Mining here on earth is a brute force industry, says Dale Boucher, chief executive officer of Deltion Innovations Ltd. of Capreol, Ont.
“If a rock is too big, you just get a bigger hammer to hit it with,” says Boucher.” You can’t take the same approach with space mining. You have to learn how to do things with very little weight and very little power.” Mining in outer space may seem like the stuff of science fiction but, in fact, it is going to happen sooner than most of us can imagine. NASA is currently planning a lunar Resource Prospector Mission; with a “notionally targeted launch” in 2018.
While the mother ship orbits the moon, a lander will descend to the surface. A rover will emerge from the lander, equipped with a robotic drill designed to explore for ice water at the South Pole, and Deltion is one of the companies in the running to supply the drill.
With funding from both NASA and the Canadian Space Agency, Boucher and his team have spent the past decade designing and testing a robotic drill capable of functioning on the surface of the moon where the temperature typically hovers at around minus 230 Celsius, and there is no atmosphere.
Deltion’s drill, formally known as the Vacuum Capable Drilling Unit (VCDU), weighs less than 25 kilograms and operates on less than 100 watts of power.
Last June, Boucher and his team put their device to the test. They transported it to NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and demonstrated its capabilities in the center’s moon chamber; a silo about one metre in diameter and two high which replicates conditions on the lunar surface.
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