Planetary Volatiles Extractor
Honeybee’s Planetary Volatiles Extractor (PVEx) system is designed to enable In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), a space exploration approach to “living off the land” where astronauts or robots harvest local resources. ISRU will be critical for both robotic and human exploration of the Solar System because it can reduce the amount of supplies each mission needs to transport, potentially enabling entirely new mission architectures. It also holds significant commercial potential for space mining because volatiles (mainly water) can be mined and sold as hydrogen/oxygen fuel, helping satellite operators to extend spacecraft life or reach new destinations.
Traditional ISRU systems resemble the mining industry. But mining concrete-hard ice and icy-soil is difficult without using explosives, material handling poses challenges, and the mining process also results in lost volatiles due to sublimation.
The PVEx system takes a different approach, using a drill-based system and an integrated volatiles extraction plant to capture water from other planets, moons, and near-Earth objects. A double-wall coring drill penetrates icy material and heats the volatile-rich core, causing water and other volatiles to turn into a gas. This gas is contained in the system and flows into a cold trap, where it condenses into a solid and can be transferred to a storage tank. The system has demonstrated total water extraction efficiency of over 80% in space analog conditions.
With NASA SBIR funding, the system will reach TRL 6 in 2018, and Honeybee intends to have this technology ready to support for future human and robotic missions, both for a range of scientific exploration and commercial space mining – whether Shackleton Energy or Blue Origin uses it on the Moon, or SpaceX uses it on Mars to support their ISRU needs.