Europe’s Moondust Factory: How to Make Oxygen on the Moon

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The European Space Agency (ESA) has a Moondust Factory that can make Oxygen from Lunar Dust!

Europe’s space agency, the ESA, opened up a prototype plant to turn moondust into oxygen. While most of the news about NASA centers on rockets and getting to the Moon, the ESA is focused on how to get us farther once we’re there. Now researchers at the Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory in Holland are working on making O₂ from the most abundant material on the lunar surface—dust. The moondust factory, part of the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC), uses molten salt electrolysis to break down simulated regolith into metal and oxygen.

Oxygen makes stuff go. We, of course, depend on the stuff to breathe. However, we also use it for a number of other applications. A lot of those applications include burning things. In fact, without oxygen, nothing burns—including rocket fuel.

That’s why it’s crucial to have a good supply of oxygen for deep space exploration.  

To the Moon and Beyond

Unless you’re the current President of the United States, it probably makes sense to you that we need an outpost on the Moon. There are several reasons for this. One such reason is that the Moon may be rich in minerals and other materials we may find useful on Earth and beyond. Another is that the moon serves as a perfect staging point for further exploration. That, in fact, is the current plan at NASA for getting to Mars. Finally, if Jeff Bezos has his way, we can build colonies on the Moon and stop polluting Earth with factories. 

Of course, none of that will be possible if we can’t actually make water on the Moon. Space Agencies in China, Russia, India, Israel, Europe, and the United States have focused a lot of attention on the lunar south pole lately for that reason. The lunar south pole contains water ice, which we know we can use to make oxygen through regular electrolysis. That water ice is a pretty finite resource, though. 

Making oxygen in a moondust factory would be much more useful. First, a moondust factory could exist virtually anywhere on the Moon. That means, in addition to making rocket fuel, those factories could provide oxygen for colonies. Second, moondust is much more abundant than water ice on the lunar surface, so it’s not likely to run out for a while. 

Currently, the European plant exists as a prototype. And a method for actually collecting the oxygen still needs to be worked out, but the ESA is on the right path. 

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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2 Responses

  1. I remember when Bush said, “We’re going back to the moon.” It became a bit of a punchline at the time. People just couldn’t see why it was important back then. I’m glad we’re setting our sights on it now, even if it is motivated by capitalism.

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