Lunar oxygen production by pyrolysis of regolithOxygen represents one of the most desirable products of lunar mining and manufacturing. Among the many processes which have been proposed for oxygen production, pyrolysis stands out as one which is uncomplicated and easy to bootstrap. Pyrolysis or vapor-phase reduction involves heating regolith to temperatures sufficient to allow partial decomposition and vaporization. Some metal oxides give up oxygen upon heating, either in the gas phase to form reduced gaseous species or in the condensed phase to form a metallic phase. Based on preliminary experiments and equilibrium calculations, the temperatures needed for pyrolysis are expected to be in the range of 2000 to 2200 K, giving total gas pressures of 0.001 to 0.1 torr. Bulk regolith can be used as a feedstock without beneficiation with concentrated solar radiation supplying most of energy needed. Further, selective condensation of metal-containing species from the gas phase may yield metallic iron and silicon as byproducts.
Senior, Constance L. (Physical Sciences, Inc. Andover, MA, United States)