Feb 6, 2017

Lecturer: Tony Muscatello, Kennedy Space Center

Dr. Tony Muscatello is a NASA research chemist at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida who focuses on space resource utilization, especially propellant and oxygen production on the Moon and Mars. He has worked on In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) for almost two decades, first at Pioneer Astronautics in the Denver, CO area and at KSC. At Pioneer he worked on several ISRU and other projects, serving as Principal Investigator for METAMARS, a carbon dioxide to methane to benzene/oxygen propellant system, and IMISPPS, a carbon dioxide to methane and carbon monoxide propellant system that produces sufficient oxygen to burn all the methane. At KSC, he led the Lunar Water Resource Demonstration (LWRD) team for RESOLVE for the 2008 Field Demonstration, was NASA’s lead for lunar oxygen production via carbothermal reduction of regolith, and contributed to or led several ISRU projects. He currently serves as the Risk Manager for RESOLVE, the primary instrument for the proposed Resource Prospector lunar mission and is the PI for Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Mars Atmospheric ISRU project. Tony grew up near Princeton, WV, obtained his B.S. in Chemistry at Concord College in Athens, WV, and earned his Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry at the Florida State University. He subsequently worked on actinide separations and plutonium recovery at Argonne National Laboratory, Rockwell International/Rocky Flats Plant, and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Topic: Oxygen Extraction from Minerals

Oxygen, whether used as part of rocket bipropellant or for astronaut life support, is a key consumable for space exploration and commercialization. In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) has been proposed many times as a method for making space exploration more cost effective and sustainable. On planetary and asteroid surfaces the presence of minerals in the regolith that contain oxygen is very common, making them a potential oxygen resource. The majority of research and development for oxygen extraction from minerals has been for lunar regolith although this work would generally be applicable to regolith at other locations in space. This presentation will briefly survey the major methods investigated for oxygen extraction from regolith with a focus on the current status of those methods and possible future development pathways.

The major oxygen production methods are (1) extraction from lunar ilmenite (FeTiO3) with either hydrogen or carbon monoxide, (2) carbothermal reduction of iron oxides and silicates with methane, and (3) molten regolith electrolysis (MRE) of silicates. Methods (1) and (2) have also been investigated in a two-step process using CO reduction and carbon deposition followed by carbothermal reduction. All three processes have byproducts that could also be used as resources. Hydrogen or carbon monoxide reduction produce iron metal in small amounts that could potentially be used as construction material. Carbothermal reduction also makes iron metal along with silicon metal and a glass with possible applications. MRE produces iron, silicon, aluminum, titanium, and glass, with higher silicon yields than carbothermal reduction. On Mars and possibly on some moons and asteroids, water is present in the form of mineral hydrates, hydroxyl (-OH) groups on minerals, and/or water adsorbed on mineral surfaces. Heating of the minerals can liberate the water which can be electrolyzed to provide a source of oxygen as well. The chemistry of these processes, some key development and demonstration projects, the challenges remaining to be overcome, and possible future directions will be discussed with a goal of increased understanding of these important ISRU technologies and their potential applications to space exploration and settlement.

Recommended Readings:
Integrated Modeling and Optimization of Lunar In-Situ Resource Utilization Systems (click here to download)
Progress Made in Lunar In Situ Resource Utilization under NASA’s Exploration Technology and Development Program (click here to download)

Lecture Slides: click here to download

Recorded talk: click to view