With the Artemis program, NASA plans to land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024, using innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before. The need for oxygen extraction from lunar regolith has been identified by STMD (Space Technology Mission Directorate). As knowledge about lunar water recourses is limited, alternative pathways to extract oxygen are requested, recognizing the need to make progress on the technology required to extract oxygen from dry lunar regolith. The entire lunar surface is covered with regolith, which can be 4 – 15 m deep depending on locations. As a whole, it holds more than 40 wt.% oxygen (O) as solid oxides with SiO2 being the largest (up to 53 wt.% SiO2). Successful oxygen extraction from lunar regolith resources would benefit for life support and propulsion needs.
Oxygen extraction from lunar regolith by vacuum pyrolysis has been demonstrated and considered to be one of the ideal options because no reagents and reductants are required, thus needing minimal consumables. Despite its large oxygen production potential, it is reported that vacuum pyrolysis needs to overcome several technical hurdles to be commercialized. The following four key technical challenges are identified that have been impeding technology readiness level (TRL) advancement of the vacuum pyrolysis approaches. This project provides a supporting technology for vacuum pyrolysis, by utilizing a solid-oxide oxygen ion transport approach, which intends to address the technical challenges identified above, to contribute to advancing the current TRL of the vacuum pyrolysis technology. Oxygen separation using a solid oxide electrolyte for vacuum pyrolysis has never been reported in the literature and U.S. patents.
The proposed technology that extracts high purity oxygen from a complex volatile mixture during vacuum pyrolysis is applicable to NASA’s lunar exploration needs (Artemis Program).
The proposed technology that extracts high purity oxygen from a complex volatile mixture during vacuum pyrolysis and it also effectively produces high purity metals such as silicon as byproduct to be used by metallurgical industries.