-term goals.

“I wouldn’t say Australia is the only country with those skills, but we certainly [have them] and they have a role to play,” Williams said. “The industry is willing to help with that and we need to negotiate with those involved.”

CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall and Australian Space Agency (ASA) head Dr Megan Clark unveiled the roadmap. Despite ASA commencing operation only this year, its future was the topic of a lively discussion at the closing panel of the 2018 Australian Engineering Conference in Sydney in September.

William Barrett, the senior vice-president of Asia Pacific Aerospace Consultants, noted at the conference that Australia’s expertise with dealing with remote environments, including the extractive industry, could have advantages in space.


More reading
Shaping tomorrow: Robots, digital and virtual reality
Formula One aggregates point to life on Mars
US asteroid act opens ethical can of worms
Scientist questions merits of off-earth mining
Space drill tested at gypsum quarry
A quarry with plenty of space





Leave a Reply

Send this to a friend