The hunt to sustain human presence on the Moon just kicked into high gear with the launch of the Aqualunar Challenge, a joint £1.2 million prize competition established by the UK and Canadian space agencies.
Tasking engineers worldwide to craft solutions for converting lunar ice into potable water, this initiative aims to make off-world settlements self-sufficient by tapping into indigenous reserves. With teams now racing to develop compact purification systems robust enough to operate in the Moon’s harsh polar craters, innovative technologies could emerge that help address water scarcity challenges back on Earth as well.
With ambitions to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon this decade, access to clean water will prove instrumental in making lunar settlements viable beyond short-term survival. Deep beneath the Moon’s surface lies a precious reserve of water ice that could sustain astronauts for extended missions. However, harmful contaminants permeate this crucial supply, posing a unique technological challenge.
The hunt is on to develop purification solutions tailored to operate in the Moon’s exceptionally harsh and unforgiving terrain. The Aqualunar Challenge, a joint prize competition backed by £1.2 million in government funding, aims to accelerate innovations for converting lunar ice into potable water safely and sustainably. Established by space agencies in the UK and Canada, this initiative calls upon engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs worldwide to push the boundaries of the possibility of off-world water treatment.
Winning designs must reliably filter contaminated ice within demanding size, weight and power limitations – all while withstanding extreme sub-zero temperatures, abrasive moon dust, and radiation bombardment. Yet overcoming such obstacles promises immense dividends on the lunar surface and back home on Earth.
Surviving on other worlds requires self-sufficiency, the core tenet behind the Artemis Accords penned by NASA and partner space agencies. Relying solely on water shipments from Earth would impose debilitating logistical and financial burdens. Next-generation purification systems seek to close critical resource loops in environments devoid of modern conveniences by tapping into indigenous lunar reserves instead. The ability to generate potable water and liberate hydrogen for rocket fuel will empower astronauts to live off the land for extended periods.
However, buried caches of water ice within permanently shadowed polar craters contain toxic impurities like methane, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. Removing these contaminants demands compact, energy-efficient purification hardware that functions despite wildly fluctuating temperatures between -233°C in darkness and 127°C in sunlight. Solutions must withstand intense cosmic radiation, solar wind, micrometeoroid rain and abrasive moondust.
Meeting such challenging technical specifications falls upon the innovators in the Aqualunar Challenge, now open for registration until April 2024. This competition, organised by the UK Space Agency and Canadian Space Agency, offers over £1 million in prizes across multiple award tiers. Ten shortlisted finalists will each receive £30,000 and expert support during concept refinement stages through 2025.
A judging panel containing scientific luminaries will then evaluate submissions based on criteria encompassing water quality, processing rate, reliability, mass limits and power consumption. The most outstanding project will be the designated winner, earning £150,000 to advance their design. Two runners-up will be granted £75,000 and £50,000 respectively.
Beyond the financial incentives, participants gain opportunities for international collaboration across government, academia and industry. Online events facilitate knowledge transfer between the parallel UK and Canadian contest tracks, enabling cooperative innovation. Such global cooperation also echoes the principles behind responsible lunar resource utilisation.
As space agencies progress towards sustainable lunar settlements, balancing utilisation with preservation grows increasingly vital. With water scarcity affecting over 40% of the global population, applying technologies nurtured via the Aqualunar Challenge could also alleviate pressures on strained water resources back on Earth.
In the near term, awarding breakthroughs in purification hardware lays the groundwork for demonstrating end-to-end drinking water production on the Moon. Looking ahead, as capabilities mature to support large-scale ice mining and water harvesting, the door opens for permanent bases that rely minimally on materials from our planet. While ambitious, this vision edges closer to reality through pioneering competitions aimed squarely at the next giant leap for human space exploration.
To find out more and to enter the Aqualunar Challenge in the UK visit aqualunarchallenge.org.uk.
- The £1.2 million Aqualunar Challenge aims to develop lunar water purification systems
- Making settlements sustainable requires using indigenous water ice reserves
- Water ice on the Moon contains hazardous contaminants requiring filtration
- Solutions must be robust enough to handle extreme cold, radiation, and abrasive dust
- The competition offers over £1 million in prizes across multiple award tiers
- Ten finalists will receive £30k each to refine concepts through 2025
- Judges evaluate water quality, processing rate, reliability, size and power
- Participants gain opportunities for international collaboration
- Purification breakthroughs could help address water scarcity on Earth
- Pioneering technologies take steps towards viable long-term lunar bases