This is news which will excite Elon Musk very much. As we all know, space is the next frontier and with the climate crisis and the earth’s increasing population, it seems colonizing space is the next big thing. Not tomorrow or next year yet, but soon’ish.
There’s one big problem in space though, even on our own little moon: there’s no oxygen. Oxygen which we humans require to survive. Of course, Elon could always import some oxygen but surely there will be other payloads needed to be shipped to the Moon as well. Oxygen tanks may be too expensive and needed too much to constantly transfer them in order to provide Elon and his super rich friends with ample breathable air.
Luckily, it now seems there may be another solution and oxygen may be created from... moon dust and moon rock.
The British company Metalysis , based in Sheffield, landed the ESA contract to refine a method which extract oxygen from moon rock and dust, and capture and store the extracted oxygen so it can be used by lunar explorers.
Analysis of moon dust and rock has shown it to consist of up to 45% of oxygen. According to a study released earlier this year by Metalysis and the University of Glasgow they expect to be able to extract up to 96% of the oxygen available in the rock and dust.
The rest of the components of the moon dust and moon rocks are mostly iron, aluminium, and silicon which could be used as building materials.
Metalysis recently announced they have landed a nine months contract from the European Space Agency (ESA) to develop its technology for practical use on the Moon.
The process, during which an electrical current is sent through the material, is already in use on earth in mineral extraction. But the oxygen released during that process is generally considered a byproduct and not captured. The ESA will provide Metalysis with the funding required to develop the technology and capture of the released oxygen, which would make lunar exploration cheaper and extend the time explorers can spend on the Moon without needing to refill their oxygen reserves.
Which, of course, sounds like music to the ears of Elon Musk.
As part of the contract Metalysis will also aim to reduce the amount of energy required to extract the oxygen and alloy metals from the moon dust and moon rock.
If Metalysis succeeds in its mission, the next step will be to demonstrate the actual extraction of oxygen and metals on the Moon in a future mission.
As the International Space Station (ISS) celebrates its twentieth anniversary this month, steps are now actively being taken for the next frontier and our Moon, and possibly even Mars, may soon become “fueling stations” for further space exploration as the extracted oxygen can be used as refueling oxideer for space rockets.
With the international Lunar Gateway program aiming to return people to the Moon as soon as 2024, the next frontier seems closer than ever. If humans can develop technology to extract oxygen from the dust and rock, and capture it to be actively used — potentially also as breathable air after combining it with other gasses — Elon’s dream of colonizing space may not be that far off anymore.
Just a few decades. But oxygen there will be.
Photo credit: Royalty free image via NASA
Posted with STEMGeeks