Wednesday November 18, 2020 0 comments
SPARKS, Nev. -- Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) announced it has been selected for a contract as part of NASA’s Tipping Point solicitation to further develop its carbothermal reduction process, which harvests oxygen from minerals on the surface of the Moon.
“Oxygen is one of our most valuable resources for space travel and harvesting oxygen from local in-space resources will be efficient and cost-effective for human exploration and commercial activity in space,” said Fatih Ozmen, SNC’s CEO.
“Our Carbothermal Reduction Process is the result of decades of research and development work that is focused on both reducing launch mass from Earth drastically reducing mission costs, and enabling long-term activity in low-Earth orbit, cislunar and Mars.”
More than 40 percent of the moon is oxygen, but it is locked in the form of minerals in the lunar surface rocks and particulates (regolith).
The carbothermal reduction process concentrates heat into the lunar regolith within a methane gas environment to extract oxygen from the minerals while continuously recycling the methane.
This capability can efficiently operate at virtually any location on the moon or other planetary surfaces, including asteroids and the moons of Mars.
“We are passionate about leveraging the diverse expertise we have developed over the course of hundreds of successful space missions to create a sustainable and scalable platform for continual government and commercial activity in space,” said Tom Crabb, VP of programs for SNC’s Propulsion and Environmental Systems.
“We are moving quickly to further develop this technology and make our vision a reality.”
As part of the Tipping Point contract, SNC will develop demonstration hardware of the process that will be tested in a vacuum environment similar to the moon as a precursor to a flight on a commercial lunar lander to prove viability of this process on the Moon.
Ultimately, SNC said it envisions constructing a plant on the surface of the Moon that can serve as an oxygen fueling station for travel between the Earth and the Moon, the Moon and Mars, and beyond, as well as support human habitation.
SNC's Space Systems Division is located in Louisville.