In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) Lab

The ISRU Laboratory is a multifaceted group that conducts applied and basic research in chemical processing systems in support of  Advanced Exploration Systems and the Space Technology Mission Directorate.

Facility Capabilities

  • Designs, builds, and tests reactors and systems for chemical processes required for Lunar and Martian outposts
  • Tests, designs, and builds systems to remove contaminants produced during regolith reduction in ISRU reactors
  • Characterizes contaminants in regolith simulants, contaminants produced during the reaction, and develops the process to remove contaminants in the gas phase as well as liquid water to a level safe for water electrolysis (ultra pure water)
  • Develops inert anodes to be used in Molten Regolith Electrolysis. Currently, these anodes are sent to MIT for testing in a high temperature (1600degC) electrolysis reactor
  • Tests reactor materials for hydrogen permeating at high temperatures (up to 1000degC). This data is required to design hydrogen reduction reactors for the production of oxygen
  • Testing and designing a system to produce methane from food wrappers and left-over food for the lunar outpost

A 2nd Generation Molten Regolith Electrolysis work currently at MIT will be completed at the ISRU Lab.  This will require designing, building, and testing an electrolysis reactor and the equipment required to characterize the oxygen produced during the reaction.  As well as, a contaminant removal system might be required for this process and it will also be developed in this lab.

Success Stories

Regolith and Environmental Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatiles Extraction (RESOLVE) looks to analyze, separate, and capture volatiles within lunar regolith. The lab is managing the overall project, and has developed a gas analysis instrument and gas separation and capture systems targeting the analysis, capture, and separation of hydrogen and water.

Accomplishments

  • Demonstrated that pilot H2 reduction system could produce oxygen and water from Mauna Kea (HI) soil
  • Designed and completed bench-top optimization experiments to improve lab-scale particle separation
    system design
  • Demonstrated a regolith excavation and handling vehicle with multiple end effecter attachments (drilling, excavation, clearing)
  • Demonstrated that solar energy can be used for oxygen extraction. The initial solar unit delivered 700-900W of power

Capabilities / Services

  • Oxygen, water, and fuel production and waste processing
  • Methane regeneration
  • Solar energy for oxygen extraction
  • Lunar regolith particle separation for further processing
  • Regolith excavation and handling
  • Habitation and Radiation Shielding
  • Dust Mitigation
  • Rocket Plume Blast Effects
  • Robotics and Tele-Robotics
  • COTS analytical instrumentation modification for flight