Paragon Looks to Mine Ice on the Moon

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Paragon Space Development Corporation of Tucson will begin developing a cold trap for the mining of water on the moon with the help of NASA funding.

The space agency selected the Tucson-based company for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I award to begin work on the ISRU Collector of Ice in a Cold Lunar Environment (ICICLE). The award is worth $125,000 over six months.

“A well-designed Cold Trap will selectively freeze out and collect water vapor from the volatile inputs, rejecting the corrosive, toxic, and explosive contaminant gases found with water in the lunar regolith,” the company said its proposal summary.

Paragon’s project is one of 10 SBIR proposals selected by NASA that are focused on in situ resource utilization as the space agency prepares to send astronauts back to the surface of the moon.

The ICICLE project summary follows.

ISRU Collector of Ice in a Cold Lunar Environment (ICICLE)
Subtopic Title: Extraction of Oxygen from Lunar Regolith

Paragon Space Development Corporation
Tucson, AZ

Principal Investigator
Dr. Jordan Holquist

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) :
Begin: 2
End: 3

Technical Abstract

Paragon proposes developing the conceptual design of the thermal control system (TCS) for an in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) Collector of Ice in a Cold Lunar Environment (ICICLE), a Cold Trap for collecting and purifying water from sublimation mining of water-ice or filtration thereof from the permanently shadowed regions (PSR) of the lunar poles.

Cold trap collection and filtration of water from various lunar ice mining architectures is relatively undeveloped. This Cold Trap must be able to interface with the extraction methods as well as downstream processing systems, such as Paragon’s in-development ISRU-derived water purification and Hydrogen Oxygen Production (IHOP) subsystem.

A well-designed Cold Trap will selectively freeze out and collect water vapor from the volatile inputs, rejecting the corrosive, toxic, and explosive contaminant gases found with water in the lunar regolith.

Thermal management system technologies or a combination thereof in the ICICLE Cold Trap will be required to achieve both the desired water purity and collection rates, while also being able to interface with upstream and downstream systems from both process and mechanical perspectives.

To this end, this proposal will explore the trade space of conceptual designs to meet these wide ranging performance and architecture needs, the most practical of which will be down-selected, refined, and thermally modeled for a prototype demonstration in Phase II of the ICICLE program.

Potential NASA Applications

The proposed system is applicable to the ISRU of water on the Moon, one of the main reasons lunar poles have been selected for upcoming NASA missions to establish a sustained human presence on the Moon. The purification and collection of water is a critical step in generating in-situ propellant, breathable oxygen, and potable water.

To our knowledge, the ISRU Collector of Ice in a Cold Lunar Environment (ICICLE) Cold Trap will be the first trade study and development effort for this key aspect of lunar ice mining system architectures.

Potential Non-NASA Applications

The proposed system is applicable to collecting and purifying water or volatiles on any cold, solar system body. The technologies integrated in the possible TCS for the ISRU Collector of Ice in a Cold Lunar Environment (ICICLE) may be applicable to other space-based systems. The ICICLE may find roles in aspects of future commercial mining efforts in planetary and small-body systems.

Duration: 6