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.