|Goddard technologist Daniel Glavin has won NASA funding to carry out a 9-month study to define and test a suitcase-size instrument that could answer whether the high concentrations of hydrogen detected in the permanently shadowed areas of the Moon’s polar regions indicate the presence of water ice and organics delivered possibly by comets.
Of the 77 proposals submitted under the Agency’s Lunar Sortie Science Opportunity (LSSO) program, NASA Headquarters selected only seven, two from Goddard. In addition to funding Glavin’s Volatile Analysis by Pyrolysis of Regolith (VAPoR) instrument concept, NASA also selected Pat Taylor and Paul Lowman, both with Goddard’s Planetary Geodynamics Laboratory, to continue work on a proposal called “Seismology and Heat Flow Instrument Package for Lunar Science and Hazards.”
Attributes Success to IRAD Funding
Glavin attributed his win to the fact that he had received Goddard Internal Research and Development (IRAD) funding to advance his idea, assemble a talented group of Goddard scientists and engineers, and begin building a laboratory instrument that he and his team will use to run experiments on cometary ice analog samples and actual lunar soil samples gathered during the Apollo 16 mission.
Principal Investigator Daniel Glavin attributes his win of a NASA Lunar Sortie Science Opportunity study to a previous Internal Research and Development award.
From the testing, he hopes to get baseline scientific data and develop mission requirements in the event that NASA funds a future robotic lunar lander or human sortie mission.
Everyone on my team is excited about the award,” said Glavin, an astrobiologist by training. “The selection of our VAPoR proposal demonstrates the success of Goddard’s investment in key technologies and underscores why Goddard needs to continue investing in R&D.”
Legacy Technology Used
VAPoR is a miniaturized mass spectrometer similar in concept to the Goddard-developed Sample Analysis on Mars (SAM) instrument, one of 10 instruments flying on the 2009 Mars Science Laboratory rover. Like SAM, VAPoR is designed to analyze gases in the atmosphere as well as vapors that are produced when its onboard oven heats soil and rock samples to temperatures exceeding 2200ºF (1204ºC).
Such an instrument would help scientists determine whether the large concentrations of hydrogen are actually water ice deposited by cometary bombardments or simply hydrogen implanted by the Sun. It also could answer whether organic compounds exist on the Moon.
If the hydrogen turns out to be water ice, NASA could use the resource to sustain human astronauts living in lunar habitats and use pyrolysis or another technique to extract oxygen from water ice and lunar soils to produce breathable air.
Higher-Temperature Oven Materials Tested
As part of his study, Glavin has tasked another Goddard technologist, Eric Cardiff, to provide experimental data on the temperature required to release oxygen from the lunar regolith. Cardiff has been working with several lunar oxygen-production techniques for several years, including work on an IRAD to build a prototype system that used vacuum pyrolysis to incinerate regolith to release oxygen. Cardiff will be testing a variety of higher-temperature oven materials that VAPoR would require.
“We were looking at the science applications and Eric was looking at in situ resource utilization applications. The LSSO program wanted proposals that addressed both science and exploration needs,” Glavin said. “It was a natural merge.”
Should NASA choose Glavin’s concept for a future lunar sortie mission, he said VAPoR could be deployed on a robotic lander with a suite of instruments or as a stand-alone instrument placed by astronauts. “After the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (which flies in late 2008 to map the lunar surface), there’s a good chance that NASA will want to send a robotic lander to the Moon to provide ground-truth measurements of the polar region before a human mission,” Glavin said. “This definitely has a short-term strategic impact.”
Goddard technologists win new work, secure follow-on funding to mature new technologies, formulate concepts, and validate new instrument concepts in flight demonstrations — successes that benefit Goddard and the scientific community as a whole.