NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts programme has awarded a grant to space industrial company Lunar Resources and Wood, a consulting and engineering firm with expertise in terrestrial pipeline transportation systems to fund a nine-month feasibility study for the Lunar South Pole Oxygen Pipeline (LSPoP), a proposed pipeline to transport gaseous oxygen from an extraction site at the Moon’s south pole to a future lunar base.
The extraction of oxygen on the Moon is essential for lunar operations. However, the transportation of oxygen gas is a big challenge. ‘We estimate that the use of robotic rovers to transport gaseous oxygen in gas tanks would use more energy than extracting it,’ said Peter Curreri, Lunar Resources’ chief scientist.
Lunar Resources and Wood have teamed up to lead a design study on the LSPoP. For this project, the team will undertake an end-to-end system-level design study of the pipeline. The study will include an exploration of the feasibility of building pipeline elements in-situ from the abundant metals found on the Moon. Lunar Resources is leading development of molten-regolith electrolysis and has successfully built full-scale systems that are being tested for flights to the Moon, and has extracted high-purity iron, aluminium and silicon using the process.
‘To bring our pipeline expertise to the lunar surface is incredibly exciting for us, from both the potential impact this pipeline could have on lunar development and the technical challenges we must solve to implement a project this advanced,’ said Mark Netzel, vice president, onshore of Wood’s projects business.
‘The environment of the Moon is night and day compared to Earth,’ said Matthew Laborde, a consulting senior pipeline engineer at Lunar Resources. ’Specifically, the reduced gravity and vacuum environment will force the team to rewrite the rules on designing pipelines.’