Oxygen from lunar regolith

Agreement between Agenzia Spaziale Italiana and Politecnico

Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI) and Politecnico di Milano have signed an agreement concerning the ambitious project to develop and validate one of the key technologies to enable long-term human presence on our natural satellite. The ORACLE (Oxygen Retrieval Asset by Carbothermal-reduction in Lunar Environment) project is aimed at extracting oxygen from the lunar regolith, the fragmented rock that cover the surface of the Moon, according to a process already studied in the laboratory by the ASTRA group of Politecnico di Milano. 

Now, under the guidance of ASI, a validation in the target operational environment, i.e., the surface of the Moon, is to be implemented by the end of this decade.

With this agreement, ASI and Politecnico undertake to collaborate right from the initial stages in the design and definition of the interface aspects of the lander that will host a preliminary version of the system. In the upcoming years development activities will be carried out that will be entrusted to an industrial partner. The goal is to build a demonstrator that can be launched by 2028 making use of one of the commercial flight opportunities among those currently under development in several countries.

In Situ Resources Utilisation, i.e., the on-site extraction and exploitation of resources, is a key capability for sustainable exploration such as the one we are planning for the Moon. In this sense, we expect the ORACLE to be of global interest in a future perspective and to enable Italy, among the first in the world, to hold a strategic technology. In this new season of return to the Moon, our country is making the best preparations to participate, and ORACLE will give us the opportunity to consolidate our leading role in large-scale programmes such as Artemis.

Raffaele Mugnuolo, Head of the ASI’s Exploration, Orbiting and Surface Infrastructures and Scientific Satellites Unit, explains.

The ORACLE project represents a virtuous path of research and technological development that demonstrates how innovation can be realised through the synergetic actions of complementary worlds such as the University, ASI and, in the future, the national industrial sector. ORACLE further confirms that the collaboration between the two institutions in the aerospace field creates opportunities to put the technical skills and research of Politecnico di Milano at the service of consolidating Italy's role in such a strategic sector worldwide. The challenge is considerable, and just as intense are the motivation and enthusiasm of the team that will actively work for the return to the Moon, which is a unique historical moment in the space exploration scenario and follows up on the results obtained in the laboratory to produce the first lunar water droplet 'on-site’.

Michèle Lavagna, Scientific Project Co-ordinator Project for Politecnico di Milano, says.

Space @polimi