Production of Lunar Oxygen Through Vacuum Pyrolysis
GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIV WASHINGTON DC SCHOOL OF ENGINEERING AND APPLIED SCIENCE
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Increasing efficiency of future space exploration will require that missions utilize non-terrestrial resources for propellant manufacture. The vacuum pyrolysis method of oxygen production from lunar regolith presents a viable option for in situ propellant production because of its simple operation involving limited resources from earth. Lunar regolith, the fine layer of pulverized rock across the entire lunar surface, is composed of approximately forty percent oxygen in the form of metal oxides. Employing concentrated solar radiation to heat raw regolith beyond its respective vaporization temperatures will dissociate the regolith minerals and agglutinates into reduced oxides and gaseous oxygen. Once dissociated, rapid quenching will cause the reduced oxides to condense, releasing gaseous oxygen to be isolated and stored. Vacuum solar pyrolysis experiments involving terrestrial representatives of lunar regolith were completed at temperatures between 1000 degrees Celsius and 2000 degrees Celsius at a rough vacuum. A large Fresnel lens was employed to focus solar radiation on a small sample of regolith simulant, located in a vacuum chamber. Pyrolysis measurement data collected included pressure, temperature, mass loss, residual gas analysis, and scanning electron microscopy. The complexity of the lunar environment presents new engineering challenges to a terrestrially proven pyrolysis system. The lunar pyrolysis oxygen production plant meets these challenges by a robust design that takes advantage of all the lunar resources. The technology readiness of an oxygen production plant will be demonstrated on an evolutionary path. Oxygen production yields are estimated at 6-23 of regolith mass depending upon oxide dissociation and condenser efficiency. This study provides an analysis of the infrastructure needed for an oxygen production plant through vapor phase pyrolysis on the lunar surface.
- Physical Chemistry
- Geology, Geochemistry and Mineralogy
- Inorganic Chemistry
- Rocket Propellants