On our neighboring red planet there is an abundant amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere and a team of scientists raises the possibility of using it to transform the soil and air of Mars into the precious metal we know as iron. Can you imagine Mars turned into an iron factory?
It is a potential strategy that would facilitate the establishment of future human colonization missions on this and other planets that we decide to explore throughout the universe.
The first comprehensive investigation of its kind under the direction of Professor Akbar Rhamdhani of Swinburne, investigated the synthesis of metals on extraterrestrial planets. The study in question focused on metal mining on Mars, but could be applied to planets with similar conditions.
According to their method, the process would take processed air, soil, and sunlight on Mars to create metallic iron, using concentrated solar energy as a heat source, and carbon, which is produced by cooling CO gas, which is a byproduct of oxygen production. in the atmosphere of Mars. In fact, the Perseverance rover has already shown us that it is possible to make oxygen on Mars through NASA’s MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) project. Therefore, the Swinburne metal extraction process is intended to be combined with a future oxygen generating plant (much larger than MOXIE) to co-produce oxygen and iron alloys, which can be used to create metals.
And why do we need to generate metal on other planets?
As we all know, launching technology into space takes a lot of time and money. Plus, it’s bad for the environment. To address the problem, the production of resources from other planets would make everything more sustainable, more efficient, and cheaper in space. If this is successful, human exploration will be greater. It also expands on technology that will allow humans to better collect data and solve problems here on Earth.
“We would like to develop a metal extraction process on Mars that actually uses resources in situ, without bringing reagents from Earth, to support further human mission and development on Mars. We would like to develop a metal extraction process on Mars that actually use in- situ resources, without bringing reagents from Earth, to support further human mission and development on Mars,” explains Akbar Rhamdhani.
“If you wanted to build something big on Mars without having to pay to launch everything from Earth (large satellites, Mars colonies, refueling depots, and more) , this could be a very valuable process ,” the expert continues.
Such a process would generate carbon through the cooling of CO gas, as a byproduct of creating oxygen in the Martian atmosphere. The heat for the process would be provided by concentrated solar radiation.
Director of the Swinburne Institute of Space Industry and Technology, Alan Duffy, clarified that ” Australia is committed to supporting NASA’s Return to the Moon and beyond to Mars in Project Artemis, and will require the use of resources from the Moon and Mars to make that feasible. We’re using the expertise of Swinburne and industry partnerships in resource extraction and processing to help make NASA’s vision of astronauts walking on the Red Planet a little easier. This work is a small step for the processing of metals, which can make a giant leap for the construction of humanity outside the world.”
Referencia: D.C. Nababan et al, Metals extraction on Mars through carbothermic reduction, Acta Astronautica (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2022.07.009