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Storing biological samples collected on the International Space Station, cooling the infrared sensors of Earth-observation satellites, producing and storing energy in order to settle on the Moon one day… Cryogenics (extreme cold) and gas engineering play a decisive role at every key stage of the exploration of space. A journey to the heart of the largest international space projects sent into orbit.
Lift off!

On Earth

As of 1962, Air Liquide opened a site dedicated to industrial cryogenics in France, including for the space industry. A test center was subsequently created to carry out full-scale trials under simulated space conditions on the tanks built on site. In 2011, a half-scale demonstrator of Ariane’s cryogenic tanks was also designed. The tests performed on the demonstrator permitted the development of 14 unprecedented technological solutions and turned Air Liquide into a design authority within cryogenics for Ariane 6.

ISS

“Happy birthday, MELFI! (1) This is the tweet of French astronaut Thomas Pesquet to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the cryo-refrigerator, during his stay on the International Space Station in December 2016. Air Liquide designed and developed MELFI, a turbo space fridge, for the European Space Agency (ESA), so that biological and scientific samples can be stored at a temperature of up to -95°C before being brought down to Earth for analysis.

(1) The Minus Eighty degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS.

ISS

The Moon

Energy and its storage are part of the main challenges to be overcome before humans can establish themselves sustainably on the Moon. Air Liquide joined forces with the ESA and the German aerospace center (DLR) under the LUNA project, which seeks to establish a ‘lunar village’. The first test missions are scheduled to take place in the 2020s.

The objective is to test water extraction on the ESA’s site to produce hydrogen directly in situ and to use it as an energy vector before carrying out experiments on the Moon at a later date. This is the purpose of the laboratory, Lunar Analogues, which is scheduled to open in mid-2018. Under conditions close to those found on the Moon, different types of materials and production processes will be tested, starting with a hydrogen fuel cell that will be supplied by Air Liquide.

Satellites and orbital systems

Refrigeration is also found in satellites and orbital systems. These gas coolers allow them to fulfill their mission: Earth observation, meteorology… Air Liquide will install pulsed gas coolers in MTG (MeteoSat Third Generation) and the Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Interferometer - New Generation (IASI-NG).

MARS

Is there any evidence of life on Mars? Another question at the heart of Mars exploration programs. The aim is to send there the first human by the end of the century. Between now and then, several steps will have to be taken. After Curiosity, Air Liquide, will take part in the ExoMars mission in 2020, in partnership with the ESA and the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos. This mission will involve sending a rover to the red planet to analyze the composition of its subsoil.

The next steps of space exploration

2018
Observation of the Earth from MTG satellites (MeteoSat Third Generation)
2020
ESA Mars Exploration Mission (ExoMars)
2021
Observation of the Earth from the Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Interferometer - New Generation (IASI-NG)
2030
Man returns to the Moon
2045
Man walks on Mars