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Tribology and Space Mechanisms - In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) Seals
Research Objectives
Develop seal technology for systems on the moon used to process lunar regolith (soil) to produce gaseous oxygen (GOX) and gaseous hydrogen (GH2).
Technical Challenges
  • Thermal cycling and large temperature variations are expected from -320 to 2900 °F (1600 °C).
  • When sealing against the hard vacuum of space to contain several atmospheres of pressure gas will permeate through containment materials.
  • Batch processing requires re-usable seals as the pressurized chamber will be opened and closed many times.
  • Lunar dust, which is inherently abrasive and sticks to everything, will be a problem to overcome.
Current Research
Ball valve tests completed: 40-cycle room temperature laboratory tests of modified ball valves have been completed. Leakage and torque test data for modified ball valves exposed to lunar soil simulant, JSC-1a, were obtained for 40 open/close cycles. Modifications to the ball valves include chamfers, pour tubes, and ceramic felt wipers to minimize contamination of the sealing surfaces within the valves. Results indicate that these modified valves and the design approach of using double ball valves (one to seal pressure and the other to protect the pressure sealing valve from soil contamination) and a tapping device will likely meet the sealing requirements of the target application. Tests of the reactor with the modified ball valves at process conditions are planned. Reactor seals capable of multiple open/close cycles in the abrasive lunar dust environment at high temperatures are critical to lunar regolith oxygen extraction process systems.

JSC-1a contaminates the ball valve sealing surfaces
Above: After pouring JSC-1a, a lunar soil simulant, through ball valve and opening and closing it, JSC-1a contaminates the ball valve sealing surfaces and sticks to the hole in the ball.

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Last Updated: April 21, 2009