NASA STTR 2009 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER: 09-2 T10.01-9918
PROPOSAL TITLE: Gaseous Helium Reclamation at Rocket Test Systems

NAME: Sierra Lobo, Inc. NAME: University of Hawaii
STREET: 102 Pinnacle Drive STREET: 2530 Dole St., Sakamaki D250
CITY: Fremont CITY: Honolulu
STATE/ZIP: OH  43420 - 7400 STATE/ZIP: HI  96822 - 2309
PHONE: (419) 499-9653 PHONE: (808) 956-8890

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Mark Haberbusch
102 Pinnacle Drive
Fremont, OH 43420 - 7400
(419) 499-9653 Extension :119

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 5
End: 6

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT (Limit 2000 characters, approximately 200 words)
GHe reclamation is critical in reducing operating costs at rocket engine test facilities. Increases in cost and shortages of helium will dramatically impact testing of rocket engines for launch vehicles and space propulsion systems as the global supply of this non-renewable element diminishes. Extremely large quantities of helium are being used during rocket engine testing each year at various test facilities. It is critical for program successes to minimize developmental and testing costs by reclaiming helium utilized in those programs and, equally important, to preserve this rare element for future generations. Phase I innovative solution efforts have proven the effectiveness of utilizing hydrogen (H2) Proton Exchange Membrane Electrochemical Cell (PEMEC) technology to purify an inert gas stream of helium (He) consisting of hydrogen contaminants in a cost-effective manner. This method allows in-situ, on-site helium re-utilization, returning the helium to cleanliness standards required for rocket engine test facility use. Phase I identified the challenges for dilute hydrogen operation of the PEMEC and provided viable solutions for improved efficiency, which allows the PEMEC's to provide high purity, 99.995% helium. Phase I also identified a possible configuration in which the exit stream of H2 can be added to a fuel cell operating in the galvanic mode to provide power back to the GHe reclamation system. Although Phase II efforts will not utilize that configuration, Phase I verified its feasibility and future system growth potential. Phase II efforts will build upon all the results of Phase I to deliver a fully functional prototype system for further evaluation in an operational environment. Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at the end of Phase I was five (5), while phase II will progress that level to six (6): System/subsystem model or prototype demonstration in a relevant environment.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
PEMECs are an attractive option for purifying inert gas streams containing hydrogen as an impurity because they can be operated efficiently in two methods, which enable separation of hydrogen from the inert gas stream. PEMECs can be operated in a galvanic cell mode where useful electricity can be obtained or, in an electrolytic mode, where the PEMEC is attached to an external power source. In the latter case, hydrogen is separated from the inert stream by electrically driving hydrogen ions across a membrane. Utilizing this technology will significantly reduce vented GHe into the atmosphere at all NASA test sites where helium is consumed in rocket engine testing and will allow the reclamation of GHe for future testing and launch services. This cost-saving technology will save NASA millions of dollars in helium costs over the course of each developmental/test program. Cost savings from our technology allows more funds to be applied to the development and testing of new rocket engines/rocket engine designs, instead of the helium required to test those engines, while minimizing the effects of helium cost increases. Further commercial applications of this technology will allow reclamation of unused hydrogen from the system. This potential NASA application can be used to generate power and water on future lunar vehicles while reclaiming on-board GHe. Our proposed technology allows NASA to continue using helium as a standard purge gas, while reducing operational costs.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
Non-NASA commercial applications share the same benefits. Utilizing PEMEC technology to purify an inert gas stream of helium, reclaiming it, allows other Government agencies, private space companies, commercial space ventures, launch providers, and vehicle/system developers to benefit from cost savings. Helium, a non-renewable commodity, factors in the cost to develop and test newly designed rocket engines/systems and to test/maintain currently developed engines/systems. Cost savings from our technology allows more funds to be applied in the development and testing of these new rocket engines and systems/technologies, while minimizing the effects of helium cost increases. These savings allow for a bold new commercial approach that invests in the building blocks of a more capable method of space exploration and national defense. Millions in savings can be applied to various Government and commercial testing and design programs instead of helium operating costs associated with those programs. Other non-NASA commercial applications can also include hybrid systems that not only reclaim helium, but also provide electrical power and water by reclaiming hydrogen. This technology will prove highly beneficial to those organizations developing both manned and unmanned planetary landers.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING (NASA's technology taxonomy has been developed by the SBIR-STTR program to disseminate awareness of proposed and awarded R/R&D in the agency. It is a listing of over 100 technologies, sorted into broad categories, of interest to NASA.)
Earth-Supplied Resource Utilization
Fluid Storage and Handling
In-situ Resource Utilization
Propellant Storage
Renewable Energy
Testing Facilities

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