You are here

Space Resource Processing for Consumables, Manufacturing,Construction, and Energy

Description:

Scope Title:

Oxygenand Metals From Regolith

ScopeDescription:

Lunar regolith is approximately 45% oxygen by mass.The majority of the oxygen is bound in silicate minerals. Previousefforts have shown that it is possible to extract oxygen from regolithusing various techniques. NASA is interested in developing the followingsupporting technologies that may enable or enhance the ability toextract oxygen and metals from lunar regolith:

 

1. Regolith Hopper andTransfer

Regolith-based ISRU systemsrequire handling and transfer of regolith from excavator delivery unitsinto processors and/or between subsystems in order to extract resources.The direction and distance regolith may need to be conveyed will dependon the technology selection and system design. To support ISRU payloadson top of landers, the solicitation is aimed at the ability to collectregolith in a hopper and transfer the regolith a minimum height of 10 mand at a minimum rate of 10 kg/hr. Designs should consider potentialwear for operating at least 1 Earth year of regolith transfer. Designsshould also consider how regolith mineral characterization instruments,such as those used in x-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectroscopy, Ramanspectroscopy, and laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS), can bemounted to perform real-time measurement of the regolith beingtransferred.

 

Phase I should demonstrate thecritical aspects of the regolith hopper and transfer hardware designwith an analysis that shows it can meet full design/operationalrequirements in Phase II. Phase II should demonstrate requirements for aminimum of 2 weeks' continuous operation.

 

2. Non-Polar LunarRegolith Mineral Beneficiation and Metal Extraction andSeparation

While the initial focus oflunar oxygen and metal extraction is based on highland regolith at thelunar south pole, NASA is interested in developing technologies andcapabilities for the separation of minerals found in mare regolith innon-polar regions of the Moon. Specifically, there is interest in themineral separation and processing of 1) high-titanium mare/ilmenite fortitanium extraction and separation, and 2) sources of KREEP (potassium,rare Earth elements, and phosphorus) for extraction and separation ofrare Earth elements. If reactants are utilized in the extraction processand multiple reaction products are generated, all steps in regeneratingthe reactants and separating the products need to be considered.Proposed concepts must include a method to move regolith through thereaction zone (e.g., regolith inlet/outlet valves capable of passingabrasive granular material through the valve for hundreds ofcycles).

 

Phase I should demonstrate thecritical aspects of mineral separation and/or metal extraction andseparation with an analysis that shows that a demonstration system canbe built and tested in Phase II.

 

3. ISRU CriticalData/Proof-of-Concept Hardware for Commercial Lunar Payload Services(CLPS) Demonstration

NASA’s ISRUEnvisioned Future Priorities strategic plan calls for developing andflying demonstrations to the Moon to reduce or eliminate the risk ofdeploying a pilot plant that will perform end-to-end regolithacquisition and processing, a system designed to operate for a minimumof 1 Earth year and deliver a minimum of 1,000 kg of oxygen oroxygen/hydrogen to a customer early next decade. However, NASA has notoperated on the lunar surface since the Apollo program. To reduce therisk of ISRU oxygen, metal, and water extraction systems, NASA isinterested in <25-kg-payload concepts that will obtain criticaldata and/or proof of concept of regolith flowability, size sorting, andmineral separation techniques that may be used in subsequentdemonstrations and pilot plant hardware.

 

Phase I should demonstrate thecritical aspects of the proposed hardware with an analysis that shows ademonstration system can be built and tested in Phase II that is lessthan 25 kg in mass. Phase II should design, build, and test hardware toas close to flight-ready as possible within the provided budget.

Expected TRL or TRL Range at completion of theProject: 4 to 5

Primary TechnologyTaxonomy:

  • Level 1 07Exploration DestinationSystems
  • Level 2 07.1 In-SituResourceUtilization

DesiredDeliverables of Phase I and PhaseII:

  • Research
  • Analysis
  • Prototype
  • Hardware

DesiredDeliverables Description:

Phase I efforts should provide a feasibility study and/or proof ofconcept. Phase II efforts should demonstrate the technology using lunarregolith simulant where applicable, and tested in a vacuum whereapplicable.

State of the Art and CriticalGaps:

Thesetechnologies directly address the following existing gaps forISRU:

  • Regolith transfer hardware forlong-duration ISRU operations.
  • Mineral separation/beneficiationmethods for long-term ISRU operations.

