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In-situ resource utilization
Duplicate of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In-situ_resource_utilization ; needs to be edited and changed to a self-sufficiency context
In space exploration, in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) describes the proposed use of resources found or manufactured on other astronomical objects (the Moon, Mars, Asteroids, etc.) to further the goals of a space mission.
ISRU can provide materials for life support, propellants, construction materials, and energy to a science payload or a crew deployed on a planet, moon, or asteroid.
It is now very common for spacecraft to harness the solar radiation found in-situ, and it is likely missions to planetary surfaces will also use solar power. Beyond that, ISRU has not yet received any practical application, but it is seen by exploration proponents as a way to drastically reduce the amount of payload that must be launched from Earth in order to explore a given planetary body.
ISRU research for Mars is focussed primarily on providing rocket propellant for a return trip to Earth — either for a manned or a sample return mission — or for use as fuel on Mars. Many of the proposed techniques utilize the well-characterised atmosphere of Mars as feedstock. Since this can be easily simulated on Earth, these proposals are relatively simple to implement, though it is by no means certain that NASA or the ESA will favour this approach over a more conventional direct mission.
A typical proposal for ISRU is the use of a Sabatier reaction, CO2 + 4H2 → CH4 + 2H2O, in order to produce methane on the Martian surface, to be used as a propellant. Oxygen is liberated from the water by electrolysis, and the hydrogen recycled back into the Sabatier reaction. The usefulness of this reaction is that only the hydrogen (which is light) need be brought from Earth.
A similar reaction proposed for Mars is the reverse water gas shift reaction, CO2 + H2 → CO + H2O. This reaction takes place rapidly in the presence of an iron-chrome catalyst at 400 Celsius, and has been implemented in an earth based testbed by NASA. Again, oxygen is recycled from the water by electrolysis, and only a small amount of hydrogen is needed from Earth. The net result of this reaction is the production of oxygen, to be used as the oxidizer component of rocket fuel.
Another reaction proposed for production of oxygen is electrolysis of the atmosphere, 2CO2 (+ energy) → 2CO + O2.
On the moon, the lunar highland material anorthite is similar to the earth mineral bauxite, which is an aluminium ore. Smelters can produce pure aluminum, calcium metal, oxygen and silica glass from anorthite. Raw anorthite is also good for making fiberglass and other glass and ceramic products.
Over twenty different methods have been proposed for oxygen extraction on the moon. Oxygen is often found in iron rich lunar minerals and glasses as iron oxide. The oxygen can be extracted by heating the material to temperatures above 900 °C and exposing it to hydrogen gas. The basic equation is: FeO + H2 → Fe + H2O. This process has recently been made much more practical by the discovery of significant amounts of hydrogen-containing regolith near the moon's poles by the Clementine spacecraft.
Lunar materials may also be valuable for other uses. It has also been proposed to use lunar regolith as a general construction material, through processing techniques such as sintering, hot-pressing, liquification, and the cast basalt method. Cast basalt is used on Earth for construction of, for example, pipes where a high resistance to abrasion is required. Cast basalt has a very high hardness of 8 Mohs (diamond is 10 Mohs) but is also susceptible to mechanical impact and thermal shock which could be a problem on the moon.
Glass and glass fibre are straightforward to process on the moon and Mars, and it has been argued that the glass is optically superior to that made on the Earth because it can be made anhydrous. Successful tests have been performed on earth using two lunar regolith simulants MLS-1 and MLS-2.
In August 2005, NASA contracted for the production of 16 metric tons of simulated lunar soil, or "Lunar Regolith Simulant Material." This material, called JSC-1a, is now commercially available for research on how lunar soil could be utilized in-situ.
Solar cell production
It has long been suggested that solar cells could be produced from the materials present on the lunar surface. In its original form, known as the solar power satellite, the proposal was intended as an alternate power source for Earth, the power being transmitted to Earth via microwave beams. However despite much work on the cost of such a venture, the uncertainty lay in the cost and complexity of fabrication procedures on the lunar surface. A more modest reincarnation of this dream is for it to create solar cells to power future lunar bases. One particular proposal is to simplify the process by using Fluorine brought from Earth as potassium fluoride to separate the raw materials from the lunar rocks.
Rocket propellant from water ice has also been proposed for the moon, mainly from ice that has been found at the poles. Most schemes would try to electrolyse the water and form hydrogen and oxygen. The likely difficulties include working at extremely low temperatures and simply digging the material.
Aluminium as well as other metals have been proposed for use as rocket propellant made using lunar resources. Proposals also exist to heat the water in a nuclear thermal rocket, or to react the water with aluminium.
Other proposals are based on Phobos and Deimos. These moons are in reasonably high orbits above Mars, have very low escape velocities, and unlike Mars have return delta-v's from their surfaces to LEO which are less than the return from the Moon.
Ceres is further out than Mars, with a higher delta-v, but launch windows and travel times are better, and the surface gravity is just 0.028 g, with a very low escape velocity of 510 m/s. Researchers have speculated that the interior configuration of Ceres includes a water-ice-rich mantle over a rocky core.
In October 2004, NASA’s Advanced Planning and Integration Office commissioned an ISRU capability roadmap team. The team's report, along with those of 14 other capability roadmap teams, were published May 22, 2005. The report identifies seven ISRU capabilities: (i) resource extraction, (ii) material handling and transport, (iii) resource processing, (iv) surface manufacturing with in-situ resources, (v) surface construction, (vi) surface ISRU product and consumable storage and distribution, and (vii) ISRU unique development and certification capabilities.
Please discuss this issue on the talk page.
- Asteroid mining
- David Criswell
- Design reference mission 3.0
- Direct reduced iron
- Gerard O'Neill
- Lunar Architecture (NASA)
- Lunar ice
- Lunar outpost (NASA)
- Mars Direct
- Paul Spudis
- Planetary surface construction
- Space architecture
- Space colonization
- Anthony Zuppero
- Human outpost
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- Resource Utilization Concepts for MoonMars; ByIris Fleischer, Olivia Haider, Morten W. Hansen, Robert Peckyno, Daniel Rosenberg and Robert E. Guinness; 30 September 2003; IAC Bremen, 2003 (29 Sept – 03 Oct 2003) and MoonMars Workshop (26-28 Sept 2003, Bremen). Accessed on 18 January 2010
- Homesteading the Planets with Local Materials
- The Space Resources Roundtable
- UW AA Dept. ISRU Research Lab
- ISRU solar cell manufacture
- ISRU on the Moon
- Moon Ice For LEO to GEO Transfers Orders of magnitude lower cost for rocket propellant if lunar ice is present