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Advanced Concepts for Lunar and Martian Propellant Production, Storage, and Usage


Scope Title:

Advanced Concepts for Lunar and Martian Propellant Production, Storage, and Usage

Scope Description:

This subtopic seeks technologies related to cryogenic propellant (e.g., hydrogen, oxygen, and methane) production, sensors and instrumentation, storage, and usage to support NASA's in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) goals. This includes a wide range of applications, scales, and environments consistent with future NASA missions to the Moon and Mars. Anticipated outcomes of Phase I proposals are expected to deliver proof of the proposed concept with some sort of basic testing or physical demonstration. Proposals shall include plans for a prototype and demonstration in a defined relevant environment (with relevant fluids) at the conclusion of Phase II. Solicited topics are as follows:

  • Development of instruments and instrument components suitable for use with lunar regolith. The successful deployment of ISRU technology on the Moon requires processing industrial-scale amounts (thousands of metric tons) of lunar regolith to extract trapped water and/or oxygen. To narrow the critical gaps between the current state of art and the need for sensors in extreme environments, technologies are being sought to increase the robustness and processing speed required for wide area and localized resource assessment. Sensors need to operate for long term (>200 days) in harsh abrasive and thermal environments in both sunlit and permanently shadowed regions, which risks calibration/measurement drift, accuracy decline, or contaminant failure. Most favorable sensors will have low mass, volume, and/or power requirements. Sensor selectivity, dynamic range, and response time appropriate for the targeted resource processing is needed. Proposers should show an understanding of relevant environmental capability, present a feasible plan to fully develop a technology, and infuse it into a NASA program. Proposer should provide a comparison metric for assessing proposed improvements compared to existing capabilities. The proposer should clearly describe the ISRU process targeted, the rationale for the sensor technology proposed, and a clear justification that the proposed technology will have an impact on ISRU processing.
      • Sensors to determine regolith mineral/chemical composition during transfer for processing: While science instruments have been developed for mineral/chemical composition, instruments need to be refocused for (1) lunar operation, (2) minerals of resource interest, and (3) faster operation. Sensors are needed to better understand minerology during regolith processing (mass flows >1 kg/hr).
      • Sensors for evaluating regolith properties during transfer for preparation and processing: ISRU systems that process resources will need a near-real-time understanding of feed size, shape, and mass flow (>1 kg/hr) to optimize performance. This means that the regolith transfer device needs the ability to support instruments that operate in an abrasive environment that can be used before and/or after regolith preparation (crushing and size sorting) and before transfer for processing.
      • Sensors to monitor ISRU process gases: ISRU processes need to measure O2, H2, and CH4 at high concentrations of the gas; for contaminants including H2O impurities, CO, CH4, H2, HF, HCl, H2S, etc., and crossover gases on alternative lines (eg., H2 on O2 side), measurement is likely needed at ppm levels.
  • Develop and implement computational methodology to enhance the evaluation of temperature and species gradients at the liquid/vapor interface in unsettled conditions. Techniques could include arbitrary Lagrangian-Eulerian (ALE) interface tracking methods with adaptive mesh morphing, interface reconstruction methods, immersed boundary approaches, or enhanced-capability level set and volume of fluid (VOF) scheme that decrease numerically generated spurious velocities and increase gradient evaluation accuracy. The uncertainty of such techniques in determining the interfacial gradients should be <5% and on par with accuracies of a sharp interface method applied to a nonmoving, rigid interface. Applications include cryogenic tank self-pressurization, pressure control via jet mixing, and filling and liquid transfer operations. It is highly desirable if the methodology can be implemented via user-defined functions/subroutines into commercial computational fluid dynamics (CFD) codes. The final deliverable should be the documentation showing the detailed formulation, implementation, and validation, and any stand-alone code or customized user-defined functions that have been developed for implementation into commercial codes.


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

Primary Technology Taxonomy:

  • Level 1 14 Thermal Management Systems
  • Level 2 14.1 Cryogenic Systems

Desired Deliverables of Phase I and Phase II:

  • Hardware
  • Software
  • Prototype

Desired Deliverables Description:

Phase I proposals should at a minimum deliver proof of the concept, including some sort of testing or physical demonstration, not just a paper study. Phase II proposals should provide component validation in a laboratory environment preferably with hardware (or model subroutines) deliverable to NASA.

Deliverables for the modeling: Phase I should demonstrate the accuracy of the method for simulating self-pressurization under unsettled, low-gravity conditions. Phase II should demonstrate the accuracy of the method for simulating jet mixing and filling and transfer operations. The final deliverable should be the documentation showing the detailed formulation, implementation, and validation, and any stand-alone code or customized user-defined functions that have been developed for implementation into commercial codes.

Deliverables for the sensors: The Phase I project should focus on feasibility and proof-of-concept demonstration (Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 2-3). The required Phase I deliverable is a report documenting the proposed innovation, its status at the end of the Phase I effort, and the evaluation of its strengths and weaknesses compared to the state of the art. The report can include a feasibility assessment and concept of operations, simulations and/or measurements, and a plan for further development to be performed in Phase II.

The Phase II project should focus on component and/or breadboard development with the delivery of specific hardware for NASA (TRL 4-5). Phase II deliverables include a working prototype of the proposed hardware, along with documentation of development, capabilities, and measurements.

State of the Art and Critical Gaps:

NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) has identified ISRU as a main investment area in its strategic framework. Scalable ISRU production and utilization capabilities including sustainable commodities are required to live on the lunar and Mars surfaces. The required commercial-scale water, oxygen, and metals production will be demonstrated at a smaller scale via a pilot production plant envisioned in the 2030s.


Cryogenic Fluid Management (CFM) is a cross-cutting technology suite that supports multiple forms of propulsion systems (nuclear and chemical), including storage, transfer, and gauging, as well as liquefaction of ISRU-produced propellants. The STMD has identified that CFM technologies are vital to NASA's exploration plans for multiple architectures, whether it is hydrogen/oxygen or methane/oxygen systems including chemical propulsion and nuclear thermal propulsion. 

Relevance / Science Traceability:

NASA's STMD has identified ISRU as a main investment area in its strategic framework. Additionally, NASA has plans to purchase services for delivery of payloads to the Moon through the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract. The CLPS payload accommodations will vary depending on the particular service provider and mission characteristics. CLPS missions will typically carry multiple payloads for multiple customers and may include commodity production technology demonstrations. Additional information on the CLPS program and providers can be found at this link:

STMD strives to provide the technologies that are needed to enable exploration of the solar system, both manned and unmanned systems, and CFM is a key technology to enable exploration. Whether liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen or liquid oxygen/liquid methane is chosen by the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate (ESDMD) and Space Operations Mission Directorate (SOMD)  as the main in-space propulsion element to transport humans, CFM will be required to store propellant for up to 5 years in various orbital environments. Transfer will also be required, whether to engines or other tanks (e.g., depot/aggregation), to enable the use of cryogenic propellants that have been stored. In conjunction with ISRU, cryogens will have to be produced, liquefied, and stored, the latter two of which are CFM functions for the surface of the Moon or Mars. ISRU and CFM liquefaction drastically reduces the amount of mass that has to be landed on the Moon or Mars.




Overview of NASA ISRU Plans, Priorites, and Activities:

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