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Lunar Oxygen and Water Production Tech Tested

CmdrTaco posted more than 5 years ago | from the bathtub-in-space dept.

Moon 56

savuporo writes "NASA and its industry partners organized a two-week lunar in-situ resource utilization field test in Hawaii. The tested machines included a few different rovers and prototype plants for generating oxygen and water from lunar regolith. Astrotoday has a picture gallery and a video report. This follows on the heels of the recent ESA lunar robotics challenge event held on Tenerife, which tasked student teams to build a lunar robot that would be able to search for water ice in lunar polar craters."

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in-situ resource utilization field test in Hawaii. (3, Funny)

greenguy (162630) | more than 5 years ago | (#25819415)

Because if there's one place on Earth that resembles the surface of the moon, it's Hawaii.

Re:in-situ resource utilization field test in Hawa (5, Insightful)

martin_henry (1032656) | more than 5 years ago | (#25819495)

It was just a single click to view the photo gallery (2 clicks to get to individual photos) and you couldn't even bother to do that. If /. had membership cards, I'd ask for yours.

I thought the test area resembled the surface of the moon to a large degree.

Re:in-situ resource utilization field test in Hawa (4, Funny)

djupedal (584558) | more than 5 years ago | (#25819625)

>I thought the test area resembled the surface of the moon to a large degree.

Based on what....one measly visit to the Moon and zero to Hawaii and suddenly you're an expert...? Rightttttt.....

Re:in-situ resource utilization field test in Hawa (4, Insightful)

greenguy (162630) | more than 5 years ago | (#25819771)

If you demanded the hypothetical membership card of everyone who didn't RTFA, you'd be here alone.

Re:in-situ resource utilization field test in Hawa (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 5 years ago | (#25819835)

> If you demanded the hypothetical membership card of everyone who didn't RTFA, you'd be here alone.

He could sell all the cards and buy friends with the money.

Re:in-situ resource utilization field test in Hawa (1)

vigmeister (1112659) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821071)

He could sell all the cards and buy friends with the money.

But at what cost?

No, seriously. I doubt you'd get all that much money selling hypothetical cards that magically preclude you from getting laid. Definitely not nearly enough to buy friends with [betathetapi.org]

Re:in-situ resource utilization field test in Hawa (2, Informative)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#25819661)

Volcanic ash would be a pretty good substitute for lunar dust. Sounds fine to me, and you could chill on the beach when the work day is done.

Re:in-situ resource utilization field test in Hawa (1)

psydeshow (154300) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822845)

Yeah, but how do you know the water plant isn't cheating and leaching water out of the atmosphere?

It's a great photo-op, and a nice setting to meet vendors, but it's not much of a test of how something would actually perform on the lunar surface, where it is much hotter (or much much colder) and a lot more dusty than anywhere on Earth.

Re:in-situ resource utilization field test in Hawa (3, Informative)

lmckayjo (532783) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823291)

How do they know where the water is from? Because of previous lab tests, regolith simulant sample checks before and after processing (using the same spectrometers that flew on the Mars Exploration Rovers, among others), and hopefully because of sound engineering from the outset.

I agree that nowhere on Earth is a great analog to Lunar climate/weather, but the point is to put these prototypes into a dusty, windy environment, drive the sample-delivering rovers around, etc. For this test in Hawaii they needed to put electric blankets on some components because of hard frosts at night... they'll change that system before flying it!

The point isn't photo-ops and vendor networking, although these things happen. The point is to do real science on Earth in preparation of doing real science on the moon and Mars.

I, however, was at the test to meet people and have my photo taken with cool equipment. That's the benefit of being a slave^d^w I mean an undergrad intern (and living in Hawaii).

-L

Re:in-situ resource utilization field test in Hawa (1)

penguinchris (1020961) | more than 5 years ago | (#25830487)

There's not much (or any really) volcanic ash erupted from Hawaii-type shield volcanoes. The "ash" that is the lunar and hawaiian regolith (the dust and dirt seen in the linked photos) is material from the underlying and surrounding rocks that's broken down.

