The European Space Agency opens a plant to extract oxygen from MOONDUST
The European Space Agency (ESA) has opened a plant in the Netherlands specifically designed to extract oxygen from lunar dust.
Making oxygen in space for a long-term exploration is an essential step that would allow astronauts to make their own breathable air and also produce rocket fuel.
The Dutch plant places the lunar powder in molten calcium chloride at 950 ° C and passes an electric current through the liquid.
This extracts the oxygen trapped inside the material and also converts the powder into usable metal alloys.
The researchers hope that this prototype sets the stage for one day to build a self-sufficient base on the moon.
Scroll down to watch the video
The lunar regolith (in the photo on the left, a simulated material before the experiment) is composed of 40 to 45 percent oxygen by weight, its most abundant element. After being processed in the experiment (right), it becomes usable metal alloys.
The Dutch plant places the lunar powder in molten calcium chloride at 950 ° C and passes an electric current through the liquid. This extracts the oxygen trapped inside the material and also converts the powder into usable metal alloys (pictured)
ESA has opened its prototype plant in the Netherlands to extract oxygen from lunar dust. Wait some day to make a plant that supports the elves so that the moon provides a constant source of oxygen for colonization missions
The analysis of real space rocks reveals that the lunar regolith is composed of 40 to 45 percent oxygen by weight, its most abundant element.
But this oxygen is closely linked to other elements in the form of minerals or glass.
A form of electrolysis (the passage of an electric current through a liquid) helps to release oxygen in the form of gas and traps it for later use.
The silent process is currently performed in false moon dust designed to replicate the properties of the moon’s surface.
Currently, oxygen is vented like steam, but future updates will see storage facilities added to the prototype.
The prototype was built in the Electrical Materials and Components Laboratory of the European Space Research and Technology Center, ESTEC, based in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.
“Having our own facility allows us to focus on oxygen production, measuring it with a mass spectrometer as it is extracted from the regolith simulator,” said Beth Lomax of the University of Glasgow.
“Being able to acquire oxygen from the resources found on the Moon would obviously be very useful for future lunar settlers, both for breathing and for the local production of rocket fuel.”
The method to release oxygen was initially created by a commercial company in the United Kingdom, called Metalysis, which focuses on converting the powder into metal alloys for manufacturing.
For Metalysis, the gas that was produced was an unwanted byproduct.
However, Ms. Lomax, who worked at Metalysis before working at the Dutch plant, has focused her doctoral thesis on adapting the method for space exploration.
In the image: microscopic image of lunar dust simulator. A form of electrolysis (the passage of an electric current through a liquid) helps to release the oxygen trapped inside and can then be trapped and stored for later use.
The prototype was built in the Laboratory of Electrical Materials and Components of the European Space Research and Technology Center, ESTEC, based in Noordwijk, The Netherlands (pictured)
In the image: lunar dust simulator subjected to oxygen extraction. The Dutch plant places the lunar powder in molten calcium chloride at 950 ° C and ru
“In Metalysis, the oxygen produced by the process is an unwanted byproduct and, instead, is released as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, which means that the reactors are not designed to support the oxygen gas itself,” he said. .
‘So we had to redesign the ESTEC version in order to have the oxygen available to measure. The laboratory equipment was very useful to install and operate it safely. ‘
The researchers hope that the success of this initial prototype will allow them to explore both research paths equally, with the ultimate goal of building a ‘pilot plant’ that can operate sustainably on the Moon.
“ESA and NASA are returning to the Moon with manned missions, this time with a view to staying,” says Tommaso Ghidini, Head of the ESA Division of Structures, Mechanisms and Materials.
Consequently, we are shifting our engineering approach towards a systematic use of lunar resources in situ.
“We are working with our colleagues from the Directorate of Human Exploration and Robotics, European industry and academia to provide first-class scientific approaches and key enabling technologies such as this, towards a sustained human presence on the Moon and perhaps someday Mars.”
HUMANS MAY BE BORN ON THE MOON ‘IN FEW DECADES’
Children will be born on the moon “in a few decades,” and entire families will join the lunar colony of Europe by 2050, as a leading space scientist has claimed.
Professor Bernard Foing, ambassador of the ‘Moon Village’ scheme promoted by the European Space Agency, made the comments at a conference in 2017.
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.
“In 2050, you could have a thousand and then … naturally, you could imagine having a family” joining the crews there, he told AFP.
Speaking at the European Congress of Planetary Science in Riga, Latvia, Professor Foing explained how the lunar colonies of humanity could expand rapidly.
He compared human expansion on the moon with the growth of railroads, when villages grew around train stations, followed by companies.
Potential lunar resources include basalt, a volcanic rock that could be used as a raw material for 3D printing satellites.
These could be deployed from the moon at a fraction of the cost of a high gravity launch from Earth.
The moon also houses helium-3, a rare isotope on our planet, which could theoretically be used to generate cleaner and safer nuclear energy for Earth.
One of the main objectives of the lunar colonies is water, encased in ice at the moon’s poles.
Water can be separated into hydrogen and oxygen, two gases that explode when mixed, providing rocket fuel.