The future spaceflight fuel could be right above our heads.
Chinese scientists have demonstrated that Moon dust can be used to create fuel for spacecraft. As countries and businesses worldwide prepare for the next era of human spaceflight, this can lower the cost of space exploration and reduce the strain on Earth’s resources.
Moon dust is the finest part of the rocky debris that covers the Moon’s surface and is referred to collectively as lunar regolith.
The researchers behind the new study examined a dust sample and discovered that it contained substances that could be used as a catalyst to create useful materials. For example, they showed that electrodes made of the material could extract oxygen and hydrogen from water.
In addition, the researchers demonstrated that the Moon regolith could generate methane and oxygen from carbon dioxide and hydrogen.
While their findings indicated that Moon dust could be used to create useful substances for space exploration, it is not as efficient as currently available catalysts. The scientists will test other methods to improve its catalytic ability. They hope to test the system in space one day to demonstrate its effectiveness.
According to the study, unmanned systems can complete this process without astronauts.
“In situ resource utilization of lunar soil to achieve extraterrestrial fuel and oxygen production is vital for the human to carry out Moon exploitation missions,” said lead author Yujie Xiong.
“Considering that there are limited human resources at extraterrestrial sites, we proposed to employ the robotic system to perform the whole electrocatalytic CO2 conversion system setup.”
The team used soil samples from China’s Chang’e-5 mission for their study. As a catalyst, the soil played great. However, the most significant impediment is liquifying carbon dioxide. According to a New Scientist report, the gas will require a significant amount of heat due to the cold atmosphere of the Moon.
However, with the Moon set to become a destination for international space exploration in the coming decades, using its dust could be a reality.
The study’s findings are detailed in a paper published in the National Science Review.