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Advanced Materials and Manufacturing for In-Space Operations

Description:

Scope Title:

ISRU-Based Metallic Structural Elements for the Assembly of Lunar Infrastructure

Scope Description:

As humanity returns back to the lunar surface for sustained exploration, there is an emphasis on building infrastructure that is based on ISRU [1-6]. Conversion of the raw resources produced by ISRU extraction into useful components requires manufacturing processes and equipment that are capable of operating in the lunar environment subject to various constraints.

 

Elements available for extraction from regolith include oxygen, silicon, iron, calcium, aluminum, magnesium, and titanium. From these, and from other materials that may be available in smaller quantities, manufacturing methods are needed to produce components for the construction of lunar infrastructure.

 

In this solicitation, proposals are invited for approaches that utilize aluminum (Al), iron (Fe), and mongrel alloys produced from ISRU to produce structural angles, rods, and tubes in the lunar South Pole region. Typical components for a structural truss would be:

  • Truss cross-section
    • Square rod: 5 mm, 10 mm, 15 mm square
    • Angle: flange length 10 mm, 20 mm, 40 mm; flange thickness 1.0 mm, 2.0 mm, 4.0 mm, 6.0 mm
  • Length:  0.75 m, 1.0 m, 1.5 m
  • Quantity: 564 for one 50-m-tall tower

Proposals to the current solicitation can assume the metals extracted and processed in the ISRU activities to be available in molten form at purity levels ranging from less-refined mongrel alloys (slag) to 99% pure metal. The selection of a particular material for the manufacturing must take into account a demonstrated or projected ability to support tensile and bending loads in the lunar gravity environment and include justification for its proposed producibility and performance. Note that stress levels found in some early lunar infrastructure designs are relatively low due to reduced gravity and operational loads, thus resulting in the potential utility of lower strength materials such as untempered 1-series aluminum. For example, truss elements from 99% pure aluminum should target properties of 1-series untempered material: Modulus = 10 Msi, Yield strength = 5 ksi, density = 0.098 lbs/in3.

 

Proposal elements of interest include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Equipment required for the efficient production of truss elements that address the size/scale, power requirements, production rates, molten material handling, and operating environments.
  • Equipment and production systems that account for limited availability of resources such as coolant on the Moon in forming and processing the metal to provide the desired performance.
  • Proposals must account for the mechanical performance, straightness, and finish that is required and achievable to ensure performance of the elements, as well as their subsequent joining and other operations.
  • Preliminary proof-of-concept experiments for feasibility of the proposed material systems, processing methods, and equipment.
  • Concepts that will be able to routinely produce hundreds of elements during a given production cycle.
  • Concepts for the extension of the process to other structural forms, including thin plates and tubes.

Expected TRL or TRL Range at completion of the Project: 3 to 4

Primary Technology Taxonomy:

  • Level 1 12 Materials, Structures, Mechanical Systems, and Manufacturing
  • Level 2 12.X Other Manufacturing, Materials, and Structures

Desired Deliverables of Phase I and Phase II:

  • Research
  • Analysis
  • Prototype
  • Hardware

Desired Deliverables Description:

Phase I will provide concepts for demonstration of the production of structural truss elements (rods and angles) on the lunar surface given the available resources. The concept will include the equipment that would be required and how that equipment succeeds in operating in the lunar environment. 

Phase II would look at pilot scale demonstrations of the materials processing capabilities needed to produce the structural elements. These would include designing and building of relevant equipment and potential processing of commercially available material that may match the materials expected to be available on the Moon, either in raw form or from other processes.

State of the Art and Critical Gaps:

Sustainable long-term exploration of the Moon will be dependent on the utilization of lunar resources. While there are various efforts looking at the excavation and initial processing of those lunar resources, there are currently gaps in understanding the detailed process requirements for converting various material feedstocks into useful products. These require understanding of the material properties through the process cycle and how these would be impacted when the processes are run on the Moon.

