Mars colonisation made ‘cheaper and efficient’ as 'valuable' metals to be made from soil


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A team of researchers, led by Professor Akbar Rhamdhani of the Swinburne University of Technology, has published the first of its kind detailed study on metal production on another planet. This research could be pivotal for humanity’s plans to live on another planet, as it would allow them to build large structures on alien worlds without having to ferry gigantic heaps of materials from Earth.

Focussing on extracting metals on the Red Planet, the researchers are currently developing a process that would take processed air, dirt and sunlight on Mars to create metallic iron.

The process would use concentrated solar power as a source of heat and carbon, which is produced by the cooling of CO gas—which is a by-product of oxygen production in the Mars atmosphere.

Humans have already been able to produce oxygen on Mars on the Perseverance rover, through the MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) NASA project.

The researchers intend to couple their metal extraction process with a future oxygen generator plant which is much larger than the Mars rover’s MOXIE.

This machine will help produce both oxygen and an iron alloy, 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 affair of launching enormous resources from Earth, making space colonisation “more efficient and cheaper”.

According to a press release, this will also allow for greater human exploration and extension of technology, like satellites, that help gather data and solve problems back on Earth.

The team, which consists of postdoctoral researcher Dr. Reiza Mukhlis and Ph.D. students Deddy Nababan, Matthew Shaw and Matthew Humbert from Swinburne’s Fluid and Process Dynamics Research Group and Space Technology and Industry Institute, are currently working closely with CSIRO Minerals and the CSIRO Space Technology Future Science Platform to take the research to the next stage.

READ MORE: Mars colonisation ‘one step closer’ as scientists create Martian brick

Professor Akbar Rhamdhani said: “We would like to develop a metal extraction process on Mars that is truly utilising in-situ resources—without bringing reactants from Earth—to support further human mission and development on Mars.

“If you wanted to build something large on Mars without having to pay to launch everything from Earth (think large satellites, Mars colonies, refuelling depots and more), this could be a very valuable process.”

Swinburne director of the Space Technology and Industry Institute, Professor Alan Duffy, said “Australia is committed to supporting NASA’s Return to the moon and going beyond to Mars in Project Artemis, and they will require the use of the resources of the moon and Mars to make that feasible.

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“We are using Swinburne’s expertise and industry partnerships in resource extraction and processing to help make NASA’s vision of astronauts walking on the red planet that little bit easier.

“This work is one small step for metal processing, that can make a giant leap for humanity building off-world.”


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