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Israeli Startup Inks Venture With German Space Firm to Test Oxygen Production on Mission to Moon

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying Israel’s first spacecraft designed to land on the moon is prepared for launch on the first privately-funded lunar mission at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., February 21, 2019. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Israeli startup Helios has signed an agreement with German manufacturer of satellites OHB System AG to test its technology for the production of oxygen and metals from lunar soil, as part of the lunar landing system Lunar Surface Access Service (LSAS) project — the first European lunar shuttle service.

Under the terms of the deal, Helios’ technology will fly on the first three LSAS missions to the moon, which are expected to commence in 2025. Helios, which is backed by the Israel Space Agency, hopes to show that its technology is able to produce oxygen and metals on site.

“Production of oxygen on the lunar surface is key to enable the expansion of humanity beyond earth and to dramatically reduce the cost of space exploration,” said Jonathan Gaifman, CEO of Helios. “Oxygen is going to be the most sought after consumable in space as it makes up over 60 percent of the mass of any fully loaded space vehicle designated for lunar missions and beyond.”

OHB’s lunar shuttle, which is being built together with Israel Aerospace Industries, relies on the design of the Israeli lunar lander Beresheet, which was co-developed by SpaceIL and IAI. Helios was approached to develop technologies for earth-independent and cost-effective space exploration.

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“A spacecraft to the moon is expected to consume hundreds of tons of oxygen for the combustion of the rocket engines and the human use of astronauts. Nearly half of the soil mass on the moon is made of oxygen that can be produced on the spot without the need to fly from earth, thereby significantly reducing future transportation costs and reducing dependence on the delivery of raw materials from earth,” Gaifman explained.

Helios estimates that annual human consumption of oxygen is roughly 50 lb., while the launch of four crew members back from the lunar surface would require about 22,000 lb. of oxygen.

Among its core hardware technologies are reactors that will separate oxides found all over lunar surfaces through an electrolysis process into oxygen and various metals such as iron, aluminum and silicon.

“Returning and establishing a permanent base on the Moon requires international cooperation and the creation of partnerships between space agencies and privately-held companies,” said Brigadier (Res.) Uri Oron, Director General at the Israel Space Agency. “Helios is an example of a company that will become a key player in the efforts to return to the moon.”

“This cooperation demonstrates the strong, long-lasting relationship between Germany and Israel, and the contribution this partnership can yield to the space industry,” Oron added.

“In the future, ice on the moon will also be used to build rocket refueling stations and energy stations by splitting it into oxygen and hydrogen,” noted Dr. Timo Stuffler, Head of Business Development at OHB.

 

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