The UK firm will turn the lunar rock into oxygen and building materials Science

When the astronauts return to the moon in the next decade, they will do more with dust and sand.

A British company has won a European Space Agency contract to develop technology to turn moon dust and rocks into oxygen, leaving aluminum, iron and other metallic powders for lunar builders.

If the process could be made to work well enough, it would facilitate the benefits of lifting to the moon that would create oxygen and valuable materials at the bottom instead of spending a lot going into space.

“Everything you take to the moon from Earth is an extra weight that you don’t want to carry, so if you can make these materials in position, it saves you a lot of time, effort and money,” says director Ian Miller. Director of Metallurgy, located in Sheffield.

Analysis of rocks brought back from the moon shows that oxygen makes up about 45% of the material by weight. The rest is mainly iron, aluminum and silicon. In work published this year, scientists at the University of Metallurgy and Glasgow have found that they can extract 96% of the oxygen from the simulated lunar soil, leaving behind useful metallic alloy powders.

NASA and other space agencies have made advanced preparations to return to the moon, this time to establish a permanent lunar base, or “moon village” where nations will work with non-governmental organizations as well as life support, housing construction, power generation and critical technologies. Production of food and materials.

The ASA agreement will fund the completion of an electrochemical process for nine months for metallic analysis that transmits electrical current through matter from the moon’s dust and rocks to oxygen. The process is already used on Earth, but oxygen is expressed as an undesirable byproduct of mineral extraction. In order for lunar explorers to work, oxygen must be captured and stored.

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Under the agreement, the firm will try to increase the yield and purity of oxygen and metals from the rock and reduce the amount of energy the process consumes. If the technology seems promising, the next step will be to demonstrate oxygen extraction to the moon.

Oxygen emitted from the lunar surface combines with other gases to create respiratory air, but it is an essential component of rocket propellants that can be made on the moon and used to refuel spacecraft bound for deep space.

“It’s a gas station on the moon to go deeper if you want to go deeper into space,” Miller said.

Mark Sims, who worked on the process at the University of Glasgow, said Moon Rock presented “a huge potential source of oxygen” to support human exploration of the Earth’s satellites and the larger solar system.

“Oxygen is not only effective for astronauts to breathe, but also as an oxidizer in rocket propulsion systems,” he said. “There is no oxygen on the moon, so astronauts have to carry all their oxygen with them to the moon, to support life and enable their return journey, and this is substantially added to the weight and therefore the cost of rocket launch is tied to the moon. “

Sue Horn, head of space research at the UK Space Agency, said: “In the future, if we want to travel extensively in space and build on the moon and Mars, we need to create or find the things we need to support life: food, water and respiration. The wind.

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For more than four decades, human space exploration has been limited to missions to an orbiting empty space station about 220 miles above the Earth. The focus in the coming years is to build a new station in orbit around the moon that will serve as a stopping place for humans to make an appearance on the surface of the moon and potentially as a base from which Mars will travel outward.

The Lunar Gateway program set an ambitious goal of bringing humans back to the moon by 2024, transporting passenger crews on NASA’s Orion spacecraft. The rocket is expected to make its first crew flight next year.

ASA provided power and propulsion units for the first Orion flight and agreed to a contract to build the original crew module for the lunar station.

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