Lunar Propellant for Interplanetary Missions

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D. Landau (2016), JBIS, 69, pp.139-147

Refcode: 2016.69.139
Keywords: Lunar, Propellant, Interplanetary, ISRU, Mission Design

With the development of in situ resource utilization, a propellant production plant on the Moon could be used to extract oxygen from the lunar regolith, or could produce hydrogen and oxygen from ice deposits. These propellants may then be transported to LEO via cislunar ferries to supply spacecraft bound for interplanetary destinations. Alternatively, if the spacecraft departure point is Earth-Moon L1, then the propellant is split into a stage that transports the spacecraft from LEO to L1 and a stage that injects the spacecraft onto an interplanetary trajectory from L1. Both architectures are suitable for robotic and crewed missions. A trade study of propulsion systems evaluates and compares liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen chemical propulsion, nuclear thermal rockets, and electric propulsion, where inert mass is a key parameter for the feasibility of lunar propellant utilization. A parametric study of inert masses and transport system refurbishment rates assess the effectiveness of these propulsion types to reduce the injected mass to low Earth orbit and the mass of the lunar produced propellant. If only oxygen is produced, then unrealistic inert mass fractions are required to reduce the mass launched to LEO. Lunar water provides significant leverage for reasonable propulsion technology, and solar electric propulsion offers further mass savings.

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