The Japanese space agency, JAXA, announced on Monday that it wants to explore the moon sometime in the mid-2030s. The agency is eyeing a plan that would allow it to use hydrogen generated by water extracted from ice deposits on the moon as fuel. JAXA and NASA are both eyeing this plan as using fuel created from water ice on the moon could significantly reduce costs.
Japan intends to work with the US to build a lunar orbit space station Gateway in the 2020s and to construct a fuel factory at the lunar South Pole around 2035. The fuel would be used to power reusable spacecraft to carry four astronauts to and from the Gateway and power a transport vehicle that could travel up to 1000 kilometers on the Moon’s surface. The water would be turned into fuel by splitting the water into its oxygen and hydrogen components using solar power.
Once the fuel was created, the transport vehicle would allow four astronauts to explore the lunar surface on a much broader scale than astronauts of the past. JAXA estimates 37 tons of water would be necessary for a trip to and from the gateway, and 21 tons would be needed for each surface exploration trip. The Japanese agency believes it would be cheaper to use fuel created from water on the moon than to bring water from Earth if 5 to 7 exploration trips are made.
Multiple space agencies, including one from India, want to analyze water resources on the moon. China plans to send a probe to the moon later this year to collect soil samples. Base agencies are also very keen to use water ice to create drinkable water for humans living and working on the moon.