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Sierra Nevada Corp secures NASA contract to produce oxygen on lunar surface

Stephen Kuper

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has been selected for a contract as part of NASA’s Tipping Point solicitation to further develop its carbothermal reduction process, which harvests oxygen from minerals on the surface of the moon.

Sierra Nevada Corp secures NASA contract to produce oxygen on lunar surface
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As part of the Tipping Point contract, SNC will develop demonstration hardware of the process that will be tested in a vacuum environment similar to the moon as a precursor to a flight on a commercial lunar lander to prove viability of this process on the moon.

More than 40 per cent of the moon is oxygen, but it is locked in the form of minerals in the lunar surface rocks and particulates (regolith), the carbothermal reduction process concentrates heat into the lunar regolith within a methane gas environment to extract oxygen from the minerals while continuously recycling the methane.

This capability can efficiently operate at virtually any location on the moon or other planetary surfaces, including asteroids and the moons of Mars.

Fatih Ozmen, SNC CEO, said, "Oxygen is one of our most valuable resources for space travel and harvesting oxygen from local in-space resources will be efficient and cost-effective for human exploration and commercial activity in space. Our Carbothermal Reduction Process is the result of decades of research and development work that is focused on both reducing launch mass from Earth drastically reducing mission costs, and enabling long-term activity in low Earth orbit, cislunar and Mars."

Tom Crabb, vice president of programs for SNC’s Propulsion and Environmental Systems, added, "We are passionate about leveraging the diverse expertise we have developed over the course of hundreds of successful space missions to create a sustainable and scalable platform for continual government and commercial activity in space. We are moving quickly to further develop this technology and make our vision a reality."

Ultimately, SNC envisions constructing a plant on the surface of the moon that can serve as an oxygen fuelling station for travel between the Earth and the moon, the moon and Mars, and beyond, as well as support human habitation.

SNC is a trusted leader in solving the world’s toughest challenges through best-of-breed, open architecture engineering in Space Systems, Commercial Solutions, and National Security and Defence. 

SNC is recognised among the Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Space, as a tier one superior supplier for the US Air Force and is the only aerospace and defence firm selected as a 2020 US Best Managed Company.

For nearly 60 years, SNC has delivered state-of-the-art civil, military and commercial solutions including more than 4,000 space systems, subsystems and components to customers worldwide, and participation in more than 450 missions to space, including to Mars.

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