April 13, 2024
In this depiction Blue Alchemist is shown constructing solar cells on the lunar surface.
Enlarge / On this depiction Blue Alchemist is proven developing photo voltaic cells on the lunar floor.

Blue Origin

For many years scientists and engineers have talked about utilizing the dusty lunar floor to fabricate photo voltaic panels. All the key components for photo voltaic cells are current on this rocky and dusty regolith on the floor of the Moon—silicon, iron, magnesium, aluminum, and extra.

The abundance of those components has led to lots of of analysis papers exploring this concept since lunar soil was returned to Earth in the course of the Apollo program however comparatively little engineering improvement. In different phrases, we do not know whether or not protecting the Moon with photo voltaic panels is solely a terrific science fiction thought, or if it could truly work.

However now, we could have a solution to the query. On Friday, in a blog post not even promoted by the corporate’s Twitter account or a information launch, Blue Origin quietly mentioned its “Blue Alchemist” program has been engaged on this very subject for the final two years. The corporate, based by Jeff Bezos, has made each photo voltaic cells and electrical energy transmission wires from simulated lunar soil—a fabric that’s chemically and mineralogically equal to lunar regolith.

The engineering work relies on a course of often called “molten regolith electrolysis,” and Blue Origin has superior the cutting-edge for photo voltaic cell manufacturing. On this course of, a direct electrical present is utilized to the simulated regolith at a excessive temperature, above 1,600° Celsius. By means of this electrolysis course of, iron, silicon, and aluminum could be extracted from the lunar regolith. Blue Origin says it has produced silicon to greater than 99.999 p.c purity by means of molten regolith electrolysis.

The important thing advance made by Blue Alchemist is that its engineers and scientists have taken the byproducts of this response—and these supplies alone—to manufacture photo voltaic cells in addition to the protecting glass cowl that might enable them to outlive a decade or longer on the lunar floor.

Blue Origin will try and market the know-how to NASA to be used by its Artemis program to return people to the Moon in a “sustainable” method. NASA and its worldwide companions search to distinguish Artemis from the Apollo program by extra prolonged stays on the Moon and constructing infrastructure corresponding to energy techniques.

“Though our imaginative and prescient is technically bold, our know-how is actual now,” the corporate mentioned in its weblog put up. “Blue Origin’s aim of manufacturing solar energy utilizing solely lunar assets is aligned with NASA’s highest precedence Moon-to-Mars infrastructure improvement goal.”

This can be a notable analysis breakthrough, as the identical electrolysis course of is also used to provide metals for constructing habitats and different constructions, in addition to oxygen. These are all necessary for “dwelling off the land” if people are to keep away from the expense of needing to carry every thing from Earth to dwell and work in house. Whereas it’s a good distance from lab experiments to manufacturing on the Moon, these experiments are a essential first step.

Blue Origin lately break up its “Superior Growth Packages” enterprise unit into two models, with one targeted on in-space techniques corresponding to its Orbital Reef house station, and one other targeted solely on lunar actions. It’s thrilling to see Blue Origin start to publicly focus on its plans for a completely reusable lunar structure. The corporate has been hiring actively on this space for years, and there may be a lot attention-grabbing work like Blue Alchemist occurring behind the scenes.