An artistic rendering of what a resilient microgrid for a lunar base camp might look like. Sandia National Laboratories engineers are working with NASA to design the system controller for the microgrid. (Illustration by Eric Lundin)

Powering the moon: Sandia researchers design microgrid for future lunar base

May 17, 2022 8:00 am Published by

Reliable, resilient microgrid to sustain astronauts, mining and fuel processing

Sandia National Laboratories is well-known for designing reliable and resilient microgrids for military bases and vital city services. Now, Sandia researchers are working with NASA to design one for the moon.

This is not the first time Sandia has partnered with NASA to power equipment on the moon. In fact, Sandia provided the technical direction for the radioisotope thermoelectric generators that powered the lunar experiments placed by many of the Apollo missions.

NASA’s plan for its concept Artemis lunar base is that it will serve as a technology proving ground for the eventual human exploration of Mars, said Jack Flicker, a Sandia electrical engineer. The base camp concept consists of a habitation unit — complete with room for up to four astronauts — as well as the potential for separate mining and fuel processing, called in-situ resource utilization, facilities. Early Artemis missions will include short stays at the base camp with the goal to build up to stays of two months at a time.

The mining and processing facilities could produce rocket fuel, water, oxygen and other materials needed for extended exploration of the lunar surface while decreasing supply needs from Earth. This facility will be located far away from the base camp — so other science and technology activities conducted there won’t be disrupted — but the electrical grid for the two units will be connected during emergencies for resiliency and robustness, Flicker added.

One part of the Sandia team, that includes Lee Rashkin and Dave Wilson, is designing an electrical system controller for the mining and processing center’s microgrid. NASA is designing the electrical system controller for the habitation unit, as the system will be very similar to the International Space Station’s direct current electrical system, Flicker said. Flicker and his part of the team are developing the system that will connect the two microgrids and are studying the power flow and operation between the two microgrids.

“There are some very important differences between something like an ISS-type microgrid to something that has the extent of a moon base,” Flicker said. “One of those differences is the geographic size, which can be problematic, especially when running at low DC voltages. Another is that when you start to extend these systems, there will be a lot more power electronics as well as a lot more distributed energy resources that will exist throughout the base. Sandia has been looking at microgrids with a lot of distributed energy resources for quite a long time.”

Distributed energy resources are smaller sources of electricity such as solar panels and wind turbines, while power electronics are devices such as converters that keep electrical systems operating within specifications.

Read the complete news release.

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