In 2020, Airbus, one of the world’s largest aerospace companies, unveiled a groundbreaking technology with tremendous implications for future lunar exploration missions. Their innovation, called the Regolith to OXYgen and Metals Conversion (ROXY) system, harnesses materials found in space to revolutionize lunar resource utilization.
ROXY offers a multifaceted solution by extracting oxygen, a vital resource for sustaining human life and fueling rockets, from the abundant lunar regolith. Additionally, it facilitates the production of metals that can be utilized in the manufacturing of tools, equipment, and even structures on the Moon itself. This process parallels MOXIE, an experiment aboard the Perseverance rover destined for Mars, which was not yet proven at the time of Airbus’s successful ROXY test in October 2020.
Unlike MOXIE, however, ROXY surpasses the singular capability of generating oxygen by also enabling the creation of metals. This breakthrough opens up new possibilities for on-site manufacturing on the Moon, circumventing the need to transport these materials from Earth. As a result, it synergizes effectively with endeavors to introduce 3D printing technologies to lunar missions, attracting the interest of various companies eager to contribute to this field.
Furthermore, the environmental impact of ROXY’s metal production process is significantly reduced compared to conventional methods employed on Earth. Airbus emphasized in a press release that ROXY offers an emission-free alternative to obtain metals, which are currently obtained using perfluorocarbons—an environmentally harmful greenhouse gas.
The development of the ROXY system involved collaboration with multiple entities, underscoring that it required more than the expertise of a single company. Airbus joined forces with esteemed institutions such as the German research institute Fraunhofer and a team at Boston University, as well as engaging in a recent partnership with the Mexican Space Agency in September 2021. This collaboration aimed to integrate ROXY into a Mexican In-situ Resources Utilization program, incorporating complementary technologies from Dereum Labs, a Mexican start-up focused on ISRU (In-situ Resource Utilization).
However, updates on this collaboration and the overall progress of ROXY over the past three years have been relatively scarce. Despite the potential significance of this technology, news coverage has been limited, which could potentially result in it being overshadowed by other innovations vying for attention within the burgeoning space economy.
Nonetheless, the abundance of alternative approaches to transform lunar regolith into useful resources might have contributed to the relatively lower visibility of ROXY. The sheer multitude of options available to tackle this challenge might have led to less emphasis on this particular technology.
While it is important to ensure that such groundbreaking innovations do not fade into obscurity, it remains to be seen whether ROXY will garner the attention it deserves amidst the diverse range of potential solutions for lunar resource utilization. The quest to effectively harness lunar dust for practical applications continues, and it is crucial to monitor the progress and uptake of technologies like ROXY in the ever-evolving landscape of space exploration and development.
Source: Universe Today