Mars Aqueous Processing System (MAPS)

 Link to SBIR Proposal Summary

The Mars Aqueous Processing System (MAPS) is a novel technology for recovering oxygen, iron, and other constituents from lunar and Mars soils. The closed-loop process selectively extracts and then recovers constituents from soils using sulfuric acid and bases. The emphasis on Mars is production of useful materials such as iron, silica, alumina, magnesia, and concrete with recovery of oxygen as a byproduct. On the Moon, similar chemistry is applied with initial emphasis on oxygen production.

During a NASA SBIR Phase I project, Pioneer Astronautics achieved program objectives by demonstrating the major MAPS unit operations in the laboratory. Magnesium sulfate was extracted from a Mars duricrust simulant and then recovered by crystallization from solution. Magnesium sulfate was decomposed to sulfur dioxide and oxygen gas while generating magnesium oxide. Sulfur dioxide and oxygen were combined with water to form sulfuric acid using a low-temperature, liquid-phase catalytic process. Acid produced by this method was used to selectively extract iron and other constituents from simulant. Iron was recovered from solution as a high-grade oxide concentrate (80% Fe2O3). The iron oxide was reduced to iron at temperatures less than 750oC. Other byproducts, such as alumina and silica, were also recovered from solution as high-grade precipitates by controlling time, temperature, and acidity. Samples of structural materials formed from spent simulant and extracted magnesium compounds exhibited a compressive strength of over 800 psi.

A subset of MAPS was demonstrated to be equally useful for lunar applications. Iron oxide was successfully extracted from lunar simulant in the laboratory. High-grade iron oxide concentrate recovered using MAPS technology could reduce thermal power requirements for lunar oxygen production by an order of magnitude compared to heating of bulk soil for hydrogen reduction.

MAPS can be commissioned first for lunar applications to generate oxygen with reduction in thermal power compared to bulk soil treatments. Later modular improvements can add recovery of iron, other metals, and metal oxides (including silicon dioxide, a key precursor for photovoltaic panel production). On Mars, all of these products plus concrete can be produced. The process can be developed in parallel for lunar and Martian purposes, resulting in mission cost savings and risk reduction.

Designs for lunar and Mars applications of MAPS are being developed under a Phase II NASA SBIR program. Kris Romig is the Contracting Officer’s Technical Representative for NASA Johnson Space Center. Mark Berggren is the Principal Investigator for Pioneer on the SBIR Phase I program.