Manmade powerful rockets including NASA Space Launch System and SpaceX BFR have been designed to take payload away from the Earth. But the fuel maintenance during the return journey is also a big concern for the space travelers. The dream of traveling to Mars in the coming decades can be further enhanced if the landers could produce fuel using Martian soil. According to NASA’s team lead Kurt Leucht, the use of Red Planet soil to make fuel for the return journey after the mission is definitely going to be feasible.
The unavoidable physical situations along with the materials to be carried on the extraterrestrial land increase the need of more of fuel as every kilogram burns 225 kilograms of fuel as per the study. The idea of reserving the fuel or using expensive payloads is a tricky plan instead of the in situ resource utilization (ISRU) that is producing things on Mars makes more sense. The scientists plan on splitting the water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen to make fuel but the Martian water are mostly carbon dioxide ice rather than the water ice which shifts their attention to the one and one only source that is the soil containing 8% water under the gypsum sand dunes. The Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot (RASSOR) helps carry out “dust-to-thrust” process.
NASA is planning on structuring an autonomous chemical refinery for water extraction from soil and an electrolyzer for hydrogen and oxygen splitting. The hydrogen will be stored in the liquid form until use is Leucht’s plan. The carbon needed can be obtained from the carbon dioxide filled Mars’ atmosphere. On Earth, this has already been experimented wherein 7 metric tons of liquid methane and 22 metric tons of liquid oxygen is a need for 16 Months viability. The machine advancement and landing area validation is much needed prior to the Mars exploration mission.
As a part of the clean energy, NASA is at present planning on using a nuclear battery which is a multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator for its next Mars 2020 rover. Sandia has already completed its Nuclear Risk Assessment for the Environmental Impact Statement and proved its efficacy.