SPACE STUDIES INSTITUTE
P.O. BOX 82
PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY 08542
[[librarian note: This address is here, as it was in the original printed newsletter, for historical reasons. It is no longer the physical address of SSI. For contributions, please see this page]]
THE HIGH FRONTIER® NEWSLETTER
VOLUME XIX ISSUE 4 JULY/AUGUST 1993
As all of you are well aware, last year SSI lost its founder and president, Gerard O’Neill, when he passed on after his long and hard fought battle with leukemia. Since his passing, all of us have thought a lot about Gerry and his many contributions to the world and to humanity. We all shared his vision and belief that through the “grass roots” efforts of SSI, a better world, larger than the wondrous but limited confines of the Earth, could be created.
It is difficult for all of us, not the least for myself, his son, to pick up where Gerry left off. He was indeed a hard act to follow. I believe that all of us share in the knowledge that it was Gerry’s hope and expectation that we would, after his passing, work together to carry on the work that was started with the founding of SSI.
For my own part, I decided to carry on by getting more involved in SSI, having been a member like yourself for years. I began by attending and participating in work related to the last two SSI Board meetings. In connection with those activities I was asked to first become a member of the SSI Board of Directors, and later to chair that group. This letter is to introduce myself to you, and let you know that I am very pleased to be able to serve SSI through my activities as its Chairman.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for all the support you’ve given the Institute, and especially at this time for the support you’ve continued to provide in the time since Gerry’s passing. In order to carry on the vision, and make it into reality, SSI will need our continuing support as much as it ever did in the past. It is my hope that we can continue to work together long into the future to further the development of the High Frontier!
Roger A. O’Neill, Ph.D.
ELECTROLYTIC PROCESSING OF LUNAR RESOURCES
This article presents a review of work on electrolytic processing of lunar soil done at a variety of laboratories, including EMEC Consultants. Three areas ofwork are summarized: the production of oxygen, the production of aluminum and/or calcium, and the separation of iron oxides. Oxygen is easily produced from molten silicates, but metals are more difficult to produce in pureform because of dispersion and/or reactions in the melt, and co-deposition. The pre-separation ofaluminum/calcium oxides from lunar highland material using selective vaporization is discussed, and the magnetic separation of iron-rich materials is briefly treated.
Extended missions into space, space settlements and the installation of solar power satellites could benefit greatly from the utilization of lunar or other nonterrestrial resources. Cost considerations may even reveal a dependence on it. To produce useful products from such resources, new processes need to be developed. Existing terrestrial processes are not applicable; at best, elements of such technology can be adapted. This has been recognized early on by the Space Studies Institute which initiated pioneering research efforts in extraterrestrial processing.
After the early conceptual work, activities to develop processes to produce oxygen and other products intensified. An early experimental effort was conducted at Rockwell with support by SSI. Since then, a broad variety of possibilities received attention, many of which include a major electrochemical step. As the availability of chemical reactants is rather limited on the lunar surface, electrochemistry offers a convenient approach, provided electrical energy is made available. In an electrochemical process, electrons are used at the cathode to reduce reactants, while oxidation occurs at the anode. Metals are obtained at the cathode; oxygen evolved anodically. For some of the metals, such as aluminum, electrochemical processing seems to offer the only practical alternative.
EMEC Consultants, with electrochemical processing being our specialty, has studied electrolyzing lunar resources for eight years, considering both the production of oxygen and of metals.
Aluminum is a valuable multi-purpose engineering material. It can serve as a structural material and as a conductor in solar power satellites. For conductor purposes, it is the only feasible material that can be extracted on the Moon, except perhaps for calcium. Aluminum can be shaped easily by casting, rolling, drawing, and welding. It can be sprayed, vapordeposited and atomized, and its low melting point of 660°C provides advantages over the use of iron or steel. The surface of aluminum may be employed to reflect solar radiation, either to collect solar energy or to shield areas from excessive heating. Aluminum production on the lunar surface may be critical to the viability of Solar Power Satellites.
