British firm Metalysis is being backed by the European Space Agency to develop technology that turns moon dust and rocks into oxygen.

The ability to extract oxygen on the moon is vital for future exploration and habitation, being essential for sustainable long duration activities in space.

Generating products with local materials, a practice called in-situ resource utilisation (ISRU), rather than carrying everything astronauts need into space, would significantly reduce the cost as well as the payload mass that would be launched from earth.

Metalysis said its process has recently been proven for the industrial-scale production of metals and alloys, leading to the present investigation into the potential application of this process to regolith-like materials in a lunar context.

An initial proof of concept study has resulted in a metallic powder where 96% of the total oxygen is successfully extracted, in conjunction with giving a mixed metal alloy product that can be used for in-situ manufacturing.

The project, titled The Metalysis FFC Process for Extra-Terrestrial Oxygen Production from ISRU, will provide an assessment to prepare and de-risk technology developments, focussed towards oxygen production for propellants and life support consumables.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has awarded Metalysis funding for the project under its Space Resources Strategy.

ESA wants to secure Europe’s central role in global space exploration, delivering new results in both basic and applied science, offering a compelling vision of global endeavour, enriching society and inspiring the next generations.

Ian Mellor, Managing Director at Metalysis, commented, “We are really pleased Metalysis is involved in this exciting programme; taking an established earth-based technology and applying it to a lunar setting.”

“The fact that the process is capable of simultaneously producing both oxygen and metal powders is unique, offering potential solutions to two key areas of the ESA Space Resources Strategy.”

Sue Horne, Head of Space Exploration at the UK Space Agency, added, “In the future, if we want to travel extensively in space and set up bases on the Moon and Mars, then we will need to make or find the things required to support life -food, water and breathable air.” 

“The involvement of Metalysis in a programme that aims to do just that, by producing oxygen on a lunar setting, will showcase the UK’s space credentials on the world-stage and help unlock breakthroughs that bring future space exploration a step closer.”