A team of researchers, led by Professor Akbar Rhamdhani of Swinburne University of Technology, has published the first detailed study of its kind on the production of metals on another planet. This research could be essential for humanity’s plans to live on another planetbecause it would allow them to build large structures on alien worlds without having to transport gigantic piles of materials from Earth.
Focusing on mining metals on the Red Planet, researchers are developing a process that would take processed air, dirt and sunlight on Mars to create metallic iron.
The process would use concentrated solar energy as a source of heat and carbon, which is produced by cooling CO gas, which is a byproduct of oxygen production in Mars’ atmosphere.
Humans have already been able to produce oxygen on Mars on the Perseverance rover, thanks to NASA’s MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) project.
The researchers intend to couple their metal extraction process with a future oxygen-generating plant much larger than the Mars rover’s MOXIE.
This machine will help produce both oxygen and an alloy of iron, which could be used to create metals for future human missions and development on Mars.
By creating metals on Mars, space agencies would avoid the expensive business of launching huge resources from Earth, making space colonization “more efficient and cheaper”.
According to a press release, it will also allow for greater human exploration and expansion of technology, like satellites, that help collect data and solve problems on Earth.
The team, which consists of postdoctoral researcher Dr Reiza Mukhlis and Ph.D. students Deddy Nababan, Matthew Shaw and Matthew Humbert from the Fluid and Process Dynamics Research Group at Swinburne and the space technology and industry is currently working closely with CSIRO Minerals and the CSIRO space technology future science platform to take the research to the next level.
Professor Akbar Rhamdhani said: “We would like to develop a metal mining process on Mars that truly uses in situ resources – without bringing in reagents from Earth – to support the human mission and development on Mars.
“If you wanted to build something big on Mars without having to pay to launch everything from Earth (think big satellites, Mars colonies, fuel depots, etc.), this could be a very useful process. .”
Swinburne’s director of the Space Technology and Industry Institute, Professor Alan Duffy, said: “Australia is committed to supporting NASA’s return to the moon and to reaching beyond Mars in Project Artemis, and they will need the use of resources from the moon and Mars to make this feasible.
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“We’re using Swinburne’s expertise and industry partnerships in resource extraction and processing to help make NASA’s vision of astronauts walking the Red Planet a little easier.
“This work is a small step for metal processing, which can take a giant leap for the construction of off-world humanity.”
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