A problem exists in reducing the total heating power required to extract oxygen from lunar regolith. All such processes require heating a great deal of soil, and the heat energy is wasted if it cannot be recycled from processed material back into new material.

The counterflow regolith heat exchanger (CoRHE) is a device that transfers heat from hot regolith to cold regolith. The CoRHE is essentially a tube-in-tube heat exchanger with internal and external augers attached to the inner rotating tube to move the regolith. Hot regolith in the outer tube is moved in one direction by a right-handed auger, and the cool regolith in the inner tube is moved in the opposite direction by a left-handed auger attached to the inside of the rotating tube. In this counterflow arrangement, a large fraction of the heat from the expended regolith is transferred to the new regolith. The spent regolith leaves the heat exchanger close to the temperature of the cold new regolith, and the new regolith is pre-heated close to the initial temperature of the spent regolith. Using the CoRHE can reduce the heating requirement of a lunar ISRU system by 80%, reducing the total power consumption by a factor of two.

The unique feature of this system is that it allows for counterflow heat exchange to occur between solids, instead of liquids or gases, as is commonly done. In addition, in variants of this concept, the hydrogen reduction can be made to occur within the counterflow heat exchanger itself, enabling a simplified lunar ISRU (in situ resource utilization) system with excellent energy economy and continuous non-batch mode operation.

This work was done by Robert Zubrin and Peter Jonscher of Pioneer Astronautics for Kennedy Space Center. For further information, contact the Kennedy Innovative Partnerships Program Office at (321) 861-7158. KSC-13394

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the September, 2013 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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