The surface of Hawaiian lava fields is indeed legitimately similar (some might say almost identical) to the moon, however.

The moon's crust is comprised entirely by igneous rocks. The lunar "seas" are entirely basalt. Hawaiian-type lava fields are also entirely basalt (there are differences but they're essentially the same rock.)

There are other places with lava fields that they could have chosen to test at, one conveniently located in the continental US, in Idaho. It's actually called Craters of the Moon National Monument, due to its resemblance to the moon surface (at least to those who named the place before we'd gone to the moon.) It's a cool place to visit.

However, it sort of fails as the best place to be a test moon surface because of the lava structures. It is mostly the vesicular, chunky, and sharp "aa" type of lava flow, though some of the smoother "pahoehoe" type can be found. In Hawaii, both types are found in abundance (they are both given Hawaiian names after all) but because there's so much more of it, there's a better chance of finding large smooth sections of pahoehoe type. As you can see in the photos, there's also a regolith which is similar to the moon's, which does not exist to the same extent in Idaho. It's all about the physical and chemical properties of the specific basalt, which affects how it breaks down.

Much of the moon's surface is smoother than what we can find here on earth, except in a few nice spots, like the one they used. The lunar seas are cooled seas of lava and not much flow is likely to have happened, which is what causes much of the roughness seen in places like Craters of the Moon NM.

Disclaimers: while IAAGGS (I am a geology grad student), I did not R all of TFAs, and IANAVPPGBRASG (I am not a volcanologist, petrologist, or planetary geologist, but rather a structural geologist.) Take what I wrote with a grain of basalt, but I did do a bit of internet research and knew a thing or two about it beforehand, so it's a reasonable slashdot answer, I'd say.

Re:in-situ resource utilization field test in Hawa (1)

lmckayjo (532783) | more than 5 years ago | (#25840267)

I'm not a geologist, but I wonder if the term "volcanic ash" is used appropriately here. What you see in the pictures from the Hawaii test site is most certainly tephra, or material rather violently ejected from a volcano. For these tests NASA isn't interested in pahoehoe or a'a lava flows, which are altogether too "rocky" and not composed of the sharp sand-like fragments (of all different sizes, but mostly very small) that are similar to those that dominate the moon (and much of Mars).

Some of the confusion arises because shield volcanoes like here in Hawaii normally do have effusive (as opposed to explosive) eruptions, resulting in flows of pahoehoe or a'a. But as the source of magma is "pinched off" by the moving crust over the hot spot, a new volcano forms and the older one changes its eruption style. In the last gasps, you have eruptions which are of cooler magma, with more explosions and way less of the smooth flowing rivers of lava (and lava fountains) you see on footage from Kilauea and Mauna Loa recent eruptions. Don't forget, every Hawaiian island has at least one volcano of its very own, so we have a few to choose from to get the right lunar or Martian analog site. (Hawaii Island, the Big Island which hosted this test, has 5 volcanoes, three of which are currently active or have been active in the recent past.)

So no, we're not talking about eroded rocks here in Hawaii, which is good because on the moon things don't really erode - they get blown apart by impacts and squeezed up from underneath in molten form. In Hawaii, the impacts are substituted by explosive eruption, but as you said the chemistry of the rocks/tephra is quite similar. As someone else pointed out, having eroded material is exactly what NASA *doesn't* want, hence nice young Hawaiian tephra being better than older mainland-US tephra.

-L

Re:in-situ resource utilization field test in Hawa (1)

penguinchris (1020961) | more than 5 years ago | (#25840579)

Right. I agree and some of what I wrote was not clearly stated. However, I did also say that it's not volcanic ash, which agrees with you. I don't say what it actually is, of course, which is the problem, and you are correct. Thank you for clarifying many of the points in my post, which to a geologist certainly would seem incoherent and incorrect!

Reading what I wrote earlier again I see that I don't really get to some of the points I'm trying to make. It was late :) My discussion of aa vs. pahoehoe is to point out the differences between the physical surfaces. Because of the chunkiness of the predominately aa lava field in Idaho, there are hardly any places where tephra, eroded materials, or much anything else collects to form moon-like surfaces as in their chosen test site. That's all. I should have written that differently. There are a much wider range of environments to be found on Hawaii. I'm defending their choice of testing their rover on Hawaii rather than someplace closer to home, which you agree with, so no argument there.

