Each spacecraft, whether piloted by a crew or fully automated, launched on a voyage through space encounters an extraordinary spectrum of vast resources. From the first space missions onward, spacecraft designers and scientists have made use of some of these resources to guarantee the survival of hardware and people in space; thermal regulation systems for example have always made use of the direct sunlight irradiation and the space vacuum to achieve both heating and cooling of critical hardware.
Today, as our dream to explore and perhaps one day to inhabit other worlds carries us always further we realize that utilizing space resources along our journeys can fundamentally change deep space travel. A space mission capable of refueling on different planets or at libration points multiplies its survival chances and its mission capabilities as well as its return on investment; further using the space resources it encounters to make and repair parts, and generate more life-critical gases and other commodities, space crews will then create a new paradigm for space travel away from the single destination and fly-by modes we know today. The creation and expansion of planetary bases on the moon, Mars and beyond is only possible in the long-term with space resource utilization.
Building on the legacy of many pioneers who dreamt and conceived these possibilities in the decades past, the ISRU Project at NASA directs the development and testing of technologies for the prospecting and processing of space resources to support future space missions. The program pursues a development approach ranging from concept stage to field demonstrations and prototype flight units.
The ISRU Technology Development Project is managed at Kennedy Space Center as part of the Exploration Technology Development Division of the Exploration Space Mission Directorate. It currently operates in collaboration with the Advanced Exploration Systems Program of the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate and the Office of the Chief Technologist. Personnel from Kennedy Space Center, Johnson Space Center, Glenn Research Center, Marshall Space Flight Center, Ames Research Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory collaborate with engineers, scientists and students at companies and universities to perform the multidisciplinary work it directs.
The ISRU Project focuses on the Extraction of Resources in Space, the Handling of Resources in Space and Energy Resources in Space.