NASA SBIR 2009 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER: 09-2 X3.01-9415
SUBTOPIC TITLE: Oxygen Production from Lunar Regolith
PROPOSAL TITLE: Advanced Carbothermal Electric Reactor

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN (Firm Name, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Orbital Technologies Corporation
Space Center, 1212 Fourier Drive
Madison, WI 53717 - 1961
(608) 827-5000

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Robert J. Gustafson
1212 Fourier Drive
Madison, WI 53717 - 1961
(608) 229-2725

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 4
End: 5

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT (Limit 2000 characters, approximately 200 words)
The overall objective of the Phase 1 effort was to demonstrate the technical feasibility of the Advanced Carbothermal Electric (ACE) Reactor concept. Unlike state-of-the-art carbothermal reactors that use concentrated solar energy and/or laser energy to heat the regolith, the ACE Reactor uses an innovative method to electrically heat the regolith to temperatures over 1800ÂșC within a thermally insulted environment, either with or without a crucible. Commercial high-temperature heating elements made from molybdenum disilicide (MoSi2) are designed to only operate in oxidizing atmospheres where a protective layer of silicon dioxide (SiO2) will form. In Phase 1, the ACE reactor used MoSi2 heating elements with a protective coating to allow them to operate in any type of environment (oxidizing, reducing, or vacuum). The ACE Reactor concept eliminates the problems encountered with traditional carbothermal hot-wall reactors and offers significant advantages over current carbothermal reactor approaches. By eliminating the need for a concentrated solar energy system, the ACE reactor offers a significantly lowers system mass and removes the need to keep optical surfaces clean. In addition to efficiently producing oxygen, the ACE reactor separates the processed regolith into metallic iron and a silicate glass that can be formed into structural components or shielding materials.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
The purpose of ISRU is to harness and utilize resources at the site of exploration to create products and services which can enable and significantly reduce the mass, cost, and risk of near-term and long-term space exploration. In particular, the ability to make propellants, life support consumables, fuel cell reagents, and radiation shielding can significantly reduce the cost, mass, and risk of sustained human activities beyond Earth. The ACE Reactor will meet this need by efficiently producing oxygen, metallic iron and glass from regolith. The oxygen produced could satisfy the needs of EVA, life support, and propulsion applications including orbital propellant depots. The metallic iron or silicate glass could be poured into molds to make building components, radiation shielding materials, or spare parts.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
The development of ACE reactor is clearly focused on supporting the needs of the NASA human exploration program. However, there are several commercial companies making significant progress towards spaceflight, including Bigelow Aerospace, Scaled Composites, and Space-X. There are significant cost/propulsive savings associated with obtaining oxygen from local regolith versus bringing it from Earth, and systems have been proposed to use lunar oxygen to resupply vehicles anywhere from LEO down to the lunar surface. As commercial flight systems mature, the ACE reactor could provide an economical source of oxygen. In addition, the innovative electric resistance heaters developed for the ACE reactor could have a significant commercial market as the first high-temperature heating elements that can operate in oxidizing, reducing, and/or vacuum environments.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING (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

Form Generated on 08-06-10 17:29