NASA SBIR 2004 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER: 04 S2.02-9108
SUBTOPIC TITLE: Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Balloons and Aerobots
PROPOSAL TITLE: In-situ Production of Hydrogen for Buoyancy on Titan

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Lynntech, Inc.
7607 Eastmark Drive, Suite 102
College Station, TX 77840-4027

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Alan Cisar
7607 Eastmark Drive, Ste. 102
College Station, TX 77840-4027

Based on current observations Titan is believed to have a rich, dense atmosphere. If the findings of the Cassini and Huygens missions corroborate this, the next mission to Saturn is likely to include an autonomous vehicle capable of buoyant flight in its atmosphere. In the absence of oxygen hydrogen is the best choice of a buoyancy gas. Maintaining buoyancy for the duration of the one year mission will require a substantial supply of hydrogen to make-up for gas permeating through the gas bag. This gas can be obtained by reforming the methane, which is abundant in Titan's atmosphere. We propose to reform methane with a plasma reformer. This type of reformer converts methane to hydrogen gas and solid carbon, making separation and disposal of the carbon waste a straight forward process. It requires only methane and electrical power to operate, is tolerant of all impurities, and will reform all of the hydrogen containing materials fed in.
Lynntech has already demonstrated this technology in a larger unit. This project will lead to the development of a small unit that operates on a few Watts of power. Methods for harvesting methane and separating the hydrogen and the carbon will also be developed.

The proposed reformer would serve a source of make-up hydrogen to maintain the inflation of the lighter-than-"air" craft that has been proposed for exploring Saturn's moon Titan. The reformer can utilize ambient methane and electric power to produce hydrogen and carbon which can easily be separated and the carbon discarded. This reformer offers an efficient and effective hydrogen source that would help make the exploration of Titan, and possibly other parts of the outer solar system, possible.

The reformer proposed here is a miniaturized version of a multikilowatt system currently under development as a source of hydrogen for vehicle power in areas where fuel must be reformed without the use of water. Whatever is learned in this project will be applied to that and other applications of the plasma reforming technology and will enable the development of units of intermediate size as well.