Boulder, CO, January 27, 2024 — Space Lab® has announced that the company has been selected to develop EcoMine™, a closed-loop bio-regenerative mining facility for the moon, through the NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Ignite program. NASA’s plans to establish a sustained Lunar presence for scientific research, Mars mission preparation, and a thriving commercial Lunar economy require significant surface infrastructure. Lunar regolith, the loose rocks and dust on the moon’s surface, is rich in raw elements used in construction, like silicon, iron, titanium, and aluminum. The use of these “in situ resources” enables an economical and sustainable approach to building structures on the moon, such as communication towers or landing pads. Regolith also provides an alternative source of rare Earth minerals for terrestrial use.
The Space Lab® EcoMine™ offers an environmentally safe and more profitable way to obtain building materials needed for Lunar development. By combining bioleaching and photosynthesis to recover minerals and continuously recycle air and nutrients, EcoMine™ consumes less energy and is less massive than chemical mining solutions. While traditional mining approaches would require large amounts of chemicals to be transported to the facility from Earth, a circular bioprocessing facility regenerates them on site, which could significantly reduce operating costs. Bioleaching is more efficient at extracting minerals from low-grade ore than abiotic methods, reducing the amount of raw material and energy, required for processing. Principal Investigator Christine Escobar stated, “EcoMine™ is a major step towards a viable, sustainable Lunar economy and a blueprint for more environmentally friendly mineral mining on Earth.” In Phase I, Space Lab will focus early-stage development on proof-of-concept prototypes to demonstrate facility capabilities. With future funding, Space Lab plans to demonstrate an EcoMine™ pilot plant on the moon.
Space Lab is a small business in Boulder, CO, that researches and develops technology for Earth-independent space habitation and exploration. Escobar stated, “We create tools and resources that people need to live and work in space sustainably, so that they can explore further and stay longer. We consider ourselves space habitat outfitters, creating sustainable solutions for humanity’s greatest journey.”