For the processing of materials, the lunar surface offers rocks and sand, vacuum and sunshine. Unfortunately, long dark periods interrupt the harvesting of solar power. This makes extensive energy storage capabilities necessary, or it cuts the utility of processing equipment relying on solar power in half. One actually may be better off with a process that runs continuously, using nuclear power. Solar power satellites will offer an alternative continuous energy source in the future. In the meantime, one may consider moving the processing plant off the lunar surface to use solar power continuously.
On the Moon, solid oxides (predominately silicates) are plentiful and can be used to produce various valuable materials, such as oxygen, metals, glasses and ceramics, in unlimited qualtities. As an example, anorthite, CaAl2Si208, can be readily obtained from Highland soil by magnetic separation, as demonstrated by ExporTech, and may yield silicon, aluminum and calcium as metallic products, and almost half of its weight as breathable or propellant grade oxygen. With the support of NASA, EMEC Consultants developed a concept to process anorthite which involves electrolysis as a process step and investigated elements of the envisioned process in the laboratory. Other processes make use of iron oxide present in lunar ores, since iron oxide is, considering thermodynamics, reduced more readily than silicate or aluminum oxide.
What Product Do We Want?
Over the years, we found that details of electrolytic processing can be adapted to yield specific products of interest most economically. If oxygen is the only product of relevance, lunar soil may be dissolved in a molten fluoride electrolyte and electrolyzed, using suitable oxygen-evolving metal, ceramic or cermet anodes. Such electrodes are being developed as substitutes for carbon anodes for the aluminum industry where constraints regarding material cost, metal contamination, and durability are considerably more severe. Electrodes for lunar electrolysis are being tested at EMEC Consultants; Figure 1 shows Dan Hydock ready to test a tin oxide electrode (the dark ceramic piece at the end of a long alumina tube). A major advantage of this approach consists in the usefulness of practically any raw material without benefication. A metallic by-product is obtained whose composition depends on the feed material used. Metals are recovered as part of the molten salt approach.
Another potentially simple process to produce oxygen is the so-called magma electrolysis in which oxides are melted and the resulting melt electrolyzed. Work on the fundamentals of this process was conducted for many years at Washington University in St. Louis, and a cell is being designed at Carbotek. With support by SSI and the University of Arizona SERC, EMEC Consultants conducted electrolysis experiments on a laboratory scale. In the apparatus shown schematically in Figure 2, oxygen was produced electrochemically from molten silicates simulating lunar ores. The electrolysis was conducted at approximately 1430°C, which would increase the problem associated with the material’s stability.
The production of metals may be the key interest. In this case, the efficiency of the cathodic production of a particular metal can be enhanced by appropriate beneficiation of the ore. The separation of anorthite from Highland soil has been mentioned. Recently, we initiated a study of the separation of iron oxide from the other lunar oxides by selective vaporization. Figure 3 shows David Stofesky engaged in a high-vacuum experiment at EMEC Consultants. Synthethetic oxide mixtures representing Apollo 11 soil are melted under a vacuum of about 10° Torr at temperatures of 1200-1500°C (as the picture show up to 1501°C). If we succeed in separating iron oxide, this oxide then could be electrolyzed in an almost conventional system into oxygen and electrolytic iron.
Production of Aluminum
It is unlikely that aluminum could be prepared efficiently in any other way than by electrochemical synthesis. Terrestrial aluminum electrolysis has survived all attempts to replace it with a direct reduction process for over a century.
To reduce the amounts of co-deposition of other metals in lunar aluminum electrolysis, we propose to preprocess the feed material. Based on vapor pressure data and preliminary experimental results, it should be possible to accumulate aluminum oxide by evaporating off the other oxides. The vacuum evaporation could conceivably be simple: using the vacuum of the Moon, soil could be heated by solar heat to evaporate the undesirable components. Aluminum oxide would remain solid, but unfortunately, calcium oxide would remain with the aluminum oxide, probably as calcium aluminate, as its vapor pressure is also very low. The electrolysis then can be designed to accommodate a feed of CaO and Al2O3, reducing both oxides to calcium and aluminum metal, respectively. This could be accomplished sequentially or aluminum and calcium could be separated in a treatment of the cathode metal.
