Power on the Moon Will Come Through Either Cables or Lasers

NASA selects seven teams for Phase 1 of Watts on the Moon Challenge 1 photo
Photo: NASA
Now that we’re returning to the Moon to make a second home for (some) of us up there, the needs of the Artemis program are far greater than what we had back in the 1960s with Apollo. Scientists and companies all around the world are trying to figure out ways, materials, and technologies that will allow for habitats, massive exploration, and why not mining Earth’s satellite.
All of these activities will need is, of course, energy, and truth be told, we presently do not have the means to generate and move all that much of it there. Sure, solar energy is abundant, but the Moon also has long nights (about 350 hours), places where sunlight seldom reaches, and, of course, temperature changes so extreme they pose serious issues for technology.

In a bid to come up with solutions that would permit energy distribution, management, and storage, NASA launched the Watts on the Moon Challenge in September of last year. Now, several months after sixty teams submitted their projects, NASA selected seven of them for Phase 1 of the program.

To be able to choose the best solutions, NASA set up a multi-stage scenario that basically called for hardware to harvest “water and oxygen from a dark crater at the Moon's South Pole with energy generated by a power plant located on the crater's outer rim.”

Teams had to deliver power from the plant to a rover inside a crater, then to a water extraction plant also located there, and then to an oxygen-producing plant outside the crater.

For the first part of the mission, Astrobotic was selected for its fleet of small tethered rovers that lay out and connect power cables between the power plant and the target rover. KC Space Pirates and Moonlight were also selected for their idea of using lasers to beam power to the rover.

The Planetary Surface Technology Development Lab had the best solution to send power to the extraction plant, also using tethered rovers. Astrolight, on the other hand, went for the laser approach, while Team FuelPod came up with something new that involved machine learning and a modular system of lithium-ion battery-powered pods.

For powering the oxygen facility, Skycorp was recognized for the system of power cells for storage and distribution.

The full details of all these technologies unknown, but one thing becomes increasingly clear: energy needs on the Moon will either be satisfied as they are here on Earth by using cables, or going the laser way.

The seven teams received in Phase 1 a combined $500,000 to continue their research. In all, NASA plans to pump $5 million into this competition.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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