In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) is a key NASA initiative to exploit resources at the site of planetary exploration for mission-critical consumables, propellants and other supplies. The demand for utilizing volatile compounds in regolith for life support and consumable production is increasing due to the cost of resupply missions, the anticipated establishment of manned space bases, and deep space exploration goals.
The Resource Prospector (RP) mission, part of ISRU, is scheduled to launch in 2020 and will include a rover and lander hosting the Regolith & Environment Science and Oxygen & Lunar Volatile Extraction (RESOLVE) payload for extracting and analyzing lunar resources, particularly low molecular weight volatiles elements to be used for fuel, air, and water. The RESOLVE payload includes the Lunar Advanced Volatile Analysis (LAVA) subsystem. The main instrument used to identify the volatiles evolved from the lunar regolith is the Gas Chromatograph-Mass Spectrometer (GC-MS).
The AIChE Undergraduate Student Poster, to be presented at the 2015 Annual Meeting, will exhibit selected research completed during an internship at the NASA John F. Kennedy Space Center. The focus of the internship was integration and testing of LAVA mass spectrometry, and data analysis for Resource Prospector ‘15 (RP’ 15) field tests in order to characterize the amount of water detected from water doped regolith samples.
A quadrupole mass spectrometer (MS), modified in accordance with NASA spaceflight specifications, was tested to understand the behavior of MS electronics in a vacuum. Testing was performed through gas analysis software. Understanding the reproducibility and accuracy of the candidate MS unit to detect volatiles in regolith samples under simulated lunar conditions is crucial to the success of the RP mission.
The RP ’15 testing comprised volatile analysis of water doped simulant regolith to enhance integration of the RESOLVE payload with the rover. During testing, simulant regolith is transferred to LAVA, heated, and analyzed via a gas chromatograph (GC) to identify the concentration of water present in the regolith.
As NASA continues to expand space exploration with the goal of “pioneering” Mars, the use of ISRU becomes more imperative. The RP mission is fundamental to future success in space exploration. With the use of resources from planetary bodies, the goal of human civilization in our solar system is attainable.
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