NASA SBIR 2006 Solicitation


SUBTOPIC TITLE:Oxygen Production from Lunar Regolith
PROPOSAL TITLE:Lunar Oxygen and Silicon Beneficiation Using Only Solar Power

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN (Firm Name, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Packer Engineering
1950 N. Washington
Naperville, IL 60563-1366
(800) 323-0114

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Peter   Schubert
1950 N. Washington
Naperville, IL  60563-1366
(630) 577-1928

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT ( Limit 2000 characters, approximately 200 words)
Element beneficiation from a moving, ionized plasma can be accomplished through the principles of mass spectroscopy. Two US patents were recently awarded to the PI on a means to separate all isotopes of regolith in a single pass using either a continuous or pulsed operation. This method of in-situ resource utilization has been studied at a system level, and results published at a national space conference. Phase I of the proposed work will extend the favorable results obtained so far towards a system-level model of the process suitable for more accurate computation of performance metrics. Mathematical models of the SiO2 molecule dissociation, ionization, transport and separation will be derived and applied to the patented apparatuses. Preliminary calculations on silicon extraction indicate the potential for solar cell production at approximately $6/Watt, a 50 times improvement over other proposed methods of space-based manufacture. We will apply this novel method of beneficiation to a simultaneous extraction of oxygen and silicon. Key questions to be answered include estimates of the physical dimensions conducive to efficient extraction (Watts/kg, kg/sec), which will drive system parameters of mirror size, solar power needs (for magnetrons and chillers), shielding, thermal management and infrastructure. Milestones within the six-month project will be: (1) vaporization, energy flow and system architecture; (2) addition of self-shielding, double-ionization, three-dimensional considerations and slag rates; (3) inlet design considerations, multiple molecule separation, and velocity profiling; and (4) composite separation rates and overall tranfer function characterization. Upon completion of Phase I we will have detailed design equations needed to construct a prototype oxygen extraction unit during Phase II.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS ( Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
Oxygen molecules separated from a plasma will be condensed on a cold plate and gravity-collected for use as a fuel oxidizer. Oxygen is also a component of a breathable atmosphere, and as a raw material for other ISRU applications. Silicon extraction is used for solar cell production using float-zone crystallization and ion implantation to form photodiodes. Aluminum extraction (also possible with these inventions, but not studied herein) provides for conductors and Ohmic contacts to the silicon to form solar arrays capable of supplying power. This power can be used to power additional beneficiation apparatuses, or for baseline power to a lunar habitat or science station. A machine delivered to the moon in advance of a manned mission can be readily assembled and operated during lunar day. Waste slag from the separation process can be deposition-formed into bricks of any convex shape. Waste heat from these bricks can drive a Sterling cycle engine for mechanical power, and the bricks can be assembled into shelters for equipment or habitats. This concept leverages the capability to produce 100s of times the mass of extracted resources compared to the delivered payload mass. Adaptations of the same invention, covered by patents, allow use in microgravity environments, thereby extending applicability to future missions to the moons of Mars or to target asteroids, where additional beneficial elements (such as nitrogen and carbon) can be found.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS ( Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
The three biggest problems facing mankind today are nuclear proliferation, global warming and peak oil. If it can be made cost-effective, space solar power can ameliorate all three. To be cost-effective, extra-terrestrial sources of silicon and aluminum are needed for the solar cells. Transportation of workers and material throughout cislunar space, a non-trivial contributor to overall costs, can be greatly reduced with a source of extra-terrestrial oxygen. Therefore a system capable of extracting all three of these vital elements from lunar regolith represents a considerable economic benefit to any enterprise producing space solar power. Therefore, these patents, and the work proposed herein, could represent the foundation upon which mankind develops a sustainable, long-term solution to the growing needs of an expanding civilization.

NASA's technology taxonomy has been developed by the SBIR-STTR program to disseminate awareness of proposed and awarded R/R&D in the agency. It is a listing of over 100 technologies, sorted into broad categories, of interest to NASA.

In-situ Resource Utilization
Semi-Conductors/Solid State Device Materials

Form Printed on 09-08-06 18:19