Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

PNNL seeks maxi space exploration via mini technology

09.05.2005


Lab to develop more economical and reliable space travel



Images of deep space exploration in old sci-fi movies will take one giant leap toward reality as Battelle scientists manipulate microtechnology to produce rocket propellant in space and breathing oxygen for interplanetary travel, thanks to new funding from NASA.

Scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., which is operated by Battelle for the Department of Energy, will launch the development of a lightweight and extraordinarily compact system for NASA applications. These microchemical and thermal systems, also known as MicroCATS, configure such things as microchannel absorbers, reactors, separators and heat exchangers to produce the propellant from resources found on Mars and the moon. In addition, the system also will be designed to regenerate breathable air for life support. The NASA contract is valued at $13.7 million over four years.


"Further development of the microchannel architecture makes this all feasible," says Kriston Brooks, PNNL principal investigator. "Our ultimate goal is then to use the same microtechnology principles on a larger scale to provide propellant for a manned mission to Mars in the 2030 timeframe."

PNNL’s mission supports the President’s new vision for space exploration. President Bush pledged to return to the moon by 2020 in preparation for future human exploration of Mars and other distant destinations in his January 2004 address at NASA headquarters. "The contract is four times larger than any PNNL has previously had with NASA," says Martin Kress, Battelle’s NASA relationship manager. "We hope this technology system ushers in an entirely new approach for lunar and Martian exploration and habitation," Kress added.

The compact microtechnology processing station, referred to as ISPP, the In Situ Propellant Production system, will collect carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere and have it react with hydrogen gas to produce methane fuel and oxygen forming the propellant for the return voyage. "Additionally, by collecting and reconditioning exhaled air, the system will produce pure oxygen for crew members; a problem that nearly doomed the Apollo 13 mission," noted Brooks. Both methane and oxygen also can be used to generate electrical power for vital life support systems making this capability central to a manned outer space infrastructure.

"Since the system uses modular banks of identical microchannel components, there is a built-in redundancy achieving enhanced safety and reliability," stated Brooks. "We anticipate increased system efficiency as well as improved economic benefits when the research is complete."

Microchannel technology generally has at least one dimension that is 200 microns or less in size – a human hair is about 20-50 microns. Due to improved heat and mass transfer rates, the microtechnology process can be intensified, resulting in significant size reductions over conventional hardware. At these small scales, hydrodynamic, surface, and interfacial forces dominate, allowing the devices to operate independent of gravity. Gravity independence and reduced size and weight make microtechnology an ideal candidate for many NASA applications.

"We also hope to demonstrate the concept of making use of resources found both on the moon and Mars, not only for propellant and breathing air, but ultimately to build a community in space," says Brooks. "For instance, silica, iron and titanium retrieved from soil on the moon could be used to produce photovoltaics capable of generating electricity, and producing metals for building construction and other manufacturing processes." Brooks admits that these capabilities are still conceptual, but says that by demonstrating the next generation of microchannel technology for ISPP, researchers may be able to advance these capabilities as well.

The technology’s system components will be tested individually, as well as in a combined integrated system in a single "bread-board" configuration. The analysis will be performed at NASA centers using an atmospheric chamber to simulate the low temperatures and extremely low atmospheric pressure typical of Mars and the moon, and using reduced gravity parabolic flights to simulate low gravity.

PNNL will coordinate parts of this research with Oregon State University via the Microproducts Breakthrough Institute. MBI is a collaboration between PNNL and OSU, and is affiliated with ONAMI, the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnology Institute.

PNNL is a DOE Office of Science laboratory that solves complex problems in energy, national security, the environment and life sciences by advancing the understanding of physics, chemistry, biology and computation. PNNL employs more than 4,000 staff, has a $650 million annual budget, and has been managed by Ohio-based Battelle since the lab’s inception in 1965.

Geoff Harvey | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.pnl.gov

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Climate cycles may explain how running water carved Mars' surface features
02.12.2016 | Penn State

nachricht What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?
02.12.2016 | University of Toronto

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer ISE Develops Highly Compact, High Frequency DC/DC Converter for Aviation

The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

UTSA study describes new minimally invasive device to treat cancer and other illnesses

02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering

Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product

02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?

02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>