Relevance / Science Traceability:

The Artemis program envisions the start of a long-term human presence on the lunar surface for the exploration and development of the Moon by Government as well as commercial companies and international partners. In order to support these missions, it will be essential to utilize resources that can be sourced from the lunar surface. 

Among the envisioned futures for infrastructure construction on the lunar surface is robotic assembly of truss-based structures, which directly addresses the following:

  • Blueprint Objectives:
    • LI-1 Development of a Global Power Grid.
    • LI-3.1 Industrial Scale Construction Capabilities – Roads with Autonomous Navigation Aids and Assembly of Towers.
  • STMD Strategic Thrust, “Live: Sustainable Living and Working Farther from Earth.”
  • Several STMD technology gaps associated with assembly of infrastructure (tall towers, blast containment shields, shelters, habitats).

References:

  1. NASA’s Plan for Sustained Lunar Exploration and Development. https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/a_sustained_lunar_presence_nspc_report4220final.pdf [accessed 07/23/2022].
  2. Lunar Sourcebook, edited by Grant H. Heiken, David T. Vaniman, Bevan M. French, 1991, Cambridge University Press. https://www.lpi.usra.edu/publications/books/lunar_sourcebook/ [accessed 09/11/2022].
  3. Dave Dietzler: Making it on the Moon: Bootstrapping Lunar Industry, NSS Space Settlement Journal, September 2016. https://space.nss.org/wp-content/uploads/NSS-JOURNAL-Bootstrapping-Lunar-Industry-2016.pdf [accessed 07/23/22].
  4. Gerald (Jerry) Sanders,  Aspects of ISRU on the Moon NASA Perspective I,  National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine Decadal Survey on Planetary Science and Astrobiology: Panel on Mercury and the Moon, August 6, 2021. https://www.nationalacademies.org/event/08-06-2021/docs/D82946FD16B3AE425055B6FF5C4711A22E17EA36D81C [accessed 07/26/22].
  5. Geoffrey A. Landis, Materials Refining for Solar Array Production on the Moon, NASA/TM—2005-214014. https://ntrs.nasa.gov/api/citations/20060004126/downloads/20060004126.pdf [accessed 07/26/2022].
  6. Geoffrey A. Landis, Materials refining on the Moon, Acta Astronautica, Volume 60, Issues 10–11, 2007, Pages 906-915, ISSN 0094-5765. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0094576506004085 [accessed 07/26/22].

Scope Title:

Using In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) Process Waste for In-Situ Manufacturing and Construction

Scope Description:

Objective: Develop the capability via intentional technology to take byproducts and waste products from ISRU oxygen-extraction processes and turn them into cement precursors, metal powders or wire/filament, or other material for advanced in-situ manufacturing and in-situ construction. 

Proposals should address taking waste products from ISRU oxygen-extraction processes and turning them into cement precursors, metal powders or wire/filament, or other materials (e.g., processing carbon scrubber waste into polymer feedstock) that could be used for (1) in-situ advanced manufacturing, (2) construction, or (3) outfitting of infrastructure element (habitats, shelters, landing pads, blast shields, roads, etc.).

Proposals should

  • Describe the process, including chemical methods, energy usage, and a flight-readiness assessment of the process.
  • Provide samples of in-situ manufacturing or construction material to be characterized at an independent lab.
  • Include a presentation describing the work and interpreting the results.

Expected TRL or TRL Range at completion of the Project: 2 to 4

Primary Technology Taxonomy:

  • Level 1 12 Materials, Structures, Mechanical Systems, and Manufacturing
  • Level 2 12.X Other Manufacturing, Materials, and Structures

Desired Deliverables of Phase I and Phase II:

  • Research
  • Analysis
  • Prototype
  • Hardware

Desired Deliverables Description:

Proposal deliverables should include a document describing the process, including chemical methods, energy usage, and a flight-readiness assessment of the process; samples of in-situ manufacturing or construction material to be characterized at an independent lab; and a presentation describing the work and interpreting the results.

Phase I deliverables may be a conceptual design with analysis to show feasibility at relevant scales and/or a small demonstration of the concept.

