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 What happens when we heat the atomic lattice of a magnet all of a sudden?
18.07.2018 | Forschungsverbund Berlin

nachricht Subaru Telescope helps pinpoint origin of ultra-high energy neutrino
16.07.2018 | National Institutes of Natural 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: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Global study of world's beaches shows threat to protected areas

19.07.2018 | Earth Sciences

New creepy, crawly search and rescue robot developed at Ben-Gurion U

19.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Metal too 'gummy' to cut? Draw on it with a Sharpie or glue stick, science says

19.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>