There is indeed tephra ejected from these volcanoes, which contradicts to some degree what I wrote, but I'm not sure that this is what forms most of Hawaii's regolith. I really have no idea but it doesn't seem likely that there is nothing else involved. There is a lot more stuff going on in Hawaii than on the moon. Actually, my point about the similar chemistry is misleading, because it may be that the differences in chemistry are what causes the differences in the tephra/moon dust properties.

Anyway I agree with your last point as well, but I'd like to point out that Idaho's lava field is merely 5-6,000 years old, and much less erosion occurs in present day Idaho than does in Hawaii.

Basically by replying to you I'm trying to make up for the fact that despite being a geologist, ten minutes of late-night internet research doesn't make up for the fact that this has nothing to do with my specialties and I really didn't know what I was talking about, besides it being poorly written. I'm sure you can tell :)

Re:in-situ resource utilization field test in Hawa (2, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 5 years ago | (#25820243)

Because if there's one place on Earth that resembles the surface of the moon, it's Hawaii.

Well sure, parts of it do. It's a volcano you know, not all rainforests and beaches and sun-bronzed natives.

As to why they chose specifically Hawaii instead of some other location suitably representative, well, the answer is the rainforests, beaches, and sun-bronzed natives.

Re:in-situ resource utilization field test in Hawa (4, Funny)

Shag (3737) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821285)

Yup! Scientists - particularly those in space science - long ago realized that Hawaii was a good political analog for anywhere really far away of volcanic origin, like other bodies in space.

The Brits snicker to this day about how they persuaded their government to build the UK Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) out here, more or less guaranteeing themselves twice-a-year trips to Hawaii.

Of course, the last several years it's been easier than ever, with a president in office who just might believe you if you say "yes, sir, Hawaii is very much like the moon."

Re:in-situ resource utilization field test in Hawa (1)

Fluffeh (1273756) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824745)

Of course, the last several years it's been easier than ever, with a president in office who just might believe you if you say "yes, sir, Hawaii is very much like the moon."

He might also believe very much if you said Las Vegas was like the moon.

Re:in-situ resource utilization field test in Hawa (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25892561)

Why do they snicker? The 15th most prominent peak in the world, Mauna Kea is the tallest peak that close to the equator that has reasonable transportation links. Moving away from the equator causes slewing issues; moving to lower ground attenuates IR flux; moving to an even better location may add enormous transportation costs (equipment, people). Mauna Kea is also conveniently on an island surrounded by a huge amount of the Pacific Ocean which has relatively stable properties in the IR bands of interest compared to the land in mountain ranges (like around Palomar, Kitt Peak and Pico de Orizaba, where observations in much shorter or much longer wavelengths are made).

Re:in-situ resource utilization field test in Hawa (1)

carambola5 (456983) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821501)

What are the givens to this problem?

-NASA wants extensive use capabilities.
-ITAR restrictions make it so that US entities would rather stay in the US rather than go through the paperwork of going elsewhere.
-Volcanic ash tends to be similar in abrasiveness, chemistry, and agglutinate size to lunar regolith.
-The presence of flora and fauna should be minimized.

Taking these into consideration, you get Hawaii and the Southwest. Since the volcanoes in the Southwest are dormant, their ash has had more time to erode into a less abrasive form. Result: test in Hawaii.

Holy shit, people. (1)

greenguy (162630) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821571)

It was a joke, already.

Re:Holy shit, people. (1)

carambola5 (456983) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821801)

I didn't take offense or anything... just wanted to bring some logic into the minds of someone who might not understand. This topic hits pretty close to home, since we have a prototype PILOT sitting in our lab downstairs.

Just wait until next year's field tests. Everything's gonna get scaled up. Lots. =)

Moonbase (5, Funny)

Gizzmonic (412910) | more than 5 years ago | (#25819433)

Evil villains, bookmark this article! Your dream of a secret moonbase is about to come true!

