Metalysis and ESA announce team Malt as winner of the first phase of the Grand Challenge to develop innovative techniques for future lunar settlements.
“ESA’s Grand Challenge fosters New Space initiatives in Europe and this brings us into contact with dynamic start-up companies such as Malt. Our first challenge, in partnership with Metalysis, moves us closer to our space exploration goals and will stimulate space commercialisation in line with ESA’s Agenda 2025,” commented ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher.
The Metalysis–ESA Grand Challenge was launched in 2020 and offers a prize of €500 000, fully sponsored by Metalysis. It rewards new miniaturised technology that will improve and enhance the Metalysis-patented electrolytic process which is able to extract oxygen and titanium from regolith found on other planets.
Metalysis, a UK-based metallurgy company, chose team Malt, a Spanish interdisciplinary group active in biomedicine and space applications, as winner of the first phase of the Metalysis–ESA Grand Challenge, and has awarded them €50 000.
Selected by a panel of experts, Malt, provided a detailed description of the functions and processes to devise process-monitoring systems that could fit with Metalysis electrochemical cells on Earth, and accompany the development of the associated technology in space.
“Participation in this challenge has represented a great opportunity to apply and expand our team expertise in fields ranging from the application of spectroscopic techniques for material processing to space hardware development,” said Guillermo Lopez. “We’re looking forward to the next phase and feel proud that we are contributing to facilitate human over robotic exploration of other planetary bodies, it is a super exciting challenge.”
The competition has entered its second phase during which a breadboard which best meets the requirements of the challenge, will be awarded the remaining half million euro prize money.
Ian Mellor, Managing Director at Metalysis commented: “We were impressed by the potential solution proposed by the Malt team, drawing on their expertise in the development of spectroscopic techniques, and applying this to the in situ process monitoring of the Metalysis process, during Phase 1 of the Grand Challenge. Furthermore, we look forward to following progression of the concept throughout Phase 2, to ultimately testing the hardware in our metal powder and oxygen production technology.”
Towards a lunar economy
As ESA and other agencies prepare to send humans back to the Moon – this time to stay – technologies that make use of materials available in space, called in situ resource utilisation (ISRU), are seen as key to sustainability, and a stepping stone in humankind’s adventure to Mars and farther into the Solar System.
ESA encourages European industry to invest in the development of optimised technologies and systems that support future space exploration, the added benefit being that these ideas can also address sustainability and scarcity of resources on Earth.
Key sectors include metallurgy, chemical processing, mining, as well as the oil and gas industry. In the longer term, resources in space may even be used on Earth.
The ESA Grand Challenge is part of the Agency’s commitment to foster new European entrepreneurs, innovation-led start-up companies and new ventures.
Metalysis has spent more than a decade developing and scaling up its electrochemical technology; a process that converts refined oxides and ores directly into valuable metal alloy powders used in 3D printing for aerospace, automotive and high-value manufacturing.
This electrolysis technology provides a potential efficient solution for ISRU as well as terrestrial applications. However, the direction of development for lunar or martian ISRU may be different for terrestrial applications.
Metalysis was recently awarded ESA funding for its ‘The Metalysis Fray-Farthing-Chen (FFC) Cambridge process for extra-terrestrial oxygen production from ISRU’ project, which forms part of ESA’s Space Resources Strategy and is carried out within ESA’s General Support Technology Programme.