Lunar dust or regolith contains a large amount of oxygen mixed with dust in the form of oxides. To this unexpected conclusion came specialists from the University of Glasgow in Scotland, which offer the possibility of creating a new type of installation for the purpose of extracting useful for humanity gas on a large scale. If the ambitious plan works, construction of a full lunar colonies and long-term settlements will occur in the near future. In what way, we finally start to mine oxygen on the moon? Let’s try to understand this together in this article.
Is it possible to create oxygen from regolith?
The possibility of obtaining oxygen from the resource, which literally lies under the feet of the astronauts, would have been a good basis for the prosperity of future colonies on the moon. Chemist Beth Lomax from the University of Glasgow believes that the first step of humanity in the development of Earth’s natural satellite is supposed to be a concentration of scientists in the extraction of oxygen from lunar regolith, which can be used not only for breathing but also for the local production of rocket fuel. As an example, the scientist leading the installation, created by Lomax and his team at the European space research and technology in the Netherlands.
Based on the samples of lunar soil obtained thanks to past expeditions, researchers are inclined to believe that most of the moon’s surface is a mixture of loose dust, rocks and mud, 40 — 45 % of the total mass which is the desired substance is oxygen.
As reported by the portal sciencealert.comscientists have tried to produce oxygen from lunar dust using a copy of regolith called LunaR regolith simulant. Unfortunately, these attempts were in vain — because of difficulties in extraction, the quantity in the experiment, gas was not allowed to bring the technology to the required level. However, the team Lomax managed to do the unthinkable: using the method of electrolysis of molten salts, the scientist was able to do what no one did before.
See also: moon dust may be dangerous to humans
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To release large quantities of oxygen from lunar dust future scholars will need to put the regolith in a special mesh that can withstand temperatures up to 950 degrees Celsius. Later in the regolith is added to the calcium chloride — a powerful electrolyte, and electric current is applied. This procedure removes the oxygen and transfers the salt to the anode where they can be easily removed. Scientists believe that a complex of the measures contributes to the extraction of up to 96 percent oxygen from regolith, the remaining part of the lunar dust can be used as a mixture of metal alloys, which undoubtedly is a nice added bonus. Researcher materials Alexander MERIS from the European space Agency claims that the study of the properties of the residual from the regolith of the substance may contribute to the development of new directions for further studies of the alloys and their properties. So, maybe some of them can find its application in 3D printing of buildings, thus solving another problem of mankind when considering the prospects for lunar colonization.