Rocks to rocket fuel

A Cambridge University spin-out company has been selected by NASA to play a leading role in devising technology that could make it possible to establish permanent manned bases on the moon.

British Titanium is part of a £7.4 million NASA programme to investigate ways to produce liquid oxygen from lunar rock.

Liquid oxygen is the main component of rocket fuel and could be used to enable space ships to shuttle from the moon to other planets. Factories to make the fuel would be needed on the moon before outposts could be set up for people to live in and journey to other planets.

The team assembled for the project will be led by the world’s leading experts in the technologies to be developed. Professor Derek Fray, Head of the Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy at the University of Cambridge, was instrumental in developing the process being used and will be at the forefront of the project.

‘Turning the rocks on the moon into rocket fuel is a challenge we are confident of meeting with success. British Titanium is most grateful for the financial support now offered by the government of the United States through NASA,’ he said.

British Titanium has been working on ways of making titanium much more cheaply than current methods allow. It uses the ‘FFC-Cambridge process’, a method developed by Professor Fray and other scientists at the University. It replaces the previous, highly expensive methods of producing titanium with a cheaper method of extracting pure titanium based on the electrolysis of titanium oxide in molten salt.

Under the space agency project, British Titanium will be the main contractor in a project also involving NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre and the Florida Institute of Technology.