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SBIR/STTR

Demonstration of "Optical Mining" For Excavation of Asteroids and Production of Mission Consumables, Phase I

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

This SBIR Phase-1 project will demonstrate the feasibility of an innovative breakthrough in ISRU methods that we call "Optical Mining". Optical mining is an approach to simultaneously excavating carbonaceous chondrite asteroid surfaces and driving water and other volatiles out of the excavated material and into an enclosing inflatable bag without the need for complex or impractical robotics. In optical mining, highly concentrated sunlight is delivered to the surface of the asteroid through a mechanically simple but optically sophisticated system of reflective non-imaging optics. The highly concentrated optical energy ablates the surface in a controlled way analogous to how intense lasers can ablate surfaces constantly exposing new material and forcing water out of the ablated material. Optical mining is part of a mission concept that ICS Associates has developed called Apis (Asteroid Provided In-Situ Systems). Apis is a commercially viable approach to the extraction, processing, and delivery of water from asteroids to in-space assets. Mission system studies show that Apis can extract up to 100MT of water from an accessible near Earth asteroid and deliver it to Lunar Distant Retrograde Orbit (LDRO) based on the launch of just one modest sized spacecraft from a single Falcon 9 rocket. The Apis mission concept depends on the completion of the proposed SBIR work. In this Phase-1 SBIR we will develop a facility to simulate and demonstrate key aspects of optical mining to show the mission system feasibility of Apis and provide a breakthrough in ISRU and space transportation for NASA. We will do this by upgrading an existing xenon arc lamp and vacuum system and using the optical energy from the lamp to simulate optical mining on asteroid materials in vacuum. We will perform experiments to validate the process by optically ablating the surfaces of meteorite samples and asteroid simulations under carefully controlled and observed conditions. More »

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