The February 2023 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Squeezing Rocket Fuel From Moon Rocks

Here’s how lunar explorers will mine the regolith to make rocket fuel

1 min read
Illustration of a design for a possible mining operation on the moon.
Illustration: John MacNeill

Illustration of a design for a possible mining operation on the moon.Illustration: John MacNeill

The most valuable natural resource on the moon may be water. In addition to sustaining lunar colonists, it could also be broken down into its constituent elements—hydrogen and oxygen—and used to make rocket propellant.

Although the ancients called the dark areas on the moon maria (Latin for “seas”), it has long been clear that liquid water can’t exist on the lunar surface, where it would swiftly evaporate. Since the 1960s, though, scientists have hypothesized that the moon indeed harbors water, in the form of ice. Because the moon has a very small axial tilt—just 1.5 degrees—the floors of many polar craters remain in perpetual darkness. Water could thus condense and survive in such polar “cold traps,” where it might one day be mined.

Illustration: John MacNeill

Water Water Everywhere: Finding rich deposits of ice and extracting it should be possible but will be technically challenging for lunar settlers.

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

IEEE Medal of Honor Goes to Vint Cerf

He codesigned the Internet protocol and transmission control protocol

2 min read
Photo of a man with a white beard in a dark suit.
The Royal Society

IEEE Life Fellow Vinton “Vint” Cerf, widely known as the “Father of the Internet,” is the recipient of the 2023 IEEE Medal of Honor. He is being recognized “for co-creating the Internet architecture and providing sustained leadership in its phenomenal growth in becoming society’s critical infrastructure.”

The IEEE Foundation sponsors the annual award.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

Fine-Tuning the Factory: Simulation App Helps Optimize Additive Manufacturing Facility

Additive manufacturing processes can provide rapid and customizable production of high-quality components

7 min read
Fine-Tuning the Factory: Simulation App Helps Optimize Additive Manufacturing Facility

An example of a part produced through the metal powder bed fusion process.

This sponsored article is brought to you by COMSOL.

History teaches that the Industrial Revolution began in England in the mid-18th century. While that era of sooty foundries and mills is long past, manufacturing remains essential — and challenging. One promising way to meet modern industrial challenges is by using additive manufacturing (AM) processes, such as powder bed fusion and other emerging techniques. To fulfill its promise of rapid, precise, and customizable production, AM demands more than just a retooling of factory equipment; it also calls for new approaches to factory operation and management.

Keep Reading ↓Show less
{"imageShortcodeIds":["32338242"]}