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ESA opens plant that turns moondust into oxygen

It could be key to a long-term human presence on the Moon.
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ESA–A. Conigili

If humans are going to have a long-term presence on the Moon, they're going to need breathable air and rocket fuel -- and the ESA might just have a way to create both using the Moon itself. The agency is running a prototype plant that converts moondust (currently simulated, of course) into oxygen that could be used for air and fuel. The technique unlocks the high amounts of oxygen in regolith using molten salt electrolysis that superheats the dust and migrates the oxygen along the salt until it's collected at an anode. The basic process has already been used for metal and alloy production, but the ESA tweaked it to ensure oxygen was available to measure.

As that suggests, this process could have an upshot for Moon explorers by producing useful alloys to construct habitats or repair vehicles.

There's a lot of work needed before plants like this can go to the Moon. It needs to store oxygen instead of simply venting the gas. Likewise, scientists would need to determine what alloys would be the most useful byproducts. A Moon-worthy test plant should be ready by the mid-2020s, though, so it may just be a matter of time before explorers are producing air far from Earth.

In this article: esa, moon, moondust, regolith, science, space, tomorrow, gear
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