The Lunar Sulfur Capture System (LSCS) protects in situ resource utilization (ISRU) hardware from corrosion, and reduces contaminant levels in water condensed for electrolysis. The LSCS uses a lunar soil sorbent to trap over 98 percent of sulfur gases and about twothirds of halide gases evolved during hydrogen reduction of lunar soils. LSCS soil sorbent is based on lunar minerals containing iron and calcium compounds that trap sulfur and halide gas contaminants in a fixed-bed reactor held at temperatures between 250 and 400 °C, allowing moisture produced during reduction to pass through in vapor phase. Small amounts of Earth-based polishing sorbents consisting of zinc oxide and sodium aluminate are used to reduce contaminant concentrations to one ppm or less. The preferred LSCS configuration employs lunar soil beneficiation to boost concentrations of reactive sorbent minerals.

Lunar soils contain sulfur in concentrations of about 0.1 percent, and halogen compounds including chlorine and fluorine in concentrations of about 0.01 percent. These contaminants are released as gases such as H2S, COS, CS2, HCl, and HF during thermal ISRU processing with hydrogen or other reducing gases. Removal of contaminant gases is required during ISRU processing to prevent hardware corrosion, electrolyzer damage, and catalyst poisoning. The use of Earth-supplied, single-use consumables to entirely remove contaminants at the levels existing in lunar soils would make many ISRU processes unattractive due to the large mass of consumables relative to the mass of oxygen produced. The LSCS concept of using a primary sorbent prepared from lunar soil was identified as a method by which the majority of contaminants could be removed from process gas streams, thereby substantially reducing the required mass of Earth-supplied consumables.

The LSCS takes advantage of minerals containing iron and calcium compounds that are present in lunar soil to trap sulfur and halide gases in a fixed-bed reactor downstream of an in-ISRU process such as hydrogen reduction. The lunarsoil- sorbent trap is held at a temperature significantly lower than the operating temperature of the hydrogen reduction or other ISRU process in order to maximize capture of contaminants, but is held at a high enough temperature to allow moisture to pass through without condensing. The lunar soil benefits from physical beneficiation to remove ultrafine particles (to reduce pressure drop through a fixed bed reactor) and to upgrade concentrations of iron and/or calcium compounds (to improve reactivity with gaseous contaminants).

This work was done by Mark Berggren, Robert Zubrin, and Emily Bostwick-White of Pioneer Astronautics for Kennedy Space Center. KSC-13233/615

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

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

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