Re:Moonbase (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25821095)

You FOOL!
You have just taken the "secret" part out of the equation by broadcasting my dastardly plan to teh internets!!! /em presses big red button to immediately execute the perpetrator. /em promotes nearest henchman to fill in the newly opened position of research analyst.

the moon is made of cheese (1, Funny)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 5 years ago | (#25819441)

silly scientists

Re:the moon is made of cheese (3, Funny)

jgtg32a (1173373) | more than 5 years ago | (#25819659)

No we found out it is really made of rock that's why we haven't been back since 1972

the moon landing was a hoax (-1, Flamebait)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 5 years ago | (#25819741)

made by jim jones and charles manson to test your faith in god

the moon is made of cheese, as god intended. and if you disagree with that fact, you are a satanist and unamerican, and what's worse, probably a liberal

us good americans will not listen to scientists and terrorists and communists and muslims (can anyone tell the difference?) and their lies

Re:the moon is made of cheese (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 5 years ago | (#25820361)

Of course they know it's made of cheese! What, you think they can make water from rocks?! Haha, ridiculous! Instead what they do is first they cut the cheese, then they squeeze the cheese.

As for this field test, well, few people know this (Hawaiians get quite offended if you say this, and you do NOT want to piss them off), but Hawaii is actually made of cheese as well.

Re:the moon is made of cheese (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25820649)

silly scientists

tricks are for hookers!

I know the trick! (0)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 5 years ago | (#25819491)

You think the rover got some regolit in a hand and crushed it until it got water, but he actually crushed a piece of cheese!

Next, he'll throw another regolith really far. But it will actually be a bird!

Waste of money (1)

PinkyDead (862370) | more than 5 years ago | (#25819511)

It'd be much cheaper just to go to the Quik-e-mart that just opened up there.

Re:Waste of money (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25820663)

It'd be much cheaper just to go to the Quik-e-mart that just opened up there.

HAHAHAHA Oh shit that's funny. Now all we need is for an African space program so we can get a KFC, amirite?

Backstep Transmission Received (5, Funny)

mfh (56) | more than 5 years ago | (#25819829)

I think transforming the Moon would be a really positive step for our species. Call it a test, call it our first expansionary mission. Also, if we can get a jump on terraform technology, and since it's only 2008, then we have about 40000 years before the galactic senate approaches us for our assistance in matters concerning the Orions. That's plenty of time to configure a few necessities for species survival, which are notably as follows:

1. Getting everyone on the planet to work together towards a common goal.
2. Stopping the real infidels (you know the ones from other planets creating dissent so they can throw us off our game)
3. Developing and improving faster methods of space travel. The time it takes to get to an enemy home world is the only hope in a quick victory for Mother Earth!
4. Socks. We need better socks. It's very cold in space.
5. Our energy weapon program is going smoothly. Keep it up. In 40000 years, our technology should definitely surpass that Death Star planetary destruction capability.
6. Rapid data transmission is going smoothly. Keep it up. By 42008, we should be sending and receiving entire clusters of units anywhere in the known universe, and beyond.
7. Deployed rover technologies are doing better than expected. We managed to get so much out of the mars mission that future missions with our new stealth invisibility technology should make Mother Earth a candidate for the Galactic Senate. By 42008, we should be looking at microscopic alteration technology weapons that can change our enemies into friends... which is just where we want them before we destroy them.
8. We need to stop letting these wars erupt on our soil. Perhaps better diplomacy? Perhaps a global government would be better? Personally a hive mind might be the way to go... that way we can quell the dissent with the brute force of the Great Mother. By 42008, a hive mentality could be intelligent to surpass anything feasible regarding survival in the universe, so that we can all start working on self actualization.
9. We need to continue unlocking human awareness -- it holds the key to a new path of glory... which would surpass the hive mind and create an exit.

END TRANSMISSION

Re:Backstep Transmission Received (1)

snspdaarf (1314399) | more than 5 years ago | (#25819975)

Lord help us, Shampoo has a sibling.

