Lunar Oxygen and Silicon Beneficiation Using Only Solar Power

Period of Performance: 01/01/2007 - 12/31/2007

$100K

Phase 1 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Packer Engineering
1950 N. Washington
Naperville, IL 60563
Principal Investigator
Firm POC

Abstract

Element beneficiation from a moving, ionized plasma can be accomplished through the principles of mass spectroscopy. Two US patents were recently awarded to the PI on a means to separate all isotopes of regolith in a single pass using either a continuous or pulsed operation. This method of in-situ resource utilization has been studied at a system level, and results published at a national space conference. Phase I of the proposed work will extend the favorable results obtained so far towards a system-level model of the process suitable for more accurate computation of performance metrics. Mathematical models of the SiO2 molecule dissociation, ionization, transport and separation will be derived and applied to the patented apparatuses. Preliminary calculations on silicon extraction indicate the potential for solar cell production at approximately $6/Watt, a 50 times improvement over other proposed methods of space-based manufacture. We will apply this novel method of beneficiation to a simultaneous extraction of oxygen and silicon. Key questions to be answered include estimates of the physical dimensions conducive to efficient extraction (Watts/kg, kg/sec), which will drive system parameters of mirror size, solar power needs (for magnetrons and chillers), shielding, thermal management and infrastructure. Milestones within the six-month project will be: (1) vaporization, energy flow and system architecture; (2) addition of self-shielding, double-ionization, three-dimensional considerations and slag rates; (3) inlet design considerations, multiple molecule separation, and velocity profiling; and (4) composite separation rates and overall tranfer function characterization. Upon completion of Phase I we will have detailed design equations needed to construct a prototype oxygen extraction unit during Phase II.