The US space agency has asked university students to design a metal production pipeline on the Moon -- from extracting metal from lunar minerals to creating structures and tools.
The ability to extract metal and build needed infrastructure on the Moon advances the Artemis Programme goal of a sustained human presence on the lunar surface, NASA said in a statement.
"Here at home, forging metal has long been a key part of building our homes and infrastructure, and the same holds true as we work towards a sustained presence on the Moon," said Niki Werkheiser, director of technology maturation within the agency's Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD).
"This challenge gives students the opportunity to help develop the future technology that will help us find, process, and manufacture with metal on the lunar surface," Werkheiser added.
The 2023 Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-Changing (BIG) Idea Challenge invites university students to tackle some of the most critical needs facing space exploration and help create the mission capabilities that could make new discoveries possible.
Student teams will develop innovative ways to extract and convert metals from minerals found on the Moon, such as ilmenite and anorthite, to enable metal manufacturing on the Moon.
The NASA-funded challenge provides development awards of up to $180,000 to up to eight selected teams to build and demonstrate their concept designs and share the results of their research and testing at the culminating forum in November 2023.
The availability of derived metals on the Moon would allow infrastructure needed for a lunar base -- including pipes, power cables, landing pads, transport rails, and pressure vessels to contain volatiles like fuel -- to be made locally using additive manufacturing, or 3D printing.
"NASA is already thinking about supporting longer-term missions to the Moon. This BIG Idea Challenge theme links university teams to the push toward sustained human presence on the Moon and on other planets," said Tomas Gonzalez-Torres, Space Grant project manager in NASA's Office of STEM Engagement.