Industrial Scale Manufacturing of Lunar Dust Simulants with Remotely-Coupled Transferred Arc Plasma
Michael Weinstein, Sheryl M. Genco, Ph.D.
Lunar simulants are a core requirement with applications across many NASA and commercial space exploration programs. A partial list of programs that require simulants include: lunar oxygen extraction, excavation equipment testing and development, surface stabilization, health studies and general hardware testing are all end users of lunar simulants. As realized from the Apollo missions, the moon’s surface contains a high percentage of glass (~30%) and agglutinates (30 to 60%).
The lunar regolith is unique by terrestrial standards. Extremely small and jagged
particulates comprise the majority of the surface and dust. Many believe the unique
material was formed by the constant micrometric impact on the lunar surface. Zybek
Advanced Products, Inc. has developed a high-power plasma process that provides a
similar thermal energy and temperature gradient of a micrometric impact on the lunar
surface. Using an example impact of a 0.01 kg micrometeorite traveling at 100,000
km/hr, the kinetic energy is 385KJ. Assuming 90% thermal equilibrium in 1 second
yields an energy rate of 347 KW. ZAP’s remotely-coupled transferred arc system
provides a similar thermal history for the feed stock material..
In addition to manufacturing lunar simulant glass and agglutinate, ZAP is using the high
power remotely-coupled plasmas (up to 900 KW) to produce Anorthosite, Pyroxenes and
Olivines from oxide ingredients. The oxides (e.g., SiO2, CaO, Al2O3, etc.) are mixed in
the proper ratios, brought to molten temperatures and allowed to cool in a fashion that
promotes crystal growth. The crystals are then milled with a pulse mill back to the
proper size faction.
This talk will present the plasma-based process used to manufacture multi-ton quantities
lunar simulants and dust materials. Data is also presented that compares the
manufactured dust simulants to the actual Apollo samples.