Arc Universities

OU space science researchers are part of a consortium which has received €1M funding to develop a payload concept to extract oxygen from Moon rock.

The project, led by Thales Alenia Space, funded by the European Space Agency (ESA), was the winning proposal in an ESA competition to develop a payload concept to demonstrate that oxygen can be produced on the Moon in the quantities required by future colonies.

The approach being taken in this project is In Situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU) which is a method of producing and storing materials on planets which replaces materials that would otherwise be brought from Earth.

Dr Andrew Morse, Project Officer (Mass Spectrometry), Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics, who is leading on developing the analytical instrumentation for the project, welcomes the ISRU approach.

He said: “I have always been interested in ISRU as a means of enabling a sustainable presence on the Moon. This is another small step towards living in space.”

The OU researchers are developing an instrument combining a Mass Spectrometer and Tuneable Laser System to analyse the purity of oxygen and feed the results back to Earth. The Mass Spectrometer (a device which detects and measures planetary environments) is similar to the OU’s Ptolemy mass spectrometer flown on the Rosetta mission, which “sniffed” the atmosphere around a Comet. The Tuneable Laser System, which is more sensitive than the mass spectrometer when focusing on a few targeted molecules, will add to the OU’s space flight instrumentation inventory.

The development of the ISRU demonstration mission will run for a further 12 months. After this phase of the project is completed, ESA will have a ministerial meeting where member countries decide which missions will be selected to fly, sometime in 2023.

Dr Morse added: “The project enables the OU to continue development of its proven space flight mass spectrometers and expand on the types of instrumentation. If the ISRU mission is selected by ESA to fly to the Moon, then the OU will be a major participant in the mission.

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