It could be a long time before any astronauts land on Mars – NASA talks about Early thirties, While SpaceX’s Elon Musk promised It will be sooner. But when humans touch, they may find a successor to MOXIE waiting for them. Any crew coming to Mars will likely have their own equipment on board their spacecraft that makes oxygen for breathing, so the biggest problem to solve is making the propellants they will use to get back home. “If you want to burn fuel, you need oxygen to burn it with it,” says Hecht.
Hecht says a crew of four would only need about 1.5 metric tons of oxygen for a year to support life, but about 25 tons of it to produce thrust from 7 tons of rocket fuel. The easiest thing is to send a robotic system six months before the crew’s arrival so that the astronauts have some oxygen waiting for them. This also means that they will have to carry less equipment off the ground. “It wouldn’t be worth the complexity of getting a ton of equipment to produce 25 tons of oxygen for propellants,” says Hecht.
Some of these same accounts are being considered for a possible lunar mission, which could happen much sooner than a trip to Mars. Teams from NASA and the European Space Agency are heating the lunar soil, known as regolith, to extract the oxygen. In fact, regolith is 45% oxygen By weight, they are bound to metallic elements such as silicon, aluminum, calcium, magnesium, iron and titanium, according to Beth Lomax, a doctoral student at the University of Glasgow and a researcher at the European Center for Space Research and Technology in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.
Research Fellow Lomax and Alexandre Meurisse developed a device for heating regolith in a can with molten salt in order to extract oxygen from it. Like Project MOXIE, they use an electric current to separate the oxygen from the other elements. But unlike MOXIE, they have a byproduct: metallic elements that would be useful as building materials for a Moonbase. (In fact, a separate team at ESA is looking for inclusion An astronaut pisses with the regolith To form a reusable geopolymer building material similar to fly ash.)
Lomax says it makes more sense to figure out how to exploit what is already on the moon’s surface, rather than separating it from Earth. “As long-term space exploration and settlement appear to be a reality, resource use will be essential,” says Lomax. “It is not feasible for us to constantly bring every kilogram of material we need from the ground. We have an enormous gravitational well, and the amount of energy required to get those materials into space is enormous.”
Using a bowl of molten salt, Lomax and Meurisse lower the temperature needed to extract oxygen from the lunar soil, causing it to drop from 1,600 ° C (2,912 ° F) to about 600 ° C (1112 ° F). This temperature can be reached Solar Concentration, And it is a method already proven in solar power plants in the southwestern United States.
At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, researchers are discovering how to remove metal by-products that accumulate in a reactor vessel containing regolith during electrolysis. This is important because the solute is highly corrosive, and both minerals and oxygen must be extracted in some way, according to NASA researcher Kevin Grossman. The goal is to melt the regolith without touching the sides of the container. “If you take a bucket of regolith and you want to melt a golf ball-sized amount in the middle of that, how do you get it?” Grossman asks.