03:55 GMT22 January 2021
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    The automated facility, which is currently being developed by NASA, is expected to extract all the components needed to make fuel from the Red Planet’s soil and atmosphere, providing a significant boon to any future missions to Mars.

    A team of NASA scientists has apparently come up with a method to turn Martian soil into rocket fuel, possibly saving the need for future missions to the Red Planet to pack the propellant for a return trip.

    "Officially, it’s known as an in situ resource utilization (ISRU) system, but we like to call it a dust-to-thrust factory, because it turns simple dust into rocket fuel," NASA team lead Kurt Leucht writes in IEEE Spectrum magazine.

    The new robotic factory is expected to extract water from Martian regolith and then use electrolysis to turn the liquid into hydrogen and oxygen. The extracted oxygen would then be combined with carbon harvested from the planet’s atmosphere in order to produce methane which could be used as fuel.

    The scientist noted, however, that “there are numerous technical challenges” his team needs to deal with in order to ensure the success of this undertaking.

    "One of the most critical questions is whether each subsystem of our current Mars surface-processing system can scale up to meet the needs and throughput required by a human mission to Mars. Recent NASA studies estimate that a system like this will need to produce about 7 metric tons of liquid methane and about 22 metric tons of liquid oxygen in about 16 months," Leucht explained.


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    production, rocket fuel, Mars, NASA, US
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