What if one day we could breathe on the moon?

Following a competition for the best deviceoxygen extractionthe European Space Agency (ESA) selected an industrial team to design the first experimental payload intended to extract oxygen from the surface of the Moon.

Led by Thales Alenia Space in the UK, ESA’s Human and Robotic Exploration Directorate assessed three designs competing teams from AVS, Metalysis, Open University and Redwire Space Europe.

An ambitious challenge for the team

The team will develop equipment to assess the feasibility of a construction of lunar factories bigger. The goal would be to extract propellant for spaceships, breathable air for astronauts as well as metal raw materials for equipment. The concept would be able to extract 50 to 100 g of oxygen lunar regolith, which would represent at least 70% oxygen total contained in the rock.

ESA’s oxygen extraction device should collect all the oxygen within 10 days using solar energy available during a single lunar day fifteen days before the arrival of the dark and icy night of the Moon. But still, it would also provide accurate measurements of the performance and some concentration gases.

“The payload must be compact, low power and capable of flying on a range of potential lunar landers, including ESA’s large European EL3 logistics lander. The ability to extract oxygen from lunar rock, as well as usable metals will be a game-changer for lunar exploration by allowing international lunar explorers to “live off the land” without depending on long and expensive supply lines. terrestrial. »

David Binns

Soon a life-size version?

David Binns, system engineer at ESA’s Concurrent Design Center (CDF), said that once the technology has been proven by this first payload, a life size model will be sent to the moon aboard ESA’s logistics lander at the start of the next decade.

The concept of producing oxygen and metals from lunar regolith has already been laboratory tested and proved his efficiency. The samples brought back from the lunar surface confirm that the lunar regolith is composed of 40 to 45% oxygen.

The difficulty lies in the fact that this oxygen is chemically bound in the form ofoxides in minerals and is therefore not available for immediate use. A prototype was built in the laboratory to extract it. The process is based on electrolysis to separate lunar regolith simulated in metals and oxygen, essential basic resources for space missions long-term.


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