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March 5th, 2018

Resources on the Moon — OHB Team Awarded ESA Contract for Demo Payload Study

OHB Italia, a subsidiary of the Bremen-based aerospace and technology group OHB SE, has been awarded a contract by the European Space Agency (ESA) for the definition of the payload for the Lunar ISRU Demonstration Mission (ISRU DM), expected to be flown in 2025.

Artistic rendition of Orion with European Service Module. Image is courtesy of ESA.

The mission is part of ESA’s  European Exploration Envelope Program (E3P). The purpose of the mission is to demonstrate the ISRU technologies (In-Situ Resource Utilization) required for exploiting the lunar soil in order to produce breathable oxygen and drinkable water. These technologies are key for the sustainable provision of the consumables needed for future human operations on lunar surface.

Mineralogically-bound oxygen can be extracted from the Moon's soil by chemical processes; similarly, volatiles are expected to be present in the polar regions of the Moon and can be directly extracted by physical processing. Whereas various organizations have studied ISRU methods and systems in the past, no single demonstration experiment has ever flown on a space mission.

For the ISRU DM mission, ESA will pursue a fast-track approach involving innovative commercial partnerships. A team led by OHB Italia SpA as prime and with subcontractors OHB System AG, Germany, Politecnico di Milano and the OHB spin-off BlueHorizon, Luxembourg, is in charge of the definition of the technology demonstrator payload.

The technology demonstrator payload will be composed of a plant mounted on the lander and a robotic arm that will be used to collect samples of the lunar soil (the ‘regolith’) and feed the plant. The soil will be chemically processed at temperatures in the range of 900 degrees Celsius in presence of proper reactants to extract the oxygen; the final product is water or oxygen. Thist will be the first time ever some chemical substances are produced outside the Earth and using non-Earth materials.

The OHB team will be closely working with a landing service provider (PartTime Scientists) and a communications service provider (SSTL with Goonhilly Earth Station in the UK), with overall coordination of the study by ESA. This way, a concept of the ISRU demonstration mission based on ISRU process know-how previously developed by OHB Italia (then Carlo Gavazzi Space) and Politecnico di Milano will be developed to conform to ESA technical and programmatic requirements.

Related ITT's (invitation to tender) by ESA are being issued to support the mission preparation with demonstration and prototype models of the ISRU facility. The OHB group intends to play a considerable role here, as well.