Space Europe was thought to be obsessed with Mars and timid about the conquest of the Moon. Each week that passes brings its share of technological innovations for lunar exploration. Fortunately, from elsewhere.
Producing oxygen and metals from simulated lunar dust (regolith) is possible. This has just been demonstrated by an international team led by space engineers from Airbus Defence and Space (Friedrichshafen, Germany) and including scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies IFAM (Dresden, Germany), Boston University (Massachusetts, USA) and Abengoa Innovación (Seville, Spain). This is thanks to an Airbus invention called ROXY for Regolith to Oxygen and Metals Conversion.
Lasting presence on the Moon
Last month, during a series of laboratory tests at the Fraunhofer IFAM, oxygen was extracted from a simulated lunar dust sample. It's a small first step, but the path is all set to an operational system. Oxygen is indispensable for all human activities in space, and this new method of producing ROXY, which uses lunar dust directly, could revolutionize human activities on the lunar surface. "This feat is a major step forward, bringing us closer to the Holy Grail: a lasting presence on the Moon," said Jean-Marc Nasr, Director of Airbus Space Systems.
Regolith conversion plant
ROXY allows the design of a small, simple, compact and cost-effective regolith to oxygen and metal conversion facility, and is therefore perfectly suited to support a wide variety of future exploration missions. Requiring no additional materials or consumables from Earth - with the exception of the ROXY reactor itself - it could be the heart of an integrated value chain using additive manufacturing to produce a wide range of "Made on the Moon" products. These products could include metals, alloys and oxygen. Combined with the ice on the Moon, it would even be possible to produce rocket fuel from ROXY metal powder.