Product/Service - Extraterrestrial Metals Processing (EMP)
- Space Resources
- ISRU (In Situ Resource Utilization)
- Raw Materials
- Development, Acquired
- First launch
The Extraterrestrial Metals Processing (EMP) system produces iron, silicon, and light metals from Mars, Moon, or asteroid resources in support of advanced human space exploration.
Awarded NASA SBIR Post-Phase II in July 2020 to build and demonstrate hardware to produce oxygen and steel from lunar regolith, or soil. The technology would support sustainable lunar operations such as manufacturing using resources already on the Moon, also known as in-situ resource utilization.
Iron is produced via reduction of oxides by hydrogen or carbon monoxide. Silicon, ferrosilicon, and high-purity fumed silicon monoxide are generated via carbothermal reduction of silica-containing resources. Reductants are generated using established ISRU-related technologies including electrolysis, the reverse water gas shift reaction, the Boudouard carbon deposition reaction, and combinations thereof. During Phase I, magnesium metal was successfully produced via silicothermic reduction. Alternative light metal reduction methods will be evaluated and compared to the baseline silicothermic reduction of magnesium oxide for structural applications, replacement parts, and manufacturing hardware on Mars. A high-quality fumed silicon monoxide product can be further oxidized and used for production of clear glass. Upon reduction with carbon, SiO can also be used to make high purity silicon for the production of semiconductor materials using doping agents such as phosphorus.
The Phase II effort will expand on the findings of the Phase I work with demonstration of an end-to-end system to produce iron and steel at a rate on the order of one kilogram per day. Example parts will be made using casting, sintering, or advanced manufacturing methods. In parallel with the demonstration of end-to-end iron production during Phase II, light metals manufacturing methods evaluated during Phase I will be further refined. Small-scale production of light metals will be demonstrated during Phase II.
The hydrogen-enhanced carbon monoxide disproportionation method employed in the EMP system enables high rates of carbon deposition onto pure silica in the absence of a metal catalyst.
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