ESA Scientists Have Started Making Oxygen Out Of Simulated Moondust

James Marshall
January 20, 2020

"Being able to extract oxygen from resources on the moon would be of great benefit to future lunar inhabitants both for breathing and for the local production of rocket fuel", said Beth Lomax, a researcher at the University of Glasgow in the press release.

In chemistry and manufacturing, electrolysis is a technique that uses a direct electric current (DC) to drive an otherwise non-spontaneous chemical reaction.

It is the single most abundant element, but despite this rich resource its not easily accessible.

The team says that having the faculty allows it to focus on oxygen production and measure it with a mass spectrometer as it is extracted from the regolith simulant. The space agency has simply tweaked the regular method of metal and alloy production to create oxygen from regolith.

Now, to help with this, the European Space Agency is working on a way to extract oxygen from the moon's surface.

But researchers at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) have now developed a prototype plant that can extract usable oxygen from lunar regolith.

Moon rocks brought back by astronauts from the Apollo missions confirm that lunar regolith - the dusty surface layer of the Moon that contains soil, broken rock, and other related materials - is made up of 40-45 percent oxygen by weight. It's heated to 950C, and an electrical current is passed through, allowing the oxygen to be extracted. As part of her PhD, Lomax working at Metalysis to study the process before recreating it at ESTEC.

Pictured: Moondust simulant undergoing oxygen extraction. The oxygen plant runs silently, with the oxygen produced in the process is vented into an exhaust pipe, for now. The lab team was very helpful in getting it installed and operating safely'.

The goal of this research and extraction of oxygen from lunar materials would be to "design a "pilot plant" that could operate sustainably on the moon", with the first demonstration slated for the mid-2020s in support of future ESA and NASA crewed lunar missions.

"Accordingly we're shifting our engineering approach to a systematic use of lunar resources in-situ".

To cherish the dream of colonizing the moon with a permanent human community or robotic industries, one professor at the University of Westminster by name Lewis Dartnell had proposed the idea of "Moontopia" which would be built inside massive hollow tubes, formed by lunar volcanic eruptions.

He said that by 2030, there could be an initial lunar settlement of six to 10 pioneers - scientists, technicians and engineers - which could grow to 100 by 2040. Humans require breathable air and the moon has no such source.

He likened human expansion on the moon to the growth of the railways, when villages grew around train stations, followed by businesses.

These could be deployed from the moon at a fraction of the cost of a launch from high-gravity Earth.

Water can be separated into hydrogen and oxygen, two gases which explode when mixed - providing rocket fuel.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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