June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
Electrical and Computer
13.664.1 - 13.664.7
Harvesting of Lunar Iron: Competitive Hands-on Learning
Electromagnets can be used to harvest free iron from lunar soil, known as regolith. Iron is important to the US plans for a lunar outpost. It does not rust in space, making it an excellent construction material. Circumpolar railroad tracks would allow a slowly-moving train to follow the sun, making agriculture possible, and enabling continuous operation of factories producing solar cells and oxygen for life support and propulsion. Designing an iron harvesting apparatus for the unique lunar environment requires that students re-think tacit assumptions about how things work.
Within the context of a 33-student summer program, two college interns supervised nine high school upperclassmen in an eight week project to design, test, and evaluate a lunar iron harvester. Under the guidance of high school teachers, a research engineer outlined the constraints and parameters for the project. The college interns developed performance metrics, and the teachers established the framework for the competition. Three teams of three students developed their designs, which were reviewed by professional engineers prior to fabrication. A separate team performed research on the properties of lunar soil and prepared a test bed containing 150 kg of simulated regolith.
One team identified a novel means to multiply electromagnet force using a recently-issued patent, creating great excitement between the teams and spurring them all to excel. Electromagnets were fabricated in the Packer Engineering shop, then operated by the students in a standardized competition format. Wearing proper protective gear, each team tested their device to determine the amount of free iron extracted from the regolith simulant. Performance was measured in mass of iron harvested per device mass, yielding surprising results, and powerful insights for the students. Results were published in a local newspaper. In this paper, we describe how this hands-on project fits within an overarching philosophy for engineering education within a paid summer intern program.
Since before man first landed on the moon in 1969, there have hopes and plans for settlement. In his 2004 State of the Union Address, President Bush announced a new vision which includes “a foothold on the moon” which will “prepare for journeys to the worlds beyond our own”. With launch costs to the moon of $100,000 per kilogram, a major focus at NASA is learning to “live off the land” when we return to the moon. The technical term for this is in situ resource utilization (IRSU), and includes manufacture or extraction of useful raw materials and consumables needed for human habitation and rocket transportation. Building and structural materials are current objectives for ISRU, owing to their high mass. In this paper, we review the extraction of iron from simulated lunar soil using devices designed, constructed, and tested by student researchers.
Schubert, P., & Beatty, M. (2008, June), Harvesting Of Lunar Iron: Competitive Hands On Learning Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4294
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