Team Chosen To Extract Oxygen From the Surface of the Moon

European Large Logistics Lander Landing

This image shows the cargo configuration of the European Large Logistics Lander, delivering supplies and even rovers or robots to the Moon’s surface for astronauts as part of NASA’s Artemis program. Credit: ESA/ATG-Medialab

Following a competition, ESA has selected the industrial team that will design and build the first experimental payload to extract oxygen from the surface of the Moon. The winning consortium, led by Thales Alenia Space in the UK, has been tasked with producing a small piece of equipment that will evaluate the prospect of building larger lunar plants to extract propellant for spacecraft and breathable air for astronauts – as well as metallic raw materials for equipment.

The compact payload will need to extract 50-100 grams of oxygen from lunar regolith – targeting 70% extraction of all available oxygen within the sample – while delivering precision measurements of performance and ánd gas concentations. And it will have to do all this in a hurry, within a 10 day period – running on the solar power available within a single fortnight-long lunar day, before the coming of the pitch-black, freezing lunar night.

Lunar Lander Collecting Sample on Moon


An artist impression of Lunar Lander collecting a sample on the moon. One task for Lunar Lander’s scientific instruments will be to investigate Moon dust. A robotic arm will retrieve samples for closer inspection under an onboard microscope. Images and data will be sent back to Earth for further analysis. Credit: ESA

ESA’s Directorate of Human and Robotic Exploration selected the Thales-led team made up of AVS, Metalysis, Open University, and Redwire Space Europe following a detailed study last year, evaluating three rival designs. The process followed a new approach to selecting system concepts.

“Employing a challenge approach let us evaluate the competing payload concepts on a precise, side-by-side basis,” comments David Binns, Systems Engineer from ESA’s state-of-the-art Concurrent Design Facility (CDF). “Now we’re looking forward to working with the winning consortium to make their design a practical reality.

In-Situ Resource Utilization Test Process


A consortium, led by Thales Alenia Space in the UK, has been tasked with producing a small piece of equipment that will evaluate the prospect of building larger lunar plants to extract propellant for spacecraft and breathable air for astronauts – as well as metallic raw materials for equipment. The compact payload will need to extract 50-100 grams of oxygen from lunar regolith – targeting 70% extraction of all available oxygen within the sample – while delivering precision measurements of performance and ánd gas concentations. And it will have to do all this in a hurry, within a 10 day period – running on the solar power available within a single fortnight-long lunar day, before the coming of the pitch-black, freezing lunar night. To do requires a complex set of deeds, overcoming dust from the landing site. The demonstrator will have to land, undergo commissioning, acquire sample material, load it into the demonstrator which then produces oxygen from it. Credit: ESA

“The payload needs to be compact, low power and able to fly on a range of potential lunar landers, including ESA’s own European Large Logistics Lander, EL3. Being able to extract oxygen from moonrock, along with useable metals, will be a game changer for lunar exploration, allowing the international explorers set to return to the Moon to ‘live off the land’ without being dependent on long and expensive terrestrial supply lines.”

Oxygen and Metal From Lunar Regolith

On the left side of this before and after image is a pile of simulated lunar soil, or regolith; on the right is the same pile after essentially all the oxygen has been extracted from it, leaving a mixture of metal alloys. Both the oxygen and metal could be used in future by settlers on the Moon. Credit: Beth Lomax – University of Glasgow

Giorgio Magistrati, Studies and Technologies Team Leader at ESA’s ExPeRT (Exploration Preparation, Research and Technology) initiative adds: “The time is right to begin work on realizing this In-Situ Resource Utilisation demonstrator, the first step in our larger ISRU implementation strategy. Once the technology is proven using this initial payload, our approach will culminate in a full-scale ISRU plant in place on the Moon in the early part of the following decade.”

Making Oxygen Out of Moondust

ESA research fellow Alexandre Meurisse and Beth Lomax of the University of Glasgow producing oxygen and metal out of simulated moondust inside ESA’s Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory. Credit: ESA–A. Conigili

The underlying concept has already been proven. Samples returned from the lunar surface confirm that lunar regolith is made up of 40–45% percent oxygen by weight, its single most abundant element. The difficulty is that this oxygen is bound up chemically as oxides in the form of minerals or glass, so is unavailable for immediate use.

 However a prototype oxygen plant has been set up in ESTEC’s Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory. This plant employs an electrolysis-based process to separate simulated lunar regolith into metals and oxygen, key basic resources for long-term sustainable space missions.

2 Comments on "Team Chosen To Extract Oxygen From the Surface of the Moon"

  1. Robi Jackson | March 10, 2022 at 4:00 am | Reply

    so what pollution will they being creating with this process; meaning we’ll be able exist there, but stuff up its environment – pollution may be considered ok where no life is or can affected, nonetheless it still is pollution with unknown inclinations for the future

  2. nora guadalajara | March 30, 2022 at 8:46 am | Reply

    Robi Jackson, EXACTLY!

Leave a Reply to nora guadalajara Cancel reply

Email address is optional. If provided, your email will not be published or shared.