Some of the biggest challenges with sending humans to distant planets like Mars comes in being able to get enough fuel, water, and oxygen onto the spacecraft and habitats needed to support humans. Scientists have now shown that it is possible to split water into hydrogen and oxygen in space. The hydrogen can be used for fuel for spacecraft while the oxygen is for supporting life.
Scientists were able to split water into its component parts using a semiconductor material and sunlight or starlight in zero gravity. This breakthrough makes sustained space travel possible. The process of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen is known as electrolysis.
That process works by running a current through water that has a soluble electrolyte in it. That electrical current breaks the water into its components separately at the two electrodes. Scientists say that the hydrogen and oxygen produced using this method could be used as a fuel on spacecraft.
Launching a rocket filled with water is much safer than launching a rocket filled with the same amount of rocket fuel and oxygen aboard. Risk of an explosion is much lower with large amounts of water and smaller amounts of rocket fuel. With the spacecraft filled with water in orbit, tech could split the water into hydrogen and oxygen that could be used to sustain life and power the spacecraft via fuel cells.
Another option is to use something called “photo catalysts” able to absorb photons into a semiconductor material inserted into water. The energy from the photo is absorbed by an electron in the material that jumps and leaves a hole behind. That free electron can react with protons in water to form hydrogen. Hydrogen and oxygen can also be brought back together to make water.
SOURCE: Science Alert