Phase II deliverables should be hardware demonstrations at a relevant scale.

State of the Art and Critical Gaps:

State of the Art: 

  • At present there are additively constructed house neighborhoods in Austin, TX, and southern Mexico with a level of secure remote operations capability.
  • NASA Lunar Plume Alleviation Device (PAD) Team.  A project by the NASA Proposal Writing and Evaluation Experience (NPWEE) team that won their proposal effort. A landing pad design (20-ft diameter, subscale) was printed at Camp Swift in Bastrop, TX.  Subsequent hot fire testing proved their design does keep the surrounding regolith from being disturbed. 
  • Army Corps of Engineers demonstrated development of forward operating base construction technologies (Additive Construction of Expeditionary Structures) at Champaign, IL.  
  • Ductile iron and steel alloys were produced from ionic liquid extracted materials from martian regolith simulant and Bosch carbon from an environmental control and life support systems reactor experiment. 

Critical Gaps:

  • Full-scale lunar (in-situ) hardware.
  • Autonomous surface operations.
  • In-situ material utilization to minimize launch mass.  "Living off the Land" and remote construction. Examples of desired infrastructure are power plants, habitats, refineries and greenhouses, launch and landing pads, and blast shields.
  • Lack of in-situ design and analysis criteria, engineering standards, and fabrication of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) system components.  

Relevance / Science Traceability:

  • This technology is very much applicable in the Space Technology Mission Directorate's (STMD's) support of NASA, other Government agencies, and industry customers.
  • STMD for Science Mission Directorate (SMD) - Radio telescope structural support (far side of the Moon).  
  • Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate (ESDMD) and Space Operations Mission Directorate (SOMD) Human Habitats - Space infrastructure, as in buildings, landing pads, roads, berms, radiation protection, custom building sizes and shapes.
  • Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) and Earth-based Government agencies - In-situ construction capabilities both locally and remotely.  
  • Rapid construction - Small building within 24 hours.
     

References:

Don’t Take It – Make It: NASA’s Efforts to Address Exploration Logistics Challenges Through In Space Manufacturing and Extraterrestrial Construction for Lunar Infrastructure. R.G. Clinton, Jr., PhD; Tracie Prater, PhD; Jennifer Edmunson, PhD; Mike Fiske; Mike Effinger. Novel Orbital and Moon Manufacturing, Materials, and Mass-efficient Design (NOM4D) Kick-Off, December 14-15, 2021. https://ntrs.nasa.gov/api/citations/20210025774/downloads/NOM4D%20KO%2012.15.2021.pdf

Scope Title:

Integrated Computational Materials Engineering (ICME) for In-Space and Extraterrestrial Surface Operations

Scope Description:

In-space and lunar- and martian-surface-based metals manufacturing will be enabling to surface power transmission and communications infrastructure to enable a lunar economy; to structures, habitats, outfitting, and repair; and to the manufacture of large-scale vehicles, habitats, and instruments. Currently there is limited information on how materials react to processing in microgravity and low-gravity environments across a variety of processes required to generate feedstock from in-situ resources and a variety of processes that will be used to manufacture components. For commercial interests to be successful delivering these capabilities in the longer term, an understanding of what feedstock and what quality of component can be delivered is needed. ICME is ideal for these early efforts. Experimental approaches are costly and limited compared to the wide range of processing options, and ICME has reached a readiness that can inform and effect later decisions as to preferred processing methods. Modeling techniques that capture the physical extremes of space, such as variable gravity, temperature, and atmosphere, are of greatest importance. Anchoring of models to relevant data sets and generation of new empirical data sets are of interest.

Space and the lunar and martian surfaces present an extreme set of environments that require novel manufacturing and materials solutions to fully deploy and expand human exploration, enable colonization, and make possible the exploitation of in-situ resources. Manufacturing and materials processing in those locations are subject to variable gravity, vacuum or reduced pressure, and large temperature variations compared to terrestrial processing conditions. Currently, there are no available processing parameters that account for these physical changes, and thus, critical manufacturing processes cannot be performed. Examples of critical manufacturing processes include welding, cutting, forming, additive manufacturing, and machining (such as drilling/milling).