SSI is supporting the vacuum separation work to prepare an aluminum oxide feed as part of its long-term plan to develop and characterize economic processes to produce engineering materials from non-terrestrial raw materials. In addition to providing raw material for aluminum production, vacuum distillation of oxides could also lead to feedstocks for the production of glasses and ceramics.
State of Development of Lunar Processing
NASA has been supporting the development of several alternatives to lunar processes, essentially through the Small Business Innovation (SBIR) program and by funding the Space Engineering Research Center for the Utilization of Local Planetary Resources at the University of Arizona. Both conceptual as well as experimental work has been accomplished. The Space Studies Institute supported such efforts throughout its existence. At present, we are “enjoying” the luxury of having ample time to systematically assemble information on a variety of possibilities, to assess their merits and capabilities, to identify pitfalls through experimental research, and to recommend further process development. Sufficient time to study many options at early low-cost R&D stages can eliminate the danger of freezing out meritorious possibilities and prematurely committing to one option that in reality is suboptimal.
If the history of terrestrial process development is a valid guide, a lot of additional time and effort will be required to develop an operational process for lunar chemical processing of materials. To develop an electrochemical alternative to the HallHeroult process up to full-scale demonstration it took Alcoa 15 years and considerably more than 100 million dollars. Both the time scale and cost are typical for the development of new processes to commercial viability. An effort in this order of magnitude appears very large, but it actually would be commensurate with the potential rewards of lunar processing.
We believe that continuing work on lunar processing with relatively small efforts will bring us substantial gains in the future and will, overall, reduce necessary expenditures. We should not sit idly by, but rather take advantage of the extension of the time table for future space exploration and pursue a continuous, steady effort to find the best ways to use the resources that the Moon offers.
PBS SPECIAL FEATURING O’NEILL TO AIR SEPTEMBER 5
A PBS special, Living and Working in Space, featuring the last interview conducted with Gerard O’Neill will air again on Sunday, September 5 (please check local listings for time).
The special is a program that was produced along with a classroom series on space and the future. Dr. O’Neill is featured in many of the segments, including those on space, transportation and energy.
The special is hosted by Jaime Escalante, the celebrated math teacher of the film, Stand and Deliver. The special opens the door to the abundance of opportunities for today’s youth to live and work in space. It also encourages students to study more in the math and science fields in order to cope in a technology-based society.
Complimentary teacher and viewer guides for the program are available from the learning services director at local PBS stations, Learning Link, NASA Teacher Resource Centers, or by calling FASE Productions at xxx-xxx-xxxx.
The program is for all ages; we encourage you to view it with your family.
SENIOR ADVISOR’S COLUMN
1993 High Frontier Conference by Alex Gimarc
Greetings to all current and past SSI members. A conference was held in Princeton last May, the results of which may herald the opening of the door to permanent manned settlements in space.
This was the first conference held without our friend, Gerard O’Neill. His absence was felt deeply. He would, I believe, have been excited by the advancements announced during the conference which open new paths toward achieving the goal described in The High Frontier. These new paths are unexpected, achievable and enabling. They offer the opportunity to redefine how permanent settlements in space might happen.
Here are a few highlights, and a few words as to why they are highlights:
– A large percentage of Near Earth Asteroids are extinct comets, composed of water ice and volatiles. In terms of velocity, a number are closer than the Moon. The significance of this discovery is that usable propellants are within reach; that we may not need to go to the Moon to build colonies or power satellites; and that we may not need to jump through any technological hoops to get there.
– Light Gas Guns offer a way to launch bulk materials on a regular basis from the surface of the Earth. Given a ten metric ton round, half of it can be inserted into low Earth orbit at a projected cost under $90 per pound. These guns are relatively simple, cheap to operate and reliable. Delivery of large quantities of bulk materials from the surface of the Earth to orbit is within the reach of a corporate budget.
