In addition to the breakthroughs that make it possible for us to travel interstellar, the scientific community has also worked hard to research how to optimize resources when living in an “alien homeland”. One of the most invested aspects is the method of bringing oxygen to the surface of the Moon.
In October, the Australian Space Agency (ASA) and the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) signed a cooperation contract to realize the Artemis project, sending a ground probe to the Moon to collect collect rock samples – an abundant source of untapped oxygen.
The Moon possesses an atmosphere, however it is very thin and composed mainly of hydrogen, neon and argon. This is not a gas complex that can support life for complex life forms, such as mammals.
However, on the Moon is still very rich in oxygen, only they do not exist as gas. Oxygen on the Moon is trapped in the regolith, the topsoil, which is a layer of rock and fine dust that covers the entire surface of the Moon. If we could extract oxygen from the topsoil, the barren celestial body’s potential to support life would be unprecedented.
Oxygen is available in a lot of matter that exists around us. The main composition of the Moon is similar to what you are seeing below your feet. Minerals like silica, aluminum, iron or magnesium oxide are abundant on the surface of the Moon, all of which contain oxygen, just not in a form that the lungs can handle.
On the surface of the Moon, these minerals exist in many forms, including solid rock, small rock, fine dust, and gravel. This is an inevitable consequence of the collisions between the Moon and the free-flying celestial bodies in space.
Many researchers do not want to use the word “soil” to refer to the materials that cover the surface of the Moon, because on Earth, soil is produced by the action of breaking up the topsoil by countless microorganisms in the range of millions of years time. Soil is a dense network of minerals that do not exist in the original rock structure.
The soil around us has a special structure, chemical and biological properties. Meanwhile, the material covering the Moon’s surface is mainly topsoil in its original state.
Air filter from stone
The composition of the lunar topsoil contains up to 45% oxygen, but the oxygen molecules adhere closely to these minerals. To break these strong bonds, we will need to introduce energy into the compound. This is where scientists apply electrolysis.
The electrolysis of the Moon’s topsoil will produce oxygen as the main ingredient, besides metals like aluminum will be a by-product. Scientists will try not to waste any materials obtained after the electrolysis process.
While this is a simple process, it still requires a large amount of energy. To support the electrolysis of lunar soil, we will need solar energy or other possible sources of energy on the Moon.
Historical footprints on the topsoil of the Moon.
This oxygen production line will also require large industrial machines. The technologies needed for this process all exist on Earth, the big challenge will be in transporting them to the Moon and providing a stable, abundant energy source for them to work.
Earlier this year, Belgium-based startup Space Applications Services announced plans to assemble three reactors that generate oxygen through electrolysis. They plan to put this technology on the Moon for testing by 2025.
How much oxygen can the Moon produce?
According to conjecture, the oxygen reserves contained in the topsoil of the Moon are very large. Each cubic meter of topsoil contains an average of 1.4 tons of minerals, of which 630 kilograms is oxygen. NASA estimates that humans need 800 grams of oxygen per day to survive, so 630 kilograms of oxygen would be enough for a person to live for about two years or more.
If we estimate that the topsoil of the Moon is about 10 meters thick, and we can extract all the oxygen contained in it, then the lunar crust contains enough oxygen to support 8 billion people for 100,000 years. Although this number will still depend on many factors such as the efficiency of the lines, the number of exploitable topsoil layers, etc., but with only half that impressive number, humans have been able to build a Lunar outposts prospered for millennia.
The Moon will be the lever that will bring humans to other planets in the Solar System, and beyond, will be the first step for us to conquer distant regions of space.
Refer to The Conversation