For seventy years, Albuquerque-based Sandia National Laboratories has been developing electrical microgrids that increase community resilience and ensure energy security. Applications include the Smart Power Infrastructure Demonstration for Energy Reliability and Security (SPIDERS), designed to support military bases abroad, and independent power systems for hospitals and regions where electrical grids are at risk of being compromised by natural disasters (like hurricanes, flooding, and earthquakes).

In the coming years, Artemis Program, NASA will be sending astronauts back to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Era and establish a “sustained program of lunar exploration.” To ensure that astronauts have the necessary power to maintain their habitats and support operations on the surface, NASA has partnered with Sandia to develop microgrids for the Moon! This technology could also support future endeavors, like mining, fuel processing, and other activities on the Moon.

One of the main objectives of the Artemis Program is the creation of lunar infrastructure that will allow for long-duration surface operations and eventual missions to Mars. To ensure that rotating crews can explore and conduct science experiments on the surface, NASA will establish the Lunar Gateway (by 2024) and the Artemis Base Camp before this decade is over. This concept will serve as a technology demonstration that will validate design elements and systems for an eventual Martian habitat, allowing for short stays with the eventual goal of staying up to two months.

An illustration of the Gateway’s Power and Propulsion Element and Habitation and Logistics Outpost in orbit around the Moon. Credits: NASA

The Base Camp concept consists of a habitation unit capable of accomodating up to four astronauts as well as a mining and processing facility that will use local resources (lunar regolith and water ice) to fashion rocket fuel, water, oxygen gas, and building materials – a process known as in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). This will extend the duration and range of surface exploration while reducing dependence on resupply missions from Earth. This facility and its microgrid will be located far from the base camp to avoid disrupting other science and technology activities.

But to ensure resiliency and robustness, the electrical grids for both units will be connected during emergencies. While NASA is designing the electrical system controller for the habitation unit, which will be very similar to the International Space Station’s (ISS) direct-current (DC) system, Sandia’s engineers are developing the system that will connect the two microgrids and studying the power flow and operation between them. Said Jack Flicker, a Sandia electrical engineer, in a Sandia LabNews statement:

“There are some very important differences between something like an ISS-type microgrid to something that has the extent of a moon base. 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.”

Microgrids are part of a larger field of technology that includes distributed energy resources (smaller sources of electricity like solar panels and wind turbines) and power electronics – devices that keep electrical systems operating within specifications (like converters). Since 2021, electrical engineer Lee Rashkin and control engineer Dave Wilson have been designing the software to regulate the electrical system controller for the mining and processing center’s microgrid.