The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Honda announced today, June 14, that they will test a new "circulative renewable energy system" that could provide oxygen, hydrogen, and electricity to human outposts for extended periods of time, according to a press statement.
The project is aimed at bolstering deep space exploration capabilities by reducing the reliance on supplies sent from Earth.
In order to do that, the team behind the collaboration is building a system that combines a high differential pressure water electrolysis system and a fuel cell system.
The high differential pressure water electrolysis system would electrolyze water using solar energy to produce oxygen and hydrogen, while the fuel cell system would generate water and electricity from oxygen and hydrogen.
"Oxygen, hydrogen, and electricity are essential to human activities in space. Realizing a circulative renewable energy system will enable us to obtain these requirements in space without relying on resupply from Earth. This is expected to dramatically expand our activities in space," said Sasaki Hiroshi, JAXA Vice President.
Hydrogen and electricity will be vital for future missions to power off-world stations and buggies. Aside from the obvious purpose of allowing space explorers to breathe, oxygen will also be required for rocket propellant.
Enabling a future of space exploration
JAXA and Honda formalized their collaboration for the circulative renewable energy system tests when they signed a three-year joint research agreement last year in November to experiment with prototypes for the system.
The ultimate goal is to test the system on NASA's Lunar Gateway — a lunar outpost that will orbit the Moon — and on the Moon's surface.
They have stated that the high differential pressure water electrolysis system, created by Honda, will compress hydrogen without the use of a compressor, meaning it will be much lighter, and therefore easier to launch into space.
In a historic first, NASA announced that it extracted breathable oxygen from Mars' atmosphere on April 22 using a small experimental instrument. With space missions to explore deep space slated for the 2030s and beyond, such systems will prove vital for allowing us to expand our knowledge of the universe.
Over the following months, the Japanese space agency and automaker will test several prototypes, after which they will release a paper in 2022 detailing their findings.