Our team is working on two separate, exciting projects. Our core team is working hard on the Sabatier Fuel Plant project, dedicated to producing rocket propellant on Mars. A newly-formed Mars Farming team is currently researching ways to address food production for extended (crewed) missions on Mars. Check them out below!
Sabatier Fuel Plant
Having a reliable source of fuel on Mars is essential to the development of a self-sustainable Martian base. Using resources available on Mars, it is possible to produce Methalox (Methane-Oxygen) propellant in-situ. With the Sabatier Fuel Plant Project, the team aims to propose plans for a full-scale propellant production plant based on SpaceX’s Mars mission architecture.
For Phase 1 of the project, we are building a test reactor setup in our team space in order to study the parameters of the Sabatier Reaction more closely. Through the Sabatier process, we can convert CO2 in Mars’s atmosphere and H2 to form CH4 , i.e. methane and water. The Hydrogen from the water can be obtained from electrolysis of sub-surface water that has been confirmed on Mars. On combining obtained methane with oxygen (from electrolysis process), we have Methalox propellant that can be used to fuel a Starship for the return journey back to Earth.
Phase 2 (currently ongoing) of the project will propose plans for a full-scale fuel production facility and will also cover other aspects not directly related to fuel production including but not limited to –
- feasible landing sites;
- ice mining and and electrolysis of water;
- pressurizing and concentrating carbon dioxide;
- and the costs to implement systems based on current technology.
The Fuel Plant sub team is currently dedicated to working on Phase 2 while the rest of the sub teams are devoted to design, construction of the test reactor – which will ultimately allow us to verify and optimize our proposed theoretical design.
We will be presenting our research and results at the International Aeronautical Congress (IAC) ’21 scheduled to be held in Dubai, U.A.E. in October.
Mars Farming Project
The Mars Farming project started in October 2020 with the goal of providing a consistent food supply for crewed missions to Mars. Based on current developments in rocket technology, we may be able to put humans on Mars within the decade. However, initial launches would only take place 26 months apart in order to minimize transit time due to alignment of Earth and Mars’ orbit. SpaceX estimates an average of 115 days for a trip to Mars on its Starship vehicle.
In this case, it would not be practical to send enough food to last crew the whole duration of the mission. In addition, the absence of fresh produce in their diets would negatively affect the mental and physical well-being of the crew. If we have the ability to grow plants effectively in a harsh environment like Mars, the missions would become a lot more feasible. Carrying seeds/cultures on the ship would be a lot easier than packaged food since they would take up less space.
The following considerations will be taken into mind while designing a solution so that is as reliable and robust as possible:
- Maximize food production
- Minimize the total energy usage of the system
- Minimize overall size of system (weight & volume)
- Minimize consumables (water, nutrients, substrate)
- Maximize automation (minimizing human interaction)
- Compete with Eden ISS program: 268 kilograms of food produced within 12.5 square metres over 9.5 months
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