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Life assist cooked up from lunar rocks

Artist’s impression of a lunar base. Credit: ESA – P Carril

Engineers have effectively confirmed how water and oxygen may be extracted by cooking up lunar soil, in an effort to assist future Moon bases. A laboratory demonstrator, developed by a consortium of the Politecnico Milano, the European Space Agency, the Italian Space Agency and the OHB Group, is launched this week on the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2021.

The set-up makes use of a two-step process, well-known in industrial chemistry for terrestrial functions, that has been custom-made to work with a mineral mixture that mimics the lunar soil. Around 50% of lunar soil in all areas of the Moon is made up of silicon- or iron-oxides, and these in flip are spherical 26% oxygen. This signifies {that a} system that successfully extracts oxygen from the soil would possibly operate at any landing web site or arrange on the Moon.

In the experimental set-up, the soil simulant is vaporized inside the presence of hydrogen and methane, then “washed” with hydrogen gas. Heated by a furnace to temperatures of spherical 1000 ranges Celsius, the minerals flip instantly from a powerful to a gasoline, missing out a molten phase, which reduces the complexity of the experience needed. Gasses produced and residual methane are despatched to a catalytic converter and a condenser that separates out water. Oxygen can then be extracted by electrolysis. By-products of methane and hydrogen are recycled inside the system.

“Our experiments show that the rig is scalable and can operate in an almost completely self-sustained closed loop, without the need for human intervention and without getting clogged up,” talked about Prof Michèle Lavagna, of the Politecnico Milano, who led the experiments. 

Video displaying water extracted from lunar regolith simulant, 2021. Credit: Politecnico Milano

To exactly understand the tactic and put collectively the experience needed for a flight test, experiments have been carried out to optimize the temperature of the furnace, the dimensions and frequency of the washing phases, the ratio of the mixtures of gasses, and the mass of the soil simulant batches. Results current that yield is maximized by processing the soil simulant in small batches, on the very best temperatures doable and using prolonged washing phases.

The sturdy by-product is rich in silica and metals that will bear further processing for various sources useful for in-situ exploration of the Moon.

“The capability of having efficient water and oxygen production facilities on site is fundamental for human exploration and to run high quality science directly on the Moon,” talked about Lavagna. “These laboratory experiments have deepened our understanding of each step in the process. It is not the end of the story, but it’s very a good starting point.”

Oxygen and metal from lunar regolith

More data:
Michelle Lavagna et al, Water manufacturing from lunar regolith by carbothermal low cost modelling by ground experiments, (2021). DOI: 10.5194/epsc2021-527

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