Photo Credit: SpaceIL / Beresheet
Selfie taken by Beresheet 25 KM above the moon as it attempted to land. April 11, 2019.

An Israeli startup has developed technology to produce oxygen from the lunar soil.

The project, Helios, has been awarded funding from the Israeli Space Agency and the Israeli Ministry of Energy to develop a system that will be launched in two space missions over the next three years.

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Helios’ technology will produce oxygen from the lunar surface by means of a soil-fed reactor in addition to other various metals. The process does not require consumable materials from the earth, thus enabling colonies to “live off the land” in permanent bases far from earth.

While oxygen is needed for human life, most of it is used for the spacecraft’s launch and travel, as it is a vital component for fuel combustion. For example, the launch of four astronauts back from the moon will require approximately 10 tons of oxygen, and the fueling of Starship, SpaceX’s reusable launch vehicle, is expected to require 850 tons of oxygen for every refueling.

Almost 45% of lunar and Martian soil is made of oxygen, enabling local production to meet increasing oxygen demands.

Humanity is expected to transport large amounts of oxygen from earth in the next five years with over 50 missions to the moon expected during this period. Most of these missions are related to NASA’s Artemis program, which is collaborating with SpaceX to put man back on the moon by 2024, for the first time since the last visit in 1972.

In the next three years, the first modules of the Lunar Gateway, the space station orbiting the moon, will be launched and they will serve as the cornerstone of the future space station. The forthcoming base is expected to weigh thousands of tons and the material in the highest demand is oxygen – the key for rocket and spacecraft fuel.

Almost 70% of the weight of the vehicles launched today is oxygen, which means projects need to develop and adopt technologies that will enable the mining and utilization of raw materials in their natural environment, in situ. This is exactly what the Israeli Helios project is developing.

Jonathan Geifman, Helios’s founder and CEO, said that “the technology we are developing is part of the value chain that enables the establishment of permanent bases away from earth.”

“In order not to have to endlessly transport equipment to the space station in the moon’s atmosphere, and causing life outside of earth to operate under restrictive constraints, we need to look at things through the prism of infrastructure that can produce raw materials from natural resources,” he explained.

Avi Blasberger, Director General of the Israeli Space Agency, added that “Helios’ revolutionary technology can produce oxygen from the lunar soil without consumable raw materials from the earth. This will lower launch costs, expand payloads and will enable long-term human presence in deep space.”

“We expect a trend of returning to the Moon following NASA’s Artemis program, which will create significant business opportunities in the space industry in general, and in the Israeli space industry specifically. Helios, which was established in an innovation workshop held by the Israeli Space Agency during Israel’s Space Week, is an excellent example of a groundbreaking Israeli startup that will lead and serve as a key player in the development of this trend around the world,” he said.

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