NTB: Have any promising new technologies come out of the RESOLVE project to date?
Dr. Quinn: Well, we’ve had some interesting challenges with RESOLVE. In order to get the oxygen liberated from the mineral content, we can only take the temperature up to about 1000 decrees Celsius, and getting all the valves to open and close and not get overheated during that process is very challenging. We’re talking about a vacuum system, and keeping those volatiles inside, and being able to detect them and work with that high temperature has been challenging.
Some of the innovative technologies that came out of that are latching valves and also some modifications to some commercial off-the-shelf gas chromatographs for the detection of those volatiles. So yes, we’ve had a couple that have been developed as we’ve taken RESOLVE through the technology evolution stages. A couple of others may even make it into commercial applications, and we’ve actually used some commercial applications to help us make RESOLVE. So it’s definitely been a two-way street.
NTB: NASA’s currently undergoing a change in direction with less emphasis being placed on lunar missions and more emphasis being placed on things like an eventual mission to Mars or landing on an asteroid. What impact, if any, do you think this will have on the RESOLVE project?
Dr. Quinn: RESOLVE was designed with a lunar mission in mind. However, it is a prospector for volatiles and NASA has an interest in utilizing resources whatever its mission destination might be, as is necessary to support exploration and human habitation. So, in my vision RESOLVE, although begun as a lunar prospecting tool, would certainly have application to either a NEO – near Earth object – an asteroid landing, or a Mars landing. We know there’s water ice on Mars, and understanding where it is and how to harvest it is definitely within RESOLVE’s capabilities, just as it is for an asteroid landing. I mean, we could go to an asteroid to look for resources, or to understand what its resources are for planetary protection, for example. If you wanted to move that asteroid out of Earth’s trajectory – should we have that situation at some untold futuristic time – the ability to use the resources to help push it out of the way might be an opportunity to demonstrate the capability of RESOLVE. It’s being able to say we have water there and could we use this water to produce steam, or generate the steam to move it out of its current trajectory.
We could also use the NEO as a stepping stone to get us to Mars by understanding how those resource utilization technologies work in a microgravity situation and testing them out on a NEO. So, although, as you pointed out, it was originally destined to be applied to Earth’s moon and prospect for water ice on the south pole of Earth’s moon, it certainly has the ability to morph into different prospecting tools that can be used in different arenas.
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