published on 23 July 2019 in

Powering the future with lunar soil

Building a lunar base is one of the next steps for exploring the Solar System, but one of the obstacles to be overcome before achieving this project is finding access to a reliable source of energy that will guarantee the survival of the crew on the Moon. In fact, resources that are abundantly available on the Moon itself need to be found in order to be able to carry out sustainable, long-term exploration. Working on this idea, the European Space Agency (ESA), in collaboration with Azimut Space, has recently published a study called Discovery & Preparation, explaining how lunar regolith – loose material, consisting of rock and dust that forms the lunar soil – could be used to store heat and provide electricity for future astronauts, rovers and landers.
Generally, space missions are fuelled by energy from solar panels mounted on the probes or on the space stations, but future researchers must be prepared to face up to 16 days of darkness during the lunar night. It is therefore necessary to find a sustainable energy solution for storing solar light during the long lunar days that would then make it available for the periods of darkness. The study has examined in detail whether or not it would be possible to create “heat storage bricks” from lunar regolith. The research team created an artificial regolith by analysing samples of rock brought back by the Apollo missions.

A 14-cm-long regolith brick. Credits: esa.int

This was then used to make a number of regolith bricks, units able to absorb solar energy and then release it later to produce electricity and to heat equipment during the cold lunar nights. A mission to the Moon will in fact have to be able to cope with very difficult conditions, such as long nights, temperatures ranging from -173°C to 127°C and extremely low pressure levels. This study is the first step towards the creation of an innovative and sustainable method for storing heat and generating electricity that could make it possible to land on the Moon.

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