Friday, January 27, 2023

If we want to colonize the Moon, we need oxygen. NASA’s Solution: A Giant Pipeline From Its South Pole

If we want a lunar future that goes beyond a permanent presence on a satellite, we need to do our homework first. And the main one is to guarantee the supply of basic resources for the work of astronauts. Including, of course, oxygen. NASA knows this, which is why it has spent time and resources looking for ways to extract oxygen from the water in the regolith and lunar ice. Now they have decided to go a step further and explore the feasibility of a way to supply that oxygen: using a gas pipeline capable of reducing the cost of its transfer.

For the time being it is only one approach, but its promoters are already defending its benefits.

Purpose: Supply of oxygen, This is basically the purpose of the Lunar South Pole Oxygen Pipeline (L-SPoP) project: to assemble a pipeline capable of circulating oxygen and carrying it to a liquefaction and storage plant near the lunar base. As the plan’s name indicates, its focus is on the lunar south pole, a region that has attracted the interest of the US space agency, China or Russia for its potential resources, including ice deposits.

The project may be new. NASA has invested money to develop the ability to extract oxygen from regolith and water from lunar ice.” The resource, after all, is key to human habitats, astronauts, rovers or even life support systems for Moon departure vehicles.” It is expected that these extraction techniques will be demonstrated extensively on the Moon by 2024 and provide direct assistance to Artemis astronauts beginning in 2026,” said NASA in a note issued by the project’s says promoter Peter Curreri.

looking for a more efficient strategy, NASA hasn’t worked out ways to get oxygen to the Moon. A way has also been made to take it wherever it is needed. The problem, Kureri says, is that so far the strategies have gone by bottling it up in compressed gas tanks or liquefying it and storing it in special flasks. Any solution would require transporting oxygen on rovers, which consumes more energy than extraction.

“Transportation of this oxygen to rovers consumes more energy than the extraction process and is believed to be the costliest aspect of obtaining oxygen in situ for use on the Moon, on which it will be found over great distances.” resource extraction from an area human habitation or liquefaction plant”, they conclude from the agency.

What is the solution for L-SPOP? What its authors propose is an oxygen pipe at the Moon’s south pole. For this reason they want to explore and evaluate technologies, as well as create a roadmap. “Our initial concept is a five kilometer pipeline to transport gaseous oxygen from a production source, for example to our molten regolith electrolysis (MRE) extraction center or another, to an oxygen storage and liquefaction plant near a lunar base” , explain the promoters of the initiative.

To shape the pipe, it is proposed to use segments manufactured in situ with other metals such as aluminum or iron obtained on the Moon itself. The design will be modular, flexible and repairable, thanks to technology that allows for the extraction of resources and construction on the satellite, which its promoters believe will guarantee a “long useful life” of the infrastructure. All considered “low cost and risk compared to other approaches”. The idea is that the pipeline can be built robotically with a minimal amount of material transferred from Earth and repaired by robots. It will have an oxygen flow of about 2 kg/h and will offer “high reliability” with a useful life of 10 years.

At what point is the proposal? Currently in that early stage, Proposition. One, yes, that has managed to catch the interest of NASA technicians. The proposal—comes from Peter Curreri of the American company Lunar Resources—and managed to sneak into the 2023 selection for the first phase of NIAC (Innovative Advanced Concepts), a NASA program for the development of NIAC, along with 13 other proposals Is. Innovative and far-reaching concepts over a long period of time.

According to Interesting Engineering, 14 teams received funding for their development. The calendar prepared by NIAC envisages milestones for the other phases during 2023. In the case of L-SPOP, the project has been developed with the ambitious Artemis program as a backdrop.

Images: NASA and Peter Currey

Nation World News Desk
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