Priorities for Demonstrating Lunar ISRU Capabilities


The exploration of space will be easier when local (in situ) resources are used to produce items and consumables that otherwise would have to be shipped up from the deep gravity well of Earth. But nothing has ever been produced from raw materials collected anywhere other than Earth. Can it be done reliably? How must terrestrial processes be changed to be viable on the Moon, or on Mars? And how much can utilization of in situresources (ISRU) contribute to the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) and its potential evolution into the colonization of space?

Mission planners need to know such things. Capabilities and their limitations are most effectively confirmed or denied through demonstrations on-site, so precursor missions should include opportunities to demonstrate ISRU processes. The results must be returned in time for follow-up missions. However, the size, number, and duration of precursor missions are constrained by cost and timing, so hard choices must be made: Which capabilities are so important they must be demonstrated first?

Several assumptions about the generic architecture of the VSE make the ranking of potential ISRU-related demonstrations tractable:

  • Human missions will rely upon some ISRU process(es) by 2022+. --The process is mission-enhancing, but not necessarily critical-path.
  • Robotic landers will go to the moon on 2- to 3-year intervals, beginning in the next decade. --Robotic landers may be mobile or stationary. --Landed payload mass about 500 kg, including the power system. --Payload mass and power not dedicated totally to ISRU on most missions. --Power is solar for missions to sunlit regions, and fuel cell for shadowed regions (lifespan about 2 weeks). Nuclear power is assumed not available.

Meeting Name

2007 LEAG Workshop on Enabling Exploration (2007: Oct. 1-5, Houston, TX)


Geosciences and Geological and Petroleum Engineering

Keywords and Phrases

Architecture; Fuel Cells; Gravitation; Payloads; Precursors; Raw Materials; Robotics; Solar Power Generation; Space Exploration

Document Type

Article - Conference proceedings

Document Version


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© 2007 Lunar and Planetary Institute, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Oct 2007