Why Explore Lunar Polar Volatiles?
As documented in the key objectives of the Global Exploration Roadmap, space agencies recognise that it is important to characterise resources available at exploration destinations, and to develop and validate technologies and systems that extract, process, and utilise these resources for the exploration missions of the future.
Growing evidence for the presence and extent of lunar polar volatiles, including water, hydrogen, and methane, has sparked the interest of space agencies, scientists, and entrepreneurs because of the implications for science and the postulated potential for utilisation of volatiles as a resource. Understanding lunar volatiles better could improve the productivity and value of future space exploration. In summary, we explore lunar polar volatiles:
- To determine the technical and economic viability of extracting them for use as potential resources (e.g. propellant, life support, radiation protection, energy storage).
- To use the Moon as a proving ground, demonstrating technologies and methods for accessing and utilising lunar volatiles in ways that are relevant to potential future Mars resource utilization
- To increase scientific knowledge (e.g. lunar volatiles inventory, transport processes, origins) that may, for example, help to understand the history of the inner solar system, including the origins of water and life-enabling chemistry on Earth.
Why Engage the Global Space Community?
Space agencies participating in the International Space Exploration Coordination Group are working with each other and with the broader science and private-sector communities to address key questions about lunar polar volatiles. Progress can be accelerated by sharing information, coordinating efforts, and identifying opportunities for cooperation.
The goal is to enhance international coordination of efforts that address knowledge and capability gaps related to exploring lunar water ice and other lunar polar volatiles by:
- Advancing the overall state of lunar polar volatiles knowledge among space agencies and the private sector;
- Stimulating collaboration and coordination among interested agencies and other stakeholders of relevant studies, capability development, and lunar mission plans;
- If appropriate, and based on findings related to the nature, extent, and distribution of polar volatiles, identifying initial, affordable small-scale In-Situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU) demonstrations and experiments to understand whether water ice could be economically extracted and utilized as a resource, in a fashion consistent with maintaining the scientific value of polar volatile deposits.