Conceptual study of on orbit production of cryogenic propellants by water electrolysisThe feasibility is assessed of producing cryogenic propellants on orbit by water electrolysis in support of NASA's proposed Space Exploration Initiative (SEI) missions. Using this method, water launched into low earth orbit (LEO) would be split into gaseous hydrogen and oxygen by electrolysis in an orbiting propellant processor spacecraft. The resulting gases would then be liquified and stored in cryogenic tanks. Supplying liquid hydrogen and oxygen fuel to space vehicles by this technique has some possible advantages over conventional methods. The potential benefits are derived from the characteristics of water as a payload, and include reduced ground handling and launch risk, denser packaging, and reduced tankage and piping requirements. A conceptual design of a water processor was generated based on related previous studies, and contemporary or near term technologies required. Extensive development efforts would be required to adapt the various subsystems needed for the propellant processor for use in space. Based on the cumulative results, propellant production by on orbit water electrolysis for support of SEI missions is not recommended.
Moran, Matthew E. (NASA Lewis Research Center Cleveland, OH, United States)