– Legal and policy constraints for the use of extraterrestrial materials are being recognized and addressed. All three legal papers addressed some aspect of normalizing ownership of extraterrestrial bodies, liability control and application of standard mining laws to operations in space. This work, if successful, will ease the legal barriers to private and corporate activities in space.
These advances change the scenario described in The High Frontier. The lunar mass driver may not be required if we can launch bulk materials from the surface of the Earth or recover them from near-Earth asteroids. The search for water ice near the lunar poles may be a moot point if water ice can be launched from the surface of the Earth or recovered in large quantities from nearEarth asteroids. We may not need to go to the Moon at all in order to exploit the available natural resources of space for the construction of Solar Power Satellites and permanent settlements in space.
Ladies and gentlemen, the rules have just changed. We stand on the threshold of realizing our dreams for bootstrapping to permanent settlements in space. The policy and legal difficulties that have been standing in the way of ownership and liability control for activities in space are being recognized, identified and starting to be solved. We may get into space, not in quite the way we expected when we all read The High Frontier, but we will get there just the same.
There was a roundtable discussion on new definitions for the Critical Path held on the first two nights of the conference. The discussion ranged far and wide. It also touched on the future of SSI. New directions proposed include a continuing of the work of high-risk, high-return research into the exploitation of space; the need for education of high school and college students on the possibilities of space exploration; and the support and enabling of an array of private and/or corporate businesses that will move into space. No decisions were made except to continue the discussions.
The time for research into ways to open space to permanent settlements may be coming to an end as you read this. We may be moving into a more exciting phase, that of creating businesses that will require increasing numbers of people permanently living in space. The Russians are gaining an ever increasing experience base living and working in space. The DC-X Single Stage to Orbit vehicle is currently being tested at White Sands. The government will not be the only owner-operators of this spacecraft. It is affordable by a wide range of companies. An external tank based space station proposal from JSC in Houston was the only proposal for a revised space station that met the stated cost constraints. Medical teleoperations coupled with virtual reality are being developed for military doctors; this technology may be easily adapted to operations in space, thus addressing the potential difficulties of medical care in space. Microwave power beaming experiments are being flown in space by the Japanese, and more are planned.
In short, the technology is within reach. SSI has been successful.
Extraterrestrial materials, external tanks, permanent habitations, microwave beaming are all mainstream subjects. Our next job as SSI members is to press on, to pursue the ideas and approaches that will power the expansion of humanity into space. We need the help and participation of the current, past and new members. Come on in, the water is fine.
THE GERARD K. O’NEILL MEMORIAL LIBRARY
Current and Intended Collection Guidelines
The Space Studies Institute has established the Gerard K. O’Neill Memorial Library as a research facility focused on the recognition of space as the high frontier, of space colonies, and of a hopeful near future in space that benefits all humanity – the ideas of SSI’s founder and first president. Therefore, the library will contain four categories of materials, which may overlap, and may appear in multiple media:
1) Works by Gerard K. O’Neill, whether written, transcribed from presentations, audio or video taped, or filmed; to indicate
popularity or longevity, multiple editions will be represented.
2) Works referring to Gerard K. O’Neill, namely those citing his space concepts (but also those that are of biographical interest).
3) Works that clearly make use of the high frontier concepts of Gerard K. O’Neill, but fail to credit him by name.
4) Precursor works to those by Gerard K. O’Neill, of two types:
a) Those that display the consensus on space before O’Neill;
b) Those that indicate earlier concepts of the High Frontier. Some of the items will be fiction, some will be graphic art, many will be technical, while the great majority will be popular non-fiction all of these should be collected to survey the impact of O’Neill’s ideas.
The Library already contains some two dozen precursor books (included for particular relevance), and roughly forty colony novels. Additionally, it contains about two hundred non-fiction works, not including either the dozen editions of works by O’Neill, or the few non-space-related books that refer to him (for particle physics or high-tech invention).
