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Lunar made Propellant for rocket propulsion based on metal fuels



Organisational Unit
19 January 2024

Duration: 24 months


A permanent base on the Moon will have a key strategic importance for further space exploration. The utilization of local resources is critical to enable sustainable exploration of the Moon as the energy sources are limited and that transporting materials from Earth to the lunar surface is prohibitively expensive . However, liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquid hydrogen (LH2) , currently used in many spacecraft propulsion, are unlikely to be produced locally due to scarce distribution of ice on the Moon. An alternative is to produce the propellant with metals available on the moon surface [1]. As presented in the ESA Space Resource Strategy 2019 [2] and in the ESA SciSpace White papers 2021 [3], using oxygen from water ice and metal powders from minerals as propellants is identified as one of the key technologies for exploration. Iron powder is now considered as a promising fuel to realize Metal-enabled Cycle of Renewable Energy on the earth [4,5]. TUe demonstrated iron fuel at industrial scale in beer brewery in 2020 [6]. In space, ESA instrument PERWAVES studied metallic powder in microgravity. This proposal offers a novel approach to the moon propellant production and understanding the efficiency of metal powders as rocket propellant. The full cycle of production will be studied : 1) the electrolyze of water (initially extracted from the Moon) to produce H2 and O2. 2) hydrogen gas can reduce ilmenite (FeTiO3), which was found in abundance in lunar mare soils returned by Apollo 11, to produce iron, titania (rutile), and water. 3) H2 is recycled in the form of water, and iron and LOX can then be used as rocket propellants. An important advantage of using iron as a propellant for lunar transportation is that H2, which is more difficult to be extracted on the Moon, can be recycled in the production process. The proposed study is a computational analysis to prove the concept that mixed iron and aluminum combustion can generate a sufficient specific impulse (Isp).

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Lunar made Propellant for rocket propulsion based on metal fuels