Boulder, Colorado-based Lunar Outpost Inc. officials announced their Lunar Prospector designed to map the moon's natural resources. The first Prospector was demonstrated driving and drilling in simulated lunar regolith at the Colorado School of Mines' new lunar testbed facility in the Earth Mechanics Institute overseen by the Center for Space Resources. The event marked the first commercial Lunar Prospector publicly tested in the United States.
Evidence of valuable resources on the lunar surface, such as water, precious metals, and helium-3 have been established by remote sensing on lunar flyby missions. This scientific data has been used to create resource models of the lunar surface, which now require ground-truthing to establish optimal landing sites and plan future resource extraction operations. Groups of Lunar Outpost Prospectors will map the resources of the moon, while autonomously navigating along waypoints and avoiding hazards. These Prospectors can also be teleoperated as necessary and can use NASA's Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway concept as a center of operations.
The Lunar Outpost Prospectors are focused on providing exploration data for in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). Much like the Earth-bound explorers of the past, future space missions will not be able to bring all the necessary supplies with them on their voyage. Rather, they will need to learn to use the resources available to them at their celestial destinations. The Lunar Outpost Prospectors provide early ISRU resource location, form, and distribution data to these future missions, enabling them to plan their missions more effectively and efficiently.
Each Lunar Outpost Prospector weighs 10kg, with 5kg of that mass available for additional payloads. Instrumentation from third parties is encouraged to maximize the scientific and commercial value of every Prospector mission. The Prospectors scan the lunar surface for resources with a mass spectrometer while driving, and probe areas of high resource concentration with a drill to analyze subsurface samples. They use a space-rated 360 LIDAR system to create maps of lunar surface features with centimeter-scale resolution, far more detailed than maps generated from orbit. This sensor also allows the prospector to continue navigating in deep, permanently-shadowed craters during the lunar night or within lunar lava tubes. In addition, the Prospectors will record 4K video of their operations, providing data to the resource extraction missions that follow. The Prospectors are designed to be robust, capable platforms that can be customized and mass-produced to fit a variety of mission profiles.
Lunar Outpost will announce their first mission to the moon in mid-2019.
Lunar Outpost is engaged in contracts with the U.S. Air Force, local and state government organizations, and research institutions, and has recently deployed a prototype air quality monitor for Lockheed Martin's NextSTEP Habitat module at KSC.