The Space Resources Week 2021, organized in Luxembourg, is a 4-day online conference connecting thought leaders from the terrestrial resources sector, aerospace industry, financial institutions, research institutes and academia.
It aims at understanding the technical and economic challenges facing in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) and elaborating recommendations for the future development of this high technology sector.
Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) is collaborating with institutes from Europe and abroad, for a more robust interpretation of lunar ‘soil’ analyses from samples beneath the surface in the South Pole region of the Moon. They are looking at how water ice molecules behave when changing from ice state to vapour state.
“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”.
This famous quote from Neil Armstrong, who in the late 1960s was the first man to walk on the Moon, has profoundly marked our history and knowledge. These first manned Apollo missions, however, led scientists to believe that the Moon was a bone-dry celestial body. It is only very recently that new exploration missions have revealed the existence of water ice pools in the polar regions of the Moon.
At the dawn of space mining missions, this discovery opens new horizons and raises new research questions, to which Veneranda López Días, researcher at LIST (Environmental Research and Innovation Department/ERIN), together with her colleagues at the ERIN and Materials Research and Technology departments, are trying to answer through pioneering projects with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Luxembourg Space Agency (LSA).
From a better understanding of lunar water behaviour…
In non-terrestrial environments, such as the Moon, only little is known about the water molecule’s behaviour. This information is nonetheless essential for a better understanding of lunar water sources and fate, and by extension, to identify if it could be a viable resource.
“In the frame of the Luna 27 mission that will be launched in 2024/2025, we are collaborating with institutes from Europe and abroad, for a more robust interpretation of lunar ‘soil’ analyses from samples beneath the surface in the South Pole region of the Moon.”, explains Veneranda.
More specifically, and with the support of LSA, the LIST team conducts a pioneering project focusing on the isotope fractionation processes of Hydrogen (H) and Oxygen (O) stable isotopes during water ice sublimation under lunar environmental conditions. In other words, they are looking at how water ice molecules behave when changing from ice state to vapour state.
As a concrete example of application, the Permanently Shadowed Regions (PSRs) at the Moon poles act as cold traps, with temperatures down to -250°C, and collect any vapours that pass through the lunar environment. Hence, PSRs contain a fossil record of the early Solar System that could considerably improve the current state-of-the-art related to the lunar water cycle and the early solar system history.
… to space mining missions on the moon and beyond
“Progress in this respect will be of direct relevance and interest for space mining companies and scientists investigating the water cycle on the Moon and the origin of water delivered to the Earth-Moon system and its history.”, highlights Veneranda.
Water extraction and processing on the Moon is highly relevant for In-Situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU), since it serves as propelling, radiation shielding, thermal management and life-support consumables. It would therefore contribute to reduce the costs and complexity of bringing supplies from the Earth’s deep gravity well and settle the human presence on the Moon (Moon Village) as an intermediate base to prepare for future missions to Mars – or other destinations – but also to extend the space mining to asteroids.
Moreover, lessons learned from this project may eventually benefit water resources related research on earth. The expected findings and results shall help identifying synergies between terrestrial and non-terrestrial hydrology, for ultimately triggering new momentum in both planetary and Earth system sciences.
The interdisciplinarity of LIST as an asset
“Given that we explore mostly unploughed ground – both in terms of instrument development and exo-hydrological process understanding – this project is extremely challenging, but also all the more exciting.”, testify Laurent and Veneranda.
LIST’s researchers need to find innovative solutions to untackled problems related to the extraction of water and ice from lunar ‘soil’ samples. At the same time, they need to design and build devices that operate in an incredibly hostile and challenging environment – with very low temperatures and a very pronounced vacuum – and still capable of delivering the finest possible resolution in stable isotope measurements for O and H in ice. The new instruments, experimental data and process knowledge obtained from exo-hydrology research shall ultimately also reduce knowledge gaps that prevail in terrestrial hydrology – a field that remains measurement limited to date.
With its cohort of experts in multiple and yet highly complementary fields – spanning from hydrology, inorganic geochemistry, soil science, chemistry to physics – LIST offers a unique blend of qualities and skills that are required for facing such an extraordinary and galvanising challenge.
The Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) and the established Luxembourg company Gradel are joining forces by opening a joint Luxembourg Lab to research and produce ultra-lightweight structures for the aeronautics and space industry. Parts will be produced for three European giants in satellite construction; Thales Alenia Space (France), Airbus Defence and Space (France), and OHB (Germany). This project holds great promises for the space sector and beyond, with potential applications in the automotive and aeronautic world.
