Moon explorer astronauts could get oxygen and fuel from moon rocks

Nanjing University scientists believe they can use compounds found in lunar soil to locally produce oxygen and fuel to support crewed lunar missions.

The team analyzed lunar samples collected by China Chang’e 5 spacecraft in late 2020 and found that iron and titanium-rich substances in lunar material could act as a catalyst in a process using sunlight and carbon dioxide.

The “alien photosynthesis” strategy uses lunar soil to electrolyze water extracted from the moon in oxygen and hydrogen. The carbon dioxide exhaled by astronauts can also be combined with hydrogen from the electrolysis of water to produce hydrocarbons, including methane, which could be used as fuel, according to the new research.

Related: The latest news on the Chinese space program

The team now plans to design a system to use lunar soil and solar radiation. the paper, which was published online today (May 5) in the journal Joule, is part of research into using resources on the moon to support human exploration. Being able to produce vital resources locally would reduce the costly need to transport them from Earth.

The new research could have practical applications for China, which is planning a joint moon base with Russia. the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) will initially be robotic but should be able to accommodate astronauts by the mid-2030s. China’s Chang’e 8 mission is scheduled to launch later this decade to test local resource utilization and manufacturing technology with l 3D printing.

NASA also plans to establish a sustainable, long-term human presence on the Moon through its Artemis program. Artemis aims to bring people back to the lunar surface in 2025 and set up a research outpost near the lunar south pole a few years later.

Chang’e 5 launched in November 2020 and delivered 3.81 pounds (1.731 kilograms) of lunar material to Earth a month later. It was the first successful sample return from the moon since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976.

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