Chefs on the Moon Will be Cooking up Rocks to Make air and Water

NASA has delayed their Artemis mission to the Moon, however that doesn’t imply a return to the Moon isn’t imminent. Area companies around the globe have their sights set on our rocky satellite tv for pc. Regardless of who will get there, in the event that they’re planning for a sustained presence on the Moon, they’ll require in-situ sources.

Oxygen and water are on the prime of an inventory of sources that astronauts will want on the Moon. A workforce of engineers and scientists are determining tips on how to cook dinner Moon rocks and get very important oxygen and water from them. They offered their outcomes on the Europlanet Science Congress 2021.

Professor Michèle Lavagna of Politecnico Milano led the experiments. A consortium of firms and companies, together with the ESA and the Italian Area Company, is behind the work. Lavagna and others offered a laboratory demonstration of their work at EPSC2921.

Once we speak about lunar soil, we imply lunar regolith, the layer of mud that coats the Moon. The identical layer that rejected Apollo astronauts by discovering its method into the lunar module, clogging mechanisms and interfering with devices. The mud constitutes an ongoing hazard that area companies are nonetheless attempting to mitigate. However the identical mud can also be a essential useful resource.

An Apollo 17 astronaut digs in the lunar regolith to study the mechanical behaviour of moon dust. Credit: NASA
An Apollo 17 astronaut digs within the lunar regolith to check the mechanical behaviour of moon mud. Credit score: NASA

There’s plenty of oxygen within the lunar regolith as a result of oxygen readily reacts with different parts, particularly group one elements. Lunar soil is wealthy in oxides, particularly silicon dioxide, iron oxide, magnesium oxide, and many others. In keeping with the ESA, about 50% of lunar soil is iron and silicon dioxide, and about 26% of these compounds are oxygen. The trick is getting the oxygen out.

Lavagna demonstrated a two-step course of that’s often utilized in industrial functions right here on Earth. First, the simulated lunar regolith is vaporized within the presence of hydrogen and methane then washed with hydrogen gasoline. A furnace heats the minerals to 1,000 Celsius (1800 F), which turns them immediately from a stable to a gasoline. By doing so, the minerals skip the liquid part, making the whole course of easier.

Then the gases and the residual methane go to a catalytic converter after which a condenser which separates the water. After that, hydrolysis separates the oxygen, and the system recycles the hydrogen and methane by-products.

Engineers and scientists have been engaged on the problem of extracting in-situ sources on the Moon for a few years now. One methodology includes using molten salt electrolysis to extract oxygen. That methodology is customized from mining, and it additionally produces helpful steel alloys from lunar regolith.

However one of many essential options of this newer course of, in keeping with Lavagna, is it’s virtually hands-off.

“Our experiments present that the rig is scalable and may function in an virtually utterly self-sustained closed loop, with out the necessity for human intervention and with out getting clogged up,” mentioned Professor Lavagna. 

This video exhibits water extracted by the method. Credit score: Politecnico Milano, CC BY-NC-CD

The workforce remains to be engaged on optimizing the method in anticipation of an eventual battle take a look at. They’re working with the furnace temperature, size and frequency of the washing, the ratio of the gasoline mixtures, and the dimensions of soil batches. To this point, they’ve realized that small batches of soil produce maximized yields when mixed with the very best doable temperatures and lengthy washing phases.

The system produces silica as a by-product. It additionally produces metals that require additional processing earlier than getting used as in-situ sources.

‘The potential of getting environment friendly water and oxygen manufacturing services on-site is prime for human exploration and to run high-quality science immediately on the Moon,’ mentioned Lavagna. ‘These laboratory experiments have deepened our understanding of every step within the course of. It is just not the top of the story, however it’s an excellent place to begin.’

Extra: | Cooks on the Moon Will likely be Cooking up Rocks to Make air and Water


TaraSubramaniam is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. TaraSubramaniam joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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