NASA Details Plan to Turn Rocks Into Rocket Fuel on Mars

AlphaAtlas

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In a piece on Spectrum, NASA detailed their plans to mine dust on heavenly bodies in our solar system, and turn it into rocket fuel. That already sounds difficult, but according to NASA "Swamp Works" team leader Kurt W. Leucht, mining on Mars is even harder than you'd think. For example, it takes about 225 pounds of rocket fuel to send 1 pound of cargo to the surface of mars. Not only does that make packing fuel for a return trip impractical, but it severely limits the hardware you can send in the first place. The simple act of digging is also much more difficult in low gravity environments, as miners don't have much weight to "push" shovels into the surface with. The team already prototyped a mining drone called "RASSOR" that uses spinning buckets to scrape up materiel, and even detailed a whole accompanying system to unload the rock, refine the material into rocket fuel, and deliver it to a tank with another drone. NASA still has some big problems to tackle, and says that future systems will be tested on the moon before heading to Mars.

The idea for this Mars rocket-fuel factory is that it will all be packed up into a neat little box, shipped to Mars, and deployed and started up on the Martian surface long before human explorers arrive. Human missions to Mars will depend on this factory to autonomously produce and store fuel for their return trip even before those astronauts launch from Earth. There are also teams at NASA figuring out how to grow all sorts of different stuff during transit and on Mars. Including potatoes. So what needs to happen between now and then? Well, quite a lot. NASA has years of experience with standalone landers and independent rovers operating on the surface of Mars. And our most recent rovers-Curiosity, which landed in 2012, and the Mars 2020 rover, to launch in 2020-do have a certain amount of autonomy built in. But the complexity of this Mars rocket-fuel factory, and the long runtime and level of autonomy that will be required of such a system, will take things to a whole new level.
 
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there are other methods like nuclear detonation that we refuse to utilize... but even then... its looking bleak. our lifespans are too short, and the resources in the solar system totally not worth the exploration. its not just a matter of "well someone 300 years ago couldn't have imagined that what we have now..." Its not gonna happen. We are stuck here forever. It happened to the octopus... smart animal but it just doesn't live long enough to make progress in its habitat. This is all we get, star trek is not gonna happen. The future is going to be weird and unrecognizable, truly something we cannot predict, just as that someone who lived 300 years ago. Space exploration is a great source of tech to better our life on earth... but I feel zero inspiration for the future through it.
 

filip

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Sure, give the astronauts crack rock and they will be fueled by what some might consider rocket fuel.
 

BSmith

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I found it interesting and a reasonable approach to the problem of getting people back to Earth once they get there. Hope I live long enough to see that first footstep on Martian soil.
 

cyclone3d

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Yeah, let's take a bunch of weight off of the moon in order to experiment on how to best make rocket fuel from rocks on mars.

Spend enough time doing that and they may just mess up the gravitational pull the moon has and it's orbit around Earth.

I say we just mine the moon until it cracks into multiple pieces like they did in the remake of The Time Machine and be done with it.

/S
 

DrBorg

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You can mine perchlorates on Mars, and ferric oxide; but you'd need to send the urethane binder, at a minimum, and grind up the spacecraft for the aluminum powder.

Aluminum and urethane are only about 25% of the rocket mix, so it could work, somewhat.

It seems to me it'd be easier to find an asteroid with hydrogen and oxygen frozen there, or water ice and solar refine that.
 

sfsuphysics

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Or they could just wait and see how SpaceX does it.

/s, slightly.
Yeah, I kinda want to see the big interplanetary 100 person space coffin they use too.

But seriously, all this doom and gloom, explorers often went off to their deaths to try and go somewhere, it's a fact of life. The big difference is that back then there was no precedent for the families of the dead sailors to sue the East India company (or government or whatever) for millions of dollars.
 

clockdogg

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Yeah, I kinda want to see the big interplanetary 100 person space coffin they use too.

But seriously, all this doom and gloom, explorers often went off to their deaths to try and go somewhere, it's a fact of life. The big difference is that back then there was no precedent for the families of the dead sailors to sue the East India company (or government or whatever) for millions of dollars.

So...you're saying... the biggest advance in exploration in the past few hundred years has been in the law courts? ;-)
 

tunatime

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So why not just build a big nuclear powered ship in LEO for the trip to and form earth to mars? just need fuel for the landers and maybe for doing burns that would be to big for the ion drives.
 

Wiffle

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So why not just build a big nuclear powered ship in LEO for the trip to and form earth to mars? just need fuel for the landers and maybe for doing burns that would be to big for the ion drives.

Because that would be far too efficient and cost effective. You NEED to burn FUEL. Or at least that's what our oil masters tell us... which ironically report to the masters of the shipping lanes and railways. Nuclear provides way too much energy... better if we only use so called "finite" resources... which are only finite because you need special equipment or processes to get it, which means only rich people can get it. Harder to monetize a reactor could last for 25-50 years...

That and this is Murica... so fiery explosions is about all we can fathom over here. I blame Hollywood for that.
 

Riccochet

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Gonna test it on the moon, because testing it on earth just doesn't make sense.
 

Oldmodder

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They should turn the rocks into votes and run for office, that way NASA could get monster budget again. :)
 

Nobu

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Because that would be far too efficient and cost effective. You NEED to burn FUEL. Or at least that's what our oil masters tell us... which ironically report to the masters of the shipping lanes and railways. Nuclear provides way too much energy... better if we only use so called "finite" resources... which are only finite because you need special equipment or processes to get it, which means only rich people can get it. Harder to monetize a reactor could last for 25-50 years...

That and this is Murica... so fiery explosions is about all we can fathom over here. I blame Hollywood for that.
Might not need hollywood if a meteoroid or micrometeoroid manages a 1:∞ chance hit on that nuclear engine. /s
 

katanaD

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Harder to monetize a reactor could last for 25-50 years...


the biggest issue preventing us from truly developing such is the boogey man called "nuclear" Even to whisper that word nowadays ensures massive bed wetting and pearl clutching of DOOM & GLOOM !!



I blame Hollywood for that.


and in an ODD way.. yes. LOL If 3 mile island hadnt happened less then 2 weeks after hollywood released the china syndrome, i wonder just how much less hysteria we would have nowadays about nuclear
 

Rahh

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Ah, we might actually go back and inhabit mars again eventually. Start the cycle all over again! We just have to do it before we turn Earth into Mars. When Mars was more like Earth they thought the same thing and thus Earth became what it is today by our species coming over from Mars. Life began on Earth by our own species and the remaining settlers on Mars sent a few more ships along the way before it all died out on Mars to help aid the humans starting out on this new planet.

*puts down kool-aid*
 

sfsuphysics

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You NEED to burn FUEL. Or at least that's what our oil masters tell us... which ironically report to the masters of the shipping lanes and railways.
Yet not so ironically rockets don't use any sort of fossil fuels.


Nuclear provides way too much energy... better if we only use so called "finite" resources... which are only finite because you need special equipment or processes to get it, which means only rich people can get it. Harder to monetize a reactor could last for 25-50 years...
Are you talking for an ion drive? or in general? Either way nuclear isn't a tested method in space as far as propulsion is involved.
 
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