Moon metal manufacturing researchers earn NASA honor

A group of students and instructors from across multiple disciplines from the Missouri University of Science and Technology (S&T) were selected as one of seven finalists in NASA’s 2023 Breakthrough, Innovative, and Game-Changing Idea (BIG Idea) Challenge: Lunar Forge.
The S&T moon metal work began in fall 2022, when the team submitted a proposal to NASA for the contest. In spring 2023, NASA announced S&T as a finalist and provided funding for the team’s research efforts to continue.
S&T’s project is titled “Lunar In-Situ Aluminum Production Through Molten Salt Electrolysis” and the group worked with anorthite, a material in large supply on the moon that contains aluminum. It researched methods for using a type of electrolysis to reduce the aluminum oxide in the anorthite into aluminum metal.  

The S&T team was led by Jacob Ortega, a Ph.D. student in aerospace engineering and Kummer Innovation and Entrepreneurship doctoral fellow from California. Its research on producing aluminum on the moon was presented in November in Cleveland.
While the team did not successfully produce aluminum before the final stage of the contest, the team was awarded NASA’s Edison Award, in reference to Thomas Edison’s quote: “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The lightbulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” 
Ortega said this award was to demonstrate that the team still made headway toward one day manufacturing moon metals with their processes even if they were not yet successful.
Other members of the S&T team included:  

  • Selena Allen, a senior in geological engineering from Hallsville, Mo. 
  • Grant Baer, a junior in aerospace engineering from Webb City, Mo. 
  • Ryan Baur, a junior in aerospace engineering from De Soto, Mo. 
  • Douglas Dawkins, a senior in mechanical engineering from Wentzville, Mo. 
  • Nicholas Graham, a sophomore in aerospace engineering from Parker, Texas 
  • Easton Ingram, a senior in mechanical engineering from Salem, Mo.  
  • Mercedes Lane, a senior in geology and geophysics from Berea, Ky.  
  • Giovanna Lenza, a junior in aerospace engineering from Chesterfield, Mo.
  • Alexander Newby, a junior in aerospace engineering from St. Peters, Mo.  
  • Keaton Painter, a junior in mechanical engineering from Morrisville, Mo. 
  • Mason Phillips, a senior in mechanical engineering from Webb City, Mo. 
  • Alexander Schumacher, a sophomore in engineering management from St. Louis. 
  • Matthew Sherman, a sophomore in metallurgical engineering from Camdenton, Mo. 

S&T faculty advisors for the contest included: 

  • Dr. Daoru Han, associate professor of aerospace engineering.
  • Dr. David Bayless, chair and professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.
  • Dr. Fateme Rezaei, Doshi professor of chemical and biochemical engineering. 
  • Dr. William Schonberg, professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering.  
  • Dr. Jeffrey Smith, professor of materials science and engineering.  
  • Dr. Daniel Stutts, associate professor of mechanical engineering. 

Ortega said the work on this issue is not over, as it could one day make a significant difference in future developments on the moon. 

Source: Missouri S&T

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