The broader impact/commercial potential of this Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I project is to advance the use of planetary resources. The ice on the Moon and Mars has been deemed “the oil of space” because it will be the primary source of rocket fuel, breathable oxygen, drinkable water, and other valuable commodities. These mixtures of soil and ice have unique qualities not fully understood, partially because the ice is a cocktail of water and other chemicals. The proposed project will develop technologies for synthetic versions of these materials, to advance the understanding and use of these natural resources.
This SBIR Phase I project proposes to create the technology to accurately replicate the mixtures of ice and soils on the Moon. Lunar ice is a mixture of water and other highly reactive frozen gases, such as ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, ethane, and methanol. This project will create artificial lunar soil to be super-cooled in a vacuum, and mixtures of gases and water vapor will be frozen onto the grains in the soil under carefully controlled conditions. The equipment and processes proposed will attempt to replicate the natural formation processes believed to take place on the Moon and other worlds. The ice/soil mixtures on other worlds appear in many different forms, including mixed soil and ice crystals, globules of grains frozen together, and sheets. This technology will be create realistic versions of the many types of these exotic materials by varying how the ices are formed. The ability to create these ices will increase the understanding of the origins of icy worlds, the behavior and chemistry of ultra-cold gases in very low pressures, and the nature of ice/soil mixtures throughout the solar system.
This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.