ESA Researchers Designed Prototype to Extract Oxygen on the Moon

by Ernest Thomas
ESA Researchers Designed Prototype to Extract Oxygen on the Moon

Water, air, and food are essential building blocks of life. The trio remains one of the crucial challenges for placing humans for the long term on the Moon and beyond. Moon indeed does not have respirable oxygen. But researchers have extensively analyzed lunar regolith brought back from the Moon. First of all, they have reverse-engineered the material to determine how forthcoming astronauts can use it. The process includes making of building bases from baked blocks of regolith, and even utilizing them to reserve heat for the long lunar nights. Meanwhile, researchers from the European Space Agency have started to develop oxygen out of artificial lunar soil. They have developed an exemplar oxygen plant in the European Space Research and Technology Center’s Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory.

The team highlights that having the facility enables it to concentrate on the process of oxygen production. Even more, they assess it with a mass spec as oxygen is mined from the regolith simulator. Being able to acquire oxygen from resources present on the Moon will be a significant step in assisting lunar colonies and investigation. In the future, oxygen can be utilized for other breathing and the domestic manufacturing of rocket fuel. The team states that they have a lab in operation that is seeking for refining the product methods, lessening operating temperature. Eventually, they aim to build a prototype that can be ferried to the lunar surface for use.

Above all, researchers have verified that samples of regolith contain 40-45% oxygen by mass. What’s concerning is, the oxide minerals have locked the oxygen inside. The researchers have used a method – molten salt electrolysis to extract oxygen. It includes placing the regolith in a metal container containing calcium chloride salt in a molten form, which acts as an electrolyte. After heating the metal basket to 950C, an electrical current passes through it. Eventually, the process enables oxygen extraction. It also transforms regolith into feasible metal alloys. According to the team, their oxygen-developing plant functions quietly. Currently, the oxygen vents from an exhaust pipe, but upcoming versions will collect the oxygen. The primary tech demos could take place in the mid-2020s.

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