NASA seeks to develop novel oxygen extraction concepts that allow for the production of oxygen on the surface of the Moon using Lunar regolith. As part of this system, in situ resource utilization (ISRU) process requires a pressurized volume to be evacuated to prevent the loss of products to the vacuum of space. While processing the regolith, some of the released gasses have acidic elements that must be handled for oxygen production. For this reason, NASA has expressed the need for a contamination-tolerant vacuum pump which can recover vapors from the pressurized volume before discarding the spent regolith. The pump has two firm requirements:
One promising ISRU oxygen extraction method is Gustafoson’s carbothermal system. This system is designed to collect oxygen from the Lunar regolith utilizing the carbothermal reduction process. The process may be summarized as a reduction of collected minerals containing metallic oxides (regolith) with carbonaceous source to form CO and H2, followed by a reduction of CO with H2 to form CH4 and water, and finally electrolysis of the water to form O2 and H2. While unnecessary on the pilot tested on Earth, a deployable system requires a contaminant tolerant vacuum pump to evacuate a process vessel to prevent the loss of any products or consumables to the vacuum of space. To accomplish this request, Air Squared is proposing the development of a robust, oil-free, Contamination-Tolerant Scroll Vacuum Pump (CTSVP).
By drawing a vacuum to preserve ISRU consumables in a pressurized volume and maintaining optimal performance while handling contaminant laden regolith or atmospheric vapors without contaminating downstream processes, the CTSVP fills two ISRU technological gaps. Therefore, Air Squared has identified two promising marketplaces for the CTSVP to be pursued in Phase II: