NASA is in need of affordable and robust cryogenic cooling solutions for use in space applications. Specifically, in support of its Artemis program, NASA seeks innovative integrated refrigeration cycles for a combination of hydrogen and oxygen liquefaction on the lunar surface (topic Z10.01). Based on initial estimates, nominally 300 W of cooling is needed at 90 K and 20 K to support at least 11.7 metric tons per year (3.3 kg/hr of oxygen and 0.4 kg/hr of hydrogen). Currently, Concepts NREC (CN) is working towards the demonstration of a high-capacity reverse-Brayton cryocooler based on the needs of several high-temperature superconducting and liquefaction applications. On the proposed NASA Phase I project, CN proposes to leverage its high-capacity Brayton cryocooler development effort by pursuing a novel integrated system capable of supporting oxygen and hydrogen liquefaction needs on the Moon. Beyond providing an integrated solution, the proposed system will dramatically increase the current state-of-the-art in space-based cryogenic cooling capacity. CN proposes to focus its Phase I efforts on cycle and configuration analysis and optimization, consistent with the Z10.01 solicitation expectations. In collaboration with NASA personnel, CN will select the optimum configuration for maturation in Phase II. During Phase II, the lowest Technical Readiness Level (TRL) component will be selected for further development.
Liquefaction of cryogenic propellant is a critical component of future exploration efforts, currently pursued within the Artemis program. Leveraging CN’s existing Brayton cryocooler developments, CN anticipates this program to lead to a significant increase in the cooling capacity of space-based cryocoolers. The increase in cooling capacity, combined with the integration of LOx and LH2 refrigeration capabilities, will allow NASA and its prime contractors to conduct ISRU and ZBO operations in orbit, on the moon and on Mars.
Developments on this program are expected to be directly applicable to superconducting needs of other government applications (defense) as well as the commercial industry. Specifically, multiple Navy applications exist in minesweeping, degaussing, and ship-board power transmission. Furthermore, superconducting motors for wind turbines are actively being pursued in the renewables market.