Israeli startup Project Helios (Helios) is set to hitch a ride on Japan-based lunar exploration company ispace’s lunar lander during its second and third missions to the Moon’s surface.
Helios is intended to be a technological demonstration to showcase in-situ oxygen and metal production on the moon, eventually becoming a way to “live off the land” beyond Earth.
In an April press release, the company stated that funding had been awarded from the Israeli Space Agency and the Israeli Energy Ministry to develop technology to be launched in two separate space missions over the next three years.
The company states that one of the main roadblocks in paving a way for humanity to expand beyond Earth is the “extraordinary cost” of sending anything from the Earth to the Moon. As oxygen is one of the most essential materials to be used in lunar space, the ability to produce the gas on the moon is one way to make a moon colony an economically viable reality.
These extraordinary costs are expressed when taking into account the sheer amount of fuel required for lunar missions. As oxygen is required for fuel, rockets encumbered with heavy cargo will require a large amount of fuel and therefore a large quantity of oxygen.
In addition to transport, a sustainable oxygen supply will be required for the establishment of a space colony, including the need for a lunar base and for the creation of moon-based industrial facilities.
Jonathan Geifman, Co-founder, CEO, Helios, spoke about the technology, saying, “The technology we are developing is part of the value chain that enables the establishment of permanent bases away from Earth.”
Helios also stated that the best way to bypass these potential restrictions is to ensure that oxygen is able to be produced on the moon’s surface.
The oxygen production itself involves the first lunar extractor, Lunar Extractor – 1, separating the oxygen from the soil using electrolysis. This separation is essential as, although the lunar surface has over 40% oxygen by weight, it is locked inside oxides and minerals.
Lunar soil is melted at 1600 degrees Celsius, and, through electrolysis, oxygen is created that is then stored for use.
A by-product of the separation process is metal that is able to be cast into a mold, creating what could be the first artifact to be produced on the moon in human history.
In order to realise the potential of Helios, two Memorandum of Understandings (MoU’s) were signed between ispace and Helios. The MoU’s state that ispace may deliver Helios’ technology to the lunar surface onboard ispace’s lander by the end of 2023 and mid 2024. This technology includes both lunar extractors.
Speaking about the partnership, Takeshi Hakamada, Founder & CEO, ispace, said, “Utilising the resources on the Moon is the natural conclusion and would lead to large economic impact for a cislunar ecosystem and eventually the sustainability of the Earth.”
“ispace, as a pioneer in building the cislunar ecosystem, is honoured to provide our lunar transportation service and assist Helios to demonstrate their technology on the Moon.”
The Israeli Space Agency said that they welcome the cooperation between ispace and Helios and hopes that it will lead to further collaboration between the space agencies of the two countries.
ispace is a lunar exploration company with over 150 staff and offices in Japan, Europe and the United States. The company is building a small commercial lunar lander, which aims to provide a high-frequency, low-cost delivery service to the Moon, as well as a lunar rover for surface exploration.
The company’s first lunar mission is planned for 2022 with a second mission planned for 2023. The first mission will see ispace’s lander delivering payloads for the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and three companies.