Intergalactic Gas Station?
Lunar soil in: air and fuel out…
To most of us, the moon is just a huge desolate rock slowly orbiting Earth through the vacuum of space. Well, it turns out it actually has a pretty huge supply of oxygen sitting within its lunar soil, that could be the key to further exploration of the cosmos…
Analysis of its regolith (soil) shows that oxygen makes up 45% of the material by weight. The remainder is largely iron, aluminium, and silicon. Sounds good.
What’s more exciting is that scientists at Metalysis (UK company) and the University of Glasgow found they can extract 96% of the oxygen by stimulating the lunar soil, leaving behind a useful metal alloy powder.
This electrochemical process is already used on earth, here the oxygen is considered an unwanted by-product. On the moon, the oxygen harvested can be combined with other gases to produce breathable air for future exploration of the moon.
Additionally, oxygen is a vital component of rocket propellant that can be manufactured on the moon and used to refuel spacecraft bound for deep space. A gas station on the moon. This is crucial as most rocket fuel is burned escaping the earth’s atmosphere, best illustrated by the boosters that fall back to earth after launch.
There is still work to be done to improve the process, increasing oxygen purity, and reducing the energy required. The European Space Agency (ESA) recently awarded Metalysis a further 9-months funding to continue development.
If results are as promising as hoped, the next step will be testing on the lunar surface. Who knows, someday long-term habitation on the moon and regular missions to Mars won’t seem so alien to us.
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