A major problem with Mars missions to Bringing enough fuel for a return journey.
SpaceX and Nasa are building powerful rockets like the SpaceX BFR and NASA Space Launch System that can take a payload far away from Earth. However, making the return trip means you have to lug a lot more fuel with you.
A team of NASA scientists has apparently come up with a method to turn Martian soil into rocket fuel, possibly saving the need for future missions to the Red Planet to pack the propellant for a return trip.
“Officially, it’s known as an in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) system, but we like to call it a dust-to-thrust factory because it turns simple dust into rocket fuel,” NASA team lead Kurt Leucht writes in IEEE Spectrum magazine.
The idea is that the ISRU will extract water from regolith — that’s a fancy name for Mars’ distinctive red soil, which scientists believe contains trace amounts of water — and use electrolysis to strip it into hydrogen and oxygen. Then it’ll combine the hydrogen with carbon from the Red Planet’s atmosphere to make methane, which can work as a rocket fuel.
The scientist noted, however, that “there are numerous technical challenges” his team needs to deal with in order to ensure the success of this undertaking.
“One of the most critical questions is whether each subsystem of our current Mars surface-processing system can scale up to meet the needs and throughput required by a human mission to Mars. Recent NASA studies estimate that a system like this will need to produce about 7 metric tons of liquid methane and about 22 metric tons of liquid oxygen in about 16 months,” Leucht explained.
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