BE2C2 Report (Nov 2, 2018): Though scientists are planning to travel to Mars, enough rocket fuel to make a return trip still stands as a major hurdle. However, scientists now believe they can make rocket fuel from Martian soil.
In a new study published in IEEE Spectrum, NASA team lead Kurt Leucht wrote about how the space agency is working towards finding a solution that will let future Mars missions extract rocket fuel from the red planet’s soil. (Video below)
Though the system is called ‘in situ resource utilization’ (ISRU), Leucht calls it a ‘dust-to-thrust factory’. ISRU will extract water from regolith, Mars’ distinctive red soil that scientists believe contains trace amounts of water.
Under the dusty surface layer, many regions of Mars have significant deposits of water. Leucht notes that gypsum sand dunes in the lower latitudes are about 8 percent water.
Then with the help of electrolysis, they will break the water down to hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen will then be combined with carbon from Mars’ atmosphere for making methane, which will then work as a rocket fuel, explained Futurism.
An integrated test of the MARCO POLO/Mars Pathfinder ISRU system took place at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in September 2016. A mockup of MARCO POLO, an ISRU propellant production technology demonstration simulated mission, was tested in a regolith bin with RASSOR 2.0, the Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot.
The RASSOR uses two opposing bucket drums with multiple digging scoops to gather up material as the wheels drive the robot slowly forward. NASA designed RASSOR to operate in a low-gravity environment — the drums spin in opposite direction to cancel out most of the digging force.
NASA plans to send the ISRU system before a human Mars mission accompanied with robots that will collect soil from the Red Planet’s surface. After a few years, humans will travel to Mars, stay for a while and will ultimately use the fuel it produced to fly back to Earth.
“This technology will one day allow humans to live and work on Mars and return to Earth to tell the story,” wrote Leucht.