#SabatierProject: What Is It?

Welcome to the Sabatier Project! This is a project UBC Mars Colony has started this summer, after Project Airlock wrapped up (blog post to come). Once again, this project will be separated into two phases.

Since the presence of water has been established on Mars, research into in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) has been growing immensely. An application that has been explored in the scientific community is rocket fuel (methane) production as a way to reduce costs of Mars-bound space exploration missions. An approach that our team is researching uses the Sabatier reaction (C02+H2 -> CH4 + H20).

As a first step to creating a prototype modular “Sabatier Fuel Plant” for use on Mars, our team is designing a lab-scale test reactor based on published literature in the field. Our research is focused on testing the behavior of multiple methanation Ruthenium-based catalysts and their capacity for the continuous production of methane gas via the Sabatier reaction. The materials and methods needed to construct the reactor are detailed; along with a preliminary economic analysis to contextualize production rates into a proposed overall Mars mission architecture.

Phase I currently focuses on building a prototype Test Reactor. Phase II will be designing a full Reactor Module. Join us on this exciting journey by following us on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and of course, this blog.

Interested in joining us? Head here for the recruitment section on this website.

Project Airlock – Final Words

We’re happy to announce that Project Airlock is officially complete!

We did it!

Our inaugural project, to design, prototype and manufacture a fully functional collapsible airlock, has finally wrapped up this summer as we continue to gain momentum for our new ventures: the Sabatier Fuel Plant and HELIOS. It’s been quite the ride from since we started in the fall of 2016 and we’re very glad to see how far we’ve come in terms of technical knowledge and team-based skills.

Over the years

Our team has been able to gain valuable hands-on engineering skills and insight for our next projects. Through our weekly work sessions (and some late nights), we’ve proudly provided relevant project experience to our members across all year levels and specializations. From attending the International Aeronautical Congress in Bremen, Germany along with the Canadian Space Agency, to starting a competition based upon our work, this experience has transformed itself into a phenomenon that has inspired universities from around Canada to create their own “space exploration” teams.

We have touched the lives of hundreds of individuals, from local outreach to international recognition. For example, we have participated in EGBC events with elementary and high school students and presented at a high school with Women in Engineering. A few of our favourite moments include receiving praise from students from other countries at the IAC and seeing the spark in students eyes at the team’s Imagine Day booth and information sessions every year – it has been humbling to see so many people become interested in and support our ambitious project.

(Former) Captain Kyle at an Engineering and Geoscientists BC (EGBC) event

The Airlock’s Last Days

During the final phase of testing, we pressurized the colony section of the airlock to a total pressure of 2 psi. However, we found we were not able to fully seal the airlock. Upon closer investigation we discovered that due to the manufacturing limits of our chosen membrane, the seals on the door and the airlock frame were not able to align properly.

Our team recognizes that the engineering process is an iterative process, and due to several limitations we were not able to continue with refining our final product.

Having access to more power and more helping hands could have allowed the project to be more successful, however it was the beginning of summer and many students were out of town and unavailable.

Colony section pressurization setup


Throughout the three years of Project Airlock, our team faced many adversities that many other students teams face. Due to students realizing that our team didn’t necessarily align with their career interests, wanting to focus on academics, or deciding a student team wasn’t for them, there was a turnover rate that posed a few concerns. Our team was also focused on our competition, which was coming up just as our airlock was coming to completion, thus causing a strain on resources and manpower.

In addition, this past summer, our former captain and founding member, Kyle Marquis, graduated from UBC and moved on to graduate school. We wish him the best of luck with his future ventures, and thank him for sharing his vision with us.

Kyle lounging on the collapsed airlock

We recognize that this is a project no other student team had worked on before us, and as a result, our team had the opportunity to come up with innovative solutions on the fly as there was no one we could turn to for guidance. This was UBC Mars Colony’s first project as a brand new team where all members have gained a multitude of experience and skills. We are excited to apply this knowledge towards our next project.

Displaying our airlock at Project Airlock Challenge

Finally, we wouldn’t be able to do this project without the dedicated team members we have had over the past three years nor without the help from all our sponsors. A huge thank you goes out to our sponsors EGBC, Cascade Aerospace, General Dynamic Mission Systems, and BC Research Inc./Noram Engineering; we could never have made it this far without your support!

