Blue Origin, the private spaceflight company founded by Jeff Bezos, has announced a major breakthrough in developing a method for making solar panels using materials from the lunar surface. The development could have significant implications for future lunar habitation, as it would allow for the production of electricity-generating panels on the moon itself, rather than relying on equipment being transported from Earth.
The process starts with creating regolith simulants that are chemically and mineralogically equivalent to lunar regolith, which consists of dust, dirt, and gravel. The simulants are then melted and moved using a reactor, and iron, silicon, and aluminum are extracted from the regolith by passing an electric current through the molten material. This process, known as Blue Alchemist, allows a team to make solar panels, a protective glass to cover them, and wiring. In addition, the byproduct from the process is oxygen, which can be used for life support or propulsion for rockets.
Blue Origin claims to have been making solar cells and transmission wires from regolith simulant since 2021, but the concept will need to be tested and verified in the unforgiving environment of the moon using actual lunar regolith. Nonetheless, if successful, the development could be a game-changer for lunar exploration, as it would enable the production of solar panels on the moon itself, reducing the need for expensive and time-consuming transport of equipment from Earth.
"Blue Origin's goal of producing solar power using only lunar resources is aligned with NASA's highest priority moon-to-Mars infrastructure development objective," the company said in a statement. Space agencies and private firms are also exploring ways of making use of lunar regolith, including making bricks for construction and producing oxygen.
Blue Origin is looking to play a major role in space exploration and aims to send a pair of NASA spacecraft to Mars next year. The company had previously sued NASA over its decision relating to moon landers for the Artemis program, but it is now back in the running for a contract as part of the agency's plans for lunar transportation.
The development of a method for producing solar panels using lunar resources is a significant step forward in the goal of establishing a permanent human presence on the moon. The ability to produce solar panels on-site would greatly reduce the costs and logistical challenges associated with transporting equipment from Earth, making the prospect of a sustainable lunar habitation more feasible. With Blue Origin at the forefront of this development, the future of lunar exploration looks bright.