NASA is seeking advancements in cold stowage technologies that allow the return of lunar samples to Earth from the Moon at cryogenic temperatures. Additionally, biological or other samples may be returned from either the Moon or from a Cislunar orbiting platform, requiring very cold but not cryogenic temperatures.
A primary objective of the Artemis missions is to return samples from the lunar surface. The analysis of those samples may lead to new developments in science, exploration, and in situ resources that could be utilized during long-term exploration of the Moon.
One of the areas of exploration would be the analysis of any ice trapped in the lunar regolith in permanently shadowed regions (PSR) to determine its distribution and composition. Conducting analyses of ice composition requires returning samples to a lab on Earth without allowing the temperature of the sample to rise enough such that volatiles would be released before analysis.
Additionally, biological samples from the Moon and Cislunar space are of great scientific interest for human and other organism study, as the radiation environment and other factors impact the ability for humans to explore beyond Earth.
- Allow samples to maintain temperatures lower than or equal to -150°C (for lunar samples) and/or -80°C (for biological samples)
- Maintain cold stowage temperatures for 1-3 weeks for passive solutions, or 10-90+ days for powered solutions
- No toxic materials or components (e.g., methane, ammonia)
- No venting large amounts of system gases during nominal operations or when unpowered (e.g., N2gas) – a controlled vent each ~6 days may be acceptable
- Low system power consumption (600W max but lower values will be ranked higher, and passive/unpowered solutions are most desirable)
- Low system mass (<50 kg but lower values will be ranked higher)
- Low system volume (<0.125 m3 but lower values will be ranked higher)
- Failure in one category (power/mass/volume) is not bounds for disqualification as long as the temperature, time, and safety requirements are all met
There are 4 environments to consider: Orion, Human Lander System (HLS), Gateway, and Extravehicular activity (EVA; such as a spacewalk). Orion/HLS are small in volume and thermal rejection/power is more difficult to provide, so power up to 600W is not liked to be accommodated – 200W is closer to the maximum. Gateway may provide more capability such as power up to 600W or the ability to refill or vent a system, but samples must survive getting to/from Gateway with transit times of approximately 1 week each way. The EVA crew on the lunar surface will at first rely on ‘hand-carry’ or possibly a simple cart, and even with later rovers will have to transfer systems and samples to the lander themselves – passive solutions are highly desired for this timeframe to avoid heavy/bulky systems and be reliable in the extreme vacuum/thermal environment.
Possible Solution Areas
- Next-generation cooling, freezing, or cold stowage systems
- Long-term passive or non-powered containment solutions
- Novel insulating technologies
- Advanced cryogenic materials
Desired Outcome of the Solution
NASA is open to different partnership opportunities; partnering with a solution provider with a prototype or commercial technology would be preferable.
Field of Use and Intended Applications
Solution to return lunar samples to Earth from the Moon at cryogenic temperatures using very low mass, volume, and power.
Previously Attempted Solutions
Current active cooling systems on the International Space Station are significant in mass, volume, and power. The passive ice packs used for return to Earth do not have the ability to maintain the cryogenic temperatures; even biological sample return at -80°C is not currently feasible.