All over the world, space agencies and private companies alike are focused on getting to the moon. But what about resources when we get there?
The European Space Agency has just announced plans to build a lunar oxygen plant to help astronauts breathe in space.
The ESA selected Thales Alenia Space to construct a payload that is able to “extract propellant for spacecraft and breathable air for astronauts – as well as metallic raw materials for equipment.”
The payload will be able to extract 50-100 grams of oxygen from the lunar regolith, which is the fine gray soil that covers the moon’s surface. Previous ESA studies have shown that the lunar regolith’s makeup is 40-45% oxygen, making it a viable resource already on the moon.
The process will use electrolysis to separate the metals from the oxygen in the soil, making long-term lunar missions much more achievable.
“The payload needs to be compact, low power, and able to fly on a range of potential lunar landers, including ESA’s own European Large Logistics Lander, EL3,” according to David Binns, Systems Engineer from ESA’s Concurrent Design Facility.
Binns continued: “Being able to extract oxygen from moon rock, along with usable metals, will be a game-changer for lunar exploration.”