The portable life support system for the exploration space suit (xPLSS) must control CO2 and humidity levels inside the space suit pressure garment. The preferred approach is to use a pressure swing adsorption process based on amine swingbed technology. One of the key technical challenges for xPLSS operation on the Martian surface is the need to vent CO2 and water vapor from the swingbeds to an ambient pressure that is generally greater than the bed desorption pressure. We propose to develop a boost compressor that will enable the swingbeds to operate on the Martian surface. The boost compressor will pump CO2 and water vapor from the beds to the external environment with a pressure rise that is high enough to overcome the local ambient pressure. Compact size and high efficiency will enable use of the system as part of a portable life support system. In Phase I, we demonstrated the feasibility of our approach through proof-of-concept testing, analysis of boost compressor performance, and design of a prototype boost compressor. In Phase II, we will build a prototype boost compressor and demonstrate its operation under conditions that simulate Martian surface operation of the xPLSS.
The primary NASA application will be CO2 and humidity control for future exploration space suits. Scaled-up versions could be used for CO2 and humidity control for rovers and habitats on the Martian surface. Relevant NASA activities include the xEMU program, the International Space Station, and the Deep Space Gateway. Small vacuum pumps are also needed for scientific instruments used by unmanned planetary surface rovers.
Miniature, efficient vacuum pumps will have numerous terrestrial applications for use in portable analysis instruments. Applications include natural resource discovery, forensics, explosive and chemical agent detection, and biological tissue characterization.