Relevance / ScienceTraceability:

Thesetechnologies support the following Moon-to-Mars Objectives:

  • LI-7L: Demonstrate industrial-scaleISRU capabilities in support of continuous human lunar presence and arobust lunar economy.
  • LI-8L: Demonstratetechnologies supporting cislunar orbital/surface depots, constructionand manufacturing maximizing the use of in situ resources, and supportsystems needed for continuous human/robotic presence.
  • OP-11LM: Demonstrate the capabilityto use commodities produced from planetary surface or in-space resourcesto reduce the mass required to be transported from Earth.
  • OP-12LM: Establish procedures andsystems that will minimize the disturbance to the local environment,maximize the resources available to future explorers, and allow forreuse/recycling of material transported from Earth (and from the lunarsurface, in the case of Mars) to be used during exploration.

References:
 

Olson, A.,Buhler, C., Toth, J., Acosta, K., Phillips, J., & Wang, J.(2022). Suborbital lunar gravity experiment of an electrodynamicregolith conveyor. In Joint Conference onElectrostatics.

Mueller,R.P., Townsend, III, I.I., & Mantovani, J.G. (2010). Pneumaticregolith transfer systems for in-situ resource utilization.In Earth and Space 2010: Engineering, Science,Construction, and Operations in ChallengingEnvironments (pp.1353-1363).

Mueller,R., Townsend, I., Mantovani, J., & Metzger, P. (2010). Evolutionof regolith feed systems for lunar ISRU O2 production plants.In 48th AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting Including the NewHorizons Forum and Aerospace Exposition (p.1547).

Berggren,M., Zubrin, R., Jonscher, P., & Kilgore, J. (2011). Lunar soilparticle separator. In 49th AIAA Aerospace SciencesMeeting Including the New Horizons Forum and AerospaceExposition (p. 436).

Trigwell,S., Captain, J., Weis, K., & Quinn, J. (2013). Electrostaticbeneficiation of lunar regolith: Applications in in-situ resourceutilization. Journal of AerospaceEngineering26(1),30-36.

Scope Title:

Lunar IceMining

ScopeDescription:

We nowknow that water ice exists on the poles of the Moon, based on dataobtained from missions like the Lunar Prospector, Chandrayaan-1, LunarReconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), and the Lunar Crater Observation andSensing Satellite (LCROSS). We know that water is present in permanentlyshadowed regions (PSRs), where temperatures are low enough to keep waterin a solid form despite the lack of atmospheric pressure. NASA isinterested in developing technologies that can be used to locate waterresources and then extract and separate the water and other volatilesthat are found with the water. For this solicitation, NASA isspecifically interested in the following:

1. Locate, Sample, and CharacterizeLunar Ice Resources Down to 10 m

To date, NASA has focused on developinginstruments and technologies that would allow water resources (and othervolatiles found with the water) to be detected and characterized down to1 m below the surface. Scientists have hypothesized, and LCROSS datasuggest, that water resources may be deeper than 1 m and potentiallyconcentrated in the top 10 m of regolith in PSRs. Therefore, NASA isinterested in developing technologies and systems that may be able toexamine, characterize, and potentially sample material down to 10 mbelow the surface. 

2. Regolith-Tolerant Valves forLow-Temperature Operations

ISRU systems that target regolith-basedresources must be equipped to handle and transfer large quantities ofregolith into whatever resource extraction technology is implemented.These extraction systems may require some form of valve/sealingmechanism to isolate the raw regolith (which may be contained in aregolith hopper post-excavation) from the "reactor" orvessel where regolith is being processed. Likewise, sealing is needed tocontain the process gases/commodity, where the extraction method islikely to operate at an elevated pressure with respect to the lunarenvironment. Operational temperature of these valves presents aparticular concern, where processes that extract water from ice arelikely to take place in PSRs (where ice exists) or at least must beequipped to pass the cold regolith material (regolith must be cold tominimize sublimation loss). These valves must operate withoutmaintenance for significant periods of time. Proposals shoulddemonstrate a regolith throughput of 10 kg/hr with an operatingtemperature of 125 K in a vacuum.

