Israeli startup Helios has signed a memorandum of understanding with Japan’s lunar exploration firm ispace to participate in a project to produce oxygen and metals on the lunar surface, The Times of Israel reported on Monday.
Helios claims it has invented a process that can produce oxygen needed for fuel from the lunar soil. It is the kind of breakthrough that could make multiple and long-term missions to the Moon economically more viable, since it would enable Moon colonies to be self-sustaining, instead of having to carry all of their fuel and other resources from Earth.
The Israeli company plans to join the second and third missions to the moon of ispace. The Japanese ambassador to Israel, Mizushima Koichi, hosted a signing ceremony between the Israeli and Japanese companies for the two memoranda of understandings (MoU), in which ispace will deliver Helios’ technology to the lunar surface onboard ispace’s lander by the end of 2023 and mid-2024.
If the technology proves successful, it will solve the problem of the prohibitive cost of shipping thousands of tons of oxygen a year to the lunar base for use as rocket propellant. As it now stands, it costs several hundred thousands of dollars per kilogram to send anything to the Moon.
The process Helios has developed is called molten regolith electrolysis, using a soil-fed reactor. It melts the lunar soil at 1600 degrees Celsius and then, through electrolysis, creates oxygen that is stored for use.
The firm has simulated conditions on the Moon to for testing the system. It used Moon-like sand fabricated by the University of Central Florida, based on samples brought back from the Moon. Inspace will try it out on the lunar surface itself in a weightless environment.
“In order not to have to endlessly transport equipment to the lunar station 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 materials from natural resources,” said Jonathan Geifman, Helios’s co-founder and CEO, in a statement on Monday. “The technology we are developing is part of the value chain that enables the establishment of permanent bases away from Earth.”
The Japanese ambassador to Israel, Mizushima Koichi, hosted a signing ceremony between the Israeli and Japanese companies for the two memorandum of understandings (MoU), in which ispace will deliver Helios’ technology to the lunar surface onboard ispace’s lander by the end of 2023 and mid-2024.
The firm hopes to “be a gateway” for the private sector to bring their business to the Moon.