Multiple space agencies plan to establish a long-term human presence on the Moon, but this process will require new solutions to old problems, such as how to get enough water to sustain astronauts and their operations. According to new research, “cooking” lunar soil may play an important role in supporting Moon bases going forward, at least when it comes to oxygen and water.
A demonstration system using lunar regolith to produce water and oxygen was developed by the ESA, Italian Space Agency, OHB Group, and Politecnico Milano; it will be showcased at Europlanet Science Congress 2021. Experiments with the system involved simulated Moon soil, which was heated to high temperatures using a furnace.
Minerals found in abundant quantities in the lunar regolith are vaporized by this process, skipping the molten phase of heating something so that it turns straight into a gas. A condenser and catalytic converter are used to pull water from the vapor, while electrolysis can be used to extract oxygen.
The system can also be used to recycle the hydrogen and methane produced by this process, making for a closed-loop, self-sustaining system. The researchers note this system wouldn’t get clogged and humans wouldn’t need to intervene in the process.
Beyond that, the system could be scaled up to meet the needs of future Moon bases and missions. Various experiments were conducted with the tech, including adjusting things like soil mass and furnace temperature. Other resources could later be extracted from the system’s solid by-products, which the researchers say are mostly metals and silica that can be processed later on.