In this solicitation, proposals are invited for approaches that develop virtual manufacturing frameworks for the manufacturing of in-space, lunar, and martian resources such as aluminum and iron derived from ISRU using ICME approaches. All stages of the processing of regolith and recycling of existing metals in space to manufacturing a structure with joining processes are of interest for the current proposal solicitation.

Proposal elements of interest include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. A virtual model that can demonstrate materials behavior in the environment of space, the lunar surface, or the martian surface.
  2. A virtual model that shows a materials response to manufacturing processes in the environment of space, the lunar surface, or the martian surface.
  3. A design or prototype of a physical testbed that could be used to demonstrate materials processes at the coupon level in the environments of space, the lunar surface, or the martian surface. The testbed could be ground based or designed for flight experiments (either in parabolic flight or in space).

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

Primary Technology Taxonomy:

  • Level 1 12 Materials, Structures, Mechanical Systems, and Manufacturing
  • Level 2 12.X Other Manufacturing, Materials, and Structures

Desired Deliverables of Phase I and Phase II:

  • Hardware
  • Software
  • Prototype
  • Analysis

Desired Deliverables Description:

Phase I will provide concepts of a testbed or a framework of a virtual model for demonstration of the behavior of materials for manufacturing in space, on the lunar surface, or on the martian surface. The concept for a testbed will describe the equipment that would be required and how that equipment succeeds in operating in the environment of space, lunar surface, or martian surface. The framework of a model will be able to demonstrate the behavior of a material under processing conditions in space, on the lunar surface, or on the martian surface. 

Phase II would look at pilot scale demonstrations of the materials processing and modeling capabilities. These would include prototyping a materials processing testbed and demonstrating its capabilities on Earth, and demonstrating the function of a high-fidelity virtual process model that could compare processing behaviors and conditions of materials between Earth and one of the following environments: space, the lunar surface, or the martian surface.

State of the Art and Critical Gaps:

A vibrant lunar economy and sustained lunar presence by NASA will require the manufacture of products in space or on another celestial body. Goals such as nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) vehicles and large observatories will benefit from welding and other manufacturing operations performed in space. These efforts will be developed most efficiently with an understanding of the effects on processing in space and surface environments such as variable gravity, vacuum or reduced pressure, and large temperature variations compared to terrestrial processing conditions.

There are many gaps associated with the use of these processes that can be more effectively addressed computationally before investing heavily in specific processes. Gaps addressed include:

  • Lunar surface manufacturing and outfitting with metals. 
  • ISRU-derived materials for feedstocks (e.g., Al, Si) – lunar and martian.
  • Model-based technologies for materials, structures, and manufacturing.
  • On-demand manufacturing of metals, recycling, and reuse.

Relevance / Science Traceability:

This topic has relevance to the following Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) Strategic Framework thrusts and outcomes:

  1. Live: Develop exploration technologies and enable a vibrant space economy with supporting utilities and commodities. 
  2. Explore: Develop technologies supporting emerging space industries, including Satellite Servicing & Assembly, In-Space/Surface Manufacturing, and Small Spacecraft technologies.

Exploration goals will require the use of lunar and martian resources to minimize the transport of materials and components from Earth. Commercial entities developing the lunar economy will require infrastructure that is most effectively manufactured on-site. Science missions will leverage the ability to manufacture large structures that do not have to sustain launch loads. The enabling processes for these efforts can be modeled through ICME, which will identify the next level of gaps to be addressed and will inform trade studies to help decisions with respect to funding specific processes.

References:

Sowards, J., et al. (2021). Topical. Permanent Low-Earth Orbit Testbed for Welding and Joining: A Path Forward for the Commercialization of Space [White Paper]. National Academy of Sciences' Decadal Survey. http://surveygizmoresponseuploads.s3.amazonaws.com/fileuploads/623127/6378869/64-ad4bc01012d6dab107e27cf82a2a7b73_SowardsJeffreyW.pdf

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