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The consortium chosen by the European Space Agency (ESA) will make oxygen on the moon

The consortium chosen by the European Space Agency (ESA) will make oxygen on the moon

After an exciting competition, the European Space Agency has selected the industrial team that will extract oxygen from lunar regolith using an innovative device.

The major global space agencies have been toying with the ambitious idea of ​​colonizing the Moon for some time now. The plan is to build a real lunar base within the next few decades. But if we want to live on the moon, we need a number of basic things, including oxygen. And now, after a heated competition, the European Space Agency has tasked the winning team with producing this essential element on the moon itself.

the burial
It is very important that oxygen is produced on the moon itself. After all, it is not worthwhile in the long run to rely only on raw materials brought from the earth. And so scientists have been looking for solutions for some time now. The lunar regolith — the loose, often weathered layer of material that forms three to ten meters above the surface of the moon’s soil — seems to offer a solution. Samples brought to Earth from the lunar surface showed that the regolith consists of 40 to 45 percent oxygen.

oxygen extraction
There is, however, the problem. The oxygen in regolith is chemically bound in the form of minerals and glass. This means that the oxygen is not immediately ready for use. It must first be subtly extracted from the earth. but how?

competition
To find out, the European Space Agency launched a competition. Three competing designs were evaluated extensively. “This challenging approach allowed us to evaluate competing concepts side by side,” said David Benz on behalf of the European Space Agency.

winning team
The winning consortium became Thales Alenia Space. This select team has now been given the prestigious task of building an innovative small device that can produce oxygen on the Moon. “We look forward to working with the winning consortium and making their design a reality,” Baines said.

challenge
Thales Alenia Space has a huge challenge ahead. For example, their “oxygen plant” should be small and compact, so that it could easily be carried on future lunar landers. In addition, 50 to 100 grams of oxygen must be extracted from the lunar regolith. This means that at least 70 percent of the available oxygen must be extracted from moon dust. And this must be done quickly, that is, in just ten days. The device should also run on available solar power and do the trick before a frigid lunar night — a two-week period when the Earth-facing part of the moon is sunlit.

The device Thales Alenia Space has promised to build is an important first step that brings plans to settle our natural satellite again. “It’s going to be a game-changer for lunar exploration,” Baines said. “Explorators can return to the Moon without having to rely on long and expensive land supply lines.”

Thales Alenia Space will initially develop a fairly small device. But the goal is ultimately to build much larger versions that provide thrust to spacecraft and breathe air for astronauts. “The technology must first be demonstrated,” says Giorgio Magstrati of the European Space Agency. “But then, a full plant will be built on the moon at the beginning of the next decade.”

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