Canada launches $1M Moon water purification challenge 

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Western University
Western University postdoctoral fellow Tara Hayden with a lunar meteorite, which was not a part of the study, in the Earth and Planetary Materials Analysis Laboratory. Photo Credit: Christopher Kindratsky, Western Communications

As the Canadian Space Agency invites innovators to compete in the development of technologies that could remove contaminants found in Moon water, Western University is garnering attention for new research that shows how the Moon’s early crust contained more water than originally estimated. 

Dubbed The Aqualunar Challenge: Purifying Moon Water, the competition offers up to $1 million in grants that will be awarded in 2026 following successful concept design, proof of concept, and the development of a prototype. 

The grand prize winner also receives $400,000. 

The winning concept must focus on minimal energy consumption for the removal of contaminants found in water extracted from soil to produce usable water or propellant, while separating contaminants that could create byproducts to support human life on the Moon. 

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“This new era of space exploration calls for development in many traditional fields of Canadian expertise, which opens up amazing opportunities for our innovators,” announced Francois-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. “With initiatives like the Aqualunar Challenge, we are gearing up for humanity’s next step on the Moon and cementing Canada’s reputation as a valued partner in space while developing sustainable solutions for current challenges on Earth.” 

The Canadian Moon water challenge, in collaboration with the Privy Council Office’s Impact Canada, will run parallel to one organized by the United Kingdom Space Agency.  

While the innovations could help enable space missions, particularly as NASA continues its Artemis program, both agencies hope to eventually find applications for the Moon water purification technologies on Earth as well. 

Western University Moon Research 

Just days before the Canadian Space Agency launched the competition, Canada was making headlines for other Moon water news, after Western University postdoctoral fellow Tara Hayden said she had begun to piece together an unknown stage of lunar history.  

Hayden, currently working as a cosmochemist with renowned planetary geologist Gordon Osinski in Western’s department of Earth Sciences, says she discovered the water-bearing mineral apatite in the Moon’s early crust, and published her recent findings in the journal Nature Astronomy. 

“Lunar meteorites are revealing new, exciting parts of the Moon’s evolution and expanding our knowledge beyond the samples collected during the Apollo missions. As the new stage of lunar exploration begins, I am eager to see what we will learn from the lunar far side,” said Hayden in a statement from Western University. 

Hayden says that most of the opinions formed about the Moon being dry is based on samples from the 14 missions during the U.S. Apollo Program (1961-1972). But those samples are thought to only represent about 5% of the entire moon surface, said Hayden. 

“Until we get more samples back in the upcoming Artemis missions, the only other samples from the surface we have are meteorites,” she adds.  

The discovery of apatite in this rock type has allowed for the direct examination of this unknown stage in lunar evolution for the first time. 

Aqualunar Challenge Stages 

  • Stage 1- Concept Design: Challenge launched on January 17, 2024. Applications are open until April 8, 2024 at 11:59 pm Pacific Time. Teams will provide a detailed explanation of how their solution meets the Challenge objectives, Mission Scenario and judging criteria. 
  • Stage 2- Proof of Concept: Beginning in June of 2024, semi-finalists selected in Stage 1 will move on to Stage 2 of the Challenge, where they will begin developing the key components of their prototypes based on their concept design — equivalent to a technology readiness level 3 (TRL 3). Semi-finalists will be expected to submit video footage to demonstrate their system or components of their system and will provide a final report that outlines how their technology meets the judging criteria listed. 
  • Stage 3- Prototype Scaling: At this stage, selected finalists will have 10 months to integrate the components of their prototypes (minimum TRL 4). Finalists will demonstrate their systems and have their outputs tested and will be competing to be the Grand Prize Winner of the Challenge. 
  • Canadian Grand Prize Winner for the Aqualunar Challenge will be announced in Spring of 2026. 

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