Water on the Moon - international prize launches

Image: Ganapathy Kumar on Unsplash

A £1.2 million prize to purify water on the moon has been launched by a UK-Canadian space agency partnership.

The Aqualunar Challenge will support development of water-purifying technologies for the Moon and is designed to reward the design of innovative technologies that make human habitation on the Moon viable by finding ways to purify water buried beneath the lunar surface.

Water is a critical resource on Earth and in space, and is necessary to support future human space exploration. It is very likely that any water that exists on the Moon contains contaminants.

"Technologies developed for space exploration have a successful history of finding new uses on Earth."

Paul Bate, UK Space Agency

Removing the current known contaminants from Moon water to grow food and provide propellant and drinking water would not only help support human space exploration, it could also help advance water purification technologies here on Earth.

Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency said, "Technologies developed for space exploration have a successful history of finding new uses on Earth.

"The UK is playing an important role in the NASA-led Artemis Missions, which aim to establish a permanent crewed base on the Moon’s surface by the end of the decade. This will only be possible if astronauts have reliable access to water and it is far better to source that water on the Moon than to send it up from Earth.

"The Aqualunar Challenge is rewarding the development of technologies that will help make this a reality by purifying the ice that is locked inside the Moon’s soil. While the challenge is focused on developing these technologies for the harsh environment of the Moon, they could also have important uses here on Earth."

Lunar alternatives

Holly Jamieson, executive director of Challenge Works, which has designed the prize, said, "To survive on the Moon, astronauts will need water to drink and to grow food. Water molecules - H2O - can also be split to produce oxygen to make breathable air and hydrogen for fuel.

"For a long-term lunar base to be viable we will need alternatives to sending deliveries of water, food, air and fuel in rockets from Earth. The Aqualunar Challenge is calling on innovators, start-ups, scientists, academics, engineers and problem solvers to submit their ideas – whether they have worked in the space sector previously or not."

New research carried out by Challenge Works and the UK Space Agency to mark the launch of the Aqualunar Challenge reveals that nearly 58% people in the UK believe that developing technology for the harsh environment of space could help us back on Earth, with more than half believing that using technology in space means we can better understand our own planet and how to protect it.

Some 86% of respondents said they would like to see technologies being developed to purify lunar water adapted for use on Earth. Top priorities include removing microplastics from the oceans, providing clean drinking water in low-income countries and drought prone areas.

The international challenge prize is collaboration between the UK Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency and Impact Canada. Entries should help solve the challenge of removing contaminants and purifying water found on the lunar surface in an efficient and reliable way.

Canadian applicants can find out more here, while teams led by UK applicants can find out more here.

Teams behind the ten most-promising ideas will be rewarded with seed funding of £30k to develop their ideas. In March 2025, three teams will be named winner and runners up, sharing in an additional £300k to take their solutions to the next level.

The deadline to enter is 8 April 2024.