3. In Situ Resource Extraction andCollection in Lunar PSRs

Volatiles, such as water, trapped inlunar PSRs are a key ISRU resource. Heating is required to liberatethese volatiles, and some methods use in situ heating to avoid the needto excavate/transfer regolith. However, the challenge is to drive theliberated volatiles to the capture system; volatiles will be exposed tothe lunar vacuum and can expand away quickly or may be more likely tomove to colder areas (e.g., deeper/nearby regolith) if theheating/capture systems are not well designed to account for this.Proposals should result in hardware that can extract and capture 1.5 kgof water/hr from an icy regolith mixture from a depth of 20 to 100 cmbelow the surface of a regolith bin while operating in a vacuum.

Expected TRL or TRL Range at completion of theProject: 4 to 5

Primary TechnologyTaxonomy:

  • Level 1 07Exploration DestinationSystems
  • Level 2 07.1 In-SituResourceUtilization

DesiredDeliverables of Phase I and PhaseII:

  • Prototype
  • Analysis
  • Hardware

DesiredDeliverables Description:

Phase I efforts should provide a feasibility study and/or proof ofconcept. Phase II efforts should demonstrate the technology using lunarregolith simulant where applicable.

State of the Art and CriticalGaps:

Thesetechnologies directly address the following existing gaps forISRU:

  • Detection of subsurface ice at lessthan 10-m scale.
  • Regolith-tolerant valves forlow-temperature operations.
  • In situ resource extraction andcollection in lunar PSRs.

Relevance / ScienceTraceability:

Thesetechnologies address the following Moon to Mars objectives:

  • LI-7L: Demonstrate industrial-scaleISRU capabilities in support of continuous human lunar presence and arobust lunar economy.
  • LI-8L: Demonstratetechnologies supporting cislunar orbital/surface depots, constructionand manufacturing maximizing the use of in situ resources, and supportsystems needed for continuous human/robotic presence.
  • OP-11LM: Demonstrate the capabilityto use commodities produced from planetary surface or in-space resourcesto reduce the mass required to be transported from Earth.
  • OP-12LM: Establish procedures andsystems that will minimize the disturbance to the local environment,maximize the resources available to future explorers, and allow forreuse/recycling of material transported from Earth (and from the lunarsurface, in the case of Mars) to be used during exploration.

References:
Ethridge, E., & Kaukler, W. (2007,January). Microwave extraction of water from lunar regolith simulant.In AIP Conference Proceedings (Vol. 880,No. 1, pp. 830-837). American Institute ofPhysics.

Ethridge, E. C. (2011). UsingMicrowaves to Heat Lunar Soil (No.M11-0244).

Scope Title:

Lunar ISRUfor Energy Generation and Storage

ScopeDescription:

Initial human lunar missions will rely on energygeneration and storage systems and reactants to be brought from Earth.However, as lunar surface operation durations and scope increase, theability to use in situ resources to expand solar and thermal energygeneration and storage capabilities beyond those delivered from Earthwill be needed. NASA is interested in developing the followingsupporting technologies and capabilities that can generate and storesolar/thermal energy for subsequent use:

 

1. Electrical GenerationThrough Use of Thermal Gradients

The lunar polar region providesa unique environment where areas of near-continuous sunlight are locatednear areas of near-continuous darkness. This provides an opportunity toutilize the large temperature difference between these two areas as ameans of generating electricity. However, the low conductivity of lunarregolith and the need to utilize radiative heat transfer to the lunarvacuum environment are challenges to utilizing traditional geothermalenergy generation concepts. Systems proposed must produce a minimum of1,000 W of electrical energy initially and a minimum distance of 100 mbetween hot/cold regions. Proposed concepts must eventually be capableof being deployed robotically and be scalable to tens to hundreds of kWand hundreds of meters between hot/cold regions. 

 

2. Solar Thermal Storage andReuse

The approach to thermalmanagement on all space missions to date has been to reject heat throughradiators during operation and to insulate hardware to minimize heatloss during quiescence periods or during long-term exposure to shadowedlocations. The 14-day lunar day/night cycle is a particularly difficultthermal environment for exploration elements, especially habitats, whereheat rejection during solar "noon" and heatretention/power generation during lunar night are each difficult indifferent ways. A unique method for lunar thermal management is tocollect and store heat into a thermal medium during daylight hours andto recover this thermal energy during the night as a way of conservingand utilizing thermal energy versus rejecting it (see References formore information on thermal wadis). Lunar regolith is a very goodinsulating material and very poor in heat conduction, so proposers willneed to consider methods for modifying lunar regolith to have betterthermal storage characteristics and propose methods for how collectedthermal energy will be transferred to the in situ thermal storage mediaand how that thermal energy will be transferred for use. The proposalneeds to address both the modification of lunar regolith into theappropriate thermal storage media and the hardware associated withcollecting and transferring the thermal energy into/out of this media,and it must be scalable to tens to hundreds of kW of thermal storage.While hardware to excavate and emplace the thermal management systemdoes not need to be developed in the proposal, proposers do need todescribe how the concept may eventually be deployed robotically.

