The European Space Agency plans to start mining for water and oxygen on the moon by 2025.
The agency announced Monday it has signed a 1-year contract with European aerospace company ArianeGroup to explore mining regolith, also known as lunar soil or moon dust.
Water and oxygen can be extracted from regolith, potentially making it easier for humans to spend time on the moon in the future, according to ArianeGroup. The research could also make it possible to produce rocket fuel on the moon, enabling future expeditions to go further into space, the aerospace company said.
“The use of space resources could be a key to sustainable lunar exploration,” said David Parker, ESA Director of Human and Robotic Exploration, in a statement.
Regolith is the layer of loose soil that covers the moon’s surface, which is rich with iron oxide. And it is possible to extract large amounts of oxygen trapped in the soil’s rocky materials, scientists say.
“This study is part of ESA’s comprehensive plan to make Europe a partner in global exploration in the next decade,” Parker said.
The mission would be a collaboration between aerospace scientists and technicians in France, Germany and Belgium. The project is now in the research phase, with scientists hoping to use an Ariane 64 rocket in coming years to send mining equipment to the moon.
The announcement coincided with Monday’s lunar eclipse, which treated stargazers across the globe to a red super blood wolf moon. The project is also part of a wider effort to commemorate the 50th anniversary of mankind’s first steps on the moon.