Scientists at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston have successfully extracted oxygen from simulated lunar soil – the fine-grained material that blankets the Moon’s surface. The extraction, which took place in a vacuum environment, marks the first time this has been achieved and opens the door for astronauts to eventually harvest and make use of resources in a lunar environment through in-situ resource utilization.
To conduct the test, the team employed a high-powered laser to simulate heat from a solar energy concentrator and then melted a lunar soil simulant in a carbothermal reactor developed for NASA by Sierra Space Corp. located in Broomfield, Colorado. The process of heating and extracting the oxygen takes place inside this reactor.
After the soil was heated, the team was able to detect carbon monoxide using a device called the Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations (MSolo). A similar device will fly on two upcoming exploration missions to the Moon’s South Pole – the Polar Resources Ice Mining Experiment-1 in 2023 that will help scientists search for water, and NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) in November 2024 that will explore Mons Mouton, a large flat-topped mountain, to get a close-up view of the location and concentration of water ice and other potential resources.
As NASA works toward sending astronauts to the Moon through Artemis missions, one of the agency’s primary goals is to establish a long- term presence on the lunar surface. Resources like oxygen are crucial building blocks for making that vision a reality. In addition to using oxygen for breathing, it can also be used as a propellant for transportation, helping lunar visitors stay longer and venture farther.
During a recent test, scientists at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston successfully extracted oxygen from simulated lunar soil. Lunar soil refers to the fine-grained material covering the Moon’s surface. This was the first time that this extraction has been done in a vacuum environment, paving the way for astronauts to one day extract and use resources in a lunar environment, called in-situ resource utilization.
Although it was heard that Lunar soil has potential to generate oxygen and fuel, a new Chinese study has reveled. Further elaborating on that, scientists have said, the lunar contains active compounds of that can convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and fuels. This study was published in the journal Joule, comes at a time when several missions have planned to land on the moon in the next few years.
NASA’s Carbothermal Reduction Demonstration (CaRD) team conducted the test in conditions similar to those found on the Moon by using a special spherical chamber with a 15-foot diameter called the Dirty Thermal Vacuum Chamber. The chamber is considered “dirty” because unclean samples can be tested inside.
“This technology has the potential to produce several times its own weight in oxygen per year on the lunar surface, which will enable a sustained human presence and lunar economy,” said Aaron Paz, NASA senior engineer and CaRD project manager Johnson.
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