A British company is hoping to turn dust from the moon’s surface into oxygen — a project that could pave the way for further exploration and even habitation of the satellite.
Metalysis, a materials technology firm based in South Yorkshire, England, said Friday that it has been awarded a contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) to further develop a method of extracting extraterrestrial oxygen from materials found on the moon’s surface.
In research published this year, scientists affiliated with Metalysis said they could extract 96% of oxygen from debris found on the moon’s surface, known as lunar regolith, and leave behind a mixed metal alloy that could be used for construction.
The process, which was developed at the University of Cambridge, has already been established to work on earth. Now, Metalysis has received around £250,000 (around $329,000) in funding from the ESA to perfect it in an extra-terrestrial environment, Ian Mellor, the company’s managing director, said.
The project is a step in the development of a sustainable source of oxygen on the moon — needed to support human life on permanent lunar bases, and championed by agencies including the ESA, which has shown support for a “Moon Village” — and to provide the fuel for vehicles landing on and launching from the moon.
Researchers also hope that by cultivating and producing essential resources such as oxygen on the moon, they will be able to significantly reduce the payload mass that would be needed to be launched from Earth.
“One of the main drivers of the project is to be able to use the resources that are already on the moon, rather than having to take them from Earth to the moon — there’s quite a cost associated with taking things into space, and the more you can utilize what’s there, the better,” said Mellor.
No humans have set foot on the moon since 1972, but now, the planet is in the sights of several space agencies.
As part of its Artemis program, NASA plans to land its first woman on the moon in 2024, as well as the first man since 1972.
In December 2017, US President Donald Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1, which called for NASA to send humans to the moon for “long-term exploration and use” and missions to other planets.
Meanwhile, a collaborative agreement was finalized between NASA and the ESA in October, and the two agencies will work together on the Artemis Gateway lunar outpost, which will act as a way station serving astronauts traveling from Earth before they reach the surface of the moon.