The UK and Canada have launched a new competition to find innovative technologies that could purify water buried beneath the lunar surfac

Aimed at making human habitation on the Moon viable, the £1.2m Aqualunar Challenge is funded by the UK Space Agency (UKSA) in collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency and Impact Canada.

Believed to have been deposited by comets or asteroids, water is particularly abundant in ice at the lunar poles. It could be melted and purified for astronauts in lunar bases, or undergo electrolysis to generate hydrogen and oxygen for rocket propellant.

“To survive on the Moon, astronauts will need water to drink and to grow food. Water molecules – H2O – can also be split to produce oxygen to make breathable air and hydrogen for fuel,” said Holly Jamieson, executive director of competition partner Challenge Works.

“For a long-term lunar base to be viable, we will need alternatives to sending deliveries of water, food, air and fuel in rockets from Earth. The Aqualunar Challenge is calling on innovators, start-ups, scientists, academics, engineers and problem-solvers to submit their ideas – whether they have worked in the space sector previously or not.”

Entries should help solve the challenge of removing contaminants and purifying water found on the lunar surface in an efficient and reliable way.

The competition’s prize money will be split evenly between UK and Canadian teams. The 10 most promising UK-led teams will receive seed funding of £30,000 each to develop their ideas this June. Three winners will share an additional £300,000 next March to take their solutions to the next level.

UK Space Agency CEO Paul Bate said: “The UK is playing an important role in the NASA-led Artemis Missions, which aim to establish a permanent crewed base on the Moon’s surface by the end of the decade. This will only be possible if astronauts have reliable access to water, and it is far better to source that water on the Moon than to send it up from Earth.

“The Aqualunar Challenge is rewarding the development of technologies that will help make this a reality by purifying the ice that is locked inside the Moon’s soil. While the challenge is focused on developing these technologies for the harsh environment of the Moon, they could also have important uses here on Earth.”

Research launched to mark the start of the competition yesterday (17 January) found that 62% of people believe that technologies designed for space exploration should have applications here on Earth. The survey of 2,000 adults in the UK found that more than half (51%) said technologies designed for the Moon should prioritise sustainability.

A large proportion of respondents (86%) said they would like to see technologies being developed to purify lunar water adapted for use on Earth. Top priorities included removing microplastics from the oceans, and providing clean drinking water in low-income countries and drought prone areas.

The deadline to enter is 8 April. Visit the Aqualunar Challenge website to apply.

Extracted from IMechE website, read more here

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