The winning consortium includes metal powder producer Metalysis along with Thales Alenia Space, AVS, The Open University and Redwire Space Europe.
Plans are to build larger lunar plants to extract propellant for spacecraft, breathable air for astronauts and metallic raw materials for equipment. The technology will have to be able 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 gas concentations. This will have to take place within a 10 day period of the lunar day, the ESA said.
“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,” said David Binns, systems engineer at ESA. “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.”
“The time is right to begin work on realising this In-Situ Resource Utilisation demonstrator, the first step in our larger ISRU implementation strategy,” said Giorgio Magistrati, studies and technologies team leader. “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.”