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Harvesting Of Lunar Iron: Competitive Hands On Learning

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Project-Based Learning in ECE Education

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.664.1 - 13.664.7



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Paper Authors


Peter Schubert Packer Engineering

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Dr. Schubert conducts research into alternate energy, space-based manufacturing, and engineering education at Packer Engineering in Naperville, IL. He is Senior Director, and has served as PI on projects from DOE, NASA and the GSA. He has published 47 technical papers, has 25 US patents, and is an instructor with the Society of Automotive Engineers. Prior experience includes 21 years in automotive electronics with Delphi Corporation, where he was a Technical Fellow. His doctorate in EE from Purdue was sponsored by a GM Fellowship. His MSEE is from U. of Cincinnati on a Whirlpool Fellowship, and his undergraduate degree is a BA in Physics from Washington U. in St. Louis. Dr. Schubert has directly supervised over 60 students while in industry.

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Matthew Beatty Naperville North High School

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Matt Beatty is a senior at Naperville North HS, Illinois where he takes Advanced Placement science courses in Chemistry and Biology. While a summer intern at Packer Engineering, Mr. Beatty was part of a team which improved an existing product's performance by 40%, leading to greater miniaturization. Matt was part of the winning team for the competition reported herein.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

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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