Platinum’s ability to unlock hydrogen technologies could help achieve sustainable space exploration goals
NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration program hopes to send the first woman and the next man to the surface of the moon. While ‘boots on the moon’ are not expected until at least 2024, it is an ambitious program that aims to open up a new frontier in space travel.
Throughout the Artemis program, robots and humans on the lunar surface will search for, and potentially extract, resources such as water that can be converted into other usable resources, including oxygen and hydrogen. By fine-tuning precision landing technologies as well as developing new mobility capabilities, astronauts will travel farther distances and explore new regions of the moon. This knowledge will be used to establish a sustainable presence on the moon that will eventually enable future missions to Mars.
Platinum and space travel
Platinum has long-term associations with space exploration; platinum catalysts in hydrogen fuel cells were part of the pioneering technology that paved the way for the first moon landing in 1969, as well as being used on the Space Shuttle missions.
Today, a lunar rover that uses platinum-based fuel cell electric vehicle technologies is being developed in a collaboration between the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and Toyota Motor Corporation.
Platinum catalysts have further hydrogen-related applications which could benefit the Artemis program, especially given the recent focus on the sustainability of human missions to the moon and, in due course, Mars. If resources that already exist on the moon can be accessed using platinum-based technologies, this will decrease the cost and complexity of remote missions by reducing the need for supplies delivered from Earth.
For example, it is hoped that hydrogen – a vital fuel source for the space program – can be derived from lunar water sources, through electrolysis. Platinum is used as a catalyst in one of the two leading electrolysis technologies currently available.