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Extraction of Oxygen, Metal, and Water from Lunar Regolith

Description:

Scope Title:

Oxygen From Regolith

Scope Description:

Lunar regolith is approximately 45% oxygen by mass. The majority of the oxygen is bound in silicate minerals. Previous efforts have shown that it is possible to extract oxygen from regolith using various techniques. NASA is interested in developing the supporting technologies that may enable or enhance the ability to extract oxygen from lunar regolith.

Hopper and Regolith Transfer: Hopper must be able to hold 100 kg of relevant lunar simulant and demonstrate the ability to flow into a regolith transfer device. Regolith transfer device must demonstrate the ability to lift simulant to target that is at least 3 m above the ground and at least 3 m horizontal from the hopper at a rate of 5 kg/hr. Concepts should be scalable to a full-scale transfer rate of 50 kg/hr with a vertical lift of 10 m. Concepts should also consider longevity (at least 180 days of operation per year) and identify any potential wear issues.

Expected TRL or TRL Range at completion of the Project: 4 to 5

Primary Technology Taxonomy:

  • Level 1 07 Exploration Destination Systems
  • Level 2 07.1 In-Situ Resource Utilization

Desired Deliverables of Phase I and Phase II:

  • Research
  • Analysis
  • Prototype
  • Hardware

Desired Deliverables Description:

Phase I efforts should provide a feasibility study and/or proof of concept. Phase II efforts should demonstrate the technology using lunar regolith simulant where applicable, and tested in a vacuum where applicable.

State of the Art and Critical Gaps:

Some oxygen-from-regolith methods have been demonstrated at relevant scales and are progressing toward Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 6. Many other methods have been demonstrated at the bench scale, but current designs lack a means to move regolith in and out of the oxygen extraction zone. Many of these processes are used terrestrially, but industrial designs do not provide a means to keep gases from escaping to the vacuum of space.

Relevance / Science Traceability:

The Artemis III Science Definition Report states that “the Artemis III mission will provide important new information relevant to leveraging the Moon’s resources towards a sustainable human presence on the surface.”

References:

  • Lomax, B. A., Conti, M., Khan, N., Bennett, N. S., Ganin, A. Y., & Symes, M. D. (2020). Proving the viability of an electrochemical process for the simultaneous extraction of oxygen and production of metal alloys from lunar regolith. Planetary and Space Science180, 104748.
  • Schwandt, C., Hamilton, J. A., Fray, D. J., & Crawford, I. A. (2012). The production of oxygen and metal from lunar regolith. Planetary and Space Science74(1), 49-56.
  • Fox, E. T. (2019). Ionic liquid and in situ resource utilization. https://ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/20190027398
  • Cardiff, E. H., Pomeroy, B. R., Banks, I. S., & Benz, A. (2007, January). Vacuum pyrolysis and related ISRU techniques. In AIP Conference Proceedings (Vol. 880, No. 1, pp. 846-853). American Institute of Physics. https://ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/20070014929
  • Gustafson, R. J., White, B. C., & Fidler, M. J. (2009). Oxygen production via carbothermal reduction of lunar regolith. SAE International Journal of Aerospace, 4 (2009-01-2442), 311-316.
  • Gustafson, R. J., White, B. C., Fidler, M. J., & Muscatello, A. C. (2010). The 2010 field demonstration of the solar carbothermal reduction of regolith to produce oxygen. https://ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/20110005526
  • Gustafson, R., White, B., & Fidler, M. (2011, January). 2010 field demonstration of the solar carbothermal regolith reduction process to produce oxygen. In 49th AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting including the New Horizons Forum and Aerospace Exposition (p. 434).
  • Muscatello, T. (2017). Oxygen extraction from minerals. https://ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/20170001458
  • Paley, M. S., Karr, L. J., & Curreri, P. (2009). Oxygen production from lunar regolith using ionic liquids. https://ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/20090017882
  • Sibille, L., Sadoway, D. R., Sirk, A., Tripathy, P., Melendez, O., Standish, E., ... & Poizeau, S. (2009). Production of oxygen from lunar regolith using molten oxide electrolysis. https://ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/20090018064

Scope Title:

Lunar Ice Mining

Scope Description:

We now know that water ice exists on the poles of the Moon from data obtained from missions like the Lunar Prospector, Chandrayaan-1, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS). We know that water is present in permanently shadowed regions (PSRs), where temperatures are low enough to keep water in a solid form despite the lack of atmospheric pressure. NASA is interested in developing technologies that can be used to excavate water ice in a vacuum and deliver it to a sealable container with minimal losses due to sublimation. NASA is also interested in technologies that can capture and utilize other volatiles that may be located in PSRs.

Icy Regolith Excavation: Proposed concepts should be able to excavate frozen regolith simulant with a water ice content between 1% and 5% by mass that is 0.5 m below the surface while minimizing a temperature increase in the excavated material. Phase II efforts should demonstrate the technique with an icy lunar simulant mixture at a target production rate of 35 kg regolith/hr with 1% water ice and 7 kg regolith/hr with 5% water ice. Phase II designs should consider demonstration in a relevant environment representative of a lunar polar shadowed region.

Non-Water Volatile Capture and Utilization: Proposed concepts should define a target volatile (e.g., H2S, NH3, SO2, C2H4, CO2, CH3OH, CH4) to be captured from lunar regolith and describe how it may be utilized in a way that reduces the cost of landing consumables on the lunar surface (e.g., production of polymers).

