New Answers for Mars’ Methane Mystery

There's methane on Mars, but only in Gale Crater, and only sporadically. Image Credit:

Planetary scientists perk up whenever methane is mentioned. Methane is produced by living things on Earth, so it’s considered to be a potential biosignature elsewhere. In recent years, MSL Curiosity detected methane coming from the surface of Gale Crater on Mars. So far, nobody’s successfully explained where it’s coming from.

NASA scientists have some new ideas.

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There are Four Ways to Build with Regolith on the Moon

Based on the technical mechanisms of bonding and cohesion between particles, regolith solidification and formation technologies can be categorized into four groups: reaction solidification (RS), sintering/melting (SM), bonding solidification (BS), and confinement formation (CF) methods. Credit: Charun Bao

Over the last few years I have been renovating my home. Building on Earth seems to be a fairly well understood process, after all we have many different materials to chose from. But what about future lunar explorers. As we head closer toward a permanent lunar base, astronauts will have very limited cargo carrying capability so will have to use local materials. On the Moon, that means relying upon the dusty lunar regolith that covers the surface. Researchers have now developed 20 different methods for creating building materials out of the stuff. They include solidification, sintering/melting, bonding solidification and confinement formation. But of all these, which is the best?

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What Could We Build With Lunar Regolith?

A close-up view of astronaut Buzz Aldrin's bootprint in the lunar soil, photographed with the 70mm lunar surface camera during Apollo 11's sojourn on the moon. There'll soon be more boots on the lunar ground, and the astronauts wearing those boots need a way to manage the Moon's low gravity and its health effects. Image by NASA

It has often been likened to talcum powder. The ultra fine lunar surface material known as the regolith is crushed volcanic rock. For visitors to the surface of the Moon it can be a health hazard, causing wear and tear on astronauts and their equipment, but it has potential. The fine material may be suitable for building roads, landing pads and shelters. Researchers are now working to analyse its suitability for a number of different applications.

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Chickpeas Grown in Lunar Regolith Are Stressed but Reach Maturity

Image of the chickpea plants after five weeks displaying a diversity of chlorophyll. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Jessica Atkins)

A recent preprint investigates how chickpeas have been successfully grown in lunar regolith simulants (LRS), marking the first time such a guideline has been established not only for chickpeas, but also for growing food for long-term human space missions. This study was conducted by researchers from Texas A&M University and Brown University and holds the potential to develop more efficient methods in growing foods using extraterrestrial resources, specifically with NASA’s Artemis program slated to return humans to the lunar surface in the next few years.

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Some Lunar Regolith is Better for Living Off the Land on the Moon

Artist's impression of astronauts on the lunar surface, as part of the Artemis Program. Credit: NASA
Artist's impression of astronauts on the lunar surface, as part of the Artemis Program. Credit: NASA

Between now and the mid-2030s, multiple space agencies hope to send crewed missions to the Moon. of These plans all involve establishing bases around the Moon’s southern polar region, including the Artemis Base Camp and the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS). These facilities will enable a “sustained program of lunar exploration and development,” according to the NASA Artemis Program mission statement. In all cases, plans for building facilities on the surface call for a process known as In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), where local resources are used as building materials.

This presents a bit of a problem since not all lunar soil (regolith) is well-suited for construction. Much like engineering and construction projects here on Earth, builders need to know what type of soil they are building on and if it can be used to make concrete. In a recent study, planetary scientist Kevin M. Cannon proposed a lunar soil classification scheme for space resource utilization. This could have significant implications for future missions to the Moon, where it would help inform the construction of bases, habitats, and other facilities based on soil type and location.

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Airbus Developed a System To Extract Oxygen and Metal From Lunar Regolith

An illustration of a Moon base that could be built using 3D printing and ISRU, In-Situ Resource Utilization. Credit: RegoLight, visualisation: Liquifer Systems Group, 2018
An illustration of a Moon base that could be built using 3D printing and ISRU, In-Situ Resource Utilization. Credit: RegoLight, visualisation: Liquifer Systems Group, 2018

New technologies utilizing material found in space are constantly popping up, sometimes from smaller companies and sometimes from larger ones. Back in 2020, one of the largest companies of them all announced a technology that could have significant implications for the future lunar exploration missions planned over the next ten years. The European aerospace giant Airbus developed the Regolith to OXYgen and Metals Conversion (ROXY) system. 

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ESA Wants Your Ideas for Living off the Land… on the Moon

Challenges have been a mainstay of space exploration for several years at this point. In the past, they have ranged from making a potential space elevator to designing a solar power system on the Moon. The European Space Agency is continuing that tradition and has recently released a new challenge focusing on lunar resources. Called the Identifying Challenges along the Lunar ISRU Value Chain campaign, this new ESA platform is the next step in the agency’s efforts to develop an entire “value chain” of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) technologies.

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Researchers Make Rocket Fuel Using Actual Regolith From the Moon

In-situ resource utilization is a hot topic these days in space exploration circles, and scientists and engineers have had a great advantage of getting access to new materials from bodies on the solar system that either have never been seen before, such as asteroids or haven’t been visited in decades, such as the moon. Recently, China’s Chang’e 5 brought back the first sample of lunar regolith to Earth in almost 50 years. Using part of that sample, researchers from several Chinese universities have developed an automated system to create rocket fuel and oxygen out of CO2, using the lunar regolith as a catalyst.

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China’s Rover Finds That Regolith on the Moon’s far-Side is Stickier Than the Near-Side

We’re never able to see the far side of the moon from the Earth, but that doesn’t mean it’s that different.  Recently rovers and satellites have started exploring the lesser-known side of the moon.  They found a slightly different geology than that discovered on the near side, which might have implications for navigating the far side in the future.

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