American Society of Civil Engineers

Plasma Processing of Lunar Regolith Simulant for Oxygen and Glass Production

by S. Sen, (BAE SYS/NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Bldg 4464, Huntsville, Al 35812 E-mail:, D. Butts, (Plasma Processes Inc., 4914 Moores Mill Road, Huntsville, Al 35811 E-mail:, J. S. O’Dell, (Plasma Processes Inc., 4914 Moores Mill Road, Huntsville, Al 35811 E-mail:, and C. S. Ray, (Materials Research Center, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Rolla, MO 65409, USA E-mail:
Section: Symposium 4: Exploration and Utilization of Extraterrestrial Bodies, pp. 1343-1352, (doi:

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Document type: Conference Proceeding Paper
Part of: Earth and Space 2010: Engineering, Science, Construction, and Operations in Challenging Environments
Abstract: Tools for extracting life-sustaining resources from the moon are needed to support the vision for space exploration. Of particular interest is the production of oxygen for life support and propulsion. On the lunar surface the only practical source for oxygen is the lunar regolith. Described in this paper is an innovative plasma reduction technique for the production of oxygen from lunar regolith. Thermodynamic calculations showed that the regolith oxides could be dissociated to yield up to 7.3 weight percent oxygen when exposed to extremely high temperatures of up to 3000 °C. Subsequently the use of a plasma flame to obtain oxygen from lunar regolith simulant, JSC-1A was demonstrated. Optimum plasma processing parameters required for oxygen production is also discussed. In addition, electron microscopy and x-ray diffraction data is discussed to demonstrate that the regolith simulant when exposed to high temperature and rapid quench, as in the case of plasma processing, transforms predominantly to a glassy phase with vesicles and dispersion of nano phase iron. This closely duplicates the agglutinitic glassy phases present in lunar regolith and therefore plasma processing provides a means to produce tonnage of high fidelity lunar simulant.

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