on the Moon
Space Applications Services is performing the conceptual design of a Lunar demonstrator that can make water from regolith on the Moon, and has been awarded a contract to develop a prototype to test the process on Earth, bringing the sustainable return of human kind to the Moon one step closer to reality.
The European Space Agency is preparing the ISRU Demonstration Mission (ISRU-DM), to test technologies that enable In Situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU) on the Moon. The main objective of this mission is to show the world, by 2025, that water or oxygen can be obtained from the lunar regolith.
Oxygen is likely the first resource that can be produced on the Moon in support of human missions and as a source of oxidizer for rocket propulsion, having the potential to reduce radically launch costs.
Various processes have been proposed to make oxygen or water from lunar regolith. One of the most mature processes is the Hydrogen reduction of Iron oxides.
In the ALCHEMIST Study (A Lunar CHEmical In-Situ Resource Utilisation Test Plant) to be concluded in late 2018, Space Applications Services in close collaboration with world-class experts from Ciemat – Plataforma Solar de Almeria (ES), Aavid Thermacore Europe Ltd. (UK), Ariane Group (FR) and Colorado School of Mines (US), has given a first look at what the design of a payload based on Hydrogen reduction could be, performing a mission analysis based on commercial services, in partnership with Thales Alenia Space (delivery and communications service segments).
The plan is to heat up the regolith and mix it with Hydrogen, obtaining water vapor out of the reaction, where all the oxygen comes from the regolith. The water can be condensed and stored in a water tank, where it will be analysed and shown to the world, while process experts will learn invaluable lessons to produce a larger scale plant in the future. Some of the challenges in this mission will include heating up regolith to relatively high temperatures of about 900 degrees Celsius and implementing a process that, while very well known on Earth, needs to operate on the Moon with a partially known material at 1/6th of the gravity we are used to.
The Future Projects and Exploration Team, in charge of the ISRU initiatives at Space Applications, has recently started for the European Space Agency the next phase of the project: ALCHEMIST-ED (Earth-based Demonstrator).
To add to the extensive space know-how in house, Space Applications has teamed up with Outotec (DE), a company having more than 100 years of terrestrial experience with this and similar processes as well as experience of scaling up demonstrators to fully operational systems.
The Team will build a regolith processing prototype and a plant able to produce water from Lunar simulant (material produced on Earth that mimics key certain aspects of the Lunar regolith). This will allow to test the process, guide the next necessary developments, and inform decision makers.
ALCHEMIST Payload on the side of Lunar lander – Image credit: Space Applications Services.
Lander based on concept by Thales Alenia Space.