Project Khepri: Feasibility Study of Mining Asteroid Bennu

  • Final engineering design report

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  • Water has been identified as a critical resource for development of robust cis-lunar infrastructure. Providing a potential source of clean-energy propellant and/or an essential consumable for humans or agriculture on crewed trips to the Moon or Mars while avoiding high costs of launching from Earth is thus a highly desirable element to cis-lunar infrastructure.
    The OSIRIS-REx mission provided a complete survey of the asteroid Bennu and will return regolith samples to Earth in 2023, making this a well-understood and low-risk target that is estimated to be on average 6.3% water by mass. The Khepri Project comprises a team of international students, academics, and industry subject matter experts working on the technical design, business case, and political aspects of a feasibility study to mine asteroid Bennu for water.
    This study included outlining a multi-year mining mission, where robotic explorers would be sent to both an orbit around Bennu as well as to Bennu’s surface, culminating in tonnes of water extracted for transport back to cis-lunar space for immediate use. Mining asteroid Bennu is an unprecedented scientific opportunity to study the formation of our solar system - large scale operations could enable kilogram scale samples across Bennu’s surface and subsurface.
    Such an endeavor would provide new opportunities for synergy with other industries, such as Canada’s well established mining sector. Future mining of near-earth asteroids provides additional resources (e.g. rare earth elements) to support Canada’s manufacturing sector as well. Pursuing such a mission provides an opportunity to demonstrate novel surface operations on small bodies leading to future asteroid mining endeavors. These include: use of autonomous robotic elements; improved in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) technologies; and deep space rendezvous. The Canadian Space Agency’s leadership in this direction would engage Canadian academia, industry, and students, and would facilitate continued development of highly qualified personnel in planetary geology and space robotics & operations.
    This document outlines the various elements considered in this feasibility study, culminating in mission and system design.

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    Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International
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