Washington [US], November 27 (ANI): British engineers are refining the process that will be used to extract oxygen from lunar dust, leaving behind metal powders that can be 3D printed in lunar base building materials.
This could be an early step toward setting up an alien oxygen extraction facility. This would help to explore and sustain the life of the moon, while avoiding the huge cost of sending materials from Earth.
The oxygen generated would be used mainly to produce rocket fuel, but could also provide air for lunar settlers.
The project is part of ESA’s preparations for establishing a permanent and sustainable lunar presence. The astronauts will live and work on the moon, where they will help develop and test technologies needed for missions farther into deep space.
Lunar regolith, the thin layer of dusty rock that covers the moon, is not so different from the minerals found on Earth. By weight, it contains about 45 percent oxygen, which is bound to metals such as iron and titanium, making it inaccessible.
The British company Metalysis has already developed a mineral extraction process that is used by the Earth̵
Earlier this year, it was demonstrated to work well with simulated lunar regolith.
The electrochemical process takes place in a specially designed chamber – the ones used for research are the size of a washing machine. The oxygen-containing material is immersed in molten salt heated to 950 degrees Celsius.
A current is then passed through it, which triggers the oxygen to be extracted and migrates through the liquid salt to collect at the electrode, leaving behind a mixture of metal powders.
As part of the current project, Metalysis engineers are refining the technique, keeping in mind its lunar application.
The big difference is that the oxygen generated on Earth is not needed, but in space it will be the most important product of the process. This means that it must be designed to produce as much gas as possible.
Engineers will deal with the process by regulating the electric current and reagents to increase the amount of oxygen as they try to reduce the temperature required to produce it. This will help reduce the energy required, which is already at the highest level of the moon.
They will also work to reduce the size of the chamber in which the process takes place so that it can be transported efficiently to the moon.
In parallel, ESA and Metalysis have challenged innovators to develop an in-process monitoring system that can be used to track oxygen production in future lunar extraction plants.
“A few years ago, we realized that the seemingly insignificant by-product of our terrestrial mineral extraction process could have wide-ranging applications in space exploration,” said Ian Meller, managing director at Metalysis. “We look forward to continuing to explore with ESA and our industry partners how to prepare our terrestrial technology for space,” Meller added.
“This exciting project is part of ESA’s broader space resources strategy, which will help us show how material already on the moon can be used sustainably to support long-term space endeavors,” Adventit said. Makaya, an ESA materials engineer who oversees the project.
“The project will help us learn more about the Metalysis process and may even be a step towards creating an automated pilot oxygen plant on the moon – with the added bonus of metal alloys that can be used by 3D printers to create building materials.” “added Mackay.
“In the future, if we want to travel a lot in space and create bases on the moon and Mars, then we will have to do or find the things we need to sustain life – food, water and breathing air,” said Sue Horn, head of space. research at the United States Space Agency.
“Metalysis’s participation in a program that aims to do just that by producing oxygen in the lunar environment will show the UK’s space performance on the world stage and help unlock the breakthroughs that bring future space research one step closer. “Closer,” Horn added. (ANI)