This is a good beginning, but now your help is needed. If you are aware of works which meet any of the criteria, please write to us with bibliographical data and state why the item should be in the Gerard K. O’Neill Memorial Library. If you wish to donate an item to the Library, make that clear, but please do not send any item until we have requested it. If you are interested, we can provide a “wish list” of items we are seeking, such as specific periodicals or videotapes.
BEQUESTS AND DONATIONS
SSI has been very fortunate to be the recipient of two large donations this year. The first was the donation of the home of the late Eric and Maria Muhlmann in Hawaii. The Muhlmanns were long-time friends of the O’Neill family and supporters of SSI. SSI was the major beneficiary of the Muhlmann estate for which we are very grateful.
The second donation came from Senior Aswciate, Jose Torre-Bueno. Mr. Torre-Bueno has also been a long-time member and Senior Associate of SSI. Like most of our Senior Associates he read The High Frontier and became involved with SSI. He recently told us that he felt the scenario presented in the book seemed like the most logical approach from an environment perspective to insure a future for this planet. Further, he felt that SSI had the best grip on the problems and had a clear plan of action.
Mr. Torre-Bueno founded a company which he later sold in a merger with a larger company. In this transaction he received a block of stock of which he donated 4,000 shares to SSI.
During SSI’s history we have been fortunate to receive several sizable donations. Many of the donors have wished to remain anonymous, which we have always honored. These two donors requested that we make their gifts public in the hope that others may follow their example. Each donor supported the Institute at a modest level for several years, and could not have made such a significant donation under normal circumstances. But when given the opportunity, each chose to remember SSI in a special way.
Many vehicles exist to plan for such a donation. The simplest is one which Dr. O’Neill used was purchasing a life insurance policy naming SSI as the beneficiary. The next simplest is making a bequest in one’s will and the most comlicated is creating a remainder trust. This type of trust gives the donor access to the assets during his lifetime and turns the asset over to SSI at the time of death, keeping the asset out of the estate and exempt from estate taxes. If you would like to discuss any of these options, please feel free to call our office at anytime; we can put you in touch with our accountants for more details.
We are grateful for both of these donations. They can not in themselves fund our programs, but they are serving as a valuable endowment to insure SSI’s continuance.
MAKE YOUR OWN MASS-DRIVER
Create your own mass-driver using simple copper wire and flashlight batteries!
SSI is offering easy-to-follow instructions prepared by former SSI Executive Vice President, Dr. Richard G. Woodbridge, III.
This is an excellent addition to lesson plans on electromagnetic force or an introduction to lunar bases. To order, please send $2.50 to SSI, P.O. Box 82, Princeton, NJ 08542.
Space Manufacturing 9
The High Frontier: Accession, Development and Utilization
The complete proceedings of the May, 1993 High Frontier Conference: Bringing the Vision of Space into Reality is available at a special pre-publication price of $35.00 to SSI or AIAA members.
The proceedings will be mailed in early Fall, via book rate, directly from the publisher, AIAA. Conference participants will receive a copy free of charge as part of their registration fee.
Those wishing to place an order may do so by sending a check, money order, VISA or MasterCard number and expiration date to: SSI, P.O. Box 82, Princeton, NJ 08542, or, for credit card orders, by calling xxx-xxx-xxxx or by FAX xxx-xxx-xxxx. All orders will be acknowledged by postcard prior to shipping.
Last date to order at the pre-publication price is September 15, 1993.
Some errors were made in the last issue of SSI Update. We regret the errors and apologize to all those affected.
E-mail: SSI discussion group internet address is xxxxxxxxxxxxxx@xxxxx and place the following in the first line of the body of the letter: subscribe ssi_mail First Name Last Name.
Poster Session: The poster presented by Harvey E. McDaniel, Jr. was entitled “Space Debris Collection System.”
Page 6: Picture one is James Burke, Scott Summerill and Alex Gimarc.
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