In addition to our desire to colonize it, the moon is seen as an important step towards Mars, especially as a stopover to fill the tanks of the spaceships. However, we still have to develop techniques to produce fuel on the lunar surface. Faced with this challenge, scientists are working hard to draw water and metal from the moon. And it seems that a major breakthrough has just been made in this area.
Ablative arc extraction, the future of moon mining?
Space.com learns that a group of scientists led by Amelia Greig, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas Aerospace Center at El Paso, developed a method of mining the moon known as “ablative arc mining.” . . As the name suggests, this technique uses an electric arc to extract ore from the bottom of our satellite. It is all the more promising as its use would allow both water and metal to be extracted at the same time.
Part of the NASA Phase I Fellows program
According to Greig, it would be a bit like putting a bolt of lightning on the surface of the moon. The technique was recently added to the list of projects selected as part of NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concept (NIAC) Phase I Fellows program. Recall that this aims to incorporate visionary ideas into American space exploration projects for big breakthroughs.
In the ablative arc extraction method, arcs are generated by two electrodes. They bring frozen water to the surface by breaking it down into ionized particles. It would also remove metals from the lunar regolith. The extracted particles, which are in the form of steam, are then led to collection chambers by the electric fields.
Ablative arc extraction, the future of moon mining? Photo credit: Shutterstock / Elena11
Almost 10,000 liters of water a year
Greig and his colleagues will soon be testing the concept in the laboratory. According to their estimates, the technique should enable them to extract nearly 10 tons of water per year, or about 10,000 liters. Other scientists had previously introduced a concept known as thermal ablation.
However, according to Greig, ablative arch extraction has many other advantages. Due to the thin lunar atmosphere, thermal ablation would be ineffective as water vapor is likely to move in all directions, making capture difficult. This technique would also not allow for the simultaneous extraction of different types of resources, as would the extraction of ablative arches.