The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said Monday it aims to engage in lunar exploration from around the mid-2030s, using hydrogen generated from water extracted from the Moon’s ice deposits as fuel.
Using the water-derived fuel is expected to cut costs compared with transporting fuel from Earth. While liquid water does not exist on the moon’s surface, past research suggests there may be ice in a crater near the lunar south pole, which has never been exposed to sunlight.
Japan plans to work with the United States in building a lunar orbit space station, called Gateway, in the 2020s and constructing by around 2035 a fuel factory at the lunar south pole.
The fuel will be used in a reusable spacecraft able to carry four astronauts to and from the Gateway and a transport vehicle that can travel up to 1,000 kilometers on the Moon, according to JAXA.
Water-derived fuel is created by first splitting water into its components of oxygen and hydrogen using a solar cell. Energy is then created by recombining them.
The transport vehicle, which will allow astronauts to explore the lunar surface, is planned to carry two to four people. Since the Moon has weak gravity, it will move by hopping across the surface instead of with wheels.
According to JAXA’s estimates, 37 tons of water will be necessary for a trip to and from the Gateway, while 21 tons will be needed for each surface exploration trip. The agency believes it would be cheaper to use fuel created with the moon’s water than bringing water from Earth if five to seven manned exploration trips are made.
Other countries including India and the United States are intent on analyzing the water resources on the moon. China, which has already landed an unmanned spacecraft on the lunar surface, is planning to send a probe later this year to the moon to collect soil samples.
The science ministry plans to request a record high ¥280 billion for JAXA in its budget request for next fiscal year. The amount is far larger than some ¥190 billion earmarked annually for JAXA in the past 10 years.
The budget includes funds for working with the U.S. in the Gateway lunar orbit space station project.