Metal oxidation warming systems (MOWS) generate heat through the oxidation of various metals, including lithium, aluminum, and magnesium. These chemical reactions are highly exothermic producing 1700 Wh/kg, an order-of-magnitude increase over Li-ion batteries. MOWS provides upcoming lunar missions a high-performance and low-cost solution to the active thermal protection required by spacecraft to operate in harsh lunar conditions where nighttime surface temperatures can approach -175°C and permanently shaded regions (PSRs) approach -230°C. Without an appropriate active thermal protection system, technology in these environments will fail or degrade. Development and maturation of MOWS will allow the lunar exploration community to extend missions through the lunar night and increase accessibility to new lunar regions, like permanently shadowed craters, where technology was previously constrained by the harsh operating environment. Under this Phase I SBIR, Masten Space System and Penn State will demonstrate the technical feasibility of using MOWS to survive the night on a small lunar landers by evaluating and downselecting various MOWS chemistries to inform high efficiency designs. Once priority reactions are identified, heated enclosures for components and payloads will be designed and developed. A range of thermal conditions will be considered, varying selenographically from the poles to the equator (including PSRs) and chronologically from lunar day to lunar night. Thermal models will be created to advance enclosure designs and better understand components’ thermal requirements. A breadboard heating system will be designed and manufactured by Penn State. At the conclusion of Phase I, the expected TRL is 3, with analytical proof-of-concept work completed. Parallel work conducted by Penn State and not included in this SBIR will advance the technology to TRL 4 in experiments.
The proposed innovation supports NASA’s cislunar, Mars, and interplanetary exploration plans by providing a viable alternative to RTGs for deep space missions. MOWS is a scalable alternative to RTGs and removes RTG contamination risks and regulatory compliance requirements for future NASA Discovery, New Frontiers, or Flagship exploration programs. On the Moon, MOWS supports NASA’s vision to maintain a sustainable presence by offering an active thermal solution that promotes persistent activities through the lunar night.
Commercial space providers can leverage MOWS to survive the lunar night and PSRs. Applications of MOWS include mobility platforms, landers, rovers, or stationary infrastructure and robotics (drills, communications hubs, habitats). The national security space community may use MOWS as a thermal application on their own future cislunar architectures that will require a persistent lunar presence.