Press Release - The European Space Agency (ESA) has awarded Clara (previously Prototech) - a subsidiary of Aker ASA – and The Centre for Research & Technology, Hellas (CERTH), a contract for developing technology for generating hydrogen and oxygen from lunar resources as well as CO2 extracted from the Martian atmosphere. The long-term goal is to establish a fuel station at the moon and Mars to support missions to Mars including return flights and the exploration of deep space.
By Geir Omdal, Head of Marketing at Clara Published
Above: Lunar base illustration ©ESA/Foster + Partners
To support the upcoming exploration of Mars and deep space, there is also a significant drive for returning to moon, both with robotic missions such as Heracles and the Space Gateway, a new manned space station which orbits the moon and act as a pit stop for astronauts traveling to more distance destinations. Resource utilisation on the moon to provide fuel, oxygen and water is one of the main targets for returning to the moon.
It has been confirmed in the past years that water is presented at the lunar poles as mixture regolith and ice. These water resources can be extracted and converted to hydrogen and oxygen through splitting of the water molecule using electrical energy, a process well known as electrolysis. However, since the lunar water resources are very dirty, containing elements as frozen ammonia and methane as well as sulphur elements, traditional electrolysis technology will require an energy-intensive purification process upfront. Thus, ESA has selected high temperature electrolysis using the solid oxide cell (SOC) technology as the most promising candidate for this operation. The SOC technology operate at 800°C with steam instead of liquid water, and with significant lower energy input than water electrolysis carried out below 100°C. Within the actual contract, Clara and CERTH will carry out a proof of concept for SOC electrolyser operating under relevant lunar conditions. In case of success, the activity will continue with scaling up the technology and make it suitable for space flights.
In parallel, there is a dedicated activity that includes the SOC electrolyser technology on missions to Mars. Underground seas of water have been identified and as a consequence of the high temperature, the SOC electrolyser can also split CO2 into carbon monoxide and oxygen. These elements are essential to produce fuel for return flight or oxygen for life support. The atmosphere on Mars consists of 95% CO2 and the SOC technology can make oxygen available all over the red planet.