Scientists make oxygen out of moon dust; pilot plant on moon next

The Hush Post | 6:32 pm | One-minute read |

Scientists at the European Space Agency claim to have found a way to produce oxygen out of simulated moondust.  Scientists say this could be hugely useful for future lunar settlers, both for breathing and in the local production of rocket fuel.

Notably, astronauts have brought samples from the lunar surface which have 40–45% percent oxygen by weight.

Scientists are developing a system that can extract breathable oxygen from simulated samples of moon dust. European Space Research and Technology has set up a prototype oxygen plant at its centre, ESTEC, in Noordwijk, Netherlands.

The prototype system uses a method called molten salt electrolysis to extract the oxygen. Lunar dust, also called regolith, is placed in a metal basket with molten calcium chloride salt and then heated to 950°C. At this temperature, the regolith remains solid.

When current is passed through it, oxygen is extracted and migrates across the salt to be collected at an anode. There is an additional benefit of this process that it also converts the regolith into usable metal alloys.

PILOT PLANT ON MOON NEXT

Scientists are now focusing on designing a ‘pilot plant’ that could operate sustainably on the Moon.

Tommaso Ghidini, Head of ESA’s Structures, Mechanisms and Materials Division, said, “ESA and NASA are heading back to the Moon with crewed missions, this time to stay. Accordingly, we’re shifting our engineering approach to systematic use of lunar resources in-situ. We are working with our colleagues  to provide top class scientific approaches and key enabling technologies like this one, towards a sustained human presence on the Moon and maybe one day Mars.”

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