Life On Moon Is Possible After ESA Turns Moondust To Oxygen

21 Janvier, 2020, 10:22 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Artist's illustration of a Moon base

The release notes that the process of oxygen extraction from the moon's regolith leaves behind metal alloys that can be studied and used.

"Being able to acquire oxygen from resources found on the Moon would obviously be hugely useful for future lunar settlers, both for breathing and in the local production of rocket fuel", said Beth Lomax of the University of Glasgow in his study.

This version works as a proof of concept, and with further refining of the process a similar device could one day be sent to the Moon to help maintain a sustainable human presence there.

When you need oxygen on the moon, a place with no atmosphere, the lunar regolith itself can be a source for oxygen extraction.

Based on samples brought back from the Moon over the years, it turns out that lunar regolith (moon rock) is made up of 40 to 45 percent oxygen by weight, making it the satellite's single most abundant element, which is incredibly fortunate for future human colonization plans.

The facility, established under the European Space Agency's European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands, will use a method which was discovered by Lomax and her colleagues in 2019.

The technical heart of the ESA extracts oxygen with a method called molten salt electrolysis, which involves placing regolith in a metal basket with molten calcium chloride salt to serve as an electrolyte.

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In the simulated tests carried out with moondust, the prototype plant was able to produce oxygen successfully. At this temperature the rock still remains solid.

So what researchers need to extract oxygen from dust particles is a technology like what has been prototyped by the space agency.

ESA team applied an electrical current to the mixture in order to extract the oxygen out of the dust, while the molten salt acts as an electrolyte, allowing the oxygen to get through it and then gather at the anode where the oxygen can be collected.

Oxygen is now vented out as steam, but future upgrades will see storage facilities added to the prototype.

The method for releasing the oxygen was initially created by a commercial firm in the United Kingdom, called Metalysis, which focuses on turning dust into metal alloys for manufacturing.

'At Metalysis, oxygen produced by the process is an unwanted by-product and is instead released as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, which means the reactors are not created to withstand oxygen gas itself, ' she said.

"We're shifting our engineering approach to a systematic use of lunar resources in-situ", says Tommaso Ghidini, Head of ESA's Structures, Mechanisms and Materials Division.

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