We hope you have enjoyed following us through this journey, and will continue to do so for our Sabatier project. 🙂

Electrical Lead Jacky stands in the illuminated airlock

Heating Tape Test

For our Sabatier reactor we need ensure that we are able to adequately control the temperature of heating tape, without spending excessively on a commercial heat tape controller. So, our team decided to put to test a way to control temperature.

We wrapped the heating tape around a solid aluminium core which was suspended on top of a makeshift aluminum rig. A K-type Thermocouple was also attached with the tape so that temperature could be recorded.

A layout of our experiment

The heat tape was supplied power from the 120 V outlet then a high level trigger relay was used to turn the heat tape on or off. This relay, and the thermocouple were connected to an Arduino Mega. Bang-bang control was used to ensure that heat tape temperature remained in the ballpark of the desired set temperature.

However, note that the thermocouple connection wire used for testing had no insulation to prevent it from being grounded and as a result it had to be suspended above ground (the metal basin in this case) via wooden blocks. 

In the end of the experiment we found that the bang-bang control scheme to ensure that heat tape temps remained within -8°C to +4°C of the desired set point, and we succeeded in controlling the temperature without an expensive commercial controller!

Project Airlock Phase I Event Summary

Our competition last month was a huge success and we would like to thank everyone again who made this event possible. Our team put together a wrap up document which highlights and summarizes the weekend. Check it out below!

We would also like to thank our sponsors as this competition would not have happened without them! Thank you EGBC, Technical Safety BC, UBC Faculty of Applied Science, and the Walter Gage Memorial Fund.

Project Airlock Challenge!

UBC Mars Colony is proud to announce our Project Airlock Challenge: Phase 1 happening May 18th-20th. Come join us and listen to participating universities:

  • University of Toronto
  • Waterloo University
  • University of Regina
  • Memorial University of Newfoundland

They will present their airlock designs and you will get a chance to network with industry professionals. We plan on hosting external presentations, as well as forums on space exploration, and more! Details to be released as we finalize presentations. Please RSVP via the Google forms link below if you plan on attending!

Public Schedule:

Saturday, May 18th
9am – Judging panel is announced
10am – Competing Team Presentation #1
11am – Competing Team Presentation #2
12pm – Free Time (Lunch)
1pm – External presentations, and space exploration discussion and forum period

Sunday, May 19th
9am – Competing Team Presentation #3
10am – Competing Team Presentation #4
12pm – Free Time (Lunch)
1pm – External presentations, and space exploration discussion and forum period

Monday, May 20th
10am – Finalist questioning period
2pm – Closing ceremonies/awards

RSVP here: https://docs.google.com/…/1FAIpQLSd3j16fDxxnaTFJ7…/viewform…

Find out more information about the event here: https://www.ubcmarscompetition.com/

Respond as going on our Facebook event! https://www.facebook.com/events/813755152295717/

Exciting Update!

March 2nd was an exciting work session for us at UBC Mars Colony! We successfully opened our door which will allow up to enter and exit the colony in the future, not only that but it was the first time that all three sub-teams (mechanical, structural, and electrical) have worked together to finish a task. This was probably our biggest hurdle in finishing our airlock and we are extremely glad to have completed, but this wouldn’t have been possible without help from our sponsors! So, we’d like to thank EGBC, Cascade Aerospace, General Dynamic Mission Systems, and BC Research Inc./Noram Engineering for everything you do.

Below is a picture of the door while it is opening and we also live-streamed opening our door for the first time which can be found here!

Team members admiring the door opening! On the left-hand side is electrical team members and on the right is mechanical members.

High School Outreach

Last month our team captain and structural sub-team lead did some high school outreach in partner with Women in Engineering (WiE UBC)! They visited Windsor Secondary School in North Vancouver which is our captain Kyle’s old high school. Through this partnership with WiE our team had the opportunity to talk to students about the exciting opportunities available beyond the classroom as well as some general information about what engineers do. Later this month our team will be doing another high school outreach event with WiE and other UBC engineering design team – stay tuned to hear more about this event! Below is a photo of Yash (structural sub-team lead), Kyle (team caption), and a WiE team member.

Development of an Expandable Airlock for a Martian Settlement

Interested in reading the paper our team presented at the International Astronautical Congress this year? Click the link below to read our entire paper! Just a special thank you goes out to all our team members who contributed to the paper, and to our sponsors who made this project possible.

Development of an Expandable Airlock for a Martian Settlement

Copyright 2018 by Mr. Kyle Marquis. Published by the IAF, with permission and released to the IAF to publish in all forms.