Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


PNNL seeks maxi space exploration via mini technology


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:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Move over, lasers: Scientists can now create holograms from neutrons, too
21.10.2016 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

nachricht Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus
20.10.2016 | The Henryk Niewodniczanski Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences

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: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

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

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>