A British firm has won a European Space Agency contract to develop the technology to turn moon dust and rocks into oxygen, leaving behind aluminium, iron and other metal powders for lunar construction workers to build with. The Guardian reports: If the process can be made to work well enough, it will pave the way for extraction facilities on the moon that make oxygen and valuable materials on the surface, rather than having to haul them into space at enormous cost. Analyses of rocks brought back from the moon reveal that oxygen makes up about 45% of the material by weight. The remainder is largely iron, aluminium and silicon. In work published this year, scientists at Metalysis and the University of Glasgow found they could extract 96% of the oxygen from simulated lunar soil, leaving useful metal alloy powders behind. The Esa contract will fund Metalysis for nine months to perfect an electrochemical process that releases oxygen from lunar dust and rocks by sending an electrical current through the material. The process is already used on Earth, but the oxygen is released as an unwanted byproduct of mineral extraction. To make it work for lunar explorers, the oxygen must be captured and stored. Under the contract, the firm will try to boost the yield and purity of oxygen and metals from the rock while reducing the amount of energy the process consumes. If the technology looks promising, the next step will be to demonstrate oxygen extraction on the moon. The oxygen released from the lunar surface can be combined with other gases to produce breathable air, but it is also a vital component of rocket propellant that could be manufactured on the moon and used to refuel spacecraft bound for deep space.

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