A method was developed for transfer of lunar soil into and out of process equipment. The Lunar Materials Handling System (LMHS) conveys solids to a process vessel, provides a gas-tight seal, prevents seal contamination, and minimizes wear from abrasive particles. The LMHS increases equipment life and minimizes process losses, thereby increasing overall in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) leverage. The LMHS is based on a seal arrangement by which lunar or Mars regolith can be repeatedly introduced into, and removed from, reaction chambers operating under a wide range of conditions. An integrated LMHS was demonstrated during operation in a one-cubic-meter vacuum chamber using hydrogen reduction as an ISRU process demonstration platform.

Key elements of the automated and remotely operated LMHS include hardware for lunar soil feeding, reactor sealing, ISRU processing, and residue discharging. Materials handling was facilitated through the use of smooth surfaces, steep-angle walls in hoppers and vessels, close tolerances, vibration, and coatings. A gas-tight, stationary reactor seal was protected by a removable sleeve that prevents contamination by dusty, abrasive lunar soil during transfers. The performance of a fixed-bed, down-flow hydrogen reduction reactor was also enhanced with periodic back-pulsing to improve heat transfer, to prevent channeling and compaction, and to aid residue discharge. JSC-1A lunar soil simulant batches of 2.3 kg were used for the demonstration.

This work was done by Mark Berggren, Robert Zubrin, James Kilgore, Cherie Wilson, Peter Jonscher, and Heather Rose of Pioneer Astronautics for Johnson Space Center. MSC-24822-1

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the July, 2015 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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