Giant step for space exploration as hi-tech metals firm creates oxygen from moon rock
Scientists at a hi-tech metals firm near Sheffield are over the moon after a breakthrough that could pave the way to 3D printed bases on new planets.
Metalysis has produced kilograms of powders – mostly aluminium and silicon – and oxygen from moon rock, sparking interest from NASA and the European Space Agency.
The firm’s patented process could lead to a Mars refuelling station on the moon, bosses say.
Metalysis, based on the Advanced Manufacturing Park in Rotherham, is funded by the UK Space Agency through the European Space Agency.
It is a remarkable turnaround for the company which plunged into administration in 2019.
Established in 2001, it received £92m of investment after pioneering a comparatively fast, green and cheap method of making powdered metals using a molten salt bath at 1,000 degrees.
But it collapsed after running out of cash. Some 47 staff were made redundant. It was snapped up by Power Resources Group a month later for just $2.5m.
Now it is leading the way in mine-to-metal production for uses including medical prosthesis, vehicle and aviation ‘lightweighting’ and electronics, as well as space exploeration.
Ian Mellor, managing director, said the ability to simultaneously extract oxygen, and metal powders from regolith on the moon was vital for exploration and essential for sustainable long duration activities in space.
He added: “We are excited to be at the forefront of this In-Situ Resource Utilisation activity, demonstrating multiple kilogram batches of metal alloy powder can be produced from moon rock, using the Metalysis technology.
“This enables new design opportunities in the construction of lunar habitats, which until now could only be envisaged conceptionally.”
The fast-growing firm has doubled headcount since March to 24.
Sue Horne, head of space exploration at the UK Space Agency, said: “Finding ways to create the things we need to support life - food, water and breathable air – will be essential for longer-term crewed missions into deep space. This exciting research from Metalysis brings us a step closer to making that possible.”
Rotherham MP John Healey said: “We’re proud Metalysis set up in South Yorkshire with its global ground-breaking process for rare metals production.
“Metalysis is a company that has established new frontiers in science, now it could help set new frontiers in space.”