NASA seeks ideas from students to mine and forge metal on the Moon

NASA’s 2023 annual BIG (Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-Changing) challenge asks university students to design a metal production pipeline on the Moon – from extracting metal from lunar minerals to creating structures and buildings. ‘tools.

The ability to mine metal and build the necessary infrastructure on the Moon advances the Artemis program’s goal of a sustained human presence on the lunar surface.

Its strength and corrosion resistance make metal key to building structures, pipes, cables and more, but metal materials for infrastructure are heavy, making them very expensive to transport. Student teams participating in the BIG Idea Challenge, a college-level competition sponsored by NASA and managed by the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA), will develop innovative ways to extract and convert metals from minerals found on the Moon , such as ilmenite and anorthite, to enable the manufacture of metals on the Moon.

The BIG Idea Challenge, now in its eighth year, invites university students to tackle some of space exploration’s most critical needs and help create the mission capabilities that could make new discoveries possible. . The challenge offers undergraduate and graduate students working with academic advisors the opportunity to design, develop and demonstrate their technology in a project-based program over a period of one and a half years. This NASA-funded challenge offers development grants of up to $180,000 to up to eight selected teams to build and demonstrate their conceptual designs and share the results of their research and testing at the culminating forum in November 2023.

The availability of metals derived from In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) on the Moon would make it possible to locally manufacture the infrastructure needed for a lunar base – including pipes, electrical cables, landing pads, transport and pressure vessels to contain volatile substances such as fuel. using additive manufacturing or 3D printing.

“Here at home, metal forging has long been a key part of building our homes and infrastructure, and the same is true when working towards a lasting presence on the Moon,” said Niki Werkheiser, director of technological maturation within the Space Technology agency. Directorate of Missions (STMD). “This challenge gives students the opportunity to help develop future technology that will help us find, process and manufacture metal on the lunar surface.”

Teams are invited to submit proposals for technologies needed at any point in the lunar metal products pipeline, including, but not limited to:

* Metal detection

* Metal Refining

* Shaping materials for additive manufacturing

* Test and qualify a 3D printed infrastructure for use on the Moon

Drilling, excavation and transportation of mined materials are excluded from this challenge.

A non-binding notice of intent is due September 30, 2022. Written proposals and video submissions are due January 24, 2023, in which teams must include a specific and compelling use case that describes how their part of the production of metal products pipeline is part of the development of infrastructure on the Moon. Teams should also identify what systems they assume are in place to support their proposed concept, as well as consider incorporating mechanisms to enable efficient operation on the Moon, including lunar dust mitigation, management thermal and realistic power considerations.

Teams of at least five and no more than 25 must be comprised of students and faculty from US-based colleges and universities affiliated with their state’s Space Grant Consortium. Colleges and universities not affiliated with Space Grant may partner with an institution affiliated with Space Grant. Institutions serving minorities are encouraged to apply. Multi-university and multidisciplinary teams are encouraged.

“NASA is already considering supporting longer-term missions to the Moon. This theme of the BIG Idea Challenge connects university teams to the push toward a sustained human presence on the Moon and other planets,” said Tomas Gonzalez-Torres, Space Grant Project Manager in the Office of STEM Engagement at the Nasa. “This theme goes beyond the initial Artemis missions and begins to address mission planning needs once we have returned humans to the Moon. We are excited to see what these teams develop.

The 2022 BIG Idea Challenge is sponsored by NASA as part of a collaboration between STMD’s Game Changing Development program and the Office of STEM Engagement’s Space Grant project.

NASA’s BIG Idea Challenge is one of many Artemis student challenges. The BIG Idea Challenge is managed by the National Aerospace Institute. For more information and to participate in the challenge, visit