 

3. Energy SystemComponents

As extraction of resourcesexpands across the lunar surface, the power system feeding this activitywill have to expand as well. As this power system grows in scale, itwill become cost effective to manufacture the power system componentsthemselves from elements extracted from the regolith. These componentsinclude:

  • Conductors, such as aluminumrefined from regolith minerals, printed directly on the surface orassembled with other components to be separated from the lunar surface.This supports closure of TX03 Gap "Long-distance power cablesfrom lunar regolith minerals (#1391)."
  • Photovoltaic cells, such assilicon refined from regolith silica, printed directly on the surface orassembled into PV arrays to be separated from the lunar surface. Thissupports closure of TX03 Gap “Large-scale solar powergeneration via photovoltaic blankets produced from lunar regolithminerals (#1392).”
  • Flow batteries, with anolyteand catholytes refined from regolith minerals and assembled on the lunarsurface for large-scale energy storage. This supports closure of TX03Gap “Large-scale secondary chemical energy storage producedfrom lunar regolith minerals (#1393).”

Expected TRL or TRL Range at completion of theProject: 3 to 5

Primary TechnologyTaxonomy:

  • Level 1 07Exploration DestinationSystems
  • Level 2 07.1 In-SituResourceUtilization

DesiredDeliverables of Phase I and PhaseII:

  • Analysis
  • Prototype
  • Hardware

DesiredDeliverables Description:

Phase I efforts shouldprovide a feasibility study and/or proof of concept. Phase II effortsshould demonstrate the technology using lunar regolith simulant whereapplicable.

State of the Art and CriticalGaps:

Thesetechnologies directly address the following existing gaps for advancedthermal and power:

  • Geothermal Heat Rejection in LunarPolar Regions and on Mars.
  • Variable Heat Rejection –Human Class.
  • Phase Change Materials withIncreased Energy Storage.
  • Undifferentiated Power SystemsTechnologies.
  • Novel Heat Transfer Fluids.
  • Green PropellantPropulsion.

Relevance / ScienceTraceability:

Thesetechnologies address the following Moon to Mars objectives:

  • LI-7L: Demonstrate industrial-scaleISRU capabilities in support of continuous human lunar presence and arobust lunar economy.
  • LI-8L: Demonstratetechnologies supporting cislunar orbital/surface depots, constructionand manufacturing maximizing the use of in situ resources, and supportsystems needed for continuous human/robotic presence.
  • OP-11LM: Demonstrate the capabilityto use commodities produced from planetary surface or in-space resourcesto reduce the mass required to be transported from Earth.
  • OP-12LM: Establish procedures andsystems that will minimize the disturbance to the local environment,maximize the resources available to future explorers, and allow forreuse/recycling of material transported from Earth (and from the lunarsurface, in the case of Mars) to be used during exploration.

References:
Balasubramaniam, R., Gokoglu, S., Sacksteder,K., Wegeng, R., & Suzuki, N. (2011). Analysis of solar-heatedthermal wadis to support extended-duration lunarexploration. Journal of Thermophysics and HeatTransfer25(1),130-139.

Balasubramaniam, R., Gokoglu, S., Sacksteder,K., Wegeng, R., & Suzuki, N. (2010, April). An extension ofanalysis of solar-heated thermal wadis to support extended-durationlunar exploration. In 48th AIAA Aerospace SciencesMeeting Including the New Horizons Forum and AerospaceExposition (p. 797).

Lappas, V., Kostopoulos, V., Tsourdos, A.,& Kindylides, S. (2019). Lunar in-situ thermal regolith storageand power generation using thermoelectric generators.In AIAA SciTech 2019 Forum (p.1375).

US Flag An Official Website of the United States Government