A group of six researchers sits back in the spaceship and returns to Earth in the year 2038, following 18 months of life and work on the surface of Mars. Even if there isn’t a single person left on the world, the task continues. Autonomous robots continue to mine Martian soil and transfer it to the chemical synthesis factory, which was created some years before the first human stepped foot on the Red Planet. The factory uses local resources to generate water, oxygen, and rocket fuel, and it is regularly stockpiling supplies for the next expedition, which is due to arrive in two years.
Mineral extraction from the soil of Mars
This isn’t a science-fiction scenario. Several NASA science teams are presently working on this topic. Swamp Works, for example, is based at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. The installation they’re working on is officially known as the “In situ resource utilization system” (ISRU), but the folks who work on it refer to it as a “dust collecting factory” because it turns ordinary dust into rocket fuel. People will be able to live and work on Mars, as well as return to Earth if necessary, thanks to this mechanism.
On Mars, why would anyone want to synthesize anything? Why not carry whatever they require from Earth with them? The issue here is with the job’s expense. According to some estimates, transporting one kilogram of payload (for example, fuel) from Earth to Mars entails lowering the payload to a low near-Earth orbit, sending it to Mars, slowing the spacecraft as it approaches the planet’s orbit, and finally landing safely using 225 kilograms of rocket fuel. 225: 1 is still a good ratio. When employing any spacecraft in this situation, the same numbers will apply. To put it another way, 225 tons of rocket fuel will be required to carry the equivalent ton of water, oxygen, or technical equipment to Mars. The only way to avoid such expensive calculations is to create our own water, oxygen, or the same fuel on-site.
NASA has a number of research and engineering teams working on different parts of the challenge. The Kennedy Space Center’s Swamp Works team, for example, has just begun putting together all of the various modules of a mining system. Although the installation is still a prototype, it incorporates all of the details that will be required for a dust removal plant to function properly.
The long-term goal of NASA is to colonize Mars, but for the time being, the agency is focusing all of its efforts and resources on the Moon. As a result, the majority of the designed equipment will be tested first on the lunar surface, allowing all potential issues to be identified and avoided when the installation is used on Mars in the future.
Regolith is the term for the dust and soil that make up an extraterrestrial space body. It is, in general, a volcanic rock that has been ground into a fine powder over millions of years due to varied climatic conditions. A dense layer of silicon and oxygen structures related to iron, aluminum, and magnesium exists on Mars beneath a coating of corrosive iron minerals that give the planet its distinctive crimson color.
Extraction of minerals from Martian soil by RASSOR/NASA
The extraction of these elements is extremely challenging due to the fact that the reserves and concentrations of these compounds vary greatly from one region of the world to the next. Unfortunately, Mars’ low gravity makes this endeavor even more difficult; digging under such conditions while taking advantage of the mass is even more challenging.
We employ big equipment to mine on Earth. People can make enough effort to “bite” into the ground due to their size and weight. It will be impossible to carry on with the mission on Mars. Do you recall the price tag? The cost of the entire launch will steadily rise with each gram that is sent to Mars. As a result, NASA is developing a method for producing minerals on Mars with little equipment. The RASSOR (Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot) is a self-contained earner built specifically for mining regolith in low gravity circumstances. NASA engineers devoted close attention to the RASSOR’s power drive system while developing it. The bulk of the installation is made up of motors, gears, and other devices. To reduce the total weight and volume of the structure, it employs frameless engines, electromagnetic brakes, and 3D-printed titanium cases, among other things. As a result, when compared to other machines with identical technical specifications, the system is around half the weight.
The RASSOR digs with two opposing drum buckets, each with many teeth for material gripping. The machine drum buckets revolve when the machine is moving. The drums, hollow inside, and the motors that keep them in place literally chop off the top layer of the surface regolith. The boxer design, in which the drums rotate in opposite directions, is another significant aspect of the RASSOR. In low gravity circumstances, it allows for less work on the dirt.
The robot stops collecting and goes in the direction of the processing plant as soon as the RASSOR drums are filled. The machine merely rotates the drums in the other way to unload the regolith, which falls through the same holes it was gathered through. The regolith is collected by the factory’s own robotic hoist and brought to the factory loading tape, which then transports the material to a vacuum furnace. Regolith will reach high temperatures there. A dry gas blower will be used to blow out water molecules in the material, which will subsequently be collected using a cooling thermostat.
“Isn’t Martian regolith supposed to be dry?” you might think. It’s dry in certain places, but not all. Everything is dependent on where you dig and how deep you dig. There are entire layers of water ice a few millimeters beneath the surface of the earth in some places. Lime sulfate and sandstones could be much lower, containing up to 8% of the massif’s total water.
The spent regolith is hurled back to the surface after condensation, where it can be picked up by the RASSOR and transported to a location away from the factory. This “trash” is actually a very valuable material, as it may be used to make settlement shelters, roadways, and landing sites utilizing 3D printing technologies, which are also being developed by NASA.
Pictures depicting the steps involved in mining on Mars’s surface:
The wheeled robot uses spinning buckets with fence holes to create a regolith fence.
The regolith is loaded into the factory’s robotic arm using reverse buckets drums.
The regolith is heated in a furnace where hydrogen and oxygen are electrolyzed to obtain water.
After receiving a specific volume of a chemical, another robotic arm with a particular closed system puts it onto a mobile robotic tanker.
Water, oxygen, and methane are delivered to people’s homes and then unloaded into long-term storage tanks by a tanker.
For breathing and growing plants, astronauts will use water and oxygen; fuel will be stored as cryogenic liquids for later use.
All of the water that is taken from the regolith will be treated properly. A multiphase filtering system and numerous deionizing substrates will be included in the cleaning module. Not only will the liquid be drunk, but it will also be used in other ways. It will be a critical component in the manufacture of rocket fuel. It will be feasible to produce the fuel and oxidant that is most typically used in liquid rocket engines by dividing H2O molecules using electrolysis into hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O2) molecules, then compressing and converting to liquid.
Liquid hydrogen must be stored at extremely low temperatures, which presents a problem. NASA intends to do so by converting hydrogen to methane, the most easily stored fuel (CH4). By mixing hydrogen and carbon, this chemical can be produced. On Mars, where do you get your carbon?
On the Red Planet, there are enough of them. Carbon dioxide molecules make over 96% of the Martian atmosphere. A specific freezer is in charge of carbon. Simply said, it will turn air into dry ice.
The Sabatier reaction, which is made from electrolytic hydrogen and carbon gas extracted from the environment, can be merged into methane utilizing a chemical method. NASA is working on a new reactor for this purpose. It will generate the pressure and temperature required to keep the reaction of converting hydrogen and carbon dioxide to methane and water as a by-product going.
An umbilical robotic arm for transporting liquids to the tank of a mobile tanker is another fascinating aspect of the processing plant. This system protects it from the outside world, especially dust. Regolith dust is extremely fine and can go into practically any space.
Regolith is abrasive (it clings to nearly everything) and can cause major equipment difficulties. The dangers of this chemical were demonstrated by NASA’s moon missions. It tampered with electronic testimony, resulting in jamming mechanisms and temperature controller malfunctions.
Scientists place a great priority on the protection of a robotic arm’s electrical and liquid transmission channels, as well as any other extremely delicate devices.