Sierra Space ‘Clear to Proceed’ with Physical Testing of Integrated Reactor That Extracts Oxygen from Moon’s Surface
Innovative Technology is Critical for Astronaut Life Support Systems and Propellant Manufacturing in Space
LOUISVILLE, Colo. (Sierra Space PR) — Sierra Space, a leading commercial space company at the forefront of creating and building the future of space transportation and infrastructure for low-Earth orbit (LEO) commercialization, today announced the successful completion of its $3 million Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase III Test Readiness Review (TRR) with NASA for its carbothermal reduction technology.
The Sierra Space system, developed over multiple contracts with NASA, processes and extracts oxygen from minerals in lunar regolith (soil) for use as astronaut life support and in propellant manufacturing in space. Producing oxygen on the moon is a key component for a sustained presence in space and reduces costs by not having to transport the critical element to space on launch.
Sierra Space CEO Tom Vice said, “By providing a source of oxygen on the moon, this technology will ultimately be used to sustain life support and enable rocket refueling, therefore greatly reducing the costs associated with spaceflight beyond low-Earth orbit. As we seek to open affordable access to space for all, today’s progress brings us closer to that possibility through the promise of potential cost-saving and alternative-processing technologies.”
Successful completion of this review is a proof point for the maturation of the system – a critical milestone on the path toward flying on a future NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) demo mission. Sierra Space can now proceed with physical hardware testing to show autonomous operation of the company’s carbothermal reactor. This testing will include a demonstration of automatically feeding lunar regolith into the reactor, extracting oxygen-containing gasses from the regolith that can later be converted into pure oxygen, and autonomous removal of the processed regolith.
“The successful completion of the Test Readiness Review is a very important milestone for Sierra Space, as we continue to develop and execute on the many ongoing projects we are working on in coordination with NASA,” said Tom Crabb, SVP & GM Space Applications, Sierra Space. “Today’s accomplishment helps to expand Sierra Space’s in-space capabilities that will make life in space possible for extended amounts of time. Additionally, today is another step forward on our path to provide and utilize advanced technologies that are necessary to deliver on Sierra Space’s mission to develop and create lasting impacts on the commercial space economy.”
Elements of the technology developed for this effort may also be applied in other lunar systems such as regolith tolerant seals, regolith tolerant mechanisms and automated lunar manufacturing.
About Sierra Space
Sierra Space (www.sierraspace.com) is a leading commercial space company at the forefront of innovation and the commercialization of space. Sierra Space is building platforms in space to benefit life on Earth. The company is in the latter stages of doubling its headcount, with large presences in Colorado, Florida and Wisconsin. Significant investors in Sierra Space include General Atlantic, Coatue, and Moore Strategic Ventures.
With more than 30 years and 500 missions of space flight heritage, Sierra Space is enabling the future of space transportation with Dream Chaser®, the world’s only winged commercial spaceplane. Under construction at its Colorado headquarters and expected to launch in 2023 on the first of a series of NASA missions to the International Space Station, Dream Chaser® can safely carry cargo – and eventually crew – to on-orbit destinations, returning to land on compatible commercial airport runways worldwide. Sierra Space is also building an array of in-space destinations for low Earth orbit (LEO) commercialization including the LIFE™ (Large Flexible Integrated Environment) habitat at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a three-story commercial habitation and science platform designed for LEO. Both Dream Chaser® and LIFE™ are central components to Orbital Reef, a mixed-use business park in LEO being developed by principal partners Sierra Space and Blue Origin, which is expected to be operational by 2027.