Expected TRL or TRL Range at completion of the Project: 4 to 5

Primary Technology Taxonomy:

  • Level 1 07 Exploration Destination Systems
  • Level 2 07.1 In-Situ Resource Utilization

Desired Deliverables of Phase I and Phase II:

  • Prototype
  • Analysis
  • Hardware

Desired Deliverables Description:

Phase I efforts should provide a feasibility study and/or proof of concept. Phase II efforts should demonstrate the technology using lunar regolith simulant where applicable.

State of the Art and Critical Gaps:

Multiple efforts are now underway to extract, purify, and capture lunar water ice. However, little work has been performed on developing technologies to capture and utilize other useful volatiles that may be co-located within a PSR.

Relevance / Science Traceability:

NASA has referenced water ice as one of the reasons we have chosen the lunar poles as the location to establish a sustained human presence. The Artemis III Science Definition Report states that “the Artemis III mission will provide important new information relevant to leveraging the Moon’s resources towards a sustainable human presence on the surface.”

References:

  • Colaprete, A., Schultz, P., Heldmann, J., Wooden, D., Shirley, M., Ennico, K., ... & Goldstein, D. (2010). Detection of water in the LCROSS ejecta plume. Science, 330(6003), 463-468.
  • Gladstone, G. R., Hurley, D. M., Retherford, K. D., Feldman, P. D., Pryor, W. R., Chaufray, J. Y., ... & Stern, S. A. (2010). LRO-LAMP observations of the LCROSS impact plume. Science330(6003), 472-476.
  • Hibbitts, C. A., Grieves, G. A., Poston, M. J., Dyar, M. D., Alexandrov, A. B., Johnson, M. A., & Orlando, T. M. (2011). Thermal stability of water and hydroxyl on the surface of the Moon from temperature-programmed desorption measurements of lunar analog materials. Icarus, 213(1), 64-72.
  • Poston, M. J., Grieves, G. A., Aleksandrov, A. B., Hibbitts, C. A., Darby Dyar, M., & Orlando, T. M. (2013). Water interactions with micronized lunar surrogates JSC‐1A and albite under ultra‐high vacuum with application to lunar observations. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, 118(1), 105-115.
  • Mortimer, J., Lécuyer, C., Fourel, F., & Carpenter, J. (2018). D/H fractionation during sublimation of water ice at low temperatures into a vacuum. Planetary and Space Science158, 25-33.

Scope Title:

Mineral Beneficiation and Metal and Silicon Production

Scope Description:

Beneficiation allows for improved efficiency of ISRU processes that involve heating regolith in order to acquire a specific resource. NASA is also interested in processes where the primary product is metal, specifically metals other than iron, since iron extraction from regolith is a fairly advanced technology. Each of the following specific areas of technology interest may be proposed as individual efforts or combined.

Mineral Beneficiation: Proposed concepts should define a target mineral to be concentrated from lunar regolith feedstock and describe how it will be utilized in a way that reduces the cost of landing consumables on the lunar surface.

Metal and Silicon Production: Proposed concepts should define a target metal other than iron (e.g., aluminum) to be extracted from lunar regolith. Proposed concepts must include a method to move regolith through the reaction zone. Proposed concepts should be capable of passing abrasive granular material through the reaction zone for at least 1,000 cycles and determine the leak rate after 1,000 cycles.  Near-pure silicon and metals or metal alloys are acceptable. Form and properties of metals extracted for manufacturing should be considered and provided.

Expected TRL or TRL Range at completion of the Project: 3 to 5

Primary Technology Taxonomy:

  • Level 1 07 Exploration Destination Systems
  • Level 2 07.1 In-Situ Resource Utilization

Desired Deliverables of Phase I and Phase II:

  • Analysis
  • Prototype
  • Hardware

Desired Deliverables Description:

Phase I efforts should provide a feasibility study and/or proof of concept. Phase II efforts should demonstrate the technology using lunar regolith simulant where applicable.

State of the Art and Critical Gaps:

The Moon to Mars Oxygen and Steel Technology (MMOST) SBIR Phase II sequential project is currently implementing size sorting and beneficiation of minerals containing iron at a relevant scale and is also producing iron as the main product. There has been little advancement toward the production of other metals, such as aluminum. The Aqua Factorem project funded through the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program represents the state of the art for ice beneficiation.

Relevance / Science Traceability:

NASA has referenced water ice as one of the reasons we have chosen the lunar poles as the location to establish a sustained human presence. The Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) has identified the need for water extraction technologies. The Science Mission Directorate (SMD) is currently funding the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) mission to investigate lunar water ice.  

References:

  • Trigwell, S., Captain, J., Weis, K., & Quinn, J. (2012). Electrostatic beneficiation of lunar regolith: Applications in in situ resource utilization. Journal of Aerospace Engineering, 26(1), 30-36. https://ntrs.nasa.gov/api/citations/20110016173/downloads/20110016173.pdf
  • Quinn, J. W., Captain, J. G., Weis, K., Santiago-Maldonado, E., & Trigwell, S. (2013). Evaluation of tribocharged electrostatic beneficiation of lunar simulant in lunar gravity. Journal of Aerospace Engineering26(1), 37-42. https://ntrs.nasa.gov/api/citations/20110016172/downloads/20110016172.pdf
  • Schwandt, C., Hamilton, J. A., Fray, D. J., & Crawford, I. A. (2012). The production of oxygen and metal from lunar regolith. Planetary and Space Science74(1), 49-56.

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