Sample of lunar soil turned into rocket fuel

A team of Chinese researchers claims that they have managed to turn samples of lunar regolith into a source of rocket fuel. This discovery could potentially change the rules for future space explorers who hope to use the resources on the Moon to recharge fuel to return to Earth or go to conquer other corners of the Solar System. 

Experiment on obtaining oxygen from the lunar soil. Photo: National Science Review

Researchers have found that samples of lunar soil can act as a catalyst to convert carbon dioxide and water from astronauts’ bodies and the environment into methane and oxygen. The chemical process is described in detail in an article published in the National Science Review.

“We proposed using a robotic system to automate the electrocatalytic conversion of CO2 and H2O into fuel for spacecraft engines,” said Yuji Xiong, lead author of the study.

Confirmation by experiments

Chinese scientists are building on previous studies that suggested that monthly soil can generate oxygen and fuel, and that this process can be completed using crewless systems even in the absence of astronauts.

In the experiment, the team used samples from the Chinese Chang’e-5 mission, which landed in Inner Mongolia back in December 2020 with lunar soil that had not been delivered to Earth since 1976. Experiments have confirmed that the Moon’s soil effectively acted as a catalyst, converting carbon dioxide into methane and oxygen.

The discovery means that in the near future we can get much better opportunities to conduct longer studies of the lunar surface, and there will also be more power to send a payload to Earth.

Obstacle to obtaining fuel

But there is one big obstacle that still needs to be overcome. Liquefaction of carbon dioxide is not an easy matter. Gas condensation requires a lot of heat, and in frosty conditions on the moon, this can be a problem. Still, it’s an attractive prospect: while the astronauts are preparing to arrive at the future colony on the moon, the autonomous machine will already produce oxygen and fuel for future visitors.

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