Re:Backstep Transmission Received (1)

mfh (56) | more than 5 years ago | (#25820159)

Lord help us, Shampoo has a sibling.

I am so sorry that you took my post that way. I was only kidding around a little. My post will make sense to anyone who has played Master of Orion. Nowhere did I mention an Internet sperm bank auction, so I resent the connection with a MC Shampoo post.

Re:Backstep Transmission Received (1)

ElectricRook (264648) | more than 5 years ago | (#25829327)

Your post was great, I wanted to ask if this were invented by Shampoo...
There was a lot of Gallagher humor in there.

Re:Backstep Transmission Received (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25821099)

Shampoo has a sibling.

Conditioner?

Re:Backstep Transmission Received (1)

bluie- (1172769) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823443)

I was thinking of how hilarious it would be, if we terraformed the moon, to put squirrels on it and watch them try to run around at 1/6th G.

"TWEEL" seems like a bad design (4, Interesting)

ryanw (131814) | more than 5 years ago | (#25820457)

It looks like "if" it happens to stumble upon water there would most likely be mud causing the holes in the wheels to fill up with gunk. Also I could see rocks and things getting stuck on this holes causing it to weigh more and change how it operates. http://www.astroday.net/Images/MKrovers/PISCES005.jpg [astroday.net]

Re:"TWEEL" seems like a bad design (2, Informative)

qleem (1410935) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821141)

Nah, tweels are brilliant. you get more surface area (like a pneumatic tire if you have a stiff tweel, or more like a track with more flexible ones), but with the single point of rotation and simple mechanism of a wheel. yes, stuff gets in them, just like a regular wheel on a car, but it falls out nicely and doesn't weigh too much. expect to see more of them soon. also, scarab has regular wheels as well - they also went to hawaii. (and yes, ive seen the tweels up close, in person, on scarab)

will not help. (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 5 years ago | (#25830465)

If they stumble upon "water" in a vacuum, they have a bigger problem then the tweel. They will be in an area in which our known physics is all wrong. Water does not exist in a vacuum.

Hey! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25820613)

You can see Capricorn One in the corner of one of those shots!

(Posed as AC due to comment's level of stupidity)

air pressure (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25820901)

How much oxygen do you need, to create air pressure that equals the earth's?

Re:air pressure (2, Insightful)

Shag (3737) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821573)

That depends how large of an enclosure you have. They're not trying to give the moon an atmosphere, this is strictly for an indoor moon base.

Terraforming tag slightly misleading (3, Interesting)

lmckayjo (532783) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822355)

The two oxygen/water producing setups tested out here weren't exactly of the "let's scale up and terraform!! w00t!!!" type...

In fact, they are more likely to be refined and *reduced* in size, to be able to go to the moon sometime in the next 10-15 years, and put out enough gas (stored under compression, or liquified) to support a crew of 4-6 humans for several months.

Nothing about giant pressure domes or atmosphere-building just yet... this stuff is way more practical than that.

-L

Can't they just drill for water? (2, Funny)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823007)

I doubt that the moon is totally cold all the way to the core, so could one not just drill down till you get into a level that is warm enough to have liquid water/oil/gas?

Re:Can't they just drill for water? (2, Funny)

holmstar (1388267) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823353)

Yeah, so let's round-up some rough-necks and send them to the moon to start drilling.

As an added bonus, if we ever find that the moon is going to suddenly crash into the earth, we can have them drop some nukes down the holes and blow the whole thing to bits.

I wonder if we could get Aerosmith write a song about them...

It's the vacuum (1)

Gorimek (61128) | more than 5 years ago | (#25827789)

The moon is no colder than earth, on average. But I think the problem is that water can't exist as a liquid in vacuum, regardless of temperature. This is why we're looking for water (ice) in the permanently dark craters near the poles.

Re:It's the vacuum (1)

lmckayjo (532783) | more than 5 years ago | (#25840281)

They're also doing all this ISRU testing to make water from the soil underfoot, or at the least get oxygen out of it to breathe. If there was liquid water, or even water ice near the surface, this would all be totally redundant.

-L

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