“It is great to know that I am developing something that will add value to ispace – and it is incredibly motivating to know that, one day, my research will end up on the Moon,” says Joshua Rasera, who started his PhD in September 2018, having previously worked at ispace Europe as both an intern and full-time engineer.
Finding a way to get resources in space
There are many questions that need to be answered, techniques that need to be invented, before space mining can actually become a concrete reality - for example finding out how the resources on the Moon can be utilised in a bid to cut down the amount of resources that would need to be transported from Earth to space for missions.
“This could be anything from basic life-support necessities, like water or oxygen, to more diverse materials for 3D printing, electronics fabrication, or power generation,” Josh explains.
“With respect to the Moon, every resource of interest would first need to be ‘mined’ in some way. The steps involved with mining on Earth are broken down into what is known as a flowsheet; these flowsheets cover everything from excavation and haulage through to the final refinement steps to produce a pure material.”
Innovating in a burgeoning field
Mainly based at Imperial College London, Josh works on beneficiation - a process that improves the economic value of the ore (A naturally occurring solid material from which a metal or valuable mineral can be extracted profitably).
Josh is developing a technique to enrich specific materials in the Lunar soil, in order to facilitate the production of resources of interest – minerals, glass created by ancient volcanoes, even water-ice crystals, found in the soil at the Moon’s poles.
A variety of innovative processes are being developed, to for example produce oxygen or capture water from the Lunar soil:
“Each of these techniques will have an optimal input feed that will maximise the efficiency of the oxygen/water production process. Mineral enrichment and feedstock* preparation are both highly under-researched areas in the space resource utilisation flowsheet, and offer excellent opportunities to innovate in this burgeoning field.”
*Raw material to supply or fuel a machine or industrial process.
From intern to PhD researcher
When ispace Europe opened their office in Luxembourg in 2017, Josh was among the first few people hired, and embarked on an internship in the framework of his Masters studies at the International Space University in France. Following the internship, he joined the company as a full-time engineer, taking on a variety of technical and non-technical responsibilities as the team grew.
As an intern, Josh had no intention of pursuing a PhD, however the internship provided him with a platform to gain a better understanding of ispace’s needs and goals. After starting as a full-time engineer and clarifying his own career goals and aspirations, Josh explains that he decided that the Industrial Fellowship programme was the right path to take:
“I thought that it would be an excellent opportunity for me to undertake a research project that would help ispace achieve their long-term vision, whilst helping me build my skillset and experience in the nascent space mining sector. After speaking with management both in Europe and Japan, I began contacting professors, fleshing out the specifics for the research project”.
“ispace management in both Europe and Japan recognised that as a company, we needed to start thinking about how we will achieve our resource utilisation vision for the Moon and were very supportive of my Industrial Fellowship proposal.
"The work that Carlos and I are able to do through this programme is setting the groundwork for the company that ispace will become in the future.”
Julien Lamamy, Josh’s supervisor at ispace Europe, explains how Josh’s Industrial Fellowship, as well as those of fellow Industrial Fellows Carlos Espejel and Philippe Ludivig feed into ispace Europe’s goals:
“After we demonstrate our lunar lander and rover technologies and before we move to utilising lunar resources, there first needs to be a phase of exploration in the mining sense, that is the precise mapping of resources (Carlos). Then comes the rover navigation, which Philippe is working on, which will build a map of the Moon and localise the resources on that map.
“One then needs to process this new exploration data and evaluate the grade of the resources and the effort it takes to extract and utilise them (Carlos). Resource extraction and utilisation will start for the mines that are economically viable, and a key step of that process is the beneficiation – Josh’s key area of research . The FNR has enabled us to start thinking and preparing for these three steps.”
Passionately pushing frontiers of exploration
Even though Josh is mainly based in the UK, he is very much a part of the ispace Europe team, which he visits regularly, and shares palpable passion for the mission:
“Everyone at the company is not only incredibly passionate about their role, they also truly believe in the company’s aims and vision, and are all working towards a common goal. It is an amazing experience to be a part of such a passionate group of professionals working on technology that pushes the frontiers of exploration.”