In the domain of space and satellites, weight is expensive. The heavier a product for transport into space is, the more it costs. In fact, the current estimate is costs of around €5,000-10,000 per kilogram, meaning that any weight loss is beneficial financially for companies sending satellites into space.
The LIST/Gradel joint effort aims to produce very tough, yet ultra-lightweight structures using continuous carbon-fibre-reinforced-polymers (CFRP) in a filament winding process creating ultralight 3D structures. The carbon fibre is coated with a polymer that solidifies the entire object rendering it extremely solid and resilient. Impregnated carbon fibres are wound to form an optimised 3D-mesh design that gives the part its special mechanical properties.
The joint lab, hosted in LIST’s new premises in Hautcharage, will focus on two projects, known as “xFKin3D” (the name of the technology) and “Robotised xFKin3D”. While the first one consists of making parts by hand with the filament weaving manually and will target the demonstration space-use standards of structural parts produced by the xFKin3D technology, the second one aims at producing the same parts, but with the use of a new robotic arm recently installed at LIST. This will make it a fully automated manufacturing process, assuring excellent repeatability, to the same strength and quality, but on a larger, industrial scale.
The end products are for aerospace, but what exactly?
The components produced are destined for use in all that is antenna support, bracket for equipment in satellites. Currently many of these parts are metallic and therefore relatively heavy. The aim is to move away from metal parts, and with this new technology by LIST and Gradel produced in Luxembourg, a reduction of up to 75% in weight can be achieved, saving companies considerable costs.
It has already been confirmed that the final clients for parts produced at LIST premises, will be initially for Airbus, Thales and OHB – three major European players in the space industry.
When it comes to commercialising parts produced in the LIST labs, it is Gradel who will take on this task with an already proven track record in producing products for the space industry.
LIST will contribute its expertise in the formation of the materials and play a major role at the start and of the process and development, researching and determining such things as the correct conditions, speed, printing, pressure, temperature etc, needed to obtain parts of strong and good quality.
“Setting up joint laboratory and development program to support innovative Luxembourg company is at the very heart of our LIST mission ” said Dr Damien Lenoble, director of the Materials Research and Technology – MRT Department of LIST adding that “advanced research towards ultra-light-weighting with sustainable materials and processes is one our CORE research area in MRT, acknowledging that targeting leading-edge requirements of the space industry together with GRADEL will pave the way for timely energy-efficient terrestrial applications that go from wind turbines to ultra-light transport vehicles”.
Regarding the new collaboration with LIST, Gradel’s Managing Director, Claude Maack stated, “Gradel began working with Ultra Lightweight structures in the space sector in 2018 by signing an exclusivity contract with AMC GmbH which developed xFK in 3D first in the Automotive sector. Now with LIST we have a strong partner with deep knowledge in material and process of composite structures allowing us further qualification for Space applications. Supported by LSA, this innovative process technology will enable Gradel to continue its success story in Space sector and beyond with a full automated manufacturing process”.
A disruptive technology with potential applications in the space field, and beyond
Light-weighting is a popular topic in today’s world, and becoming more and more important in many areas of production, notably in the automotive and aeronautic world. The heavier a car is, the more it consumes. If you manage to halve the weight of a vehicle, you halve the energy necessary to move it. This technology is currently being applied to space technologies, in the future it could equally be as beneficial for aircraft and automobile industries.
Both projects are supported by the Luxembourg National Space Programme LuxIMPULSE, which aims at providing funding to help companies established in Luxembourg to bring innovative ideas to market. The programme is managed by the Luxembourg Space Agency (LSA) together with the European Space Agency (ESA).
UNIVERSEH, unites over 130.977 students, 13.030 staff and 59 associates. With a focus on “Space”, the Alliance will work towards the following goals:
Enhance mobility and multilingualism
UNIVERSEH will enhance current support services and develop common ones such as the “Feel at Home” program. Further, the alliance will develop mobility opportunities, create new partnerships and organize short term mobility. It will also promote and facilitate access to different language courses, diversify the offer and contribute to developing students’ tandems.
Develop new joint Interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral curricula
UNIVERSEH will involve different stakeholders; collect information on the current and future needs, then, based on courses from the alliance, UNIVERSEH will create new interdisciplinary curricula.
Develop new pedagogical models
We will explore new innovative opportunities: personal learning networks, hybrid and virtual learning and student to student learning
Become an entrepreneurial “university”
UNIVERSEH will develop new common entrepreneurship courses adapted to European space sector, develop different activities such as call for project with stakeholders, support to students’ projects, networking and mentoring program, student practical experience in research and innovation infrastructures. All the actions will be supported by a strong Business-University cooperation.
Address some of the barriers students can face when it comes to joining higher education in general and studying abroad in particular
The alliance will produce a EuroCharter on Equity, Inclusion and Diversity: towards European standards, testimonial videos of Women in the Space sector, a blog for students with specific needs to enable them to share experiences and staff seminar for common guidelines and improvement of services for mobile students.
Established in November 2020 to develop a new way of collaboration in the field of Space within the new “European Universities” initiative promoted by the European Commission, UNIVERSEH aims to create new higher education interactive experiences for the university community, teachers and students, and for the benefit of society as a whole. Such initiatives will enable broadminded, informed and conscientious European citizens to capture and create new knowledge and become smart actors of European innovation, valorisation and societal dissemination within the Space sector, from science, engineering, liberal arts to culture.
In all its aspects (science, engineering, economy, business, social and human sciences, patenting and innovation, entrepreneurship, science and medicine, art and culture), UNIVERSEH will contribute to European Education area, to job and industrial growth, to resolve key societal challenges, and to make the space sector more sustainable, to ensure that the EU remains a global leader in the New Space domain.
Luxembourg just entered a strategic partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) to create a “European Space Resources Innovation Centre”, or ESRIC. Unique of its kind, ESRIC aims to become an internationally recognised centre of expertise for scientific, technical, business and economic aspects related to the use of space resources for human and robotic exploration, as well as for a future in-space economy.
Based in Luxembourg, ESRIC will partner with public and private international players in this field to create a hub of excellence for space resources in Europe. The creation of ESRIC was part of the Luxembourg government initiative SpaceResources.lu launched in 2016 to establish an ecosystem favourable to the development of activities related to the exploration and use of space resources.
ESRIC’s activities will focus on space resources research and development, drawing together excellence from public research and its facilities, with private sector initiative and efficiency. The centre will also contribute to economic growth by supporting commercial initiatives and start-ups, offering a business incubation component and enabling technology transfer between space and non-space industries.
On 18 November 2020, an implementation agreement concerning cooperation activities at ESRIC was signed between the Ministry of the Economy, as the supervisory body of the Luxembourg Space Agency (LSA), the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), a leading mission-driven research and technology organisation, and ESA. The Centre is embedded in Luxembourg’s space ecosystem, which is promoted and supported by LSA. ESRIC is operated and hosted by LIST. Among others, ESA will provide equipment, implement research activities at ESRIC and give technical and business support to the business incubator.
When signing the agreement, the Luxembourg Minister of Economy Franz Fayot said, “ESRIC is the first research, business and innovation centre wholly focused on the utilisation of resources which you can find in space. Mission-driven research and applications, best-in-class talent and state-of-the-art facilities unique in Europe are the keys to success. We cannot do this alone. Therefore, we work closely with leading players in the space industry.”
Jan Wörner, the ESA Director General, stated, “I warmly welcome the strategic partnership between ESA and Luxembourg in establishing ESRIC, a one-of-a-kind centre dedicated to research and innovation in the field of space resources. I have been closely following the Luxembourg initiative on space resources since its very inception and I am very happy to see ESA Member States driving new endeavours and a concrete outcome. This what makes Europe stronger and more competitive and I would like to thank all those who made this strategic partnership possible”.
Present at the signing ceremony, the Minister of Higher Education and Research Claude Meisch, supervising the public research centre LIST said, “The strong commitment of LIST to ESRIC is concretised with the investment of around 3 million euros in the next five years allowing ESRIC to become, within LIST the internationally recognised centre of expertise for scientific, technical, business and economic aspects related to the use of space resources for human and robotic exploration”.
Thomas Kallstenius, CEO of LIST commented, “LIST’s mission consists of pushing the frontiers in research for high-impact innovation. ESRIC entirely fits into this, and we are delighted to welcome this new team as a new department within LIST. We have already conducted several high-level research projects in the space sector, and we have identified many potential synergies between ESRIC and our other research departments. For us, the dual use of technologies -in space and on earth- will be of great interest in the coming years”.